Sunday, August 18, 2019

Seeking Spaciousness at Summer’s End

by Elizabeth Venart

No matter our age, summer often registers in our system as “play time.” We are more likely to spend our time outdoors, take vacations, attend outdoor concerts, and stay up late.  And the month of September – Labor Day specifically – often marks the end of this time of recreation. Schedules fill up and the demands on our time grow. We feel the tug to return to “life as normal”. Darker, cooler days ahead, we retreat more and more indoors, losing some of the spaciousness of summer.

So that begs the question – How do you feel about your home? We react to the decreased sunlight – yes – but we may also be reacting to a weightiness we feel when we spend increased time inside the four walls of our home. Does your home feel warm and welcoming? Does it feel like a sanctuary? Are you able to rest and play comfortably in your home? Or does it feel stifling, more like a prison of expectations and shoulds, unfinished projects, old memories, and clutter?  
One of the things I love about my work as a counselor is helping people find spaciousness inside, identify what truly resonates in their lives, and make choices to let go of what no longer serves them. Perhaps this is why I have become a tad addicted to the Netflix show, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. Marie is a Japanese Cleaning Consultant who wrote the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her show helps people create lives of deeper love, connection, and joy – through the process of tidying. When we tune into our experience of joy and arrange our homes in a way that highlights this joy, everything we see has a positive emotional resonance for us. “Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness,” Marie Kondo explains. “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” Through the KonMari process, she invites us to take each item in our hands and ask ourselves, “Does this spark joy?” and if it does, keep it. If it does not, thank it for the role it has played in our lives – and then let it go.

On her television show, some participants express confusion initially about what Marie means by “sparking joy,” but once they get the sense of it, the clearing begins to move more quickly and more easily. It is so individual – and purely subjective (although I’ve never seen anyone keep a ripped, thread-bare t-shirt). An item that resonates with one person won’t resonate for another – which is why we can never successfully clear clutter for anyone else. Happily, when we release items, we create the possibility they can spark joy for someone new.

Marie Kondo invites us to listen to and honor our heart’s desire. Like in my work, this process of deeply listening to oneself can be truly transformative. Embarking on the KonMari process myself – and talking with friends and clients who have done it – the overwhelming response is one of gratitude, a feeling of lightness, and an increase in energy. People also comment on the positive ripple effect in their lives. The practice of tidying not only helps us create spaciousness and joy in our homes, it also helps us tune into ourselves – the inner compass of our intuition – to assess what resonates and doesn’t in all aspects of our lives. What hobbies and habits nourish – and drain? What relationships feed us? Which don’t?

Taking the time to connect and be this honest with ourselves can bring up some real discord – within ourselves and with the people in our lives who may have certain expectations of how and who we should be. My work as a counselor involves helping people come home to themselves – with acceptance, self-compassion, and deep appreciation for their many facets. The internal changes made in our work together reflect outwardly and impact family, friends, and workplace relationships. Usually these relationships are strengthened. But is also becomes clear when others’ values and one’s own are at odds.

As older generations pass away, many objects may be passed down. Some may spark joy – connecting us to fond memories and having a place of honor in our china cabinets and on our walls. But many may also bring a weight of obligation, a heaviness, a tug to the past that pulls us away from the vibrancy of the present moment. We may feel an obligation to hold onto our grandmother’s china, father’s cufflinks, or uncle’s rifle because they loved it, even though we know we don’t.

When letting go is challenging, unprocessed grief and endings that feel unfinished are often at the root. It is unsettling when relationships haven’t had the closure we felt we needed at the time – whether because of conflict, death, divorce, or disconnection. I recently had a conversation with Natalia Volz, author of Passing through Grief about this. She reflected, “Before we can let go or move on, it is important to take some time to examine all that relationship meant to us, to clean up unfinished communication, and to say goodbye to what was. It does not mean we forget. It simply means clean it up so that we do not get stuck in the past painful feelings. We carry forward all of the relationship and the ways it made us who we are today because of it.”

Similarly, Marie Kondo writes, “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

Reflecting on the uplift in mood possible from something as simple as a vase of fresh-cut flowers, imagine a whole home – and a whole life – that truly resonates. Our home can be a place of peace, inspiration, comfort, and happiness. Michelangelo said he carved away everything that was not the sculpture, as the beauty of the sculpture was hidden, waiting patiently inside the stone. Like Michelangelo and his stone, when we carve away all that does not spark joy, we free what waits inside us, yearning to have a more central role in our lives.

Surrounded by objects we select with intention and love, our time indoors this fall and winter can bring happiness, comfort, a sense of spaciousness, resonance, and ease. We live our lives in the present moment, and, in a home that nourishes us and supports us in exploring what has us curious today, our time indoors can be as relaxing, enjoyable, and fun as summer.

Elizabeth Venart is the Founder of The Resiliency Center. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified EMDR Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant who specializes in providing counseling and mentorship to other therapists. Trained in laughter yoga and Internal Family Systems, she loves working to empower Highly Sensitive Persons to heal the wounds of the past so that they can embrace their gifts more fully and experience greater joy. Learn more at or by contacting her at