Note: My book, Belongings, seeks to understand the connection bereaved people have with their loved one’s personal belongings. Here is an excerpt.

Putting the House Back Together Creatively

Take a few deep breaths and use the grounding technique any time you feel tired.

Changing your living environment can be daunting, but at the same time getting creative helps to break out of your sorrow. You are strong. Congratulate yourself on creating a clean, fresh home filled with photos of happy people, gifts that recall fun moments, healthy colourful pot plants at the door, and a place where everyone can relax and feel at peace.

Even if you start just by reading this book, or by making a few simple changes, you are moving forward and will feel a sense of accomplishment.

The most important element in changing the feel of your home is life force energy called ch’i. It needs to be able to enter the home, gently meander through the environment, settle and then leave the building. Traditionally, ch’i enters a home through the front entrance or door. Having a welcoming front entrance and uncluttered rooms will enhance the feeling of wellbeing for everyone who crosses your threshold.

Ch’i can get stuck, ending up as mess and clutter accumulating in corners of a room and allowing dust to gather and mould to grow.

Chaos is different from clutter. Chaos is often described as dynamic, energetic, active, and potent. To rearrange your home, things need to get messy, so there will temporarily be chaos.


Involve the family

  • Talk to the family, explain your plans and invite them to join in.
  • Show by example how to design a new way of life.
  • Arrange your busy schedule or take a few days off and start to de-clutter.
  • Play upbeat music.
  • Have everybody’s favourite snack foods in the cupboard.

Arrange a set finish time for each session and do something fun afterwards, for example, go ten-pin bowling, watch the sunset while eating pizza, or enjoy the latest blockbuster movie. Make the experience a good one. If this tactic does not work, consider giving them a timeframe with a plan B to sort their gear.


New family traditions

Birthdays and festive occasions your family traditionally celebrate can be challenging without your loved one. Rather than trying ‘not to think about it’, embrace the day. Talk with relatives and friends and create new traditions.

  • Alter the time of day you get together. For example, instead of dinner have a family gathering in the park for brunch. Play ball games, take the hula hoop out, and make it a ‘celebrate life’ day.
  • Arrange the occasion at a new venue. Everyone can contribute money for an entertainer, face painting or circus performer to add some laughter. Remember: children want happy memories of family gatherings.
  • Go shopping with a friend. Buy a new toy for the amount of money you would have spent on your beloved and donate it anonymously to a children’s hospital.
  • Plan to spend the day visiting the zoo or wild life park. Give a donation for their favourite animal.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless on Christmas Day.


Ideas to freshen your bathroom and bedroom

At some point, you may feel ready to change your environment so that it reflects your life in the present moment.


Some of these ideas are relevant to both women and men, others for one or the other.

  • Use another brand of soap, shampoo and conditioner.
  • Get new towels and a bathmat in another colour and texture.
  • Buy a different body lotion, perfume or aftershave.
  • Try a new lipstick; perhaps treat yourself to a makeover at the department store.
  • For items that are always sitting around the bathroom like a comb, toothbrush holder and soap dish, purchase different looking accessories.
  • Change the brand of household cleaners used.
  • Move your toiletries to a different shelf or drawer.
  • Change some of your bathroom routines, for example, shower at a different time.
  • After stepping out of the shower, dry the other side of your body first. It feels strange, but it’s a silly, fun thing to try.


A good night’s sleep…

The quality of your slumber affects how you function during the day. A new bed can improve your rest. People often spend thousands of dollars on an entertainment system and sleep on a fifteen-year-old mattress.

  • Altering the direction your bed faces in the room, even for a month, can rejuvenate your body, assisting your circadian rhythms.
  • The ideal position for the bed is against a wall, rather than under a window. The theory behind this is the body is more relaxed knowing that the glass cannot be smashed onto the pillow, for example in a storm.
  • Go to bed at a regular time. Turn off the television half an hour before retiring. Create a routine just before bedtime so your body understands it is time to be ‘sleep ready’.

What is the first thing you look at when you open your eyes in the morning?

  • Changing the things on your bedside table can have a huge influence on your outlook for the day. Try removing all decorations, lamps, pictures, and photos in your bedroom for seven days. After this time, clean them one item at a time and decide if your bedroom is the best place for each. I have seen an immediate change in a person after doing these activities.
  • Electrical appliances in the bedroom such as a TV, computer and phone chargers radiate electromagnetic fields. Remove them to another room.
  • Exercise equipment reminds you to be active. The bedroom is a yin place, a space to rejuvenate and rest.
  • Spend a few dollars to purchase extra drawers, shelves and shoe racks for the wardrobe to create a more enjoyable experience each morning.
  • Open the wardrobe door. Are the clothes easy to find, or crushed?
  • Reorganising hanging space and drawers for clothes only takes a few hours. Look at your height, and the length of coats and shirts.
  • Are the clothes in your wardrobe fun to wear?
  • Do the clothes suit your lifestyle?

Once the wardrobe contains only the clothes that are flattering, notice how new clothes and accessories become available at a price you can afford. Most people wear only thirty per cent or sixty per cent of the clothes they own.

If you have purchased most of your clothes after the death, then memories will not be triggered by the clothes you wore at an event you attended with your loved one: a dress worn at a party, or a pair of jeans worn to a simple lunch.

The idea is to have a few photos and some keepsakes that remind you of them, but not to be surrounded by the past.

Children’s and young people’s rooms

These are often their hide-outs filled with their treasures. It is important to involve your children in any type of redecorating of their private space. A piece of paper with a drawing could look like rubbish to you, but could hold great meaning for your child.

If they are finding it difficult to relax and go to sleep, the room may be overstimulating them. Work together and try some of these ideas.

  • Play classical or other relaxing music as part of their bedtime routine. Parents have told me that when they removed the TV, mobile phone and computers to another room for a month, their children slept longer and their study time and school reports improved. Another benefit is that it is easier for parents to monitor the websites their children use.
  • Colour, strong stripes, chevrons, and some geometric patterns play a role in stimulating kids. In comparison wave patterns are calming.
  • Maintain routines as much as possible with children. Bedtime stories, homework, playing sport, and fun time with friends.
  • Talk with your counsellor about the best way to answer teenagers’ and children’s questions. Ask how to use your daily routines to help with your grieving process. Staying in your home may be beneficial for your child for a while if they are happy at school and like playing with friends and neighbours.
  • Painting or recarpeting the room will allow everything to be removed, updated and put back in a discreet fashion, rearranging everything to create a new environment suitable to the child’s age.

Guest rooms and spare rooms

How about renovating the guest room or spare room? They often become the dumping ground for rubbish, a ‘black hole’ that draws things to it that cannot escape.

  • If you are comfortable about changing the guest room/spare room but not about changing your loved one’s bedroom or moving your spouse’s belongings, starting with the guess room/spare room can achieve the shift you need and get you living in the present moment not the past.
  • Add shelves with books by interesting people and mentors and on topics of family members’ creative interests. Display photographs and brochures of places you wish to travel and post cards from friends. Sports trophies and framed certificates all create an active room, and that is okay as guest rooms need not have the same quiet yin feel as permanent bedrooms. Guests will go home eventually. Trundle beds or sofa beds take up less floor space and changing the bedcovers to look more like a sitting room will help the room to become a multi-function area.

Dining room

This is an opportunity to review the floor plan or layout of furniture. Selling and buying larger pieces of furniture on eBay and at garage sales is an easy way to re-arrange the furniture to suit the people living at home now.

  • If you feel comfortable about doing so, consider selling and replacing your dining table and chairs. This stops the pattern of waiting for the person who died to sit at the table for dinner.
  • By purchasing a round or square table, everyone can sit in a different position at the table.
  • Alter the pre-breakfast routine, for example by having a drink of water on rising and stretching for ten minutes before continuing with your day.
  • Use new table linen, place mats, coffee mugs, and plates to mark the change in your life. This avoids triggers like making a coffee on waking in your loved one’s ‘special’ mug.
  • If you decide to keep some kitchen items that may have been a gift, either put them on display in a cabinet, or just enjoy using them.

Outside areas

Gardens are a sanctuary, a wonderful place to sit and listen to the birds, insects and the wind rustling in the trees. Slow down and relax with a cup of tea or glass of wine.

  • As part of your review, look at the garden or balcony and remove any dead plants and broken garden furniture.
  • Take a stroll around the garden centre and buy a living plant to take home.

Colour in the home

Colour influences a person’s perception of heat or cold and affects their level of agitation or calmness.

The timber tones of furniture, floor boards, the colour of fabrics and the view from the window all create the decorating scheme in each room. The aspect of the room will influence the temperature as the sun moves over the dwelling and the intensity of the light changes. It is stimulating to change the ‘pace’ through the house with interesting textures and window treatments allowing filtered sunlight to highlight the shapes in the room.


Painting a room in an uplifting colour can be the cheapest way to give it a face lift. The same colour will appear different in accessories, furniture upholstery and curtain fabrics. Always have samples of all the materials before buying them as hues appear to change when placed in the room, depending on the light source, time of day, how much of the colour is in the room, and the tonal value (the degree of lightness or darkness) of the item next to it.

Make a decorator’s display board, buy large pieces of cardboard and place your samples together. Assemble three complete colour scheme options and imagine you are the decorator showing a client these sample boards.

Google ‘colour wheel’ to find information about monochromatic, contrasting and harmonious decorating schemes.


Now get out and get messy!


This is the end of the second installment from Belongings for the Open to Hope newsletter.

The next installment talks about the fight, flight or freeze response and how this affects people suffering profound grief. Many people decide to make a fresh start in another house, town or country. We talk about the choice to sell your home. We share a beautiful non-denominational house blessing for the home you live in now or when you move.

Blessings to you.

Anne Jennings


Anne Jennings

Anne began her career studying interior design in 1973 and became interested in Feng Shui after designing a hotel, doctor’s surgery and private homes for a Malaysian client. She also has qualifications in eco-psychology, mediation and as a funeral celebrant. Anne’s passion for creating welcoming home environments came about after years working with bereaved families, finding just the right spot for the bequeathed items from a loved one. She has studied in Australia, Singapore and America, lectured for many years in Design at Hunters Hill and Strathfield Colleges, and worked as a professional space clearer in public and private buildings. Anne has also worked as a guide in the leading open range zoo in Australia supporting guests while camping overnight, and interacting with endangered native and exotic animals. In her fifties, Anne returned to country New South Wales where she trained as a jillaroo and completed a Certificate in Agriculture. She has worked on the family farm, for the RSPCA and as a strapper on an Arabian horse stud until 2013 Her new book 'Belongings' came about after noticing how peoples’ life stories were reflected in the possessions they gathered around them. She became intrigued with the reasons why people carried certain items with them for years, and began researching the connection between possessions and the individual’s attitude towards their environment. After the death of Anne's dance partner Brett, she became involved with suicide bereavement. Her design work changed from major commercial and hospital projects to creating home environments for clients who had experienced the tragic loss of a family member or friend.

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