Especially if you've been living in a space for some time, it can be hard to see the chaos for the everyday storm. Even if a room is cluttered and doesn't really work for our lives, we generally find it easier to change ourselves than move the furniture or reorganize. Well, it's easier in the short term, but over time, clutter or uncomfortable spaces can affect our moods, our productivity and even our sleep patterns.


Debra Duneier's book, "EcoChi: Designing the Human Experience" is an easy-to-get-into beginner's guide to making the most of one's space in a healthy, balanced way. Debra herself underwent a huge life-change, from running a successful family business to divorce, the loss of her business, and her children leaving for college, all within the same span of time, forcing her to relocate from a large suburban house to a small apartment. Along the way, she had to streamline her life, and learned about the challenges and rewards of organization and downsizing. She then looked into feng shui, and soon started studying it seriously. 


Combining sensible organizing principles with a green consciousness (Duneier is a LEED certified designer), environmental psychology and feng shui, she leads us through a number of client stories. Within each narrative, a nugget of something relevant to my own life was revealed. From an energy-blocking office, to a home that affected the health of a young news anchor, each story shows how the combination of elements combine to create an environment that just doesn't work for the occupant. Plus it's always fun hearing about how others are even more clueless than you are when it comes to putting rooms together. 


The latter part of the book is dedicated to the five elements of feng shui: water, fire, earth, wood, metal (plus air) and it was this section, broken down into both how to incorporate those ingredients into the mix, and why they are important, that helped me (and anyone embarking on a space-changing mission). Information mixed with guidance is always the ideal inspiration for new tasks.


After reading most of this book in my kitchen as soon as it arrived (it's a quick and easy read), and with a fairly empty Friday night in front of me, I immediately ran up to my home office and took a look around. Not only was the space cluttered and unappealing — my plants drooping and a bit dusty — but it was violating all sorts of feng shui principles. And, like one of Duneier's clients, I had a mountain of old work — magazines, graduate school papers, and even newspaper clippings going back to 1999 — taking up space both mental and physical. It took about four hours that night, and another five the next day, but I completely transformed my workspace from one that I dreaded being in to one that I actually enjoy.


Recycling and donating the magazines, turning the desk to face the room's entry, and unblocking the room's only window made the space look better — but it also feels better. too. And that's the point: great room design is about feeling good in the spaces where we spend our lives.  


Photo courtesy EcoChi and Debra Duneier


Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Book review: 'EcoChi: Designing the Human Experience'
This small tome helps guide the overwhelmed organizer to create a smarter, more sustainable space.