How to Heal Your Space

What does your environment say to you?

Does your space say, “I am free, healthy, wealthy and safe,” or “I live a life of bleak, pointless drudgery”?

I’m not asking what it says about you. Psychology is not my field. I’m asking what kind of messages your mind receives from your surroundings on a regular basis. Are they positive, negative or neutral?

Too often, we behave as though we are brains in a vacuum. Just as we ignore our health until it breaks down, we can overlook the fact that our surroundings play a huge part in how we function. If we complain about such things as loud noises, bad smells or fluorescent lighting, we acquire the dread label, ‘sensitive,’ as though we were too weak to handle reality.

But whether or not we are aware of it, we live in a continual feedback loop with our environment. When we’re in our ‘ideal habitat,’ we are maximally comfortable, productive, relaxed, energized and happy. When our surroundings are less than ideal, they can drain and exhaust us.

Some of those negative elements are things we can’t fix. We can’t control traffic, or our co-workers’ conversations, or the music they choose to play at the corner café. Most of us don’t have the resources to remodel our houses and offices, or to move to new ones. We’re even restricted as to what type of light bulbs we can buy.

But often we overlook simple ways to maximize the good things about the places we live and work, and mitigate the nuisances. So if you suspect you might be operating in a space that sabotages your health and productivity, read on.

Step 1: What do I need, really?

The Eastern principle of feng-shui can be summed up in one sentence: Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. Bonus points if it’s both.

If you’re holding onto something because it might turn out to be useful someday, get rid of it. If you’re keeping something out of guilt, give it away. If it’s ugly, broken, substandard, past its sell-by date, hopelessly outmoded–you get the picture.

This isn’t easy for a lot of people. There are whole industries springing up to address hoarding and related problems. But if you just need a way to get started, ask yourself some more questions.

Step 2: What do I do in here?

It may seem obvious what the kitchen is for: cooking. So why is the mail piling up on the counter? An object is only useful when it lives in the proper context.

I once altered the whole character of a friend’s room from “crazy person” to “eccentric genius” by putting the (hundreds of) books on the bookshelves and the laundry in the closet, instead of vice versa. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, do a little bit of sorting. You don’t have to decide the final resting place of every stray item in your home. First decide in what general area it belongs, and take it there.

Step 3: How do I want to feel when I’m in here?

You don’t have to be June Cleaver to have a kitchen that says, “I am healthy, grounded and inspired,” rather than “I am a miserable drudge.” You may hate cooking, but you still have to eat; might as well nourish your spirit at the same time.

So go through each room of your home and note the things you actually do there (as opposed to the things you think you ought to.) Then ask whether the space supports the activity. Is your bedroom a restful place to be, or do you close your eyes merely to shut out the mess? Does your office say, “I am brilliant and inspired,” or “I am drowning in pointless minutiae”? Is your dining room a haven of nourishment and good cheer, or a bleak, semi-functional filling station?

Once you’ve got a general idea of what you want your space to accomplish, you can work on adjusting the mood.

next: working with light and color.

An excellent resource for those who are overwhelmed: