The Eight Step Home Cure: Excerpt II
This one begins to share stories of clients I have worked with and continues from the first excerpt (don’t worry, the names have been changed).
Warm and Cool People
As many cool people as there are in the world, there are just as many warm people. One is not better or worse, more desirable or less desirable. They are simply different.
You typically hear about warm people. These are the ones who worry about clutter and organizing and who tend to obsess much more about their homes. They are often gregarious, friendly, and generous. Warm people are good hosts but are bad with cleaning and clutter. They are challenged by excessiveness and attachment to people and things.
Is this you?
Cool people use their homes less and often find them an inconvenience. They want them to be comfortable but keep them as low-maintenance as possible. Efficient by nature, cool people are often sharp, smart, and independent. Cool people are good guests, but they are not great at making things comfortable. Cool people are great at avoiding clutter. At home, they are not do-it-yourselfers, and they feel clumsy. They are challenged by not feeling attached enough to people and things.
Is this you?
Cool People: Diana
During a preliminary interview on the phone, Diana said, “My apartment makes me sad.” She also said her apartment felt cold and that she wished it was warm and inviting, especially after a long day’s work. She said that she wasn’t sure whether she needed therapy or her apartment needed work, so Apartment Therapy seemed like the perfect solution to her.
Two days after our conversation, I met Diana at her apartment for our first appointment. An attractive professional in her late twenties, she lived in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in the West Village. Upon opening her door to me, Diana immediately apologized for her apartment’s messiness. Was it messy? Not really. Was it cold? A bit. Was she insecure about her home? Yes.
She began rattling off a long list of things she thought I should know about her apartment. The furniture all came from her mother’s house and had sentimental value. She knew that she needed to paint. She never cooked. Should the large print be hung in the living room? she asked, looking at me with a worried expression. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“How do we do this?” she finally exclaimed, looking around her apartment with her hands up in the air.
I was standing in an apartment three times the size of my own 250-square-foot apartment. It was prewar with low ceilings, original molding, and wood floors. There were large windows on two sides with views south and west. She even had a view of the Hudson River. To me, it had all the hallmarks of a stunning apartment.
I told her that I usually begin with a tour. I asked her to take me through the apartment, telling me everything that she liked and disliked about it, one room at a time.
“Well, that won’t take long. It is very small,” she replied.
What I saw as I walked through the apartment confirmed what I had suspected from our initial conversation. Diana was a “cool” person, and the hallmark of this was that she had a beautiful apartment that was barely lived in. It was sparsely furnished and badly lit, the windows were bare, and there was no food in the kitchen aside from mineral water, a gift box of champagne, and some expired vitamins.
As I walked around the room, I put my hand on the walls and was surprised to feel how cold they were. They could only get cold from the air outside. I asked her if she ever left her windows open. “Oh, yes, I like to keep the windows open when I smoke and then when I am out, because I hate the smell that the cigarettes leave.”
With a continual chill in the walls, the apartment would always feel cold long after the air in each room heated up. Among other things, we needed to solve Diana’s guilty feelings about smoking at home without freezing out her apartment. A good air purifier would get rid of the smell and would relieve her anxiety.
I asked her to put her own hand on the wall to feel its chill. She too was surprised by its iciness. “We’re going to figure out a way to close your windows and warm these walls,” I told her. “This is where we are going to begin.”
Warm People: Carl and Julia
Carl and Julia used their apartment a lot. Carl was self-employed and often worked from home, a place he loved. Julia worked in an office but liked coming home in the evening. They had filled their home with beautiful books, artwork, and antiques, each with its own sentimental story. Friends and family came over often because their home was cheery and inviting.
So what was the problem?
Julia wanted it to feel more relaxing; Carl wanted to find a way to arrange his office. At first, the problems seemed very general. But there was a nagging feeling that they couldn’t quite pinpoint.
When pressed, Julia admitted that she didn’t feel in control of their home and said that Carl’s office had taken over. He acknowledged that the apartment had gotten a little cluttered, and together they wished it were calmer and more organized. With good files, he could pack up his office each night.
On the tour, I found much more. Next to the bed was a tall pile of magazines stretching back several months, and days’ worth of water glasses. There were objects under the couch that had been missing for months. They admitted that they should hire a cleaning person, but they just hadn’t gotten around to it.
Pulling up their mattress to reveal the floor under their bed, I found a fleet of dust bunnies that looked like they could crawl. Carl had never seen these before. Julia had and was embarrassed.
Although we had discussed other problems, in every room I could see that cleanliness—or lack of it—was a key issue. While it wasn’t out of control and things looked good, the growing dust and clutter of a heavily used home underlined every concern they had mentioned in the interview. Out of sight but hardly out of mind, the disarray explained the agitation expressed in everything they had said.
As we exited the bedroom, I asked them where their vacuum was. “In the hall closet, I think,” Carl replied. Regardless of the need for files, I told them, a deep cleaning was where we would begin.
Whichever type you identify with, the cure is balance. Whether warm or cool, you never want to change your basic temperament. It is who you are and it contains your strengths. Therefore, warm people achieve balance by “weeding,” since they have too much growing. Small things like cleaning out a closet, canceling a magazine subscription, or taking a load of clothes to the Salvation Army provide balance. Cool people achieve it by “watering and feeding,” since they don’t have enough growing. Their small tasks are buying flowers each week for the kitchen table, hanging curtains, and inviting a few friends over for a drink now and then. Both types should start slowly— a little bit goes a long way.
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