spring cleaning | environment + health

Current state of my environment: I have a toilet in my living room. It’s quite the statement piece. (Although I’m not sure it adheres to all 7 rules for statement pieces.)

I’ve had suggestions that it might make a great planter. And I’ve had someone tell me that I might want to consider leaving it there.

No, it really doesn’t belong there. It’s just part of the fallout from having a flood in the condo last month, and it’s not the only thing in my living room that doesn’t belong there. There’s a pedestal sink in pieces, all my cleaning supplies, a vacuum with all its attachments, and winter coats, boots, scarves, hats, replacement filters for various appliances…. Basically everything that normally lives in my powder room and coat closet.

And wow, am I sick of living this way, picking my way across the obstacle course just to get to the couch!

environment + health

We have become very used to hearing about our environment in the global sense. Climate change, global warming, extreme weather, pollution of our soil, water, and air are in the news almost daily, mostly with regard to how they’re affecting our physical health as a species.

Every choice we make and action we take has an effect. Most often, though, there’s a sense of inadequacy or helplessness when we think about how we as individuals can really make a difference on that scale.

How often do we consider our immediate physical environment—our homes—with respect to our individual health? And how often do we think about its effect on our mental/emotional/energetic health?

does this spark joy?

Marie Kondo—love her or hate her—definitely brought up something that was often overlooked: the interaction of our emotional health with our physical environment.

When I first read parts of her book to my husband, he said, “She’s obviously single—and she’ll always be so with that approach.” Well, he was partly correct: she did marry and have children … and she now admits to having relaxed some of her own standards.

In her wake, I am happy to see so many organizers take on a coaching role. A lot of them now help clients declutter by creating a personalized system for them rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all solution.

Because I’ve found that nourishing physical environments are just like food: completely bio-individual.

Some of us really allow our OCD tendencies come forward when it comes to our physical space. (Think: how the towels must be hung in Sleeping with the Enemy.) Others are happy to live in complete disarray. (Think: most college dorm rooms, particularly those inhabited by boys. Yes, I’m generalizing—and I have one of those in my family, so….) Lots of us live in the gray area somewhere in between.

cluttered environment, cluttered mind

I will admit that I have a hard time working at my desk when it’s not clear of clutter. It’s as though clearing the desk clears my mind.

And I’m pretty good about keeping my home organized. Of course, when I downsized last year, that got a whole lot easier!

Yet I was surprised at just how much I had crammed in my coat closet (the only storage area on the first floor) since moving in last May. I like to think that the Universe is always working for us, so it’s been a great reminder to deep clean and organize that space anew.

Friends have commented that they can’t believe how calmly I’ve dealt with the situation. I learned a long time ago that getting all worked up about something like a flood and the ensuing repairs doesn’t make anything go more smoothly or quickly. It’s basically a huge waste of energy and brain space.

Yes, I had a flood. It was a newly-installed hardwood floor, less than a year old. And it’s taken a month to get it repaired.

And I have: four walls and a roof and a floor around me, heat and water and power, food and clothes. It’s a lot more than a lot of people have.

All this is true—and I’ve also noticed how much living in disarray has affected my mental/emotional/energetic health.

It’s almost as though the obstacle course in my living room has become embedded in my brain. I feel like there are obstacles everywhere: not just in my rooms but in my thought pathways.

environment energetics

I talk a lot about the energetics of food, the origins of which has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. And we can also thank the Chinese for fengshui (pronounced “fung-shway”), which is the art? science? of arranging our physical environment to facilitate the flow of positive energy around us.

(For you language geeks, feng = wind and shui = water in Mandarin Chinese.)

Fengshui is a huge topic, and there are a lot of great books written about it. I highly recommend checking out the site Feng Shui in Motion. Definitely sign up for the Eight Mansions Toolkit while you’re there!

It may feel very “woo,”—and yet, I think it’s worth exploring. The beauty of fengshui-ing your space is that it’s a lot like taking a health journey:

  • Even the smallest action you take gets you closer to optimal health: you don’t have to do everything, everywhere, all at once.
  • It’s an experiment: rearrange your space and see whether you feel better (physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically).
  • Bio-individuality rules: if you keep trying, eventually you’ll find what is right for you, right now instead of trying to make someone else’s idea of space fit your life. (Yes, believe it or not, I try not to judge my son’s room. In fact, I haven’t even seen his sophomore digs. And I do appreciate that his gf likes to do laundry!)

Personally, I’m looking forward to the repairs being done (they’re banging away down there as I type). And even more to putting things back where they belong so I can open up my physical AND mental pathways!

make the connection

As part of your own spring cleaning adventure, spend some time thinking about how your physical environment—the one in your immediate space—reflects and/or influences your health. Not just in terms of cleanliness but in terms of arrangement of furniture and objects. Experiment with a new layout, add some plants, declutter—whatever feels important to you. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, like a complete decluttering—it can be as small as sorting through a single drawer!