A Soulful Home
by Sunny Schlenger
Here’s a radical idea for you: Your belongings are
more than just the "things" that clutter your
house or apartment. They’re extensions of you –
representations of what has, or has had some sort of
value in your life. Nothing is separate. Evidence of
your personal style, your needs, your idiosyncrasies and
your passions surround you. Have you ever thought about
what they’re saying?
In the 24 years that I’ve been a professional
organizer and personal coach, the most frequent (and
actually amazing) comment that I hear is this: "You
give me permission to be me!" In my first
book, How To Be Organized In Spite Of Yourself, I
identified 10 different styles of managing time and
space that determine which organizational products and
systems are best for each individual. I don’t believe
that getting organized is simply a matter of solving a
series of problems, but rather learning how to make
personal, individual choices that will bring you close
to who you are, and who you’d like to be.
Creating a soulful home is about sustaining an
environment that supports you, and helps balance the
demands of everyday living with the pursuit of your
dreams. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can
take care of others, and understanding how this process
contributes to the development of peace and integrity in
your everyday life.
So how do you connect to the "stuff" of
life in a way that energizes and empowers you, and
enables you to live your own life to the fullest? It
begins with an analysis of where you are today; an
analysis, not a judgment, because there is no
judgement here. What we’re doing is taking inventory
of where you are, to see if the way you spend your time
and energy in your home is the way you want to be
We start by playing Detective. Imagine that you don’t
live in your house, but that you’ve been given the
assignment of finding out everything that you can about
the person who "does" live there. (For now,
leave out the others who may share your home.) Take a
tour of each room, and determine what the décor and
items say about their owner’s style and interests. For
example, does the person who lives in this home seem to
like plants? Antiques? Knitting? Tropical fish? Does the
multitude of cooking utensils indicate a love of
cooking? Does s/he like to read? Have the books and
magazines been opened? Are there many photographs
displayed? Artwork? How about the number of chairs and
sofas? Would you say that the individual enjoys
entertaining? Are there collections? Travel souvenirs?
What can you discover about the person’s musical
Now resume your normal identity and ask yourself
these questions: Does what you discovered in your
Detective Tour ring true? Is the person who is living in
your home today accurately reflected in what was found?
Are these your current musical tastes or rather,
a nostalgic collection of what you enjoyed years ago? Is
your spoon collection something you still add to, or is
it simply collecting cobwebs in the corner? What about
the fish? Is their upkeep too much work these days? And
how about your reading? Are you staying abreast of the
things that interest you, or are your shelves too
clogged with titles from other periods of your life?
There is nothing wrong with saving reminders and
mementos of pleasant times past. But if your space is
primarily taken up with items that don’t support you
in who you are today, your spirit may feel stifled and
dusty. It’s important to remember that you are a
combination of the person you were, the one you are
today, and who it is you aspire to be in the future.
Nothing is as constant as change, and few of us are the
people we were five years ago. Our environment should be
growing with us, but because of time constraints, work,
and family demands, we often don’t devote the time we
should to staying current with our needs.
A soulful home makes us feel at home in our minds,
our spirits, and our bodies. It is the outward
expression of who we are and what makes us happy. To do
this, our home has to be informed with where we are in
our life – our current obligations, priorities and
After playing Detective, the next step is to decide
how much of that snapshot matches how we perceive
ourselves today. For instance, how much of what you see
in the snapshot still makes you feel good when you look
at it? Do you still enjoy the artwork on your walls? How
about your framed photographs? Are some of them recent?
Are the photo subjects still the most important people
in your life? Where are your favorite books? Can you
find them? What about the kitchen -- are you using the
appliances that cover your countertop? Could you use
more space or fewer appliances?
It’s so very important to ask these questions
because we’re not just discussing decorating options
here. The fact is, it’s hard to determine where
something should go if you don’t yet know if it
should go anywhere. The decisions you make about your
kitchen appliances are actually decisions you’re
making about yourself and what you value – what you’re
allowing to consume the minutes and hours, square feet
and square yardage of your home.
"Papers*R*Us" is another way to look around
you and evaluate what you see. If everything is an
extension of you, then your papers, also, are making a
statement. (This is not about neatness, by the way.
Messy papers are primarily indicative of postponed
decisions.) What statement are yours making? What are
you keeping and why? As with everything else in your
life, saved papers should be contributing to your
wellbeing, not distracting you from it.
The stuff in our lives should be stuff that
serves a purpose, or that makes us feel good. Hopefully,
both. Look around you – do you feel nourished, or
drained, by what you see? Yes, artful arrangement is
nice, but it all begins with the "meaning" of
what we have.
Too often, our attempts at organization work
backwards. We buy something and bring it home, set it
down on the table, and wait for it to organize us. Or we
purchase a book, place it on the shelf, and prepare to
become better organized through osmosis. It’s a decent
try, but ultimately not very practical.
We have to begin at the beginning – with ourselves.
And the definition of a "soulful home" will be
different for each person. What are your beliefs and
your values? Everything you own and do is related to
these concepts, and therefore if you want the details of
your life to lift you higher, infusing and enriching
your spirit, you have to understand the connections.
In my upcoming book, Organizing for the Spirit
(Jossey-Bass/J. Wiley & Sons), I address these
issues. Together we explore what your present To Dos and
surroundings say about you, and then we investigate how
to go about developing these discoveries into time
expenditures and space design that accurately reflect
your current living and working situations.
The purpose of this approach is to keep yourself
abreast of Who You Are, Where You Are, how
to Enjoy Your Life, and how to Give Back
Something (make your personal contribution to the
world). I believe that these are the cornerstones of a
successful life, and that Organizing for the Spirit will
help you to build a strong personal foundation.
For example, the second cornerstone, being Where You
Are, is not only about creating a nurturing environment,
but being present in order to take advantage of
that environment. Living in a soulful home is only as
meaningful as your ability to "be there" to
appreciate your surroundings. And I don’t mean just
being physically present. So many times we’re not
really where we’re standing; our minds are busy
careening from one thought to another, from the past to
the future and back to the present, like those little
silver projectiles in a pin-ball game. We have to learn
how to be where we are in order to reap the benefits of
a soulful home.
This lesson is similar to the one about becoming
better organized. Just as we don’t automatically
become organized by going to the Container Store, we don’t
create a soulful home by purchasing a fountain and some
incense. Our intentions may be good, but soulful living
emerges from within. It can be reflected back to us in
many ways, from implementing Feng Shui to sacred altar
design to dedicating a yoga studio, but all of our
efforts should come from personal congruity.
Creating a soulful home is about harmony between our
inner and outer selves. When we’re living a life of
wholeness and integrity, we instinctively know what’s
right for us. We know when our energy is healthy and
moving, and when it’s stuck. We know what activities
build us up and which drag us down. We know how to share
our gifts with those we love and those we want to help.
We know what it means to "come home" to the
person we’re meant to be. J
© Copyright 2002
Sunny Schlenger. All Rights Reserved.
Sunny Schlenger has been a
Professional Organizer for almost 25 years, working with
large and small corporations, non-profit agencies, and
individuals to help them manage their time and space
more creatively and effectively. She does personal
coaching as well as group training and special project
facilitation. Sunny also conducts The Happiness Seminar,
a practical and motivational program on how to maintain
a healthy balance in one’s life, and has designed an
on-line corporate newsletter to help employees deal more
positively with the stress that can be caused by time
Her clients and sponsoring
organizations have included Hoffmann-LaRoche, Lipton,
Computerland, Kidder Peabody, Dupont-Merck, Pfizer, U.S.
Navy, International Association of Financial Planners,
Bloomingdale’s and The Wharton School of Business. She
has spoken for non-profit organizations such as the
American Heart Association, the American Institute of
Banking, the International Platform Association, the
Maryland State Department of Education, the National
Association of Female Executives and the New Jersey
Association of Women Business Owners.
Sunny is the co-author of How
To Be Organized In Spite of Yourself
(Penguin-Putnam), a Book-of-the-Month Club selection
that is now available in an updated 10th
anniversary edition. She has been profiled in such
publications as The New York Times, Fortune, USA
Today, Working Woman, Self, Success, New Woman and
McCall’s. She has also been featured on national
television broadcasts, including ABC’s "Live With
Regis & Kathie Lee", CNN’s "Sonya –
Live in LA," FNN’s "Money Talk", and
Lifetime Cable’s "Working Women’s Survival
Hour." Sunny appears in The Power of Flow (Belitz
& Lundstrom) as a Flow Master who has learned to
adapt the principles of flow to create an exciting and
fulfilling life. Her next book, Organizing for the
Spirit (Jossey-Bass/J.Wiley & Sons) will be
released next year.
A graduate of Johns Hopkins
University, Sunny holds a B.A. in Social &
Behavioral Sciences and received her Masters degree in
Counseling from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. Sunny believes in growth, achievement,
renewal and joy – at both personal and organization
levels. By combining specific how-to’s with dynamic
philosophy, she has created a unique and successful
approach to mastering the dual challenges of staying
productive and feeling good.
Her website is www.suncoach.com.
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