The Eight Step Home Cure: Excerpt I

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We are so pleased that after slaving away for a year (2004!) our book is finally getting ready to hit the shops. We have yet to see it in its final form, but we now have access to excerpts that we can share. It doesn’t come out until late next month, but we’ll post a few excerpts before now and then. Enjoy and get ready to jump into the eight week cure next month (if you haven’t already).

Chapter One:

Is Your Home Healthy?

In the first few years that I took on clients, I was surprised by the number of people who were miserable in their homes. I wondered what was going on to cause so much distress.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

As I visited more houses and apartments, and began to read books on shelter style and home improvement, I soon realized that most American home dwellers tuning in to home improvement are not simply lacking in style or needing to declutter; they are dealing with sick homes.

Despite good intentions, Americans have not only lost touch with how to create and maintain a healthy home, they have created new diseases such as clutter, disposophobia (the fear of letting go of things),and what I call movie theater and bowling alley syndrome. Like another national health issue, obesity, most of our household issues stem from the fact that we consume too much and work off too little.

As you read this book, I want you to broaden the concept of home and apply to it the same principles we apply to our own bodies. Like the body, the home should be thought of as a living organism. For starters, healthy homes are homes that consume carefully and get regular exercise. After health is established, style and decora- tion come much more easily and can be seen as natural finishing touches. In fact, style and decoration are extensions of a healthy home. You can’t have one without the other.


Today, Americans spend more money on home improvement than ever before. A whopping twenty-five million Americans took on a home improvement project in 2005, spending $150 billion (2 percent of our GNP). Judging from television shows such as Trading Spaces, Design on a Dime, and This Old House, Americans can’t seem to get enough. And the demand crosses gender lines: shows such as the tremendously popular Queer Eye for the Straight Guy attract male and female viewers alike, while Debbie Travis’s Facelift on both Oxygen and HGTV attracts a growing number of female homeowners wanting to DIY (do it yourself).

Each year brings new magazines as well. The old-school Architectural Digest has been pushed aside by flashier offerings such as Metropolitan Home and Elle Décor, and they are now being challenged by newcomers with a focus on shopping and affordability, such as Domino, Budget Living, and Bargain Style. All in all, more Americans than ever are fixing up their homes—and doing the work themselves. In all of this they are trying to retrieve the feeling of home they have lost. But despite the amount of activity and money spent, most of these efforts end in dissatisfaction, because they only treat the symptoms—they don’t provide a cure.

In place of creating a healthy home, we are trying to buy solutions and cram too much into our homes. What was modestly termed “cocooning” in the 1970s by trend-spotters who saw us spending more recreational time at home has become Hypernesting. Instead of asking ourselves what would really make our home work better, we usually jump to the conclusion that there must be something we can buy to solve our home’s challenges—a flatter television screen, a closet organizing system, or color-coded photo albums.

But when we take something new into our home, we rarely let go of something else. This is how our home gains weight, grows unhealthy, and begins to nag at us. Not only have we created some new diseases, we’ve even created new doctors to treat our problem. Professional organizers and home disaster specialists have sprung up only recently, and their job is to help us sort and manage our extra weight.

Most of us aren’t in need of more organizing; we need to manage our consumption, let go of our stuff, and learn how to restore life to our homes.

I often ask my clients what they imagine their apartment would say to them if it could speak. Samantha, a stockbroker, told me that her home would say, “Can’t she see that I am dying? Why doesn’t she do anything to save me?” As she said this, we were sitting in a badly lit, cluttered, unfinished room. Embarrassed, Samantha said that she didn’t know where to begin. It was one of the best things I had ever heard a client say. Besides being completely honest, I told her, in using the word begin she’d hit upon the main issue. The solution was not about eliminating clutter or lightening a room; it was about beginning to work with her home. I told her that I could show her where to begin. It might feel challenging at first, but her home would love her for it.

No two beginnings are the same. We have different homes and our problems are personal. Even so, I have found that there are two general starting points that correspond to two general types of people. As you think about getting started on your house project, give some thought to which of the two types—cool or warm—best describes your approach to your living environment.