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Feng Shui: Using energy to lighten your load

In Flight
Catherine Al-Meten

As we enjoy the summer life, with a bit more leisure time, travel, guests, and longer hours to enjoy life, we may have made a to-do list already. Summer is a time to regenerate and restore ourselves, a time to play and relax a bit more than usual. Usually with the warmer weather and longer hours of daytime, we have more opportunities for outdoor recreation, reading for pleasure, gardening, and entertaining. Feng Shui’s emphasis on energy and creating a flow of energy in all areas of our lives, is something we can use to help us balance our lives and organize our homes to be more conducive to a relaxing way of living.

Rather than spending the entire summer wearing yourself out with exhausting lists, major chores and renovations, hopefully you can fit your organizing and rearranging into the slower pace of life this summer. Last night as I sat reading and gazing out the window at the late summer sunset, I noticed my mind was traveling to the kitchen where I had a sink full of unwashed dishes, a cupboard or two that had become cluttered, crowded, and inconvenient. Also, I sat looking at a chair I had pulled in front of a book case, months ago, and felt compelled to start moving things around just a little, to make the space in my living room more conducive to conversation and less cluttered and out of balance. One thing that I emphasize when doing Feng Shui, is to trust yourself when doing any kind of rearranging. If we simply set our homes up according to some pre-arranged floor plan we found in a magazine or online, we might find that that plan does not fit our energy and movement patterns. After some simple rearranging, I recognized that sometimes just a simple change can make all the difference in energy patterns in a room. What is involved in making some simple yet effective changes?

Organize and arrange to meet your real needs. Sometimes we reorganize with the best of intentions, but find that our plan does not fit with our normal behavior. For example, when I put everything in neat little boxes and hidden files in my office, I found I blocked my energy instead of allowing it to flow according to my patterns of behavior. As a visual person, I need to see what I am working on, and have it arranged in such a way that keeps my mind focused on the different steps I’m working on. I maintain story boards with maps of fictional places when writing a novel, or organize a large project on a 18-month calendar where I can see what I’ve accomplished, and what needs to be done. In my kitchen last night, I moved the teas and coffee-making supplies from one cupboard to one nearer my stove. I also moved all my breakfast supplies next to the tea-making supplies. This fits into the way I live day to day. I moved items I use less frequently (canned goods or baking supplies).

Organize to suit your needs. Make space for items you use frequently, and create a system that works for how you work. I have decided to install a small shelf over my stove to store the spices, olive oil, and vinegar to enable me to have everything within easy reach when I’m preparing daily meals. Spend some time thinking about the places in your home and day when you find yourself exerting a lot of extra energy to do something that should be simple. Notice the places that take up space in your mind (the drawer with vitamin supplements in the bathroom or the closet shelf that is stacked high with boxes you no longer remember the contents of. This will probably give you a good idea of what you want to rearrange and reorganize. Put some pens/pencils/paper/envelopes where you need them, and store your main supplies separately. If you work at the kitchen or dining room table, or on the coffee table or sit on the floor to work, have a small stash of necessary supplies nearby (tuck them onto a book case, or put them in an artistic container of some type.

Create some habits for taking care of tiresome chores more easily. None of us can escape some of the routine chores of daily living. By befriending the chores, and making them part of our process of starting, taking breaks, or ending the day, we improve both our attitudes about simple tasks and the flow of energy. Doing dishes, making the bed, prepping food or shopping, and hanging up clothes are some of the tasks that may challenge you. We each have our own list of things we’d rather not do. First, change your attitude about the task, and then determine a time to take care of the chore and make that task part of some other routine.For example, my morning routine includes getting up and making a cup of tea first thing. My evening routine includes washing up the dishes before heading to bed. If however, I have missed that chore, I do the dishes while waiting for the water to boil. What is one chore you could weave into your daily schedule? What could you add to your morning and evening rituals? How could you use breaks in your work schedule to combine exercise with a chore like doing our recycling or weeding the pots on the back porch?

Give yourself permission to be flexible. Avoid becoming a slave to a task, that in the larger scheme of things, is just a chore. Again, make your habits work for you. If something isn’t working for you, change it. We do this seasonally, as a matter of necessity. For example, keeping the entryway or mudroom clear and clean during winter is different than it is during summer. Adapt to how you live. When on vacation, I give myself permission or even an order to get outside more often. Living along the coast, we understand the importance of “making hay while the sun shines”.
There are some chores we can do more easily on nice days. Arrange to take advantage of the change of weather or the slow down over a holiday weekend. Rather than creating more chores for yourself, give yourself permission to relax and refresh yourself. Catch up on your reading, sit and leaf through magazines and read the articles you’ve been wanting to read. Make a collage or clip ideas, articles, or photographs of something you want to remember or share with a friend. Change your schedule. In summer, take a long walk before eating a picnic dinner or having a barbecue. Arrange for a game of tennis or a swim in the evening, or invite friends over to play a game of cards and catch up.

Seek balance by living in harmony with life’s flow. Energy is constant. There is a steady but limited supply of energy, and if we put all our energy into doing the drudge work of life, we suffer. We need a healthy balance of activities. Maintaining our homes and creating a nice flow of energy is important only if we are enjoying life in other areas as well. Focusing only on doing chores and taking care of business, we put ourselves in danger of falling into what Julia Cameron calls the “virtue trap”. We think if we ‘do’ what we should, keep our homes ‘just so’ and work as hard as we can, relentlessly, then that makes us better people. What it makes is tired, imbalanced, and fairly uncreative people. Change up your schedule—do things out the usual order. Shake up your life a bit by breaking out of routines. Take a nap if you need one. Have breakfast for dinner, or dessert before noon. Eat cold pizza or spaghetti in the morning once in a while. Stay up too late, or go to be early. Wake with the sun, and go star gazing on clear nights. Do what gives you energy, and helps you break with dulling routines. Anything can become a dull routine if we don’t change our ways of experiencing it. Notice what has become dulled around the edges for you, and then vary your patterns, routines, and behavior. If you have let the laundry pile up, think of how good you’ll feel when it’s done.

Get some help. Send things out to Fluff and Fold once a year or hire someone to come in and give your floors and appliances an annual good cleaning. I had a housekeeper at a time in my life when I was busiest. I paid her for half a day’s work twice a month for 6 months, and consider it the best money I’ve ever spent. For one thing, I got motivated to clean before she came (yes, I cleaned before the housekeeper), and felt such appreciation for her efforts and for the time and energy that having some help gave me. Periodically, I have had friends and my sister help me tackle a major chore or project. Some of the best times I’ve had with friends or my family is doing some big chore or project to help each other out (painting a room, clearing our the closet, creating a meditation garden in the garden).

Let the season be your guide. In summer when it starts getting hotter, get things done early in the day. Open the windows to let the cool air in in the mornings, and then close the curtains later. When the temperature outside reaches the point where it’s warmer than indoors, close the windows if you can. In the extreme heat of the day, lay low. Plan your day to use the least amount of physical and mental energy at the times of the day that most suit your makeup. My former mother-in-law loved to do chores in hot weather. The heat energized and activated her. I am the opposite—I need the cold to get energized. Heat depletes me, so I do the most difficult taxing things when it’s cooler; I rest, relax, and do rejuvenating things when it’s hot (swim, read, meditate, go shopping in an air-conditioned store).

Use light effectively. If you are fortunate enough to have windows that let in direct sunlight, use that to your advantage when sweeping, dusting, or doing any kind of close up cleaning. The light allows you to see what’s really on the floor or shelf you re cleaning. Wear your glasses when cleaning and doing the dishes. Believe me on this one; it really helps. And if you just do not really want to see the dirt, dust, and clutter in the full light of day, take your glasses off, look with a soft, accepting gaze, and appreciate the fact that if everything isn’t perfectly spotless, completely cleared of clutter, or organized to perfection, you are fortunate to have a space of your own to be haven, the calm place where you begin and end each day.

You can create the home, studio, or office you want by simply honoring your own energy, needs, and ability to create a peaceful living and working environment for yourself and your family. So much of what makes the energy balanced and pleasant in your home is your attitude about it. Lift your spirits with the warmth of summer and the light of the season, and enjoy your home, your life, and the gift of living.