The value of spaciousness


Last week, I was elbow deep in paint and knee deep in clutter. I was continuing the redecorating work I started in the summer (when I painted and decorated my daughters’ three bedrooms), and at the same time was de-cluttering nearly 17 years worth of accumulated stuff in my bedroom and the two bathrooms in the house.

Inspired by the KonMari method, I was asking myself, each time I pulled something out of a closet or cupboard, “does this spark joy?” Only when the answer was a clear yes did it make it back onto the shelf. There were 6 huge bags full of giveaways and an equal number full of garbage in the three rooms.

I am still a little dumbfounded by how much I carried out of those rooms. I don’t actually like shopping (especially for clothes), so how could I possibly have accumulated so many things that I don’t really enjoy wearing? I’ve always told myself that I’m at least being an ethical consumer by buying mostly second-hand clothes, but that doesn’t justify having so much!

Now that its done…. OH MY! I am SO in love with this spaciousness! I feel lighter, more free, and more agile (kind of like that pelican I just hung on the wall). I can look into my closet or dresser drawer and see instantly what I’m looking for. No more digging for treasures and forgetting what’s hidden at the back of the closet. I want to spend more time in my own spaces and have been working less often in coffee shops. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to find a space for what needs to be put away because there is no clutter in the way. (Now I just have to tackle the rest of the house and put in the effort to keep it this way!)

I keep asking myself – if this much spaciousness feels so good, then WHY do I keep burying myself in clutter that doesn’t bring me any joy?

In fact, why has clutter become an epidemic in so many places where people have access to privilege and affluence? Just look around you (if you live in such a place) and you’ll see, sprouting all over our cities, football-field-sized yards full of storage rental spaces. And then look on the internet and you’ll see a myriad of courses and books on decluttering and organizing. There are huge, multi-million dollar industries whose sole purpose in the world is to manage all of the excess stuff we have.

There’s a similar pattern in our calendars as in our closets. We fill every space until things are bulging out and we’re too overwhelmed to enjoy any of it. We tell ourselves that if we’re busy, we must be valuable, and so we pack things into our agendas. And we do even worse where our children are concerned – making sure they have a sporting event or music lesson every night of the week.

Why? What is this all about?

What I came up with, as I lugged garbage bags out of my house, is this…

We have bought into a collective story that tells us there is no value in emptiness.

When we feel empty, we try to fill the emptiness with things and activities and vices. When there is too much spaciousness in our lives, we doubt our value and feel uncomfortable, and we go seeking that which fills up the spaces.

We forget that spaciousness actually feels good.

Think about the last time you had nothing to do on a Saturday night. Didn’t it feel kind of luxurious to curl up with a good book?

What about the time you cleaned your fridge and those empty shelves looked so clean that you just stood there and stared for awhile?

And even when the emptiness feels uncomfortable – like when your friends all have active social calendars and you don’t – aren’t you at least a little aware that time alone is good for you because you’re learning to appreciate your own company more?

Spaciousness – in our calendars, in our closets, and in our lives – can be a very good thing. Spaciousness creates opportunities for reflection, for prayer, for art-making, for deep breathing, for meaningful conversation, for healing, for self-awareness, for wandering, for healthy grieving, and for simply staring out the window at the leaves fluttering on the trees.

When we have spaciousness in our relationships, we listen more intently, we don’t rush to fix, and we allow for richness and depth and hours of meaningful conversation. In the spaciousness, connection happens.

When we have spaciousness in our calendars, we become more aware of what we truly love to do, we learn to say no to that which distracts us from our purpose, and we take more time for reverence and mindfulness. In the spaciousness, joy happens.

When we have spaciousness in our homes, we don’t let our possessions control us, we find greater value in the things we truly love, and we create less stress in our lives. In the spaciousness, peacefulness happens.

When we have spaciousness in our lives, we learn to listen to the voice of Spirit within us, we create room for personal discovery, and we feel a deep sense of freedom. In the spaciousness, growth happens.

Make it a daily intention to create spaciousness in your life, and watch what happens when you do.

September, a season in between

There’s something about September – the way it hovers in between seasons, reminding us of what we’re leaving and what is yet to come. 

September, season, between, birchI always feel a mix of emotions at this time of year.

I feel the melancholy of summer ending. I feel the sadness over school starting again (mixed with a little joy that I’ll have a quiet house again). I feel the dread of winter just around the corner.

I also feel the delight over the weather shifting and the vibrant colours showing up on the landscape.

When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I love September. It’s probably one of my favourite months. I don’t love the heat and I don’t love the cold and September is usually just right.

And yet… I don’t always let myself love it. I get caught up in the rush of trying to get the girls back to school and I get mired in that sinking feeling of winter coming and I forget to pause long enough to really appreciate the way the weather has shifted into a more gentle warmth with cooling evenings and the way the trees are adorning themselves in orange and yellow and red.

I love long walks in crunching leaves. I love campfires on cool evenings. I love the quality of light at this time of year. I love slipping on a sweater when the weather begins to cool.

Despite the melancholy it brings, I truly love September.

But… there’s something else about this time of year that I don’t love.

It’s the season when death feels close at hand.

There’s a pattern in my family. Most of the births happen in the first half of the year, and most of the deaths happen in the second. My dad, my mom, my son, my father-in-law, and most of my grandparents – they all died between August and November.

And so this time of year comes with reminders of all that I’ve lost.

And this time, September brings with it the possibility of another loss. My oldest brother, who’s been battling cancer for over a year, with multiple surgeries and lots of chemo, has been told the cancer is growing again and there may not be anything they can do. He was told he may have only months to live. (And then, a few days later, he was told they’ll probably make one last ditch effort to save him through surgery.)

When I let myself think of the possibility of losing him, desperation closes my throat and it’s suddenly painful to breathe and impossible to swallow. NO! Death can’t take another member of my family! It’s too soon! I NEED him! It’s not even two years since Mom left us. Please God NO! He’s my big brother. He’s always been a rock in the storm, a solid place to land – as dependable as the earth beneath my feet. I need something dependable in my life. He JUST. CAN’T. GO.

And then I realize… it’s just like September. If I focus only on the fact that I might lose my brother, I’ll forget to live in the now. I’ll forget to see the beauty. I’ll forget to laugh at the jokes he sends, forget to appreciate all that he’s been in my life, forget to recognize what a gift it’s been to grow up in a family so full of love, faith, humour, and wisdom.

If I rush through September, lamenting the summer that’s been and dreading the winter that’s coming, I’ll miss this month that I love so much. If I rush through my life, feeling sorry for myself over all that I’ve lost and dreading the losses yet to come, I’ll miss everything that makes my life so good and beautiful.

I don’t want to miss September. I want to be present for what’s here. Now.

Winter might be hard and long, but right now is beautiful. Right now the sun is painting the tips of the trees with gold. Right now the birds are still singing, the butterflies are still dancing, and the sun is still warming my skin. Right now I have friends who invite me to campfires in teepees and other friends who don’t mind walking through the English gardens in the rain with me. Right now I have daughters who make me laugh. Right now I have a brother walking a courageous path through cancer, who’s crazy in love with his family, and I get to be part of that big love.

Right now is all I need.


If you want to be more present for what’s here right now, you might like Fall Reflections: A Mindfulness Journal.

10 journal writing tips that will help you connect more deeply with yourself

In honour of the release of Fall Reflections: A mindfulness journal, I’m sharing these ten tips. For some who are just beginning a journal writing practice, they may offer a place to start. For others they may offer enhancement to an ongoing practice.

1. Start with the facts, then move to the feelings. Begin by describing the details of your day. What did you do, who did you see? As you write, consider how you responded emotionally to whatever happened.

2. Try a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Just write the next thing that comes to mind. If you’re writing about the conversation you had with your mom, for example, a question might suddenly come to mind about something your mom said. Write it down. Don’t censor. Just write.

journal writing - jo-anne3. Keep it simple and don’t edit. Your journal is not a place to prove you should be the next poet laureate. It’s about the process, not the product. Use simple language, and write what comes to mind rather than over-thinking what words to use.

4. Keep the “shoulds” out of it. Your journal is a place to be honest with yourself, not a place to try to reform yourself into what you think you should be. Simply write how you feel and what you think rather than filtering it with what you think you SHOULD think or feel. There’s enough of that self-filtering when you talk to others and it doesn’t belong in a journal that’s meant for your eyes only.

5. When you’re trying to work through internal conflict, try writing a dialogue with yourself. If, for example, there’s part of you that wants to go on a trip and another part of you that thinks it’s a bad idea, write as though those are two separate people having a conversation back and forth.

6. If the blank page scares you, use journal prompts to help you get started. Fall Reflections or Summer Lovin’ might be a good place to start. Or you could choose to start each day’s entry with the same simple journal prompt such as “My wish for today is…” or “Five words to describe this day are…” or “The things I want to remember about this day are…”

7. Try keeping a list every day. It could be a list of ten things you’re grateful for each day. Or five ways that you were kind to others. Or three ways that you stood up for yourself. Consider what would help you in your personal growth (gratitude, confidence, courage) and create a list prompt around that theme.

8. Find a routine that works for you. Some people write morning pages (filling 3 pages with stream-of-consciousness) every day. Others set aside half an hour each day for journal-writing. Sometimes I suggest to my coaching clients that they simply sit with a pen in their hand for ten minutes each day and see what emerges. (If it’s just doodling some days, that’s perfectly fine!) You have to find what works best for you, or you won’t sustain it.

9. Find the right pen and journal combination that works for you. I love sturdy, attractive journals, and so I give myself permission to splurge a little each time I buy a new one. I also love to write in colour (and change colours on a whim) so I write with fine tip Sharpie markers. You, on the other hand, may love expensive pens but are content with the kind of notebook you used in elementary school. Experiment until you find what makes you happy.

10. Take your journal with you. You never know when you’ll want to write things down, so it’s a good idea to carry it with you on the bus, to the coffee shop, on a trip – wherever you go. If your journal is too big, consider having a smaller secondary notebook in your purse or backpack.

Finally, just be yourself and write what you want to write. There is no wrong way to do this! Just start wherever you are, write in your very own style, and don’t do it to please anyone else but yourself.

Fall Reflections - mock coverp.s. For only $10, you can download Fall Reflections and you’ll have 60 journal prompts to get you started. If you want to go even deeper with your writing, my next Openhearted Writing Circle will be October 4, 2014.

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