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Sunny Schlenger

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?

Organizing for the Spirit by Sunny Schlenger

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 spending it.

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 tastes?

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 preferred lifestyle.

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.

How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself

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
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 overload.

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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