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Transform Your Home, Transform Your Life â" Creating a Home That Is Free of Clutter, Full of Beauty, and inspired by You
By Xorin Balbes
New World Library Copyright © 2011 Xorin Balbes
All rights reserved.
Open Your eyes and See what Is Truly There
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert's there are few."
— SHUNRYU SUZUKI-ROSHI
People who practice Zen talk about "beginner's mind." This is the magical ability to see things anew even if we've experienced them a million times before. In order to fully assess the space you live in, you're going to need to cultivate your beginner's mind so you can truly see and feel the space you have created. The world we live in teaches us that experts are always better, and we all appreciate the value of an experienced opinion every time we consult a physician or an attorney. Sometimes, though, we must remember that with too much experience, the world of possibility often becomes crowded out. Can't replaces can. Won't takes the place of will.
Today we're going to try to take a beginner's look at something we probably consider ourselves experts on: ourselves. Do you really know yourself as well as you think you do? Or have you been ignoring things that bother you for weeks or months or even years? Do you see where you are getting in your own way, where you are creating situations that hold you back from what you really desire?
The journey you are about to begin has the power to change your life — if you are ready and willing to engage fully with the process. The book you are holding contains the tools to deepen your understanding of your own needs as you create a home that will fully support the life you want to lead. Being 100 percent present and open is the only way to get all the possible benefits from each of the SoulSpace stages.
The assess phase is where you will do the important detective work that will enable you to create growth and change both inside and out. Use your beginner's mind to take a fresh look at what you've become immune to seeing; appraise what is there on a physical and emotional level, learn to appreciate the best of what exists, and begin to recognize what no longer serves you in your life.
What Is Your Home Trying to Tell You?
Lili is a successful woman who owns her beautiful home, but when she called me, she sounded frustrated and hopeless. She was happy with her life at work, but she was not really settled and happy with her life at home. She had tried several times to redesign her home; still, she could never get it right — all she was doing was moving her furniture around. So she reached out to me to see what we could do to change the situation.
When I arrived, we sat down and talked for a while before walking around the house looking for clues to what was working and to her unhappiness. She explained to me that purchasing the home had been a big symbol to her that she had "arrived." It turned out that she realized upon moving in that she was lonely in the space she had created. She had entered a new phase of her life, and she wanted to go from being an "I" to being part of a "we."
She had the home, and she wanted to share it with someone. Attractive and lively, Lili often dated, yet none of her relationships seemed to stick. After a string of failed attempts at love, she had just about given up.
Lili takes good care of what she owns, and everything I saw was tidy and in its place. On the surface, it all looked okay. I kept looking. I wanted to understand what was happening beneath the surface.
As we moved through her home, assessing and observing, I noticed that her home and her life were perfectly set up — for one person. Lili's king-size bed was pushed up against the wall, which would have made it awkward for a second person to get in and out comfortably. The living room featured a couch that was gorgeous — and awkward to sit on. It faced away from the entryway and therefore was very unwelcoming, floating in the middle of the room like a ship at sea. Once seated, I was still very conscious of the vast space behind me, and I kept turning around to make sure nobody was there.
I asked Lili how she felt on that couch. "I don't know," she told me. "I usually just sit in that chair." The chair was soft and luxurious. I could see why she liked it. I could also see that there wasn't room for anybody but her to feel comfortable in that house.
Decode the Message
I asked her why she thought she still didn't have the love she wanted. She said that she didn't know. I asked her when she had last had a lover over. She thought about it. "Not for a while," she said. "In my last relationship, we usually ended up staying at his house, and he lived out of town."
I knew that Lili loved her house and dreamed of settling in it with a partner. I wanted her to see what I saw: her house was big enough for four but comfortable only for one. We walked back into the bedroom.
"Lili," I said, "what do you see when you look around this room?"
"A room," she said. "Just ... a bedroom."
"How many people can get in and out of that bed comfortably?" I asked her.
"One," she said. We walked into the living room.
"How many comfortable chairs are there in this room?" I asked.
"One," she said, starting to get my point.
In the kitchen, there was a bistro table with only one chair. "I thought that having two chairs would make me feel like someone was missing," she said, "that it would make me feel lonely."
"How does one chair make you feel?" I asked.
"Lonely," she admitted.
I encouraged her to consider finding a new place for dining, one with a bigger table that would create space for companionship and love. The extra seating would be like a placeholder for the people she would invite into her life, holding the space for what was to come.
As we moved around the house, identifying all the places where she could create space to invite someone else in, Lili began to realize that perhaps the reason she didn't have men over was that there really wasn't room for them. When she took a fresh look at her space, she was able to see that what had seemed logical — creating a space for one person since she was only one person — didn't leave any room for the possibility that she would soon have another person in her life. She had unconsciously organized her personal space to support her single life.
Over the course of our discussions, Lili realized that her "single-mindedness" went way beyond furniture. She was always on guard, she told me, afraid that people might be attracted to her for her money and not for what she could offer them on a deeper level. This fear translated into purposely organizing her large house so that only she could be comfortable there. She now recognized that by making room in her home, she could also make room inside her. Trusting that the right person would enter her life — trusting that she could find someone to really love her — was a key element in our eventual redesign. As we uncovered her fears and hesitations, we also made plans to counter them by imbuing her space with a sense of openness and sharing.
Create Your Dreams
Using assess to identify the way Lili had been approaching her life helped us focus our redesign.
During the RELEASE phase, we got rid of her one chair and bistro table in preparation for the larger, more companionable dining set to come. We also made note that we needed to move both her bed away from the wall and the sofa to a more welcoming location, so that everybody in her home would have a safe-feeling space in which to relax.
In the CLEANSE phase, while going through some old boxes, she found some photos of herself looking pretty and put one of them in a central place as a reminder of what an attractive, desirable woman she was.
DREAM allowed her to focus on the intention behind this renovation: to create a home where others could feel cherished and welcomed, and to feel her true, open nature instead of living like a guarded woman as she'd been doing. To that end, she decided that she wanted two comfortable sitting chairs instead of just the one. Since she loved to read and hoped to find a partner who shared that quiet joy, she asked that we make sure to provide enough light to make reading an enjoyable experience for both of them. Our redesign always kept two in mind.
In the DISCOVER phase, she looked for lamps that gave light in two directions, and when we found her perfect seating, she knew it immediately. Instead of looking in the big-name department stores as Lili used to do, we focused our attention on romantic-looking period furniture at consignment shops and auctions. The velvet chairs we found made Lili feel like "falling in love." Since this was what we were aiming for, I knew that the chairs were perfect. Other pieces we got that were directly related to the clues we discovered during the assessment included a romantically inclined breakfast nook for two and two nightstands and two lamps. We prepared her home for companionship, trusting that if she opened her space up, love would come calling. We made sure that the space was inviting and available for someone else to step into. Starting with Lili's desires, we were able to design and create with those needs specifically in mind.
By listening to the message that was coded in the way her home was organized — what the assess phase is all about — and focusing her redesign accordingly, Lili was able to make a huge breakthrough in her romantic life. Physically making room for someone else made her realize that she also had to make room in her heart. Being able to see the truth of where she really was allowed her to consciously make a necessary shift to bring the interior design of her soul and the exterior design of her home into sync.
It didn't take long before both comfy chairs were occupied and both nightstands were stacked with books.
Big Is Not Always Better
When Barbra came to me, she was convinced that the reason her marriage was falling apart was that her husband, Scott, didn't trust her enough to decorate the massive home they had just bought. This was the first "grownup" home they had owned together — and it was too big for them, she said. She and Scott had been living in a small cottage with their two children, and everything had been fine. Then, as did many people during the real estate boom, they had upgraded to the house of their dreams, or so they thought. The house, an imposing structure with a white picket fence on a huge plot of land in a neatly landscaped suburb, was everything Barbra had always thought she wanted. It was supposed to make them feel successful, but instead it left them feeling incompetent.
The grand scale of the house was an issue from the get-go. Scott didn't think Barbra could design the house on her own, so he hired a designer, who completely took over the process, recommending everything from color and textures to what the living areas should be used for. The designer painted everything a muddy brown color that Barbra hated (Barbra had a choice word for what it reminded her of, which I'll leave you to guess).
A year later, the house was still unfinished. They felt "stuck in the mud." The couple heard about me at a party and decided to put in a call for help.
They hated the house, and their relationship was on the rocks. As soon as Scott had hired the designer, Barbra had felt as if he didn't trust her. And as soon as she felt that way, things went from bad to worse. The house was making them miserable, and with the dip in the economy, there was no way they could sell it and move on to a home that suited them better. For the sake of their children, they were "trying to make it work." What that really meant, said Barbra, practically in tears, was that the two were living like strangers who happened to share the same kids. Because the house had plenty of extra bedrooms, Scott and she were living in separate rooms. The only thing they ever talked about was the kids, whom they always cared for separately. None of their friends knew what was going on, but Barbra's mother had noticed that her daughter was no longer wearing her wedding rings.
Look for the Positive
When I started working with the pair, our assessment focused first on finding the things they liked, things they could come together on to begin the process of trying to bring them back together. The problem with their home wasn't the decor — it was well decorated, though perhaps not to everybody's taste. And the problem wasn't that it was too small, as so many of us think about our spaces. And the issue wasn't even that it was too big, which was what Barbra chose to focus on. The problem was that they weren't creating it together. Their home had become a symbol of their separateness instead of their union, and of their differences instead of their similarities. I was convinced that it would take a feeling of togetherness in the design of their home to bring about a closer union between these two obviously unhappy people.
As we moved through the home, it was amazing to me that there was nothing that they agreed on. If Scott liked a painting, Barbra hated it. If Barbra loved a piece of art, Scott thought it would be better served as fodder for the fireplace. Finally, I turned to them and asked point-blank, "Isn't there anything that you both like?"
After some hesitation, Barbra went to the closet and pulled out a quilt that was woven of blues and greens, all the colors of the sky and sea.
"Wow! I completely forgot about that quilt we bought in Santa Fe," said Scott. "It's gorgeous!"
"I think it's beautiful," said Barbra.
After hours of interacting, this was the first time that I saw them agree on anything, and the first time I saw them smile at each other, just a little. They had locked up in a closet the parts of themselves that they shared and trusted in each other — it was time to open up all the doors and let the light in and the love out.
This was the beginning of their working together. They needed one thing that they could agree on so they could continue the process and collaborate as a team to transform their space. They finally had a touchstone, an item that they agreed on, that they could continue to come back to during the rest of the process when they were not in agreement ... and many times they had to do just that.
Quit the Blame Game and Embrace Your Space
If you believe that all your problems stem from the physical dimensions of your space, or the fact that you rent instead of own, or own a suburban home when you'd prefer to rent a loft downtown, think again. I hear some version of the following comments time and time again.
"I'm stressed because my apartment is too small. I don't have the room to do what I need."
"We can't decorate this place because it's just too huge. No matter how many pieces we bring in, it never feels like home."
"I'm a renter, so it doesn't make sense to make the improvements this place needs to work."
"If I had another room ..."
"If I had more windows ..."
All of these are basically excuses. And you've got to let them go if you're going to see the truth beneath the surface. Wherever you are, it is time to move into more of you and connect to yourself more intimately in your home.
I'm certainly not suggesting that if you live in a one-room basement apartment with no windows, you wouldn't feel more comfortable in a duplex with three terraces. Yet the dimensions of your space can't be blamed for all the problems; this just keeps you from seeing what is really going on. Think about it like this: If Scott and Barbra can be so miserable with an excess of bedrooms, who's to say bigger would really make you feel any better? No matter how small or big your space is, there is always room to move more of yourself into every nook and cranny.
Chances are, you're not in a situation that would allow you to abandon the space you've been blaming and move into a better one. However, if there's something in your life that's really bothering you, I'm not convinced that moving would even help as much as you imagine — you'd bring all your baggage with you into the new space. So it's time to stop the ifs and buts, bid adieu to the excuses, and make your space your own. You have to embrace where you are right now in order to find yourself in a better space, both inside yourself and outside.
Beware of Beauty
Getting your home just right isn't always about having the most beautiful items. What about the feelings behind each belonging? Where did it come from? Who does it remind you of? Why do you cherish it? Just because something would fetch a high price at an auction doesn't make it a prize. During the assessment, I want you to cast your eye below the surface as you consider your belongings.
Take Linda, an amazing, confident woman who was a friend as well as a client. I knew Linda before she was married and during her five-year marriage. When the relationship ended, something about Linda changed: she just didn't seem like the same woman anymore. I couldn't put my finger on it, so when she invited me to her home for lunch so we could discuss her upcoming renovation, I was excited to connect with her on her own turf, where I could try to make sense of what had happened to her.
Excerpted from SoulSpace by Xorin Balbes. Copyright © 2011 Xorin Balbes. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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