Why Rearranging the Furniture Might Be Just the Thing

This is the bright home

In which I live,

this is where I ask

my friends to come,

this is where I want

to love all the things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love...
— David Whyte, The House of Belonging

Perhaps the most meaningful places are those that we call home—both the objective, tangible structures which we inhabit and the subjective, intangible experiences of being "at home" and belonging—in various environments. 

For most of us, the places where we feel most at home are those in which we feel most welcome, most free to be truly ourselves—those places that somehow belong to us and in which we belong where we can stretch out, relax, breathe, and expand—be-long—fully inhabiting the spaciousness of our being.  

Do you feel at home in your home? Does your space reflect who you truly are?  When you look around, do you like what you see? Our homes are multi-dimensional spaces where we live, work, and play. They are literally the foundation, shelter, and structure supporting our lives. 

And if we’re lucky, these are not only physical locations where we eat, sleep, and bathe, but also psychological spaces where we feel most at home—meaningful places in which we belong—where we love, where we rest, where we dream...where we care for ourselves and each other. 

Although we human beings have an amazing capacity to habituate to even the most uncomfortable circumstances, when we are uncomfortable where we live, we frequently experience anxiety, stress, fatigue, and dis-ease. When our physical space is out of alignment with our psychological state—for example, living in a cluttered space while preferring orderly simplicity—we experience discord. At other times, our physical space may accurately reflect a dissonant psychological state that we would like to change—for example, a chaotic, cluttered home that perfectly mirrors an overwhelmed, distracted mind.

Bringing inner and outer states into healthy alignment reduces unnecessary stress and greatly enhances our overall well-being. Moreover, because of the interconnectedness between inner and outer states, it is possible to change one's life from the “outside in” as well as the “inside out.” 

When we’re feeling mentally or emotionally stuck, sometimes the most practical thing we can do is change our context—the most obvious, yet often overlooked, being our physical environment. 

When we change our external surroundings, it can dramatically alter how we feel internally. Plus, changing our habitats for the better is a form of instant gratification that's actually good for us, especially if done in the spirit of conspicuous contentment.

Even when we are mostly content at home, making subtle changes to our personal environment can significantly impact our experience, enhancing joy, inspiration, creativity, and well-being.

Given the amount of time we spend in our homes, isn’t feeling at home in your home—having a beautiful, functional space that reflects who you are and supports how you want to live—worth your attention?

Clutter & Disorder. Too. Much. Crap.

Out of clutter, find simplicity; From discord, find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
— Albert Einstein

There are many things that create stress in life; unnecessary clutter should not be one of these.  Sometimes less is more.  Whether you are preparing to sell, just moving in, or updating your home, eliminating clutter and organizing your belongings is a simple way to enhance your well-being. 

Clutter is all the stuff you no longer need, use, or love.  It’s the stuff you used to like before your tastes changed—or you came to your senses.  It’s books that you’ve read or been meaning to read that no longer interest you, your decade-old magazine collection, the t-shirt that belonged to your x, the mix tapes that ought to be burned, the ab-cruncher, and that...um, other thing, that seemed like a good idea at the time.  

It’s the recipe clippings gathering dust in the cupboard, expired cough syrup, coupons, old newspapers, broken gadgets, past holiday cards and meaningless photos. It’s the tea-cozy from Aunt Suzy, and every other gift that you don’t like and don’t use but think you should keep because so-and-so gave it to you on some special occasion.

It’s all the clothes that don’t fit, the sock singles in the laundry room, and the pants that looked great in the store, but have never left your closet.  It’s the sort pile long past sorting and the junk in the junk drawer that you can’t even identify, but somehow seemed worth saving. It’s the “mystery” box in the closet unopened from your last move, the garage sale stuff still sitting in the garage and all that other stuff that you’d think twice about keeping if you were moving.

You know the stuff. Clutter is visual noise that distracts you from being at peace in your space.

Life seeks to organize so that more life can flourish. Systems are friendlier to life. They provide support and stability...more freedom for individual experimentation.
— Margaret J. Wheatley, A Simpler Way

Likewise, disorder is a condition in which there is a disturbance in normal functioning—it is a lack of organization that impedes your ability to use your stuff and your space easily, efficiently, and productively. Just as holding onto stuff you no longer need, use, and/or love creates unnecessary stress, living with the stuff you need, use, and love in disarray takes energy and time away from things that really matter.

Disorder is time wasted looking for things, and money wasted buying duplicates of stuff that you already own, but couldn’t find. It is being late because you couldn’t locate your keys again. It is procrastinating on time-sensitive paperwork because it means sifting though the stacks on your desk.

It is mental energy spent avoiding certain cupboards and drawers because opening these is so unpleasant. It’s piling the clean laundry on the dryer and using the exercise bike handles as an extra clothes rack because it’s easier than getting into your closet. It is wishing that the TV, exercise machine, or name-that-particular-thing was someplace else. 

It is worrying at the prospect of having guests in your home. It’s feeling frustrated, embarrassed, ashamed, or overwhelmed by the state of your space—perhaps even having to leave to think, breathe, and relax.

Disorder and clutter take up physical and psychological space, literally and figuratively hindering your movement and flow.

There’s a lot in life beyond your control, but happily, organizing your space is well within your power. Make room for what really matters. Resuscitate “dead” space. Trade some short-term chaos for some long-term ease and create a clutter free, organized space, so that you can focus on the things that really matter. 

You deserve to feel at home in your home. 

Decluttering, Organizing & Redesign 101

Ready to get started?

Clear the space.

For each room to be decluttered, ideally clear the entire space.  You will be tempted to leave some stuff in the room thinking that this is easier—if it is possible to clear the space, don’t succumb to this temptation.  It is much easier to organize an empty space after you’ve surveyed all of the intended contents of the room.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
— Wiliam Morris

Get rid of rubbish.

Toss any item beyond recycling or repair in the rubbish bin or take it straight to the dump. 

Sort the rest.

Place all other items in one of three piles, labeled Keep, Sell or Gift

Ideal items to keep are both functional and beautiful for the room in which these will be kept.  If it’s not functional or beautiful, it’s likely a better candidate for  the Sell or Gift piles.  

Note: this will go much more smoothly if you take one whole room at a time, using one room for sorting stuff into the appropriate piles and returning the stuff to be kept to the room from which it came. It may also be helpful to use boxes, old blankets, or tarps for these piles.

Clean your space.

Once everything has been sorted, clean the empty space.

Sort stuff to keep.

Sort through the Keep pile using a similar process, placing all the things that go together into separate piles (like items go with like items).

Organize and redesign your space.

Determine where different categories of stuff will be stored in the room by considering how often the items are used, as well as the aesthetics of the items, and available storage options. 

A place for everything, everything in its place.
— Benjamin Franklin

Sometimes better organization is a matter of simply using the existing storage, furnishings, and systems that you have more efficiently. Make good use of hooks, jars, baskets, shoe-boxes, old crates, etc. Don't be afraid to get creative and repurpose. Other times, you may want to redesign, introducing new storage systems that will allow you to live, work, and play in your space with greater ease, beauty, and efficiency.  

Sell and give away.

Create a plan to address the stuff to be sold (the stuff to be priced, listed, and/or sold online or in your upcoming garage sale), and given away (the stuff to be delivered to the appropriate charity, family, or friend) within a certain time period. Be sure to set a deadline for selling and giving away all items. 

Consignment stores like Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange, or my local favorite, Closet Transfer, often offer money or store credit in exchange for your old threads. Craigslist, E-Bay, and FreeCycle are also good online options for household goods. And there are myriad charities that accept donations. [Update, 2014: Buy Nothing Project is also an excellent resource.}

Do the happy dance.

Celebrate and enjoy your new, beautiful, functional space.