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Posted: 5/15/2010

Feng Shui Clutter Clearing

(reprinted from Sheffield School of Interior Design Monthly)

Put it on the list of phrases that make your eyes roll in boredom, along with "national deficit," "computer programming," and "retirement fund."

Clutter clearing just doesn't sound sexy.

But we're here to tell you that in fact, it is — sexy, exciting, liberating. In terms of Feng Shui, it's probably the single most effective action you can take to make your home look good and feel great. And spring is the optimum time to take on the clutter problem — there's a reason that spring cleaning has been an annual ritual for centuries.

First, let's take a look at what's wrong with clutter in light of Feng Shui. For one thing, it clogs up the ch'i, or life energy, in your home. In order to move freely, the ch'i needs room to flow; imagine a river trying to flow around a big block of cement. All those papers, half-used bottles of face cream, pens that are out of ink, clothing you never wear are blocking the ch'i, and preventing it from flowing freely. And that prevents your life from moving in the most productive, satisfying ways.

Clutter also often keeps us holding onto the past in ways that are counter-productive. Of course, there are some things you want to keep, things which remind you of people or times you love; we're not saying you should throw out photos of loved ones, as long as the photos bring you happiness. But if you've got a print on the wall that you really dislike but you keep it because you've always had it, this is the spring to let it go. If you've got dresses that no longer look good on you, pants into which you cannot squeeze, shoes that hurt your feet so much you haven't worn them in years, let them go. Same with the dress you wore to a an event that went terribly wrong.The candle sticks given to you by the ex from hell? Out. Now.

Things we no longer use fall into the same category. Every time you see the novel you just cannot finish, you feel like an uneducated failure. Every time you reach into the closet for an outfit and you see the suit that no longer fits, you think you're terrible for not being able to lose those ten pounds.

But it's hard to throw out all that clutter. So set yourself a weekend for the job, and remember that the less clutter you have, the more room you'll have for things like a vase of fresh flowers or a lovely row of candles — and without the clutter, you'll really be able to see it.

If possible, have a friend come over to help you assess. Equipment you'll need: a few big old shopping bags, and the address of your local Goodwill or other charity that accepts cast-offs. Call them in advance to make sure they take whatever you'll be divesting.

Start in the bedroom. Strip down and try on any piece of clothing you haven't worn in the past week. Is it a little tight? Too loose? Has it started to sag and bag and fade and pill? If so, fold it up and put it in one of the bags. If it's in really dreadful condition, put it in the other bag, to be used as a rag.

The rule of thumb is this: if you didn't wear it in the most recent season, toss it. That means any sweater that you didn't wear in the winter of 2009-2010. Also toss anything that is uncomfortable, or that doesn't feel like "you." Life is too short to wear anything that doesn't feel perfect. Once you've bagged up the stuff you don't wear, you'll be surprised to find out just how many great pieces you own that you'd forgotten about, because you couldn't find them in that forest of clothing.

The front hall or entrance to the home is often the place where clutter accumulates, and it's also one of the most important areas to keep clear of clutter. First, look at how the entrance really gets used: do you throw the mail on the dining room table? Do you have no table onto which you can dump your packages and groceries? Start by seeing how you do you use the entrance, and then work on making it more functional. Maybe you need a small, pretty bowl for your keys and change, or a hook for your jacket and bag, or a folder for receipts.

Some people find it helpful to have a recycling canister right in the home's entrance — as you're sorting the mail, just toss anything that's junk into the receptacle, and that way you only have to sort the mail once. Try to set up a system that allows you to use the "touch only once" rule: open the mail as soon as you pick it up, and if it's a bill, pay it right then.

As you move through the rest of the house, try to use the same principal. They say you should keep bank records and tax returns for seven years, but other than those, you can shred papers that are a year old. In this electronic age, many records are kept by the institutions: you probably don't need a duplicate copy. If in doubt, call the institution to make sure, and then fire up the shredder.

If you keep in mind how your home will feel — lighter, more spacious, freer — you'll find it won't be so painful to get rid of the clutter that's clogging up the ch'i in your home.

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