No, not ‘The environment’, although that is a HUGE deal (if you haven’t read or seen Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, I can’t recommend it enough). I mean environment in the personal sense – the spaces we spend our lives in.
As we settle into our new house and new life in the kind-of-country (i.e, we’re sandwiched between fields and the river yet the M25 is but a stone’s throw away), it’s dawned on me how much I underestimated the effect that a new space, new spaces, would have on my life – on every aspect of it, from the way I run my business, to the way I rest, to my yoga practice, to the very inner workings of my mind. It’s been nothing short of a revelation. And I think that revelations have a duty to be shared, so let me try to turn the intangible into the readable.
The story starts seven years ago in London.
My now-hubby and I had never lived together before. We were, quite sensibly, planning on renting, but it was 2009 and the property market had bottomed out after the financial crisis so, against the advice of our financial advisor…and pretty much everyone else, we decided to risk romantic ruination and buy. Months of scouring three-room flats and alarming fixer-uppers (in which I kid you not, we once saw a DIY bath created entirely out of tiles) culminated in an epic Saturday of 14 viewings. When we walked into the Victorian maisonette we would buy, it instantly felt right. I vividly remember standing in the garden with an estate agent named Billy (who would turn out to be nothing short of a total douche – so far so estate agent) and putting in an offer there and then.
We couldn’t believe our luck. A separate kitchen. A loft conversion bedroom. A spare room. A freakin’ garden! We spent a happy four or five years growing into it. Then something begun to change. Our gloriously spacious flat began to shrink. Slowly at first, then more quickly.
It shrunk every time we had a Christmas party, where guests would find space to talk sitting on the side of the bath or freezing on the balcony.
It shrunk every time I practiced yoga, until I had only a mat-sized space in the spare room, boxed in on all sides by furniture and overflowing crates of god knows what.
By the time we tried and failed to get a storage bed up the stairs to our bedroom, it felt like a dolls house.
By the time we’d both started startups and held regular negotiations about who would work at the desk and who sitting crossed legged on the sofa, it felt like a shoebox. (Needless to say, as the yogi, I always ended up on the sofa).
By the time our request to adopt Bruce was, to my surprise and delight, approved, and we were joined by a 40kg wolfbeardoghound, it felt like a matchbox.
So we packed up, moved on, moved out, and are revelling in floor space we are in no hurry to fill and a great outdoors just outside the door. Of all the ways this space has changed me, changed us, here are the most significant.
1. Space to eat
A month or two after we moved into our first flat, and dreaming of dinner parties, we bought one of those coffee tables that unfolds into a dining table. Did we use it? God no. We ate almost every single evening sitting on the sofa, plates propped up on cushions. We made well-intentioned efforts to resist the TV. They mostly failed. The first thing we bought for the new house was a dining table. It has been, in hubby’s words, a ‘game changer’. We sit. We talk. We plot and plan. We have a dinner date every single night. Not only has it opened up a channel of single-focus communication between us, unimpeded by smartphones and laptops and Netflix, but I’ve found it much easier to gravitate from dinner straight to a book, so my reading list is getting a good workout too.
2. Space to om
I really believe that to be successful, movement must be a pleasure. I say it in all my workshops. There’s simply no point in gritting your teeth and joining a gym if you detest working out indoors, or a bootcamp if you – like me – cannot bear burpees. A coaching client of mine once justified the investment in her programme because she’d paid the same amount the year before for a gym membership and not once used it. I’ve always supplemented studio yoga classes with an at-home self-practice, but I was, until now, seriously limited by space. If I fell out of an arm balance and hit my head on the desk once, I must have done it 100 times. In Forrest Yoga we use the wall for support and inversions. I didn’t have one. I couldn’t even stretch my limbs out fully in either direction. In the new house I have a space to call my own, and it’s transformed my practice. Rarely a day goes by when I haven’t gotten on my mat, and that’s made me stronger, more grounded and improved my teaching.
3. Space to flow
My hubby and I met as student rowers at the University of London Boat Club. When we went in search of our dream house, we never imagined we would end up back where we began – on the banks of the River Thames. But now we’re here, it seems so right. I’ve found looking up from work, from cooking, from dressing, and seeing the river flowing on by, deeply calming. The river never hurries, and these days neither do I. I no longer entertain the voices (mental and otherwise) that encourage hustle and hurry, rush and push. I mostly begin work at 11am, after walking Bruce (and invariably attempting to fish a sodden ball out of the water while he looks on expectantly) and doing my practice. I prepare more meals from scratch. Linger over lunch. And I’ve adopted my hubby’s habit of standing on our little mooring for a few minutes after each dog walk , just to take it all in.
Now I appreciate that life on the flood plain with a dog and dining table may not be the life choice for you. We have different means and dreams. That’s what makes us interesting. But I believe that when it comes to turning the space we do have to our advantage, there’s some things that work across the board, whether you live in a house boat, a high rise or a hacienda.
1. Declutter like a mofo
As the saying goes, ‘So within, as without’. Translation: if your space is full of crap, your mind will likely be as well. Desks, drawers, shelves, wardrobes, inboxes, thoughts, friends, files, habits – be ruthless in what you let go of, and only keep what you really love, until you can see and think clearly. Marie Kondo is the heroine of this space.
2. Showcase what’s important
Living a life that feels meaningful demands consciously making space for what matters to you. If you live to cook, you’re going to want that sous vide machine within reach. If you love to dance, move next door to the studio. If family is everything, adorn your walls with their faces and get unlimited minutes. Surround yourself with what lights you up.
3. Call in the professionals
My hubby and I are big fans of hiring people who can do brilliantly what we do averagely, or who we can pay to save us time and sanity (after all, money is a renewable resource; time is not). I swear a cleaner saved our relationship back in the old days. Need help setting up storage? Painting? Moving? Planting? Call it in, and contribute to the small business economy.
I can only imagine that our environment, and the way we feel in and about our environment, will continue to unfold. I hope yours does too. Make a little change, and see what happens. Then maybe another, and another, until things look and feel the way you want them too. That is, after all, how transformation happens.