I can hardly believe it. Nearly half way into 2015, I still going strong on my resolution to change the messy-bessie in me. Cleaning wipes are my new best friend, as well as a Swiffer, and the 10 to 15 minutes I set aside daily to clean are really working. Is it 100% perfect all the time? Far from it (my desk has a pile of mail staring me down at the moment). However, as I mentioned at the end of my “Messy Confessions: My Private Life is a Wreck” blog post, the resolution to clean up my life took on a whole new meaning after reading an essay by Amy Bloom in Allure Magazine. (I know, a girlie fashion mag? With spiritual insight? Inspiration comes in the strangest forms, sometimes.)
Interesting to note, I’m writing this on Mother’s Day. The article I read on the plane that moved me to up the cleaning ante was about a mother’s positive influence on her daughter. This mother made living a beautiful life into an art form. Not just physically, but in her surroundings and most importantly… she saw it in others too, which cultivated more beauty in her life.
This article touched me deeply. Something about the quiet isolation of a plane ride encourages some of my best thinking about big issues. And this one was no different. The story about this woman dedicated to creating beauty—be it a lovely table setting or impeccably maintained shoes—had my wheels turning.
Dedicating my life to pursuing whatever was lovely and beautiful actually sounded like an enjoyable challenge. What if I swapped my perspective of cleaning from a boring, obligatory task to an act of beautification? Why? Yes, it’s the clichéd L’Oreal slogan, but, “because I’m worth it!”
Duh, you’re thinking? But, no. I never thought about it like this. I prettied things up for other people because I was afraid of being judged or wanted approval. For example, I either cleaned the house because guests were coming over or dressed up because I was going out, but never for the sake of doing it for my pleasure alone or for the sheer discipline of cultivating beauty.
“Your bag is in rough shape. We’re going to have to make a note of the damages so the airlines won’t be held responsible,” said the airline attendant as she was checking in my bag.
Huh? How rude! I looked down at my bag, trying to figure out what she was talking about. I never noticed it before, but she was right. The suitcase’s handle was busted, barely hanging on. There were holes and stains in the fabric. One wheel was crooked.
How did I not notice this before? It wasn’t like the damage happened all of a sudden from one crazy trip. Was I so detached to my things and surroundings that a suitcase on its last legs was just normal? Or, was it something larger? Had I noticed it, but ignored it—thinking it was what I would have to settle for it, since replacing it would be too expensive? Or, was this an indication of a deep-seated belief that life was a bitch and then you die, and dealing with busted luggage was part of the penance for living? The answer is probably a mix of all these reasons.
Coincidentally, this conversation with the airline attendant happened right before I boarded that flight with the fated, inspirational essay that changed my course.
When I got home, I started to look around at my things and my surroundings. Sure, it was pretty tidy now. Dust bunnies were under control, piles were minimal and the kitchen counters were coffee-stain free. I was thrilled with the results and very proud of myself that I was seeing improvement in a life long, deeply ingrained habit of messiness. However, inspired by the example of the woman that made it her full-time job to beautify, it was time for a deeper cleanse.
I realized in order to achieve a peaceful, gorgeous life, the broken, worn out stuff had to go…even if I couldn’t afford to replace it. It was better to do without than have things that affirmed chaos, poverty and depression. By holding on to chipped or cracked dishes, holey socks or ripped luggage, I was telling the universe that was all I deserved.
No more, world. I deserve a clean environment with things that are in good repair and pleasing to the eye.
I want to be the woman in the article in all ways. I want to exude beauty, not only on the outside, but in my home, my car, even my suitcase. And, ultimately, I want to encourage and extract the most beautiful and most honorable aspects of the people I come into contact with as well.
With my new mission firmly in place, it was like I had a new set of eyes. I saw things I was too busy to attend to before. Like some kind of superhero laser vision, I zoned on what was out of place or in disrepair. And slowly, I started to methodically cleanse my life of ‘the ugly.’
The trip to the dumpster became like a spiritual pilgrimage. I was literally getting rid of ‘baggage’ that was holding me down. A guy in my apartment complex that spends a lot of time in the public courtyard saw me go to the trash so many times, he finally asked, “Are you moving?” Yes, moving my headspace, I thought. (P.S. If it wasn’t in good condition, I didn’t want to curse someone else with it by donating it to the Good Will).
I also started journaling. Like an exercise or diet journal, I recorded the acts of beauty daily. I wrote it down for two reasons: 1. To keep myself accountable. 2. To have a record of my progress for some self ‘rah-rah’!
The journal entries ranged from the mundane to extravagant. Here are some of those entries:
- “Threw out all the old veggies in my fridge and washed the veggie drawer.”
- “Complemented a woman for her fabulous hair in the line at the grocery store.”
- “Detailed my car at the car wash.”
- “Organized my toilet paper in decorative boxes above the toilet.”
- “Signed up for 10 sessions of micro-current.” (A big deal! I don’t spend money on beauty stuff normally! Micro-current is supposed to be like a natural facelift.)
- “Ordered replacement blade for the juicer.”
- “Threw out torn bedsheets.”
- “Turned some cool tin coffee cups into cotton ball/Q-tip holders.”
- “Bought red high heels. Always dreamed of having them, just never got around to making it happen.”
- “Attempted to make dinner look like a restaurant’s entree with garnish and edible flowers.”
Maybe these tasks come natural for most people. For me? It required an awakening of sorts for me to make them a priority.
And this new agenda for my life thrills me. Yes!! This cleaning thing was fun because I was doing it for myself. Slowly, I was actually becoming like the woman in the story!
To further illustrate my quest, I’ve laid out a few small guidelines that helped me to cultivate a beautiful life:
Underwear. They’re just functional pieces of clothing, right? Who really sees them, after all? The answer is: I do!! And I am worthy of (and so are you) wearing nice—or least hole-free underwear. One by one, I’ve thrown out more than half of my underwear. And, boy does it feel good. Each pair I throw out says, “Yep, you deserve better.” That goes for bras and socks as well. Every one with stretched out straps or a hole in the toes were tossed.
I am not advocating throwing everything out and buying a whole new wardrobe or furniture set. On the contrary, many things I had just needed repairing. But why I still wore shoes with a worn out heel for years? Because, I didn’t think I had time to repair such a silly thing. Shoes that I loved were taken to a cobbler to re-sole. My all-time favorite purse that was about to rip open at the seams was taken to a leather worker to mend. Kitchen appliances that sat in my cupboard just collecting dust because a part was missing, I ordered parts for or sent it in for repair. Broken necklaces that I hadn’t worn in years, sitting tangled at the bottom of my jewelry box, were taken to a jeweler to fix. Pants with that were too long or the hem was coming undone were dropped off at tailor. Shirts that I never wore because they needed ironing were taken to the cleaners to have starched and pressed. And on and on…. My goal is to do one repair a week until all my stuff was in good working order.
What I couldn’t repair or wasn’t truly pleasing to my eye (like a funky, brown backpack that I kept because it was practical), I gave away or threw out… like ruthlessly. I had to be strict or I wouldn’t have gotten rid of any of it. Throwing some of the stuff out was difficult to do…like my favorite pair of yoga pants. The waistband was so stretched out, that when I ran on the treadmill, I had to keep yanking them up to prevent mooning the entire gym. I couldn’t repair those and thus, sadly, they had to go. But, in my mind, if I didn’t make room for better things, they’d never come. And, sure enough, a week after I tossed my best yoga pants, a company sent me some yoga pants to try out. Yeah!
I made a pact with myself to keep a vase of flowers in my apartment at all times. And only fresh, happy flowers. The moment they start to droop or wilt, I replace them. Alive and vibrant—that’s what I’m after.
Sure, it was an added expense to the monthly budget; however, I just cut out a few lattes and made it work. The reward for having a colorful bouquet in my space is an invaluable investment in the practice and pursuit of beauty. For you, maybe it’s having a freezer stocked with your favorite pizzas or burning incense that brings you joy. Whatever it is that doles out a slice of happiness in your space, do it. After all, you’re worth it.
Dress for Success
As most of you know, I work at home. In the past, I would grab some coffee and start my day. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I was still in pajamas with my hair sticking out everywhere, no makeup and looking pretty mangy. I realized this too had an impact on my self-esteem and in turn, the quality of my work. It takes discipline, because I’m not dressing to impress a boss or co-workers, but I make a habit of showering and getting properly dressed and styling my hair (as I would for a regular job) before I start working. Why? Because it ultimately makes me feel better and affirms to the world that I AM dressed for success! I swear, since I’ve been doing this, looking my best even when no one is looking, I’ve had more assignments of work come my way than before!
Compliment Like Crazy
How many times have you thought something nice about a person, be it admiration for their cool outfit or the way they handled a sticky situation, but never said anything? For me, it happens daily, but I usually just let the moment pass without saying a word. Now, when those thoughts cross my mind, even if it’s towards a stranger or towards the opposite sex, I make a conscious choice to tell the person. It feels awkward at first, but, like working out, it becomes a pleasant habit. In the Allure article, the daughter recounts a moment that exemplifies this principle. One day, the mother came over to the daughter’s house and it was a complete wreck. In spite of the mess, the mother was still able to hone in on something beautiful. She complimented the children’s drawings that were hung on the fridge with not a peep about the pile of dirty dishes or toys strewn about the living room. The daughter was blown away by her mother’s kindness. Everyone is doing the best they can, right? A small word of encouragement goes a long way for both the giver and the receiver.
I leave you with a few quotes that keep me inspired in my pursuit for all things beautiful, both inside and out:
Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. – Albert Einstein
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. – Maya Angelou
Do you feel it’s important to pursue beauty in your life? If so, what ways do you cultivate beauty in yourself or others? What things are you holding on to that are blocking your success? Please leave your comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.