Dear Shelly: Help! My home is just “blah.” I’ve spent years accumulating all sorts of things; furniture, art and accessories, most of which I liked, but now I’m not so sure. The more I get, the worse it looks, and it seems to be a hodgepodge of different styles. I’m tempted to get rid of everything and just start over. What do you recommend? – Elizabeth G.
I truly feel your pain and frustration. It’s not as though you intentionally set out to make your home a source of frustrastion and dissatisfaction. You have spent time, effort and money in a quest for creating your idea of the perfect home, only to be left feeling discouraged and unhappy with your personal surroundings. What you lack is a comfortable and pleasing sanctuary to enjoy with family and friends.
The first step to achieve this haven of cozy tranquility? The dumpster and/or donation box(es!). Purge, big time, or “edit.” Be merciless, as long as you grasp the concept that this goes beyond typical “spring cleaning.”
For now, put away the cute feather duster, and arm yourself with gallon-sized trash bags and cartons. We need to start with a clean slate, and give your household treasures an opportunity to be set apart from the “junk” that has been granted equal status, yet doesn’t pull its own weight.
Like what, you might ask? In my home this year, I am on a mission to “be real,” inspired by my late son Matt’s life philosophy. This month I began going through my house with a box, working my way around the room, and asked myself the question, “Do I really love this object?”
The standards of “love” could be sentimental, something of dollar value, or beauty. Another value test for this question would be the “what would you rescue from the house if you had to evacuate in 30 minutes?” question. Obviously, those belongings earn immediate “stay” status. “Whew!” sighs the circa 1989 candy dish made by your now-grown child.
Items that passed the “love it” test still have to pass a second question: “Is this item negative?” I”m not getting groovy on you, but, as complex, sensitive human beings, we have subconscious awareness that constantly processes our environment. Think about the history of the object, and be aware of whether memory ties are good, bad or indifferent.
Bad? Get rid of it, out of your house and out of your life, for good. In print, this sounds slow and tedious, but you can move along fairly rapidly, and you will soon realize a gradual lightening of an emotional burden. All this clutter has, in effect, been demanding your attention, and robbing you of the opportunity to relish your surroundings and habitat. Rooms like kitchens are notorious for accumulating multiples upon multiples.
Case in point, how many measuring cups does a household need? I was shocked, in purging my kitchen, to find that I possessed (rather, they possessed me) four different oddball sets of measuring cups, yet none – except one – was a complete set.
Would you believe, I actually paused, thinking of various uses for incomplete measuring cup sets? Here’s a common thread in those who are buried in too much: We have creative imaginations.
Empty jars, mismatched cups, a plate with a chip, dozens of knives, utensils, wine glasses, ancient cookie sheets, etc. I could cite half dozen “creative possibilities” for these things, but in reality they merely serve as excuses for possessive gluttony. In my household purging exercise, I did my best to recycle castoffs to thrift shops. The rest was junk only fit for the dumpster.
Another liberating and unexpected level of this purging is giving away that which is perfectly good, even very nice, but something you have rarely used, or something that you have in duplicate, or multiples, such as nice dishes and vases. The goodness that comes from giving away that which you know has value, or would serve to enhance another’s life, is a gift that serves full circle.
Soon, as you methodically account for every “thing” in your household, you will be reintroduced to the objects truly deserving of imparting visual, functional and emotional importance in your home. Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, for yourself, your family and for others.
Now, how to begin reappointing all your reunited treasures? That’s another column for another day.
Editor’s note: This is a best-of column that first appeared on anewscafe.com on Jan. 28, 2008, back when this site had just a few thousand readers, unlike the nearly 60,000 unique visitors who read anewscafe.com today.
Shelly Shively is formally trained in the art of re-design, and is IRDN (Interior -Re-design Network) certified. Shelly is a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org