Creating a supportive environment

Published by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

This post is part of my Monday series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

This post is not about making yourself a beautiful art studio, writing retreat, or sewing room. For that kind of inspiration, please see Pinterest. I’m not going to talk about keeping things clean and tidy, either. For that, please see Flylady.

This post is about using your physical environment as a tool to help you do your meaningful work.

The environment is there — it’s the space around you. Everyone has walls and a floor and a ceiling. Everyone has a place to sit and a flat thing to lay papers on. We don’t all have room for a special space dedicated to our work. We do all have the space we live in every day.

Your space has the power to help you do the work you want to do and become the person you want to be. It also has the power to distract you. It has the power to numb you.

It can give you energy or it can drain you of energy. It can support you — or it can work against you.

“In the famous preschools of Reggio Emilia, each class has two co-teachers. The environment (the classroom, school, and playground/garden) is referred to as “the third teacher” because of the impact it has on the students: the messages it sends, what it allows, what it encourages, what it says to and about the children.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Go to your front door and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and open them again. Walk through your house like a stranger and think about what you see.

 

Don’t think like a real estate agent. Pay no attention to the dust in the corners or the towels on the bathroom floor. Think like an anthropologist. Ask yourself:

 

- Who lives here?

 

- What do they do?

 

- What do they care about?

 

Does your space reflect who you are? Does it reflect who you are striving to be?

 

Would a stranger walking through your home be able to determine something meaningful about who you are, what you love, who you care about, and what your values and priorities are?

 

That might sound like a lot to ask of a house, but why shouldn’t your home represent those things? When people flip through Pinterest (in the old days, we had magazines) and say “ooh, I like that,” they are expressing their taste. Everyone buys picture frames and chairs and bowls. We should buy the ones we like, right?

 

But let’s go deeper. You live every day in this space. You pour your cereal here. You read. You listen to music. You pick up little bits of paper off the floor. When you look around, what is your space saying to you? What is it reminding you? What is it encouraging?

 

Your space can clearly say, “Hey, you. Remember your life. Remember what you wanted to do today. Remember who you want to be.” What message is your environment sending to you?

 

- Does it reflect your passion and your purpose?

 

- Does it remind you of what you hope to accomplish?

 

- Can you glance around the room and see your meaningful work?

 

- Is it the space of a learner, a maker, a doer?

 

- Do you have an attractive space to work? Does it beckon to you?

 

- Do you have the tools you need at hand?

 

- How many steps would you have to go through to sit down and do 15 minutes of real work?

 

- How far would you have to walk to gather the materials you need?

 

- Is the space you’ve allotted to yourself far away from where you spend most of your day?

 

Your space can help you or hinder you. It can say, hey, you have 20 minutes, let’s go. Or it can say, eh, all your stuff is upstairs, there’s not really enough time to accomplish anything, we may as well watch TV.

 

One of the ways we’re going to make a system for succeeding is by making it easier for ourselves to do our meaningful work. The first step is to begin to make our environment work for us. It doesn't have to inspire us with the work of others; it should encourage us to do our own work. It should remind us of what we care about and what we want to do — and why. It should make it easy to spend even a small amount of time doing the thing we care most about.

“Think about your space. Does it attract? Does it inspire? Does it tell the story of your child’s work and interests? Is it the workspace of an active, independent, creative person? Is it the space of an explorer, an investigator, an artist, a scientist? Does it encourage creation and invention? Does it allow independence and joyful making?” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Your space tells a story. It tells a story to people who visit — they see it much more clearly than you, because the longer you live with something, the less you notice it. But more importantly, it has the capacity to tell a story to you. Is it telling you a Pottery Barn story meant for mass consumption? Or is it telling you an original tale written only for you, about your life and your dreams and your intentions?

 

Does it focus on who you wish you were or on the best self you’re attempting to be today?

 

We don’t all have loads of free time to ourselves to dream and accomplish our goals. We have to learn to use the time we have.

 

Likewise, we don’t all have a big lovely, sunlit room to dedicate to our meaningful work. But we do have the space in which we live and eat and wake and rest and work every day. And we can enlist that space to support our goals.

 

Create an environment that nurtures you toward success. Make sure it reminds you of your plans and your intentions.

 

The whole world is trying to distract you away from your meaningful work. It is constantly bombarding you with messages about what it cares about: your clothes, your electronics, your weight, your dinner plans, your entertainment choices.

 

Create an environment that helps you focus. Advertise to yourself. Create visual reminders that call you back to your highest priorities. Make sure your space is constantly bombarding you with messages about what you care about: your family, your work, your values, your priorities, your goals.

 

Use your space to promote your most authentic life.

 

Why does it work to support kids by making them a space that supports their identity, their idea of themselves? Because it helps them now by honoring the work they’re trying to do and it gives them a way to picture themselves in the future successfully making their ideas happen. You can create an environment that supports you in the same way — the you today who is working toward your goals and the plans, goals, ideas, and dreams that will become your future.

 

Think about how you can transform the place you spend most of your time into a space that lives, breathes, and embraces the work you want to do.

 

Then, after you’ve thought about it, make one small change. Wherever you stand at the beginning of the day — by the coffeemaker, in front of the refrigerator, at the bathroom mirror — put something that will remind you of your meaningful work and your plans. As you go through this week, see what other small changes you can put into place that can help you remind yourself daily of what you want to do and who you want to be. Look for places where you can advertise to yourself and promote that authentic life you want to live.

 

See if you can waken your space to the possibilities of the life you want — and enlist it in helping you live that life.

36 comments

Comment by Barbara on January 14, 2013 at 12:38 PM

What a gem. Thank you so much.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2013 at 12:56 PM

thank you, barbara! :)

Comment by amy21 on January 14, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Fabulous. My chair--MY chair, the one I don't let anybody else sit in--in the living room is surrounded by STUFF. But when I sit down I can usually grab a knitting or embroidery project and get busy. My sketchbook is right there, with a zippered bag full of sketching pencils. The footstool is covered with floss and bags of tools (knitting, embroidery). A glass jar of DPNs is on the nearby bookshelf, along with a pin cushion. Truly, the entire area is a messy eyesore but it works for me.

Downstairs, all the art supplies are within easy reach. I know where things are. I can typically get something done in a small amount of time just because everything is in one space.

Oh, Lori, I have been *judged* on my house. The kids have papers taped all over the still-only-primered living room walls. My house looks like a cluttered mess. It is so definitely NOT a Pottery Barn story. Instead, it tells the story of "creative people live here, and not only that, we'd rather create than clean the house." Ha.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2013 at 12:59 PM

 

ha! — at first i had “don’t think like a real estate agent or a judgy neighbor...”! :D

clutter and what it *looks* like are, to me, separate issues from whether the space supports the work you want to do. and i think they’re secondary concerns. you can fret about clutter and aesthetics, but they don’t address whether the space reminds you of your goals and whether it helps you achieve them.

Comment by amy21 on January 15, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Well. I could probably use a bit more fretting about clutter. ;) I have a high tolerance *as long as* I am able to use the space productively. Also, what may look like clutter to others is often just what my space looks like when I'm using it. It goes along with getting work done in small amounts, yes? If I am constantly worried about having things put away, then I have to take them out again, which might just take up that 10 minutes I thought I had to sit down and do something! Which I think is what you're saying, too.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2013 at 07:03 AM

what may look like clutter to others is often just what my space looks like when I'm using it

this.

i genuinely don’t care what your house looks like. if clutter is the price we pay to do real, meaningful work while we raise children, i’m okay with that. they can take away my “perfect housewife” crown; i never wanted it in the first place. :)

Comment by Deirdre on January 14, 2013 at 04:20 PM

Lori, I'm overjoyed that you are writing this series! Love your intro---I find I am so much more supportive of my boys when I'm being supportive of my own endeavors. The either/or of our culture is so misleading.

The same applies to our spaces. It's not about messy/neat but finding what's conducive for you. I've realized I need white space in my work area as well as in my schedule, in thanks to many of your posts. While my boys want to hold on to every item they find, every drawing they create, etc., I see how the clean surface of their table will pull them like a magnet to sit down and work/play.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2013 at 07:30 PM

 

hello deirdre :)

thank you so much.

i love what you said about our either/or culture. this is definitely an area where if we feed ourselves, there is a trickle-down effect that benefits our children. so MANY good effects:

- we feel better: more energized, more fulfilled, more engaged.

- we are demonstrating the life we want them to live — we’re setting a great example.

- we can share our work, our interests, our failures, our successes, and so on.

- we can work alongside them on something *we* care about.

- we give them the opportunity to support *us*.

and on and on.

we can really be better mentors because we’ve walked that path ourselves.

so great to see you here! :)

Comment by Heather Caliri on January 14, 2013 at 06:47 PM

We moved houses (countries, continents) a few days ago, and I walked through our house with an eye to supporting our daughters' work. That has been an evolution for me--seeing how to make a space inviting and creative for them. Now I see it's not too much more to do the same for myself, and I know doing so will build up my creative work. I'm thankful to be learning how to make such a rich and creative place to live. Where we are living now is full of light and open space. What a blessing to be able to fill it with even more light.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2013 at 07:31 PM

beautiful, heather — i’m excited for you guys on this great adventure. i hope you can share photos of your space in the forum!

Comment by Teri on January 14, 2013 at 08:39 PM

Thank you for this absolutely wonderful post!! :^D

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:09 AM

thank you, teri! :)

Comment by Michelle on January 14, 2013 at 09:23 PM

I saw this post on pinterest and found it very inspiring! Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:10 AM

thank you, michelle. :)

Comment by Wendy on January 14, 2013 at 11:05 PM

So so much good to think about in this post! I've been working on decluttering (I need space and the ability to find my tools, etc. to work/create) for a couple of months and, with the holidays, etc. lost momentum. I'm feeling fresh motivation to tackle this, and have the end result be richer and more meaningful. Loving this series!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:09 AM

thank you, wendy! :)

Comment by Katie on January 15, 2013 at 03:05 AM

I'm constantly juggling our art and craft materials to make them accessible after a long period of having to toddler proof them.

The bit about "It will take too long to set up let's watch telly instead!"

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:09 AM

i often think about a cross-section poster of the rain forest re: separating supplies — adults at the treetops, children at the trunks, toddlers and babies at the roots. ;o)

Comment by emeraldlane on January 15, 2013 at 04:58 AM

This struck a cord with me, "Advertise to yourself."

We are told what to do in every area of our life. I like the idea of self-advertising. Great ideas here Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:07 AM

thank you, nancy :)

Comment by kayte on January 15, 2013 at 11:44 AM

Advertise to *yourself*.

Yes this. I am so good at creating enticing learning environments for my daughter or even comforting spaces for my husband for when he returns home from his frequent travel. I don't do it for myself, at least not anymore. There is plenty of static me in this space- photos, the feel in the colors, etc... but there isn't an 'active me' present. No place where enticing me to come be here, work here, think here, be present here.

If you walked through my house right now you would think the woman/mom who lives her exists mostly to create this space to function for her daughter.... Beyond losing herself, what message is that mom ultimately sending to her child???? Not the one she intended....

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 01:04 PM

 

kayte, LOVE your differentiation between static and *active* self — perfect. photographs and souvenirs = the past. active = today, working toward the future.

If you walked through my house right now you would think the woman/mom who lives her exists mostly to create this space to function for her daughter.... Beyond losing herself, what message is that mom ultimately sending to her child???? Not the one she intended....

this! we need to show our children what this life looks like as an adult. if we want “life-long learning” to be more than just a catchphrase, we have to show them how it works! we’re still doing, working, learning, sharing. we’re living that life (hopefully!) that we want them to live. <3

Comment by sylvia on January 15, 2013 at 02:43 PM

such a great read. i will have to print some sentences out and tape them to my space... and i will need to re-read this whole post every few months. just what i need!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 03:03 PM

thank you, sylvia! :)

Comment by Kelly Ireland on January 15, 2013 at 05:24 PM

Wow.

I feel like this post was written just for me.

We have recently moved house and purchased all the furniture too. When I first walks through the door I felt like I knew the former owner, an elderly lady so raised her family here, was the local French teacher with a passion for shooting and opera. Now, I'm thinking about the things we need to do to make it our home and representation of us. A real challenge when you inherit so much of someone else's life.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2013 at 08:55 PM

that sounds like a great project, though — changing your home over to reflect your family. :)

Comment by Iselle on January 16, 2013 at 09:02 AM

I shared this post with a group of friends last night. It sparked lots of conversation. Could you speak more to the reference of 'meaningful work'? Many of us are homeschoolers, many have personal projects and serious hobbies, and several around the table are working artists (visual artists and writers) and business owners. I think we specifically want to consider how/where to place the daily business of living; just plain old dishes and paying the bills. I feel called to recognize and embrace the value of everyday tasks and I am curious to learn your thoughts regarding the relation of everyday efforts to 'meaningful work'.

I would also love to know more about how people are advertising to themselves.

Thanks for the thought provoking article. Thanks for not writing yet another article about how to clean and decorate my space!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 16, 2013 at 09:25 AM

 

thank you, iselle. :)

for discussion of the meaning of “meaningful work,” i would recommend these posts:

The importance of meaningful work

The value of work

The work/fun conundrum

Holistic learning

and specifically for adults:

A work of one’s own

I think we specifically want to consider how/where to place the daily business of living; just plain old dishes and paying the bills. I feel called to recognize and embrace the value of everyday tasks and I am curious to learn your thoughts regarding the relation of everyday efforts to 'meaningful work'.

if one’s meaningful work were, say, photography, one could easily pin up a single photograph (perhaps changing it often) in the mist of the dishwashing and bill-paying area as a reminder and an impetus.

if one’s meaningful work *is* making a beautiful home — and laundry, dishwashing, family comfort, gardening, and so forth are raised to an art form — then i would be looking for a talisman or a reminder to live mindfully and enjoy those can-be-humble tasks and work toward whatever our goals are there.

since meaning comes from within, meaningful work will be different for each person — the important thing is to figure out what yours is and then prioritize it.

I would also love to know more about how people are advertising to themselves.

i would love if people would share some of the ways they do this in the forum! i will probably also write some more about it in the future.

Thanks for not writing yet another article about how to clean and decorate my space!

you are very welcome! ;o)

Comment by wealthykaye on January 16, 2013 at 04:43 PM

HHHHHMMMMMMMM!!!! Inhale and.....hhhhhmmmmmmm........ I know taking really small steps with this can catapult me in to the space i really want to experience. But what is it you said in your book again...one can get tons of great advice and know its the right thing and still not take action on it!!!! Find one thing and start with that, right? i already know what it is. Onward!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 17, 2013 at 08:27 AM

kaye, yes!! just one thing to start. let me know how it goes! :)

Comment by dawn on January 17, 2013 at 06:01 AM

it occurred to me that i have unconsciously pondered these questions and applied this perspective towards my blog. i consider it to be a personal work space; that it is virtual rather than physical makes it no less real to me. i spent a great deal of time and consideration when selecting what i wanted to share and how i wanted to organize and display that sharing. it's inspirational to me and i long to work on it and am happy when i do.

a fellow homeschooling gave me some positive feedback the other day about the feel of it, and it became more concrete to me that it is a cultivated and deliberate reflection of me and what i enjoy, a place of solace for my spirit. when i sense that there is something *off* about my space, i tend to it carefully, much like i do to my little gardening spaces outside. when i have done so, it re-energizes me.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 17, 2013 at 08:29 AM

 

love that you applied this to your blog — it is totally applicable! yet another space where it’s possible to lose yourself and let other people’s priorities/values overwhelm your own.

beautiful. :)

Comment by jacinda on January 18, 2013 at 08:56 PM

Oh Lori, I have been so busy with Summer and living that I have missed checking in with your blog and it is so good to return. I feel good about the space we live in. As a homeschooling mama I have worked hard on an inviting, beautiful and ordered (for me order brings peacefulness) environment. We live in a very small house and so I work on the whole house as a third teacher rather than just one room (one of the benefits of small living;) The reggio emilia concept of the third teacher as the environment has always really resonated with me. And even then I am finding it hard to decide that writing is really what i want to be doing with an hour of every day. There are always steps along the way and this is the step that I am at. The next level of commitment, another step out of my comfort zone. Love your new series...you are such an ongoing source of inspiration and support to my work.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM

 

jacinda, thank you so much. and it’s great to hear from you. :)

I work on the whole house as a third teacher rather than just one room (one of the benefits of small living;)

this is a great way to live, i think — it’s led me to expect much more from my home after considering the power it has to affect how we live and think and how we spend our time.

we set up a special area of the forum to discuss the pbh for grown-ups series ... i hope you find time to stop in there and share what you’re doing. :)

Comment by Kathleen Szoke on January 22, 2014 at 09:35 AM

Lori, I stumbled upon your post via Pinterest and I'm so glad I did. I would not otherwise have checked you out - my kids are grown, and I didn't homeschool.
But your insight into the creative process and how our environment reflects/affects it has really resonated with me. I'm a poet/writer currently not practicing my craft (much) and the reason (beyond the usual - multiple part-time jobs, family, etc.) is environmental.
We suffered a catastrophic house fire last March and are living in a furnished rental while our house is being restored. It's really beautiful - on the beach (Lake Ontario), high-end finishes and furnishings - but it's not mine. I'm separated from my long-time home, my writing room, and my "stuff" and I'm finding it very hard to connect with my source here.
But the light at the end of the tunnel is moving home in a few months. You've caused me to rethink our use of the house; we had already taken the opportunity to make changes in layout, opening up a few walls, etc. The house already "spoke" to us - it's 140 years old and we feel we are its caretakers as much as owners. But as we start putting it all back together I will be thinking about how we live in the space and how that feeds my creativity, as well as how it supports us as a family.
Thanks so much - and sorry for the longish post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 22, 2014 at 10:29 AM

thank you so much! your plans sound great — i hope your restored home is everything you want it to be. :)

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