Room to Breathe — Organizing for Happiness and Harmony

By Crysta Coburn

When I look around my house, I feel disheartened and lost. My fiancé and I moved in a year ago and things are still in disarray. The dozen-plus bookshelves not only bow under the weight of our books, but there just aren't enough to contain all of them. Piles of “to-be-read” books dot tables, chairs, and available floor space. Boxes and plastic tubs are stacked to shoulder height along the walls of two bedrooms. We lived in our previous apartment for nearly three years and some boxes were never even unpacked. Since the two of us are on different schedules, we're rarely in the house at the same time. The amount of time and work required to get our home in order feels overwhelming!  

How one's personal space, be it home or work, is organized has a great impact on one's energy, productivity, and sense of self. Organization, use, and harmony among multiple users of the space all have a hand in affecting our well-being. To some, well-organized means sparse, but this can be detrimental to usability and may not work for everyone. Luckily, there are a number of tools at our disposal to bring organization and harmony to our living spaces.

The first question to ask ourselves when looking at organizing a space to best suit our lives is: What do I want to get out of this space? A feeling of peace, joy, or warmth? A place to recharge? Must it be welcoming or motivational? Or will strictly functional suffice? 

The answer depends largely on who is using the space. Shared space should be supportive of everyone's needs (as within a family), not just a select few (the parents), and we all interact with our environments differently. A well-organized space can increase group harmony and enjoyment as activities become easier to accomplish.

The second question we must ask, closely tied to the first, is: What do I want to project? As Ann Arbor-based certified professional organizer Nia Spongberg points out, “Personal spaces often double as social gathering places. And since spaces reflect things about their inhabitants and often form part of our self-identity, the state of one’s personal space can have significant social implications.” 

Whether it's side-by-side, hands-on help with organizing or a consultation to firm up one's confidence in a project, or to learn where to begin, bringing in a professional can really help one gain perspective and footing. This works in both a personal or home setting and within a professional space.

Rather than seeming silly, professional services like Nia's are valued because our society typically looks down on clutter and too much can make people anxious. Many people end up isolating themselves in their homes because they feel inadequate or ashamed of their disorganization and refuse to entertain company. They don't want people to think badly of them because of how they choose to live. In families with children, this can also negatively impact the children if the parents will not allow them to invite over friends.

On the other hand, a well-organized space decorated with intention can leave a favorable impression on visitors even if it is not how they would choose to organize the space themselves. Simply put, when something is loved, it shows. Caryn Simon of Tidy Nest, a prenatal organization service that includes registry advice as well as “assistance in clutter redaction” and more, elaborates, “I see it having a tremendously lovely effect on not just the main tidier. Everyone that is connected to their web will be touched as well.”

So what is meant by the word “organized?” Does it translate to a tidy room where we can imagine dust-free shelves, all objects lined up, evenly spaced, and without a piece out of place or at an odd angle? This system works well for some people but for others is, as Nia puts it, an “impractical disaster.” In order to be organized, do we also need to be tidy? 

Not necessarily says Dana Casey, a local certified interior designer specializing in Feng Shui. “Disorganization is a state with a certain amount of chaos attached to it,” she explains. “In the Essential Feng Shui I practice, it's believed to only fix something that is negatively affecting your life. So, some may thrive in disorganization.” She also points out that “organized” or even “tidy” mean different things to different people. A stack of books pushed against the wall, for instance, to some is perfectly organized while to others is unacceptable clutter. Some of us work more efficiently having everything we need right at our fingertips, while others feel a sense of relief when items are organized in drawers and on shelves.

Feng Shui treats the home as essentially a living thing with bones (walls), arteries (hallways), eyes (windows), and accessories (furniture and other decor). Just like our bodies, we want to keep our homes healthy.

To some, well-organized means sparse, but this can be detrimental to usability and
may not work for everyone.

Regardless of our styles and preferences, we can all get organized and bring harmony to our environments. First, we need to identify our needs. Which state of disorganization are we in? Nia identifies two: chronic disorganization and situational. Examples of the latter include joining two households through marriage, downsizing after retirement, inheriting from a loved one, and (Caryn's specialty) welcoming a child. 

Chronic disorganization often comes from simply not knowing how to be organized. This situation is thoroughly addressed in the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, which Nia says “hit a nerve,” for better or worse, when it appeared on bookshelves near the end of 2014. (A follow-up book was released in January of 2016, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.)

Caryn is a big fan of the KonMari Method (KonMari being a Japanese contraction of Marie Kondo). In essence, Caryn explains, when decluttering a space, “One literally places their hands on an object, and if it contributes to a feeling of lightness, joy, or deep breath, you keep it. If you find yourself feeling heavy or dark, drifting into sour memories, sad, or suddenly lonely... get that thing out of your house!”

Dana uses a more visual analogy (one I can seriously relate to right now) to describe this concept from a Feng Shui perspective:

[I]magine a home and the front door is surrounded by stacked pots on each side, some are broken, some are chipped, while others have dead plants in them. The door paint is peeling and the handle is loose. Each day you enter this home. It's your home and you enter via the front door. And each day you walk up to the door thinking how much you are irritated with those pots, the mess, and that you need to fix the door and paint it; but you're tired and so months go by without any action. You're thinking about it day in and day out, it's always in your subconscious state and sometimes in your conscious state; it wears on you mentally and the chi, the energy entering your home is not the energy of vitality. You literally carry your energy into the space daily, and the stagnant chi of the front door, pots, and dead plants hinders vital energy or chi from entering your home. 

This imaginary home is cheerless and does not “spark joy.” 

So where does one start? All professionals agree: just start! Nia breaks the process down into four basic steps: sort, purge, re-store, maintain. Sorting is when one physically handles every object looking for that spark of joy. Purging is where one gets rid of those “dead plants.” Next, re-store the items that make the cut in their new homes.  (It helps to think of an object's proper place as its “home” because we are more likely to see it as belonging there and return it to its spot.) If you need help staying focused, invite a friend over to keep you company and on task.

So where does one start? All professionals
agree: just start! Nia breaks the process down
into four basic steps: sort, purge, re-store, maintain.

The hardest step might be the last one, maintaining and committing to the change. Nia says, “The journey to an organized life begins in your head.” Caryn agrees, “I would definitely say it starts inside of us, with a fundamental desire for joy.” And maintaining that commitment to joy is the key. If we think of it in terms of Dana's imaginary front door, how much happier and refreshed do we feel with a clean coat of paint, thriving plants in unchipped pots, and a freshly swept entry? This is a space we can take pride in and will want to maintain.

So let's all take a deep breath and dive in!

Suggested reading:

Clutterfree With Kids: Change Your Thinking. Discover New Habits. Free Your Home by Joshua Becker 

Making Peace with the Things In Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You and What to Do About It
by Cindy Glovinsky

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spirtitual Clutter Forever by Karen Kingston

ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life: Strategies that Work from a Leading Professional Organizer and a Renowned ADD Clinician
by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
by Marie Kondo

Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern 

The Principles of Feng Shui by Larry Sang

Nia Spongberg can be reached at (734) 531-9024 and
Find Caryn Simon at and
Follow Dana Casey online at and other social media listed on her website

Posted on August 31, 2016 .