I know. It doesn’t sound right (except to readers who are fans of Katherine North or Martha Beck who probably already KNOW the power of this tool!)
Decorating is so superficial. So materialistic. So unimportant compared to racism, sexism, and Montgomery, Alabama’s first homicide of 2019 – of a black transgender woman. Agreed.
Rearranging furniture, clearing out clutter and bringing in some beauty don’t quite carry the weight of these issues.
Except maybe these things aren’t as disconnected as you think.
At least if part of what you need to make a difference in the world is to get yourself unstuck.
That’s what I’ve learned over the past couple of years as I’ve experimented with the relationship between my outsides and my insides, my space and my work. I’ve learned that appearance — my own appearance and that of the spaces I regularly inhabit — has this inexplicably significant relationship to the work I want to do in the world. My outsides can fuel my interior resources to do what I feel called to do – give me energy, help me to dream bigger and act braver. Or they can drain my energy and feed my tendency towards pessimism and despair.
So, this weekend—even though I “should” have been working on a presentation I’m giving today and prepping for an important meeting—I returned some shoes I didn’t want that were cluttering up a corner of my bedroom. I took down and packed up the Christmas decorations. (Side note: I did this with help from my son and husband – after decades of it somehow being my job alone we realized that “mom” doesn’t have be mean “the person wholly responsible for all things holiday.”) And then my husband and I started in on a project to create two work spaces in our small apartment, one for each of us.
I’m not advocating procrastination on the projects that matter most to you. The jury’s still out on whether I would be happier today if I had done a little more of the meeting prep/presentation prep over the weekend - in addition to my redecorating project.
But I decided going with redecorating was a worthy experiment for two reasons:
First, because I was having so much fun! (until the very end when I was so physically exhausted that I could hardly move.)
I’ve learned that going with whatever inspires me at the moment often works remarkably well – and NOT going with it often doesn’t help me get the other “shoulds” done anyway. In this case, I wasn’t going to spend those same 15 or so hours working on my meeting/presentation. But it’s likely that I would have spent at least half of them floundering around in indecision or doubt, had a not gone with what I was intuitively inspired to do.
And second, I knew that we needed to change our space to change our lives.
I don’t know why the latter is so often true. Sometimes I see it happen in reverse – I bet you have too – someone changes their life in some big way and then you see them changing their home or their wardrobe, or getting a new haircut. It’s as if the change just worked its way from the inside to the outside.
But sometimes we can help to welcome in a change we’re hoping for just by changing our closets, or our living spaces.
Both my husband and I have businesses that are just getting going and salaried jobs too. After years of underearning, I’m earning more money than I ever have before. He’s pursuing work that really matters to his heart in ways that he’s never done before. We are both growing into being leaders who are making a difference in the world in ways that we never have before. We’re also making progress in aligning how we manage our money to better support our values and goals – like the grown-ups that we actually are.
But we still live with a look that I describe as “just out of the dorm room.”
The “just out of the dorm room” look is great and appropriate for my 22-year-old son who’s off on a big adventure in a new city, ready to live on Ramen and brave Chicago cold in pursuit of his dreams. It’s not such a good look for two 51-year-old professionals who each have good salaries and are building businesses in which we help other people bring about big changes in their lives and/or institutions. Our apartment does not reflect the people we are now, let alone the ones we’re becoming. And though I don’t quite understand why it is, I know that it’s a problem we need to solve. It’s getting in the way.
So, we spent the weekend moving towards creating work spaces worthy of two people with thriving businesses and big jobs. It started by clearing out space for what’s coming. Next weekend, we’ll take another step to bring in something new – maybe a desk or a file cabinet. Change takes time. But it’s coming.
Your goals might be different.
Are you a white person working actively to challenge your own biases, or to raise your kids to be anti-racist? If so, you could start with a review of the images in your home – any people of color represented in a positive light – or at all? If not, be intentional about bringing something in that does. And while you’re at it sign up to join me for Amanda Kemp’s Implicit Bias Challenge, “Stop the Hurt.” (The challenge is also for people of color who want to bring healing to themselves.) It’s just five days and starts on MLK Day, Jan. 21.
Are you letting go of a relationship with someone who, as it turns out, wasn’t a partner who could support you on your journey to the amazingness you’re meant for? You might do as one of my friends did this week – turn your bed around and buy some new sheets. Or you might go reclaim one of the special items you left at that former partner’s house and bring it back to your own where it is honored and treasured as it deserves to be. Or just get rid of something in your space that tends to send you back in your mind toward wishing for something that isn’t instead of noticing what is. You don’t have to FEEL amazing yet – just make space for that possibility.
Do you want to change your job, but can’t do it just yet? You could bring in (or uncover) one item that you will see every day that reminds you of the job you want – the one you’re heading for.
In a time of transition when you don’t know what’s next? Try removing a few things that served you well, but are connected to the chapter of your life that’s closing and don’t fill the space just yet. Leave an empty shelf or drawer, or a blank wall that invites what’s coming to show up.
You see, this redecorating process doesn’t require approval by a designer. It’s not about impressing anyone else. It’s about making space for who you are becoming. Giving her some encouragement to come out of hiding. Reminding yourself that you are whole and good already.
AND this thing you want with all your heart? This way you want to be in the world?
It's coming (though admittedly often in a form that is different than what you may expect.) I just know it.
What tiny – or big – change could you make to your living space this coming weekend that would remind you that you’re on a path to something amazing—even if you don’t know exactly what it is? Or don’t quite believe it.
What tiny—or big—change could you make to support you in letting go of a chapter of your life that has closed, or is closing?
Want some accountability? Send me a picture or description of what you want to do and then I’ll check in to see how it’s going.
And remember as you consider doing one of these experiments - that even if you live alone, you’re not alone. Remember David Whyte’s poem (and last week's post)? Everything is waiting for you!
I look forward to hearing about the step you take next!
Here’s to thriving – and equity!