How to be a domestic goddess
By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Fertility Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility
‘Home is where the heart is’ – a place filled by the people and possessions we love, but too often we hold onto stuff we don’t need, use or cherish. So how do we declutter, enrich our domestic life and turn bricks and mortar into our own perusal haven?
For many people, the phrase ‘mindful home’ will conjure up images of a spiritual space; ornaments of Buddhist monks, the wafting smell of josh sticks, everything perfectly placed Feng Shui-style and just the right balance of yin and yang.
The reality for most of us though, with time, money and patience for household jobs in short supply – never mind kids and pets tearing around the household thwarting any efforts we do make – is that this picture-perfect image doesn’t exist. More likely, it is a place or organised chaos, with us feeling like we’re running just to stand still. So how on earth can we, should we so choose, go about creating harmonious abode?
The first thing that stops us is we typically think we need to do something drastic, a project worthy of Kevin McCloud’s approval on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. The initial excitement, however, soon gives way to the reality of the costs and effort associated with anything too adventurous. Even a simple makeover with a slap of paint can feel like a mountainous task when faced with hundreds of colour-palette charts, which all eventually seem to blend into one. But paint and Grand Designs do not equal a mindful home.
REFLECTION OF INNER SELF
It’s not so much what’s on the surface that counts, its what resides within, or at the heart of, the shell. It’s about what our home embodies and says about us. After all it’s a space we shape and mould to creatively express our individual personality, interests, and lifestyle – almost like an extension of us – somewhere we can truly be our self and project how we want to be seen to others.
As somewhere we spend most of our lives, we can sometimes be too close to our home to be able to reflect on what it says about us. I find imagining myself as a visitor to my house for the very first time a useful way to gain fresh perspective and consider without judgement, what it says about me. This way, I can contemplate what I would change to make it the home I desire. Have a go for yourself and see what comes to mind.
While you’re reflecting on any possible changes, look around you: might it be time for a spring clean? It’s truly remarkable how much we hoard, without even realising it. I’ve just moved house with my partner and during the process I found stacks of old presents from my future mother-in-law, which by guilty confession I only ever bring out when she comes to visit. Then there were old clothes kept on the basis I might need them one day (for decorating or gardening – the usual rationalisations) and you can imagine the dilemma my partner had when he came across his childhood collection of teddy bears (not that he would confess to it). The pièce de résistance though, was discovering 20-years’ worth of old birthday and Christmas cards, which I must have kept for sentimental value.
THE MINDFUL CLEAR-OUT
We are all guilty of holding on to stuff that turns into clutter, which is why we should have a good old-fashioned spring clean from time to time. So let’s get stuck in. To make sure you don’t lose motivation, imagine what it would be like to have a clutter-free home and ask yourself why you would like to live this way. To help stay focused, I wrote a mission statement in my journal including the benefits of a clutter-free life – primarily to leave the house in the morning without first having to do three laps of the house looking for my keys.
Decluttering can seem like a mammoth task. Instead of looking at your home in its entirety, break it down into rooms or, even better, focus on just one category at a time, such as clothes, books, or stationary. It’s much less daunting and quicker to get results. I like to make lists of what I want to get done as it helps me maintain focus and momentum, plus there’s something ever so satisfying at being able to tick them off one by one.
The first task is discarding items. Going through your belongings with full awareness gives you the chance to consider whether you actually need, use or cherish each item you come across. It can be hard to let go of some things as they might invoke memories of the past, but this is where you must remember you are living in the present. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Instead of throwing your items straight in the bin, you can soften the blow by putting them into a bag for the charity shop; letting others get joy from them, whilst contributing to a worthy cause at the same time.
Once you’ve discarded the items, apart from feeling psychologically lighter and clearer, you will be able to see what you’re left with and neatly organise them back into place. This allows you to become fully aware and appreciate all the things that make up the home you love.
Post declutter-fest, having freed up all that extra space, you might be tempted to treat yourself to a little spending spree. I’m one of those girls who can go into complete shopaholic mode and rush out into the sales, buying things for no reason other than that I consider them a bargain. To stop myself from accumulating more stuff, I take a breather and check whether I need, or even truly desire, a so-called bargain. I ask myself: “Am I buying this item for the sake of buying it or is it going to add to my life in some way?” It’s a useful tactic to try when you next hit the shops.
Just like a garden, our home needs tending. I used to dread doing repetitive household chores and saw them as boring, time-consuming, and never-ending. The mountain of dishes in the sink, the smelly, overflowing laundry bin; the chunks of cat hair fused to the carpet – the list went on and on. I used to keep telling myself I’d get around to them, secretly hoping my partner would tackle the tasks before I did. With no chance of that happening, I’d reluctantly begin making my way through what seemed like an endless list of chores, hating every second of it, wishing I was doing something else.
CLEAN LIKE A MONK
What I’ve come to discover, however, is keeping my home in shipshape condition doesn’t need to be a drag. So, what’s my secret? I learnt to clean like a monk. In Zen temples, monks are assigned to carry out a specific cleaning task every day for 20 minutes. They fully immerse themselves silently in the task and once time is up, they stop working – whether they have completed it or not – and continue with their day. This practice is called soji and has been replicated in Japanese schools where children carry out 20 minutes of cleaning as part of their daily routine.
Taking on this habit and being able to schedule in a set time every day to get my chores done works perfectly for me. You see my parents programmed into me from a young age that once I start a job, I should finish it. In the past, this resulted in me putting chores off until I knew I’d have time to get them done. But by cleaning like a monk, my focus has now shifted from finishing the task to just doing it, so I’m able to get my chores done over the week without overcomplicating everything. What’s more, I’ve learnt to do the mundane chores even if I don’t want to do them; to receive and accept them without preference, resistance, or protestation. In my eyes, if Japanese children can handle the 20 minutes, then I’m pretty sure I can.
Why not give this a go for yourself? Next time you carry out your chores, stay focussed and try not to be distracted by thoughts other than the task at hand, ensuring the 20 minutes are as productive as they can be and you’re not cheating yourself. If you start to lose focus, drifting in and out of thoughts, merely observe and acknowledge their presence, notice their content and consciously choose to bring your attention back to what you’re doing. With a set time to work within, it’s easy to get distracted by clock watching. I get around this by setting an alarm on my phone. It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes: choose an amount of time that suits you and your lifestyle.
TIME OUT AT HOME
There’s nothing like a day spent at home, but in our busy lives these times are few and far between. Our home becomes more like a crash pad for sleeping. Any chance we do get to sit down and appreciate the home we’ve made is often interrupted by cold calls, our neighbour unexpectedly popping by for a chat or the daunting to-do list hanging over our heads. So, what’s the answer? A mindful home retreat is a great way to enjoy some respite. There’s no need to book a weekend abroad for some time out. You can save those extra pennies and opt for a true staycation.
Just yesterday, I scheduled in such a home break. I cleared my afternoon of any commitments and switched off my phone so that I wouldn’t be disturbed. I decided I would spend the time carrying out three mindful activities. The first was tapping into my creative side by painting for an hour or two; the second was reading a book I’ve been meaning to finish for what seems like months; and the third was preparing some nourishing home cooking, surprising my partner with his favourite meal when he came home. I consciously tried to carry each one out with full awareness, allowing my body and mind to enjoy each moment as it passed.
As the sun went down, I took time fully to observe and appreciate the haven I’d made, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the world outside. The place I miss when I’m away and to which I look forward to returning. The space I can forever adapt to reflect who I am, where I am in my life and how I want to live. At the end of the day, there really is no place like home.
• Article published in Breathe magazine, p80-81, Issue 5