Spring has sprung and, in North Texas, that means it is the time of year when temperatures warm to not-yet-scorching, the flowers are in full bloom, rain is plentiful and there is an all-around sense of newness in the air as winter gets chased out of town. It is generally the prime time to put the term “spring cleaning” into action. Individuals and families are tasked with various projects around the house with the renewed energy and determination a new season often brings.
For many, cleaning, organizing and keeping the home in good shape during the chaos of work, kids’ activities, school and family time is a monumental and sometimes insurmountable task. However, there are many ways to tackle spring cleaning that have lasting effects on the health, happiness and overall feeling of cleanliness and organization of a home.
Essential oils have become an increasingly popular and effective tool used to keep both the home and those who live in it healthy and clean, while the practice of feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”) in the home promotes an overall energy of happiness, well-being and peace. A particularly fun element involving design and organization allows families to function more efficiently, while being able to enjoy spaces in their homes that are both purposeful and comfortable.
Enhancing the Environment
Feng shui dates back thousands of years and is a practice recognized in many homes today as a means to promote peace, positive energy and happiness in one’s environment. The literal translation is “wind and water.” Feng is wind, or energy. Shui is water, or fortune.
Local feng shui expert and teacher Amanda Gibby Peters says the entire purpose and practice of feng shui is to be in alignment with the energy of fortune. “In layman’s terms, feng shui is how we arrange a home to hold happiness in place. Originally, feng shui was used in locating the best burial spots for Chinese royalty, and, eventually, those concepts moved indoors and people began using these ideas to arrange their environments in a favorable way,” she explains. Fellow expert and teacher Vijay Warman adds, “It is a system of traditional Chinese concepts linking the destiny of man to his environment. It is a process — a belief system of universal laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy, called ‘chi,’ or life force, and whose favorable or unfavorable effects are taken into account when designing buildings and decorating homes.”
When it comes to feng shui in the home, it is about energy. Feng shui expert Beata Kulitskaya teaches that nice, happy spaces are always balanced and enhanced with positive energy. “People usually experience a nice flow of positive events and situations in life,” she explains. “What happens if something is not working in life? We look at certain areas of the house or office and determine what creates positive energy blockages and how to modify that.” Ms. Peters adds, “Our home tells a story. It speaks to how we inspire and move ourselves to action. It reveals priorities and communicates what we believe about our future. Most importantly, a home tells me who and what you love. What we experience in life is often reflected energetically in our surroundings. When we change what is happening around us in a positive way, we reconfigure what happens in our lives, as well. Feng shui is one approach to creating and living a good life.”
In a home with good feng shui, the environment is removed of negativity and is peaceful, yet empowering. A good feng shui house must be nourished by fresh, clear and freely-flowing energy. “There can be no stagnant, old or blocked energy anywhere in the house,” Ms. Warman says. “Everything around us in life is in constant flow — in constant change. The same energy dynamics apply to our house as well. Stuck, stagnant energy in a specific area will express itself in stuck or completely blocked energy in a specific area of your life.”
Given that much of feng shui is about energy, the ways in which it affects homes are many and there are factors that come in to play when working towards achieving positive energy in one’s home. It is not just about where things are located spatially, but about how energy is able to flow in the home and how it ultimately affects both the home and life. Ms. Warman explains, “The placement and design of furniture is not just a physical matter. It helps to maintain the balance of yin and yang within the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and intellectual realms leading to a healthier life. We place a lot of importance on not having obstructions in the flow of energy in a house, so placement of furniture in the home is of tremendous importance. Just like we have traffic congestion on roads, sometimes we get energy congestion in the home. A good DIY is to make sure there is room to move around the house. De-cluttering is an important concept. In feng shui, we want the entire house to be clutter-free and obstruction-free.”
Oftentimes, Ms. Kulitskaya’s consultations begin with a conversation about de-cluttering. “We have so much stuff accumulated and stored in so many places in the home, some of which we use, but most is used rarely or never. Clutter blocks our success, money, career opportunities, health and wellness. Sometimes, extra weight, low energy and feeling stuck are related to too much clutter in homes,” she says. Her suggestion is to start with de-cluttering in places as simple as your desk or closet. “Clutter is something that represents your past, but if you want to bring something new, you need to prepare your space for those new things. You cannot live in the past.” Regarding clutter, Ms. Gibby Peters works to teach clients that the master bedroom is a place of importance and operates under the principle that it is a private sanctuary. Given that much attention is paid to more social areas of the home, the bedroom becomes an afterthought. She calls it “the room we eventually prioritize.” “When a bedroom becomes a reservoir for footnotes of busyness, like laundry, work, storage, unfinished projects or exercise equipment, it indicates we care more about the people around us than we do ourselves. That one belief compromises our energy. Since everything is connected, that compromise can disrupt what we seek to achieve, accomplish or manifest.”
Ms. Warman says there are things that create either a sense of balance or unease in homes and offers pointers. Use your front door often, and daily, and fix the squeaks. The entry door represents how chi enters your home and life. Does your entry door squeak or whine when you open or close it? If so, you need to fix it! The entry door is the first and last thing you encounter when coming or going from your home. The sound can affect your mood and well-being.
Keep the bathroom door closed. Feng shui believes water is symbolic of wealth and the idea is that water goes out of the home here. Since water is related to wealth, we do not want our money being flushed away, so keeping the door closed is symbolic of saving wealth. Avoid placing mirrors opposite beds and cover up the television in your bedroom. Having a mirror opposite your bed may cause problematic sleep. The energy of the television, as well as other electronic devices, may be disruptive to the type of calming quiet energy more conducive to sleep and bedrooms.
Bed placement is key. The bed is arguably the most important piece of furniture to put in the commanding position because you spend so many hours sleeping! To place your bed correctly, you want to be facing the door, while not in line with the door while lying in bed.
Reduce closet clutter. Closets are usually the biggest culprits because many people have trouble getting rid of old clothing, which leads to the accumulation of stagnant energy in our living area and very soon, in our lives.
Clean all the windows, as they symbolize your eyes to the world. We want to be able to see and experience everything the universe has to offer.
It is safe to say feng shui is very much a different way to think about and consider your home, its energy and its cleanliness. Ms. Gibby Peters admits feng shui is often considered “off the beaten path,” but wants people to realize that, truthfully, everyone does feng shui, whether they realize it or not. She explains, “If we have stuff and space, feng shui is happening right in front of us. So, when it comes to what really matters in life, I believe feng shui deserves to be high on our list — right up there with health, finances, career and family. It is where home improvement meets self-empowerment. Feng shui is the practical art of blending our homes and intentions together beautifully.”
Feng shui is not only a practice to consider when organizing and decorating, some even consider its principles when buying a home, so it will promote good, positive energy. “Sometimes, I consider feng shui decoration, but decoration with purpose,” Ms. Kulitskaya says. “You want to bring changes in your life or improve something — feng shui gives us knowledge on how to do it. Experienced feng shui consultants can literally describe what is going on with the family by looking at their space.”
Using Only the Essentials
With its increase in popularity over recent years, chances are you know someone who is “oily” or who utilizes essential oils within their home. Essential oils have become a go-to for many, for many different reasons, as they are beneficial for cleaning and maintaining health, and, let’s be honest, they just smell good!
Essential oils expert Fatima Durrani teaches classes regarding uses of essential oils while helping clients understand oils on a deeper level, for health and home. “Essential oils have all kinds of benefits! If you have ever enjoyed the scent of a rose, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. These naturally-occurring, volatile aromatic compounds are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant in the home, but they do so much more,” she explains. Ms. Durrani says therapeutic-grade essential oils can be used for a wide range of emotional and physical wellness applications, whether for a child who has stomach discomfort, an adult who needs some more “oomph” in their day or for someone who is suffering from head tension. Oils are especially helpful for a home that needs to be cleaned of germs. Essential oils really help on all levels. She adds, “They help build immunity, can assist in addressing negative emotions and can even be used to clean scruff marks off your walls. Some people make DIY personal care products with these oils, while others cook with them. Whatever road you want to take, it is available.”
More families have chosen to be particularly conscious of products they use in the home, as many contain toxic ingredients like ammonia and chlorine. The effects these products can potentially have one one’s health are a bit alarming, which is why so many families are turning to natural cleaners and essential oils.
Christie, a Frisco resident, utilizes an app called “Think Dirty” that actually allows users to scan cleaners and household products at the store before buying them. She says, “The app reveals types of toxins in products in an instant! I use Young Living essential oils, which are completely organic, and once they are diluted for use, they can be a much cheaper and safer alternative for cleaning products. If you have ever noticed you get a headache or cough after cleaning a space in your home, it may be because you are breathing in harmful chemicals from cleaning products. Just imagine the dangerous affect they could have on young children or babies!”
Ms. Durrani agrees with Christie and says everyday cleaning products are loaded with toxic chemicals that can even act as contributors to disease and sometimes wreak havoc on our endocrine systems. “The average woman goes out of her house every morning with more than 300 chemicals on her, via the application of make-up, skin care, hair care products and fragrances! Our lymphatic systems and livers try to weed dangers out, but, often, they are already overloaded. Essential oils are the liquid essence of a plant and can help disinfect, purify and remove stains. While you are cleaning your kitchen surfaces or purifying the air with a diffuser, you are also provided with active compounds you are breathing in through your lungs. Our sense of smell is a profoundly underutilized asset, and when we breathe in these active compounds, they go to work on our brain almost immediately,” Ms. Durrani explains.
For families hoping to reap benefits of essential oils within the home space, it is vital that you are educated on what to look for when purchasing oils. Purity, transparency and testing are attributes Ms. Durrani says to look for in oils being considered for purchase. She shares, “An essential oil that is not pure means you run the risk of putting germs, heavy metals or adulterants onto or into your body, which can provoke irritation, adverse effects or even sickness. I feel very safe giving oils to my kids because I know they are gently and carefully distilled from plants that have been patiently harvested at the perfect moment, by experienced growers from around the world, for ideal extract composition and efficacy.” Christie says quality is the name of the game when it comes to buying oils, while looking for a brand that is completely pure. “Some brands will be diluted with other chemicals that can actually do more harm than good,” she admits. “Do your research! Make sure you know the components. ‘Nature identicals’ and similar phrases basically mean there are synthetic properties in the oil, so it is important to know what you are looking at. You can take classes lead by aroma therapists and they can help you choose a supplier and start to trust your nose when it comes to ‘sniffing out’ cheap or synthetic oils.”
While essential oils may seem intimidating to some, there are oils that serve different purposes around the home, whether they are for cleaning or health. Some essential oils like tea tree, oregano and eucalyptus work against norovirus, influenza and staphylococcus, so these are great oils to use for cleaning in a bathroom. “For the kitchen and other household surfaces that need to be cleaned, I use Young Living’s Thieves® oil, which is a combination of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary,” Christies shares. In addition to being a great surface cleaner, Thieves can be used to kill germs throughout the home, as it supports healthy immune function and can be added to hand soaps and even your dishwasher.
Christie says there are helpful oils to ward off pesky insects and for laundry! “Peppermint, lemon, citronella and cedarwood oils can be used to help ward off insects in the home. I have a wool dryer ball that I use in the dryer, as dryer sheets generally contain harmful chemicals. I drop a few drops of lavender or purification (which helps neutralize odors) on the dryer ball and dry my clothing, towels, etc. Not only is this a safe, natural approach, but it is helpful for those with sensitive skin and makes closets, hampers and drawers smell fabulous!” she shares. Ms. Durrani utilizes a dryer ball infused with oils in her dryer, as well, and concludes that the laundry room is often the most toxic in the house. “I use one of my favorite blends called ‘purify’ directly in the water in my washer to stay away from toxic dryer sheets,” she shares.
Education and knowledge of essential oils is key for those just delving into them, but the benefits are great as they are used in many ways in the home to promote wellness, cleanliness and overall mood. Spring cleaning will have a whole new meaning if oils are utilized. The aromatic benefits alone are enough to drive curiosity!
Stress Free Way to Be
A well-organized and decorated house just makes time at home feel better! Spring brings activities, crazy schedules, the end of the school year, the beginning of summer and new recreational sports seasons that keep families busy. Having purposefully organized and well-thought out spaces in the home helps families function and deal with less stress.
Beth Connor, a professional organizer and the owner of Frisco Home Organizer LLC, loves organization, but it is not just about moving things around and buying pretty baskets. “Organization can improve your life! Just being in an organized and clutter-free space can lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Reducing stress plays a big role in your overall health.” Ms. Connor says organization aides in productivity, which helps individuals accomplish more in less time, leaving time for enjoyable activities.
Disorganization in the household means being surrounded by clutter and lacking efficient systems and procedures to support our lives. If this is the case, being unproductive and inefficient can jeopardize one’s professional and social life or reinforce low self-esteem issues.
Professional Organizer Maristella Bertram explains, “When we live and operate in disorganized spaces, chances are we do not find what we need when we need it. Having to scramble around the house or work areas for things we know we have is a waste of time and effort that often leads to bad moods and stress. Buying items we cannot find is a frustrating waste of money.”
Professional organizers have a few go-to tips and rules to go by. Principle designer Michelle Kopfer asks clients to consider giving away things they have not used/worn/needed in more than a year. She says, “There will be a few exceptions to this, but, for the most part, we keep things we do not need out of fear of needing them some day or a fear of scarcity. Fear is a difficult motivator to live with over the long haul! People find when they let go of stuff they are not using, they have a greater sense of peace.” Ms. Connor instructs clients not to start the organizing process by buying pretty containers. “It is tempting to start here because, let’s face it, it is fun! You feel like you are being productive, but that is not always the case. The first step to every organizing project should always be to de-clutter. You need to go through things first and determine what you actually need to organize. You might find you are able to clear out so much that containers you already have are more than enough. If you do need (or want) to go shopping, measure and plan what you are looking for. Patience and intentionality will yield more productive results,” she says. Ms. Bertram says everything must have a logical, permanent home. Place the same kind/purpose items in the same place.
So, are you ready to tackle that junk drawer or linen closet? Our experts weighed in and agreed that starting small is the best bet! Ms. Connor shares, “Start with small projects that yield a big change in a short time.” It is important to remember that not all organizing projects are created equal. The physical size of a project does not necessarily associate with the time it takes to complete it. “You can likely tackle that overflowing linen closet in less time than a small shoebox full of photos or memorabilia. Pantries, linen closets and bathrooms are usually places that can be de-cluttered quickly and make a considerable and immediate positive change in your daily life. Kitchens can be easily broken into smaller projects by taking it one drawer or cabinet at a time. Wherever you choose to start, remember starting is often the hardest part.” Ms. Kopfer believes starting small is the best way to tackle one’s first organization project given that it is incredibly reinforcing to complete something and see results. “Our brains adapt better to smaller goals and rewards that increase in size over time, so use that strategy as you go!”
It is important to note that, as Texas residents, we understand spring brings out critters of all sizes. Cleanliness and organization can help keep unwanted visitors at bay! The more things you keep, the harder the upkeep. “Cluttered areas tend to become invisible to the mind,” Ms. Bertram explains. “We do not want to deal with the mess. Instead of putting things away, we might conveniently choose to add one more thing to the pile because we feel it will not be that noticeable. Pests might decide the cluttered area is a great place to nest and reproduce.” In short, well-organized spaces are not as critter-friendly!
When it comes to re-decorating a home, homeowners may choose to give a room or two a facelift with a fresh coat of paint, which can also very much affect the mood and energy of the home.
Ms. Kopfer explains, “Our homes really are our retreats and havens, especially in our commuter culture. There is something about coming home to a place you love, that is designed to reflect your personality and is truly beautiful. It brings a sense of peace and calm that is immensely important. Color truly does make a huge difference here. There have been studies done that show colors affect our mood, and even how hungry we are! One of the lovely things about the trend in recent years towards gray and white is that these colors are calming. Blue tends to have the opposite effect of red, so if you are wanting to eat a bit less, it would be smart to go with cooler tones in your kitchen. Colors that approximate outdoor spaces (think green grass, sandy beaches and blue sky) have been shown to benefit health. It turns out, we have an affinity for things that are natural. Our minds are drawn towards colors that appear in nature. Blues, soft greens and even silver are colors that help us sleep better. Colors that are deep, warm and bright stimulate the brain more and cooler colors are more calming.”
This spring, whether you are cleaning with your new blend of essential oils, arranging furniture to improve the flow of energy or organizing a space that will help keep your sanity in check, it is the perfect time to make your home a better place for your family. Where will you start?