Post written by Monica Gaylor.
“Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.”
Christopher Forrest McDowell
I believe my home should be my sanctuary, a place of refuge from the cold, cruel, dangerous world. It should be a place where upon entering the stress and tension of the day melt away in a palpable way. A sanctuary should be serene and not make one feel stressed or uncomfortable in any way. It should be restful and uplifting or invigorating at the same time. It should be hopeful toward ones future mindset and have positive energy. And most of all it should be inspiring.
According to the dictionary, minimalism is a design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect. Where as, aesthetic pertains to the pure emotion and sensation experienced by a sense of the beautiful. So, when these two become combined, as in a home or sanctuary, it becomes imperative that everything one owns is either beautiful or functional or in the case of maximum minimalism – both.
Here are a few tips to turning your home into a sanctuary:
1. Entry Way: This is the most important room / area. You enter your sanctuary here. This is the first impression your house makes upon you and others. Make it stunning. Clear away the clutter. Organize it with beautiful, functional pieces for whatever your needs are: coats, hats, umbrellas, shoes, keys, mail, a mirror for last minute primping, etc. A small chest of drawers on legs (to tuck shoes under) with a mirror above and a nice bowl (to catch the mail) work well for most any entry way issues and hides the clutter. If space is really limited a small catchall table and mirror or artwork could also work. Etc.
2. Make your home’s beauty and upkeep a priority. Two or three years ago I discovered a website called Apartment Therapy. And I don’t remember if I read this bit of information on the site or in the book, but here it is: The creator of Apartment Therapy stated (I summarize as best I can remember) that there is no better way to keep your emotional or mental-house in order, than to actually keep your real house in order. And by that he meant the house should be clean, organized, functional, and decorated to best of your ability or circumstances. It does not matter if you own or rent or are rich or poor. It only matters that it is “kept” to the best of your ability. It doesn’t have to be as sanitized as an operating room, just clean.
For four years I lived and worked on a Native American reservation. It was an eye opening experience in so many ways. Most houses I visited were run down, shabby, dirty, filled inside and out with too much stuff and trash, and just had a negative or run down energy to them. So did the occupants. Then one day I was invited to one of my student’s special birthdays (15 or 16 years?) This was a special student compared to most. She was very active in school activities, had good grades, was well spoken, had a quiet confidence about her, and her goal was to graduate from high school in 3 years. Although other partygoers were not allowed, I was invited in because my student wanted to show me where she lived. Upon entering her family’s house (her sisters house), I could see why she seemed different than most students. They were just as poor as anybody else on the reservation, but they took pride in the upkeep of their house. The house was nothing special, it looked as shabby as all the other houses around it. The furnishings were sparse and well worn. The carpet was a remnant that was unbound, but placed so squarely in the center of the room that I wondered if they measured it because it looked like so much care had been taken to place it there. It was so orderly and clean that I know my mouth dropped open and a smile spread across my face. I exclaimed, “It’s beautiful.” And it truly was. There was not a scrap of trash or food or speck of dust in sight. The bookshelf was beautifully organized with a few books and the essential Mary shrine. There were even a few decorating touches strewn throughout the house. At what cost I can’t imagine. There were table clothes and centerpieces, posters and paintings hung on the walls, candles on the coffee table, and nice towels in the bathroom – all spoke of occupants that cared. The house had positive energy and so did its occupants. And by the way, that student did graduate in 3 years.
I know from my own experience, a 2 year journey that began with de-cluttering, then gave way to repainting and finishing all the unfinished remodeling projects, has lead to a complete overhaul of my life and soon I hope my career. Where 2 years ago I was adrift in a sea of chaos, now I am pecking away at goals in many facets of my life. And the momentum seems to be gaining, all because I decided to get my house in order.
3. Get rid of the excessive stuff. It is very difficult to be serene amidst the mess of excess and clutter. It’s hard to relax when you can’t find a place to sit down. If all your clothes don’t fit easily in the closet – clean it out. If all the stuff in your kitchen doesn’t have a place and is in its place – maybe it’s time to de-clutter. Seriously, are you ever going to use that bread maker? The pasta maker? Be dedicated to de-cluttering the whole house (perhaps one room at a time.) Sanctuaries are serene places that have no clutter.
4. Designate space for certain activities. Everything in a sanctuary has a simple, well thought out, one-task function. For example, only pay bills in the office or at your desk. Only eat dinner, do homework, play games at the kitchen table – this way it is always thought of as the familial hub and has a positive connotation. If you started paying bills there the connotation could become less positive. If you must do office work there be sure to thoroughly put it away afterward so the table can function as it was intended. Or, only watch TV in the living room. Only sleep or read in bed. The bedroom is only for sleeping, relaxing, and shall we say “uummm.” Parents can apply rules for kids, toys, etc. in the bedroom so that it can function as the parent sanctuary. The fewer tasks you do in any one area the more efficient and tranquil each designated space will be. If you can achieve this, each space will have a purpose and certain connotation, which will hopefully be positive, simple, and serene.
5. Create rituals or habits. A long time ago (20 years), I read something about creating rituals for efficiency. Efficiency is my word not theirs. But the point of the article was that rituals get you in the mood or send you on your way, etc. For example, clearing or cleaning your desk or workspace at the end of the day is a ritual that prepares you to leave work and start your evening. Upon doing this same ritual over and over, your mind begins to turn off the work “talk” and turns on whatever it is you do in the evenings (make dinner, exercise, etc.) In other words, it creates an automatic shift into the next thing.
I immediately put the ritual idea to work with my biggest problem at the time – insomnia. I had suffered with insomnia from teenage hood until my mid-twenties. One of the reasons I knew I could not sleep was that I could not turn off my mind, especially in times of high stress. I also knew that reading had always made me sleepy (especially in college) and thought I would give that a try. My ritual now is this: I wash my face and brush my teeth, get my glass of water that must be next to the bed, and tuck myself in with a book. Usually this is an easy task. Rarely, I have to stop my wandering mind and make it focus back on the reading. But, my insomnia is cured and has been for 20 years.
Perhaps you are a writer or an artist that has trouble getting started (a huge problem for many – I know.) An artist might make a ritual of sitting at their art table, opening their sketchbook, and doing two quick thumbnail sketches just to get into the “art place.” Then they could proceed on to whatever projects they are currently working on.
6. Sanctuaries have great art. Art is a function in and of itself. It can calm, educate, inspire, excite, irritate, annoy, etc. It is powerful. The Roman Empire and the Vatican both used art to its maximum effect. When I visited the Vatican, I was taken aback at the power that a space could have. The awe inspiring architecture, the emotion of the sculptures, the beauty of the tile work, the wonderful smell of incense in the air, and then came the pomp and circumstance of the procession of the cardinals and priests into the chapel, the chanting of the monks, I was ready to convert (and I am an atheist.) It was truly fabulous. I could image myself as an uneducated peasant 500 years ago converting on the spot. Why wouldn’t they? And during the sermon that was either in Latin or Italian, I was so incredibly relaxed. I kept falling asleep (sorry) – and I don’t fall asleep in public because I can’t relax in public. But I felt perfectly safe and at ease in the Vatican. I have been in churches in America, they are boring and uninspiring, and never have enticed me to convert or even to be relaxed. No wonder there is a crisis of faith in America. My point is that you should fill your sanctuary with great art. Make certain that the art you choose – sings to your soul! There is no right or wrong kind of art here – it only needs to touch you deeply and in a positive way.
7. Have a positive attitude. A free mind. For those of us who believe in intention – the mind is supreme. It’s kind of like the chicken or the egg. Did I decide to change my life and everything followed or did I begin changing my life first. I believe I decided to change my life first. In the book I consider my personal bible, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach writes:
“Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, too…”
I remember from my youth watching something on TV that spoke to this concept of freedom of the mind. Somebody was being held hostage and would not give his captors some information they desperately needed. They offered him freedom. He told them that they only offered him liberty and that he was already free (in his mind.) Although I can’t remember the show – I remember the sentiment and think back to it often.
If all else fails and circumstances do not permit the making of a physical sanctuary, there is always the mind. Humans have the power to make of their mind a sanctuary. There are many examples: Children of abuse do it all the time, people who live in war-torn circumstances use their mind from time to time to escape the horrors, I believe Mother Theresa lived in “heaven on earth” where no creature was to wretched for her to take in and try to heal, Buddhist monks achieve Nirvana via meditation, etc.
Viktor Fankl, a renowned psychiatrist, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning after surviving the concentration camps of WWII. I cried myself to sleep for many nights as I read through the horrible images he laid forth. I highlighted this part:
“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Remember, sanctuary starts with the mind.