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Phase 2: Observe & Admit: Discover Past Choices

Now you’ve been through your home as a “stranger”. You’ve seen it (and everything in it) through those objective eyes. Well, it’s time to do it all over again through your own eyes. GULP, Deep breath!

In conjunction with the notes you took about who lives in the house, constructed purely by the things you saw there, it’s time to see if the narrative you pieced together matches you! Here’s where you have to pull up your big girl panties and just be okay with it all since you’re still on the emotional ramp-up track.

Let’s face it. If you’re actually doing this exercise then chances are you already know something’s perhaps just a tiny bit off kilter. It could be for a variety of reasons too…and that’s why you’re doing this in the first place, right?

Suddenly the quiet invisible stuff will start talking to you as you get to the truth of why you have that thing in the first place.

But hang in there. The truth will set you free. Don’t think of this as a slap on the wrist, because it isn’t. You made the best choice possible at the time. It’s just the making of new choices that’s something you’ve postponed for a while…well maybe too long. It’s not your fault that you didn’t know where to start. But now you do. Hopefully these first phases will help you understand how powerful the link between your physical interior and your mental interior truly are and that’s exciting.

As you see your current lifestyle through clear eyes you’ll begin to get closer to the emotional reasons why purging is vital to your reinvention.

It could be that:

  • You might have felt a bit powerless in your life and your home is a reflection of that. But it’s also a chance to finally do something that gets your power back as you use this time to begin to unlock your personal creativity.

  • You may feel like exploring a change in the dynamics under your own roof. It could be empowering, while offering a real chance to change a home that feels entrapping, into one that starts to feel enriching.

  • You may feel like the efforts you spend at work are disproportional to the time you spend at home. Wouldn’t it be nice to come home to a place that isn’t just another extension of the same old same old? Imagine coming home from an environment where compromise, politics and worry are replaced with a sense of pampered order and tranquility? Right? Wine, please!

  • As you begin to plug in the new math you might even wonder if there was a slight possibility of maybe working less and earning less if you could get a handle on just how little (in terms of money, square feet and inches) you might be able to thrive on (and in) with an even better lifestyle that actually rejuvenated—if you lived more intentionally.

  • You may be able to finally break the pattern of feeling adrift in a quagmire of indecision. That “better to do nothing than the wrong thing” cycle can now be replaced by making a whole bunch of definitive choices that get results ASAP.

Saying you just desperately need a change, period, isn’t enough if you don’t actually start making changes. Have you’ve been blaming it on the fact that you can’t afford to do anything extravagant right now? Busted! These critical first phases have nothing to do with spending new…it’s about purging the old.

As you make your second pass through the place you call home, start focusing on the positive goals:

It will make your home feel bigger.

It will free up valuable space.

It will give your spirit a huge lift.

It will begin the process of positive change.

It will feel like a new place and a new fresh start.

The things that you finally decide to keep will have greater meaning to you.

The power to recreate and re-curate your own world under your own roof is totally achievable.

As you see things through true eyes remember you’re still just assessing. This isn’t about design right now and don’t make it so. The design process is a whole different muscle and mindset.

Later you’ll get the reward of customization that you’ll have earned. Once you’ve streamlined you’ll know what you’ve got to work with. It’s no different than trying to design a boutique shop display without knowing the theme or inventory. Get it? You can’t start “re-merchandising” your home until you know those same things either. Trust me, while you emptying drawers with a trash bag at your side, a new narrative will automatically start emerging all on its own.

OK! So while you’re doing this next pass, start making a particular note of things that could easily drop off the ‘keepers” list and go immediately on to the “not so much” or the “what WAS I thinking?” list. Start with the easy stuff. Junk first, then brain farts you thought were such a good idea at the time:

The huge salad spinner when you now buy your greens in pre-washed bags.

The Nordic fitness machine that now doubles as a clothes rack (and haunts you daily).

The Clairol steam curler set that takes up it’s own shelf in your tiny bathroom when in reality you either go to the salon or use a curling iron.

The popcorn maker when the snack now comes in a microwavable bag.

The “hydroponic herb garden” which took up half your valuable counter space and only yielded enough for a garnish.

The yogurt maker you only used once and spent half the day cleaning it.

The bread maker…Really? There are aisles of them at most thrift and consignment store because well, the smell of baked bread seemed so romantic.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’ll address more of these outdated lifestyle elements later in phase five. But for now make keen mental notes on what could easily find a new home somewhere else. Stuff like:

  • Anything you have duplicates of (unless it’s diamonds).

  • Boxes or containers you haven’t opened in more than a year. That includes those decorative ones too. Unless you’re archiving to open your own museum, bye-bye now!

  • Clothing you haven’t worn in over a year. If you have clothing that also needs to be repaired and it isn’t…chances are, it wont be. Just remember every time a seamstress even picks up a needle or thread it’s $3.75 per project and another $5.25 per hour.

  • Projects (and their elements) that you haven’t started or haven’t finished and probably never will or won’t. You know the shrapnel from a wicked Hobby Lobby trip? There are underfunded schools who could really use that stuff!

  • The start of “collections” (that seemed like a good idea at the time) but only consist of one item.

  • Things you’ve already been meaning to banish from your kingdom but just haven’t managed to get them beyond the drawbridge.

  • Things that no longer work but you thought you’d fix or transform but never did. Broken is broken! If you have to buy a $25 power tool to fix a $15 dollar appliance…um, NO!

  • Anything you thought you’d use but never did. Remember it’s not just what you paid for it, it’s the rent you keep paying on it.

  • Damaged or chipped stuff…you deserve the best now.

  • Mismatched towels, linens, placemats, napkins, etc.. You know, the shower mat that went with the bath set you used in the LAST place you lived?

  • Electronics that are out of date and could be replaced with new, cheaper, and/or smaller multi-functional models.

  • Decorative objects (and knick-knacks) which now adorn dark closets and stash spaces.

Yes, the old mantra “if you haven’t used it in over a year," really IS true. I say “over” a year because that also includes holiday stuff too.

Here’s more stuff that could make the elimination round easier:

  • Gifts you were given that you don’t (and never did) like.

  • Anything that’s expired, from batteries to Benadryl.

  • Mysterious or strange food “baskets”…those hostess gifts meal kits you’ll never prepare.

  • Things you were saving to give to someone else but never did. No re-gifting allowed unless you have a gift-wrapping room.

  • Furniture and objects you keep out of sentimental guilt but are just as incompatible with your new narrative (ummm, ugly) now as they were then. These are trickier decisions that will require a bit more tough love a bit later in the process. For now just tell the truth about the creepy Jackalope that came from your grandpa’s old farm.

  • Furniture or objects that you put there once because you thought “something” had to fill the space. Those are called set props. CUT!

Also keep a look out for the obvious stuff that no longer fits your current lifestyle. If sheep herding is no longer an interest, you can 86 the Bo Peep stuff! If the last time you were on a ski slope was 10 years ago…? Dig?

Oh, and another thing… don’t make judgments about what you own or if you should keep it based on what you once paid for it or what you think the replacement value might be (should you ever need to not use it again).

That’s simply a poverty/ hoarding /worry consciousness in disguise. Ask yourself, “If it was free, would you have gotten rid if it months ago?”

Finally, get to the truth of whether you live like you do more to please others than to please only you:

Social approval or judgment inadvertently effects our decisions more than we might think. Conversely, if you sequester yourself away from the world because your idea of nesting is very different from others around you that’s real too. It’s not sad if you intentionally want privacy…as long as it’s authentically true and not based on fear. It’s your home where you’re supposed to be able to rest your soul, not control others experiences who only visit.

Moreover, don’t keep stuff to accommodate phantom “company”:

You know, parties you only gave once but still have all the pieces to create the “Evening in Paris” tablescape. The serving pieces you bought with the holiday Ho, Ho, Ho theme you’ve only used once in 2000.

“If you build it they will come” might work for a baseball field but not for one’s private home.

Especially if how you entertain has changed. Here again, it’s like packing for a trip. If you pack for every unforeseen circumstance in advance, you’ll spend your whole trip trudging behind a loaded, wall-scraping porter’s cart, packing and unpacking then packing again. I remember doing that once and then returning home having only worn five outfits. I finally realized that people in the next location will never see my best outfit I wore in the last place. Duh!

Don’t make the mistake I made when I left LA and moved to Santa Fe (which I blogged about). While I only took a fourth of what I once owned, I had this fantasy that I’d host intimate al fresco parties under the vast New Mexican sky…full of interesting people…clink, clink, chatter, chatter! I’d do up the holidays big time for “the village of strays”. I’d keep all the stuff and furniture to make sure every night was magical and memorable and ultra comfortable.

What I never faced was the truth that my focus in life had changed. I didn’t want to spend my time hunting down and being obligated to, and entrenched in people’s lives and their small town politics and drama, just to play host and put butts in the seats around my dining table. What I really wanted was to break bread with a few interesting and trustworthy people now and then.

Soon I discovered that it was a lot more fluid and made more sense to meet up with friends in a great little bistro or cantina in town, where I got to be a guest too. I’d take my own car so I could leave when I wanted too. The occasional overnight out of town guest could sleep on the sofa, which was more comfortable than my own bed! No it wasn’t the opulently furnished guest bedroom I’d once had but certainly good enough for one night.

In rethinking the whole entertaining thing, I also got to really enjoy the community of Santa Fe far better (on neutral ground) for the same cost (eating out versus entertaining in) or less with no “host” or privacy invasion anxieties to boot.

As life evolved in Santa Fe and word got out that I was a fairly accomplished home chef, I’d often plan a menu, cook the food and then take it to someone else’s house who loved to entertain more than I still did. It was like catering someone else’s bash, but I was a guest too and the visiting chef. I got to meet their friends (again on neutral ground) and if I didn’t like them, I could always retreat to the host’s kitchen as the caterer at work with closing side duties. He he!

When I took that old fantasy off the table (pun intended) I realized that I could reduce my home footprint to literally more than half the square feet since the other half of what I owned was there to simply impress and accommodate far more people than would ever be in my house at the same time again.

I also cut my financial living expenses to more than half as well. Because of this, I was more able to pick and choose the creative projects I wanted to do (for less money) rather than having to feed a phantom lifestyle kitty that was pure fiction.

Before, I was living out of ego, (ouch) through the eyes of what people were expecting to experience when they came to “Christopher Lowell’s” home. Cringe!!!!!

There are still circumstances where I still have to be sure of who enters my inner circle. But anyone with a half a brain should do that anyway.

I share this in all honesty with you, so that if you feel a bit overwhelmed with new life choices you have to make during this process that also have to do with public perception--think of me trying to deal with the whole “ex-celebrity” curiosity in a social media age. So if I can get though it with my baggage than you can do it too.

I’ve heard too many people say that they just want a life that’s__________. Yet they can never seem to coherently fill in that blank. And you can’t until to get rid of the life you thought you wanted to finally make room for the life you didn’t know was possible.

Next week we roll up our sleeves and do the first pass on the possible rejects. Yes you have to do it a few times. After the obvious junk and the stuff pertaining to the lists above it starts to get really tricky. But don’t worry, once you trace why you brought it under your roof in the first place, the easier it will be to decide if the ‘why’ is still relevant today.

Have a great week!

You can do it!

Christopher Lowell

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