Creating a Home Where I Live

July 14, 2023

“When someone’s space aligns with and supports who they are as an individual, that, according to Cohen-Scharfman, is when a house truly becomes a home.” (1) Beyond the obvious, which is living at peace with others in the household, I was surprised to learn some of the things that people do to feel at home in a house.

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art/science of planning and organizing homes to maximize energy flow (Qi, or Chi) to promote health and balance. From a mental health perspective, it means we can feel more at home when our living space has more natural light, plant-life, and colours that may (even without our knowledge,) provide what gives balance and nurturance to our spirits.

According to the Feng Shui Color Guide, “Earthy and neutral colors like yellow, orange, and browns ground and support us. Think of Mother Earth … taking in the things we need to let go of. For instance, like the process of composting or decomposition, the earth can take what’s no longer needed and transform it into something fertile.” (2) I wonder whether the earthy tones that I am planning on using to paint my kitchen and hall is related to my losses of these past few years and a present desire for self-nurture?

I am not surprised to learn that decluttering is important in Feng Shui. I don’t need Feng Shui consultant Laura Cerrano to tell me: “Clutter isn’t just about aesthetics — it’s been proven to be detrimental to your mind, to the neurons in your brain. It creates stress.” (3) I know that I can’t do creative work in a cluttered space. Deciding what is needed and what I can live without can be a challenge when decluttering.

When we moved to Tanzania in 1985, we were asked whether we would want a fridge. I said, “of course – yes – I will need a fridge.” A full-sized electric (convertible to kerosene) fridge was ordered from Switzerland. There was no electricity in the village we moved to. The fridge arrived six months after we did. By that time, we realized that we had no kerosene to run the fridge but also no food that required refrigeration.  It was rather embarrassing to have an expensive fridge when we only needed pantry space! What am I holding onto today that I am not using, that is cluttering my life?

In our homes we often have pictures and mementos that make us feel connected to some part of our identities. We have pictures and artifacts that remind us of people and places. But lately I have been wondering, what things am I holding onto that no longer fit my identity? I can throw out all of that material that I developed for care-giving courses 15 years ago; it was good at that time, but now it’s obsolete and I’m a different person. I can also throw out some of the study material I inherited from my Mom; she grew past it and I am reminded in other ways of that special bond we shared.

One spiritual as well as mental health practice is to loosen our grips on the things we hold onto very tightly, and we will begin to discern what is most important. In this we find freedom to become new people.  

Gratitude is a practice that helps us hold less tightly to things. This wisdom from many spiritual traditions exhorts us to think of things as gifts to the community. Indigenous Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: “We are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep. Their life is in their movement, the inhale and the exhale of our shared breath. Our work and our joy is to pass along the gift and to trust that what we put out into the universe will always come back.” (4.)

The Grandmother used to say, “make a home not a house.” As an immigrant her priority was securing the necessities of life for her family. There is a saying, “the family that prays together, stays together.” In their house it was also “the family that works and eats together, stays together.” “Together” was the common denominator. She observed when things got in the way of making a home. The Grandmother invested time in people and made a home, the place of love, where family and friends gathered and found wisdom, courage and strength.  

Gratitude Prompt – give thanks for my home, and for the Grandmother’s wisdom and blessing.

  4. Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants”