Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Spiritual Practice of . . .

I don't even know what to call it. Organizing? Decluttering? Ordering? Composing? Orchestrating? Integrating? Streamlining? Engineering?

Yes, I've resorted to the thesaurus. So far I kind of like composing. It sounds like it's related to music, and photography ~ to any work of art. It sounds orderly and intentional. It sounds like . . . it sounds like not my house at all.

I know I've written about this before. In fact, I could probably celebrate my blogiversaries (just passed the sixth one a few weeks ago) by pulling up at least annual entries about figuring out the house. But this time (is there a 12-step program for this?) I have a new resolve and perhaps the time to carry it out.

Here's what's at issue:

A nearly 100-year-old three story house with the accumulated memories (I mean clutter) of 26 years of family life. Shelves and shelves and shelves (remember, we have a library with 34 of them, and they represent only the tip of the iceberg) of books. Enough piles and folders of papers to reforest the entire Pacific Northwest. Files and containers of negatives and prints and videos. Clothes in ~ ahem ~ a multitude of sizes and in styles that qualify for museum status. Children's art and school work. Camping and canoeing and backpacking gear. Several rooms that need painting. At least one ceiling that needs to be replaced -- if you could call a couple of slabs of drywall jammed in place as a temporary measure a decade ago a ceiling. And no money.

Here's what's a stake:

The desire to live with simplicity and beauty.
The longing for home as a place of retreat. The wish for our to home reflect our interests and passions in a hospitable way.

I don't think this has a whole lot to do with cool containers or closet designs. I think is has to do with identity and priority and love.

OK, I should have been thinking this way 25 years ago but I wasn't, so let's let that one go.

Here's what I think now:
We have maybe 20 years of vigorous health and energy left and the chances are pretty good that we'll spend them in this house. (Although if any of you have something on a beach somewhere that you want to give away, I'm quite willing to walk out the door without looking back.) We have certain priorities for those years and I, at least, would like to focus undistractedly on those, which means I would like our arrangement of furnishings and art and storage to reflect the things we care about and are engaged in. We have a group of wonderful friends and I'd like them to feel welcomed and comfortable when they come by.

And here's what I'm banking on (I know: silly, silly me):

A summer of unemployment - no, let's call that freedom. Something like 60 days in which I could make ordering our household my top and almost singular priority.

You know how you are supposed to prep the walls before you paint? And before the prep, you need a vision. Am I leaving the wall here or knocking it out? New windows (more knocking out)? Paint or paper? And then: the destruction and the re-plastering or rebuilding and the sanding and the cleaning and the base coat? Maybe you don't know all this if your house is more youthful than ours, but I am not youthful either, so the parallel works just fine.

I think that my prep work consists of imagining how life could be and how the house could look and function before I lift a finger. A lot of interior mental and emotional work before the physical task begins.

In the house, the destruction follows the acknowledgment that water damage has rendered the remains of a wall or ceiling no longer useful, and the re-construction involves getting it to a point where it can be made beautiful in a fresh and inviting way. Same for life and how it is reflected by the space it inhabits.

So, over the next month or so, while I am finishing papers and otherwise engaged in the end of my seminary experience, I am going to be doing a lot of inner excavation and dreaming as I prepare for the destructive (I mean cleansing) phase of:

The Spiritual Practice of Household Composition.

Image (not mine): Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park (Chicago). My current model for household composition. You can see that I am faced with something of a challenge. I may have to call in Portia for an intervention.


  1. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for posting this. I am amazed at how parallel our thoughts/lives are, in some ways. We have a similar issue, with a newer house. Moving out to Ronald McDonald house, moving back, and Katie's passing have only exacerbated it. When David moves to college in the fall, I can only imagine what will ensue.
    Shall we do a swap? If I fly out there to help you sort and recompose your nest, will you fly out here to help me? =)

  2. From across the Atlantic can I suggest a book ( I checked USA Amazon - they have it) The poetics of Space by Bachelhard- beautiful, philosophical and therapeutic , it bridges the interior/exterior on all levels.....

  3. I love the way your writing allows images and words to morph into new images and how it all weaves together.

    Somehow I've now gotten this whole picture of your house and your life intertwined, like a double helix? DNA?

    This: "In the house, the destruction follows the acknowledgment that water damage has rendered the remains of a wall or ceiling no longer useful, and the re-construction involves getting it to a point where it can be made beautiful in a fresh and inviting way. Same for life and how it is reflected by the space it inhabits." is just beautiful.

    In the Jungian dream-work that I do the house is very often a metaphor for our bodies. The attic and upper spaces being the head and mind ... the electricity being the energy and how it is conducted through the house .... the kitchen that place where we process our nourishment and how we integrate .... and so on.

    As you come to the completion of your Seminary work, this academic and very often strenuous study (mind/attic/ceiling) I'm not surprised that it is also time to replace "old drywall" and stop-gap measures.... and to devote time and attention to how to live in a new/old way.

    So much wonderful stuff to contemplate, as well as practical hands-on stuff to anticipate!

    For the practical I'm a fan of two things:

    1. Manageable tasks, organized into a fluid order.
    2. Hired Help for the big and heavy.

    Good luck!

  4. I love this, and I think it's exciting. Please share some of your process and results.

  5. I'll do " a project a day" with you, Robin. Seriously. I so need to do this. In fact, when I quit my job 10 years ago, geez, has it been that long?, it was so that I could get our lives ordered and organized.
    Let's just say that my home isn't up for any awards!

  6. We live in the same house really - shorter ownership of about 7 years or so. Maybe we can form our own support group this summer.

    I thought the walk-in closets in a 1920s house were awesome before they became filled with stuff. I literally have no idea what is in one of the closets. I think work clothes from 15 years ago and probably some old bridesmaids dresses. I think I better leave the door closed!

  7. I'd like to get in on a "project a day" project!