Tag Archives: clutter-clearing

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

Viktor Frankl wrote compelling prose about the humanistic and optimistic attitudes that spelled the difference between survival and destruction in Nazi death camps. He was a trained psychiatrist and neurologist and he lived through a traumatic, brutal and nearly unimaginable historic event. His insights, like his experience, are profound and worth pondering. I have honestly believed for several years that we are on the cusp of an evolutionary shift that has already obliterated life as we knew it and made some things about how the late twentieth and nascent twenty-first centuries operate starkly undeniable. We are cast into a sere landscape with no maps. I’ll read anything that seems like a good idea to pick up threads of direction about how to live now. But most of the current crop of “do this, don’t do that” books are insubstantial and, frankly, dated.

It isn’t entirely fair to take something slight and demand profundity from it and I won’t do that with Gretchen Rubin’s chronicle of her year-long quest, The Happiness Project. Rubin makes no claims that her book will inspire a Rilkean moment in a reader. She says she was happier at the end of her year but she admits to being essentially the same person she was when she began the project, only nicer.  That’s good but pop science and psychology are written to appeal to a wide audience and Rubin’s book is more banal than epiphanic or brilliant. I was counting on a  read closer to the brilliant end of the spectrum. (Brilliant truth from the Heart Sutra: no expectations. Haven’t mastered that yet.)  I am so not a fan of writing that constantly refers to “research” showing something without citing the research. How do I know? What research? Maybe the research was flawed or biased. Why should I take your word for it? So I remain curmudgeonly but unconvinced.

The Happiness Project was an attempt by a Yale-educated lawyer, former Supreme Court clerk and published author, married to a successful spouse, also a Yale law grad (I think), living on the Upper East Side with two small healthy children and apparent financial security as well as a close and congenial family, to make her life better. Her goals were to blunt an inconvenient short temper, lose a snarky, snappish demeanor and appreciate the many blessings she acknowledges are the substance of her life. Those are admirable goals. She created a bunch of resolutions and a blog, probably had a heart-to-heart with her literary agent, and set out to remake the tenor of her days.

It’s a well-done self help book. There are elements you can try to create your own happiness project and a month-by-month report on what she tried and how she did. I admit she started to lose me when she purchased a very pricey personal trainer-led weights program at her local gym as part of an effort to be healthier. And there is the writing studio on the roof top of her apartment building, child-free. Probably a nanny. Time to start several groups that meet for supper and conversation about books and personal projects and whatever. This is a happiness project for people in the 1% who are crazy-busy and stressed about it but still manage to have a significant amount of time on their hands and the resources to bankroll a personal quest.

The sages cited in the book–and Rubin reads all the change artists, from Frankl to St. Theresa to the Dalai Lama to Anne Lamott and Thoreau–have words of wisdom, and the bibliography is a useful reading guide for your own course of study. The suggestions that worked for Rubin would make a power-packed magazine article but I started checking where I was in the year at about May or June.

Once upon a time I might have aspired to the protected middle-class cocoon of Rubin’s life but in the abrupt evolutionary now I could not relate.  You might, though. Schedule a Pollyanna Week, make a Resolutions Chart and get a pedometer. Do not follow her advice about healthy eating–it is woefully unevolved.  Do try the get-enough-sleep tip. I keep meaning to do that. And clean out your closet. You’ll feel better. You’ll find the few things that still fit you. If you live in Manhattan, they will all be black so that everything matches. That is the magic key to simplifying your life. Move to Manhattan. Be rich, if you can. Buy only black clothes. Take lots of pictures of your kids. And stop gossiping. There. Don’t you feel happier already? Thought you would.

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun   Gretchen Rubin | HarperCollins  2009

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui – Karen Kingston

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It’s been a year of releasing things to make room for whatever brave new world is pushing up from this 21st century compost heap. Just now I am hauling boxes of books to the used bookseller and donating the overflow to the library. So hard to let go of a book. But we are overwhelmed by hardcovers, paperbacks, museum catalogs, picture books–and we need the space.

One yellowing paperback that gets to stay is Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. I’ve blogged about her books before. She works from the premise that clutter is a reflection of the inner you–uh oh–and that there are reasons that go beyond mere traffic flow and hygiene to become clutter-free. It’s a very basic primer, setting out the simplest principles of Feng Shui and exploring the reasons how and why clutter happens–and what you should do about it.

One interesting idea is that unfinished projects, even when neatly stowed, are clutter because they block the energy flow in your life. That afghan half-completed and folded neatly in the craft box? Clutter. Organized shoeboxes of photographs waiting for the day they slip into an album? Clutter. Paper clutter is a biggie and other people’s clutter can be fatal. It’s a huge mistake to take in the family leavings–Aunt Theoora’s carved walnut dining set and gilt-edged china are clutter in your attic. If you have a serious problem with stuff bequeathed to you that piles up–and up and up–you could create unhealthy conditions in your home and even block fire exits.

But the typical clutter is more modest–a closet crammed with clothes that might fit again someday or just need a zipper fixed or a new hem. Kitchen cabinets house seldom- or never-used appliances–when was the last time you made air-popped popcorn or homemade waffles? Charming collectibles can be clutter–porcelain kittens are cute but they take time to dust and proliferate all over shelves and tabletops. Email should be use-and-lose, not save-to-deal-with-later; ditto snail mail.

Kingston offers some pain-free, or almost pain-free, ways to get started clearing out your clutter. She tells you how to do a simple space clearing to get the energy moving and motivate you to get out the trash bags. Space clearing, a spiritual practice, is best done after you lose the clutter but it can jump-start things for the habitual procrastinator. A single junk drawer could be the opening sortie–you might feel so virtuous that you immediately tackle the garage.

And while you’re at it, Kingston says not to overlook your body and your mind. A daily meditation practice can interrupt the useless chatter and worry loop that occupies your mind most of the time. A detox and a cleaner diet will help your body to get rid of the junk you dumped in there. I love to imagine the sleek, pared down surroundings of the annoyingly healthy person at the conclusion of all this admirable Feng Shui–boundless energy sparkling over everything. Just as soon as I get these last few boxes of books out of here, and dust all the bookshleves, reorganize the remaining books, reshelve all the books on the window seat, the chest, the floor…

Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui   Karen Kingston | Broadway Books 1999

Related post:

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui 

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui – Karen Kingston

Click to buy from Amazon


The nice thing about reading whatever I like every day is – reading whatever I like. The tough thing is finding time in a crazy-crowded schedule to read for hours and then blog about it. So, occasionally, I read what I am living and use the overlap to facilitate some pressing activity.

Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston is the perfect book to read when you are in the middle of a massive clear-out of an apartment you have lived in for more than 17 years. This space, with its seasonal mice, #$%^&* noisy neighbors, backyard barbecue smoke—eeuw, smells like we live over a cheap restaurant—has a fabulous Central Park West location, alas. Plus, it’s rent stabilized, a bonus that effectively traps you with the neighbors, the vermin, etc. etc. due to below-market rent. Salvation Army is getting a lot of pristine homeschooling materials and quality toddler toys as I dig into closets and empty boxes.

I am reading a John Pawson book (a cook book, actually) for inspiration in streamlining our culinary collection. Dumping a ton of old writing and marketing papers, music CDs, DVDs, various handmade souvenir baskets, pottery, folk paintings and furniture. It is a painful and horrible exercise but we are rediscovering square footage and closet space we had forgotten we had. Kingston’s prescriptions promise room for all kinds of good things to happen so I’m buying into it. Clear your clutter; change your life.

Clutter, or just seldom-used stuff, causes energy to stagnate, according to Kingston. This is a classic Feng Shui concept and the remedy is to make space to get the energy moving again. In the past, when I did a modest clear-out, I immediately got a lot of new business. So, a major release should effectively upend the economic mudslide that has buried our small enterprise and restore some fiscal sunshine. One hopes. In any case, the Karen Kingston advice is coupled with her original version of space clearing—a process and ritual that cleans the energy in a structure and banishes negative influences and the remnants of old events. Books get a special mention in Clearing Sacred Space—pretty helpful when you are staring in dismay at 14-foot-high walls of books that need dusting, sorting and selling to the used bookstore. We will always have books but we will also have eBooks and this place doesn’t need to be a set piece from Fahrenheit 451 to honor our love of the printed volume.

If you have a recurring problem in any area of your life, Kingston suggests you lay the Feng Shui bagua map over your space and find the area that relates to the problem: career, family, romance, health, wealth, etc. Check the area for clutter, items that are no longer used or were always unloved, furniture with sharp edges, even spider plants. Too many downward-hanging items encourage low energy and depression. Spiders droop attractively and produce lots of baby plants which increase the downward energy. So the recommendation is to use uplighting, ferns or other greenery that grows up, pots and cups on shelves rather than suspended from hooks. Peace lilies and dwarf bananas are good for cleaning the air and grow nicely upward.

Not every idea will work in a space-challenged apartment but the more you are aware of the message of your surroundings, the faster you can change the vibe. And, if you have a missing area, there are Feng Shui “cures” listed for tackling the imbalance. The wealth area is missing from our apartment—aaaargh. Remedies might be to hang a rainbow crystal in the window overlooking the missing area or position a mirror to reflect light there. I’ve already strung two rows of Tibetan prayer flags along the railing inscribing the phantom wealth area and we have a wind chime there but it clearly needs a bigger boost of positive. A severe paper edit—business and marketing papers, drafts of documents, bills and banking paperwork in a cabinet–and maybe a crystal might help. But the space clearing when this huge project is finished could be just the auspicious touch we need.

Space clearing is a ritual that unsticks the energy, releases old, negative vibrations and purifies the surroundings. Kingston pioneered the practice using her own talent for sensing energy and years of study with Feng Shui, meditation and indigenous shamanic practitioners. She recommends using a trained professional for the work but tells you how to do it yourself if there is no one else available. Whether you believe in the ability to affect energy fields or not, using fresh flowers, clapping, bell ringing, candles, smudging and intention to clear the space is a pleasant completion of the weeding out. There are many books about Feng Shui and a fair few about space clearing. But Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui merges both methods in a simple set of directions and explanations that make sense and could motivate you to push through the messy clean-up part to the celebration of better energy flow when you are through.   

Creating Sacred Space With Feng Shui: Learn the Art of Space Clearing and Bring New Energy into Your Life    Karen Kingston | Broadway Books  1997