Please don’t tell anyone, but when working from home, I often have dirty dishes around me. I wear ill-fitting clothes, sometimes even the clothes I’ve worn to bed the night before.
When I worked in an office, I felt so much better about my personal appearance. I could hide from my messy home.
For a while, I was flummoxed by this. How could I create a more appealing work-from-home environment? Was there some way I could motivate myself to do hair and makeup each morning?
For a while, I tried doing video calls with clients from home. I even did a video series featuring some of my clients, and was totally motivated to make myself and my workspace “look good” when I did.
The fact was, my austere cubicle at my corporate job was hardly creativity-inducing. At work in an office, I’d often find myself sitting for hours on end, working through lunch, staring at its taupe walls, feeling powerless or depressed about the seeming pointlessness of my job.
Working at home, I often get distracted, overwhelmed and anxious about the enormity of what I’ve taken on in my businesses.
The cubicle’s blandness was soul-crushing; the home environment is overly chaotic.
Like it or not, we are influenced by our surroundings. There’s a balance we all need to strike between the hustle and the grind.
With all we do today, I’ve noticed most of us don’t pay enough attention to how where we live and work makes us feel.
Many of us neglect our homes, live amidst clutter or have entire rooms, closets or garages we don’t go into, because that’s where we store our stuff. We create these energetic blockages and we’re almost afraid to deal with them. Meanwhile, we are in an environmental crisis on a global scale. Many of us have emotional baggage.
I believe this is all connected.
Clarity Through a Purge
One of the most freeing things I’ve ever done was a complete purge of the items I had collected in my home after ten years there, in preparation for a sabbatical year. My husband and I were thinking about renting out our home while we were away.
Even though we hadn’t made a decision about whether or not to rent, we went through the process of getting our house ready for a renter. Instead of Marie Kondo’s “does this item bring me joy?”, I asked myself, “does this item make sense for my renter?”
When I began to see my house from that perspective, I was freed to take bags and bags to a local charity, and clear out things that really belonged in the trash but that had been sitting in limbo in my house for years.
The result was a home that only contained the essentials. I didn’t get rid of all of my sentimental stuff like photo albums, but I drastically cut back on them and put them away.
The entire time I was on sabbatical, the thought of my house thousands of miles away filled only with the necessities, neat and clean and waiting, filled me with hopeful expectation. I had done right by that house.
Bring Your Surroundings into Alignment
Feng shui offers the promise of clearing energy in our surroundings to manifest more in our lives. Everyone from your next door neighbor to professional football teams are dabbling in it, but why?
I think we intuitively know that we feel better in our surroundings when they are more conducive to our goals and desires. But personally, “cleaning up” always seems like the lowest thing on my priority list.
Feng shui originated with Chinese farmers, who used it to find the most prosperous place to put their crops. Everything had to be in natural balance, in harmony to get the best yield. My husband has a green thumb, and it’s no accident that he knows how to make things grow. He taught me to prioritize things like sunshine, airflow, natural light, and southern exposure both in our garden and in our home.
Plants can’t live without these things, and neither can people. Light and air nourish us, help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder and make us feel happier and more positive. Creating a space conducive to natural energy and things growing creates a space conducive to people flourishing. It just makes sense.
Feng shui doesn’t stop there, but the deeper I look into it, the more I realize it’s just a logical next step. When I’m hosting a party or having overnight guests, for example, I look at my home through fresh eyes. I imagine a first-time visitor coming to my front door, and the way they will feel when they get there.
When my guest arrives, I want the walkway clear of debris, snow, clutter, weeds. I want my door to be clearly marked, well-lit and visible. When my guests come into my home, I imagine them lingering in the common area for a moment. What will they see? Where will their eyes go? I don’t want them to go straight into a bedroom, bathroom, my refrigerator or worse, run right out the back door!
The way I now understand feng shui, what I’d do for a guest at a party I can do for myself, my partner, my kids, my workspace, the very energy of my home and workspace. If I’m a spiritual person, I can imagine doing this for the Universe, Buddha, Jesus, whatever or whomever I believe also enters my home with me on a daily basis. Feng shui makes it all sound very magical mystery tour, but it’s really about self-respect, love and spirit. What you’d do for your party guests, you can do for yourself, your family and your work.
When getting ready for guests, of course I also de-clutter. It’s more than just visually displeasing. Clutter and randomness messes with the flow of my days. That pile of mail on the counter signals disorganization. Kids clothes and toys on the floor tell me there is a lack of discipline in my home. Dishes stacked up in the sink are a breeding ground for bacteria, which impacts my family’s health. Clutter is literally an energetic anchor that stops the best things from unfolding in my life. It stops me from having clarity of thought, gets in the way of my best work and can weigh me down emotionally.
Do I beat myself up for my messy house? Sometimes. But as I fall in love with feng shui, it’s become more of a priority, less of a drag to make my home a beautiful place to be. Even if just for me.
Let’s be real: my house is no Buddhist shrine. We are often cluttered, covered in dog hair and scrambling to find our keys as we do client calls or get our kids to school and sports. But since feng shui is about taking control of the layout of our lives, I believe it’s a great touchstone.
I’m still learning how to create an ideal environment for my family, my workspace and myself and I’ll admit it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me. But I know what I need. I need our home to be “command central” for our businesses, a sanctuary for our children, a place we recharge and renew, a creative space where we can daydream and imagine our ideal selves.
In turn, we can serve the world best when we operate from this place. If I won’t allow my kids to put their muddy shoes on the table in my home, I’m pretty sure they won’t do so in someone else’s home. If we won’t allow clutter, garbage or bacteria in our home, we’re less likely to tolerate it anywhere else.
When we’re minimalists in what we own, we think more about recycling, driving less, keeping digital copies instead of paper files, seeing the value in each item we own, becoming less consumeristic, and creating a more sustainable, beautiful world.
Here are 10 super simple things you can do to harness the energy around you in your home:
- For more light, add a mirror or paint the walls in a lighter shade. If you’re feeling really mystical, add some crystals.
- For more air, open windows whenever the weather permits.
- Introduce houseplants to add life and color to your space.
- Use dimmers and put them on timers to create a mood for different times of the day, when you want more energy or to encourage relaxation.
- Light candles in the evening to welcome the shorter days of winter.
- Create focal points, invitations to pause, think and take a breath.
- Get rid of the TV in your bedroom. Using that space for reading, rest and other relaxing, non-screen-related activities will make you more productive when you are working.
- Get to the root of your clutter by buying fewer things. When choosing things to buy, be mindful to avoid excessive packaging.
- Don’t work in the midst of dirty plates, food wrappers etc. Start composting your food scraps; use the compost to feed your garden.
- Keep the air clean by driving less. Add more walking or biking to your life.
When I learned that feng shui experts still play a major role in Hong Kong’s architectural development, I was impressed that even people in the business world would embrace something so seemingly mystical.
If you look at the skyline of this city, there are features purposely put there that are intended to harness energy or let it flow. Westerners see the “dragon gates,” designed to let the mythical flying beasts pass from their hilltop homes down to the water each day and then return again each night as totally illogical, superstitious or weirdly new-age. But considering the flow of dragons, air and energy could also be seen as a beautiful expression of cultural identity. Is it a coincidence that in 2018 Hong Kong reportedly toppled New York as the world’s richest city?
If there’s something you really want out of your life, your home and your surroundings can be a metaphor for those desires in a very concrete way. Do you want health, financial stability, love, a more sustainable planet? Whatever you create at home will certainly spill out into the rest of your life, and the world at large.