Questions For Cultivating a Clear Home and a Spacious Life

QuestionsForLiving interview with Stephanie Benett Vogt, July 11th, 2012 regarding her questions for clearing clutter, reducing stress, and cultivating a positive and peaceful living space.

QuestionsForLiving: Were there questions that attracted you to studying about clutter and clearing spaces?

Stephanie Bennett Vogt: Generally it began with remembering that I’ve always loved creating home spaces that feel good and nourish people. Even as a little kid I was always creating sanctuaries for myself... my dolls, my friends next door – you name it. I could make a cardboard box into a palace.

There were two pivotal experiences in my adult life, however, that prompted me to pursue a path in space clearing.

The first one is that I got sick. I spent a whole month in bed. It was nothing life-threatening, but bad enough to wake me up to the realization that after teaching high school for twenty years I was completely burned out. In the thirty days that I spent thrashing feverishly in bed, despairing over how sick I felt – all I could think of was “What is happening to me?" And more to the point “How can I fix this…like now!?”

What I didn’t know to ask at the time, but I backed into out of sheer exhaustion was "How do I surrender to the healing that is already taking place?"  When I finally could let go of my need to understand (what was going on with my body and my life), to fix, and do something, that is when (surprise, surprise), I began to get well.

The second thing that led to my professional reinvention was series of strange personal occurences and “wonder questions” that I had been having at the time: “How do our homes affect us, reflect us, and support us?” And “Why do they not support us sometimes?”

Every time I visited my uncle's house in Texas, for example, I would come down with something that resembled the flu. Every single time. As soon as I returned home to New England I would feel all better again. The last time it happened, I remember thinking on the plane back, "Is this physical unpleasantness even mine?”

Something about his house and the energy in his house was disturbing me. After experiencing similar effects in other people’s spaces I began to think that maybe there is such a thing as a "sick house.” Even before I began to study space clearing full time, I developed an awareness of how energies in a space might impact one's health and well being.

Needless to say, this was just the beginning of a long quest for me, which included years of self-inquiry and training with some of the world’s best teachers. I pursued a more intuitive branch of feng shui (and little-known field at the time) called space clearing. That was over fifteen years ago and I’ve been evolving with it ever since.

It’s funny how things work out. I feel like I’ve come back full circle to the two things I love most: creating home spaces that feel good and nourish people, and teaching others how they can do it ways that easy, fun, and lasting!


QFL: Were there specific questions that attracted you to becoming a teacher? If so, what were some of these questions?

SBV:  I am not sure that it was a question that fueled my desire to teach. It just seemed and felt like the next right thing to do right after college. I’m still amazed that as a newly-minted college graduate I could land a job teaching at one of the preeminent boarding schools in the country.

The job didn’t just fall in my lap, mind you. I had to apply for it, get myself an interview, and be accepted. In hindsight it may have been a rather unlikely question that worked in my favor and proved to be pivotal for me – not just for landing me the dream job that it was, but in blazing a career path that spans nearly four decades of my life.

There was a huge snowstorm the night before my job interview at Phillips Academy – one of those big storms that come once in a blue moon. I was staying with a friend in Scituate, Massachusetts and had no car. As I sat in a friend’s living room fretting about the weather and how I was going to navigate the bus system sixty miles to Andover, I seriously considered bailing on the interview.

Snow. I was letting snow be the reason not to go after one of the most plum jobs a person could get. I still cringe at the thought of my 22-year-old self blowing off an incredible opportunity!

Prompted by the simple questions of “How do I get there?” and “What will happen if I don’t go?” – as in, “How will I feel about myself if I don’t go?” – something in me must have clicked the “just do it” button to push through the massive amounts of resistance I was feeling – and, no doubt, fear of the unknown.

I write about this story in a chapter called “Do It” in my upcoming book. I hope that it will inspire others to push through obstacles that get in the way of realizing a deep yearning; to follow through on something even if they have no clue how it’s going to turn out; to do it not because of some desired outcome, but because their soul depends on it.

I love your “questions” model for this interview, by the way. After all these years of teaching, I can say in my experience that it comes down to three types of questions that people generally ask: "Procedural,” “Burning", and “Wonder.” My favorite questions are the "Wonder" questions – the ones that cannot be answered right away, nor they should be, because they need to be lived.


QFL: Were there questions that you asked in the writing of Your Spacious Self? If so, what were these questions?

SBV: I don’t remember having many questions regarding the content or structure when I began writing Your Spacious Self over a decade ago. I had no idea where I was going to go when I hit the first key on my laptop. The book morphed about 50 times over the course of the project. In the end it became interesting mix of ancient wisdom, practical tools, and a Hero’s Journey of sorts – mine – as I recount my own colorful stories with clutter and clearing. The book took as long to write as it took me to break the code on why most clearing approaches, though well intentioned, do not last.

Five years after it was first published, two editions, and a sizeable following of readers later, some very clear questions began to emerge from what I was observing in my world. In my workshops, clearing circles, the comment threads on my blog and Facebook pages – you name it – the one word I heard the most was “overwhelm.” Everywhere I went I noticed a deep longing for simplicity, but a loss of where to begin; a desire for balance, but no idea how to cultivate it. There is no time to juggle it all, let alone clear the things and thoughts that cause us to feel so overwhelmed in the first place!

My thoughts began to organize around these questions: “How can I meet people where they are?” “What is the best way to quiet the noisy mind?” “How can we clear in ways that take no time, feel good, and last a lifetime?”  After blogging on these questions twice a week for three years straight I realized that I had all the material that I needed for a second book! Without even knowing it, I had created an experiential guide that could deliver a palpable experience of clarity and ease in one minute flat. How cool is that!?

Long and short of it, this new book exists – now in its new, expanded home! It got picked up by Hierophant Publishing and has been folded into an entirely reworked and reenergized version of Your Spacious Self. It's like an Artist’s Way approach to clearing the clutter in our homes and lives, infused with colorful Anne-Lamott-like stories to keep readers from not taking themselves (or their clutter) too seriously. It is the culmination of years of clearing and decoding and teaching – boiled down to its essence and elegant simplicity. It comes out this fall (2012). I can’t wait!


QFL: What are some questions that you would suggest to someone wanting to release their clutter and make positive small changes?

SBV: First off I just want to say that “clutter” as I see it is not just the stuff that spills out of our closets and trips us in the hallway. You can be neat as a pin and suffer from a noisy mind and a worn-out spirit. I define clutter more broadly as any thing, thought, or emotion that gets in the way of experiencing our best life.

With that in mind it’s not hard at all, really, to clear it. Especially if you embrace and apply these four guiding principles – what I call my “four Ss”:  Slow Down, Simplify, Sense, and Self-Care. Any question that supports these principles will work like magic. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or stuck, you can simply pose open-ended queries like this:  “One thing I can do right now to slow down [clear my desktop, feel better, or fill in the blank] would be…” Or “One thing I can do to simplify this task [situation] is…” 

The brain loves questions to chew on and will start scanning the airwaves for practical solutions. To the degree that you are willing to listen and let go of your attachment to a particular outcome, that is when your highest (and best) self will deliver exactly what you need. And to the degree that you allow yourself to feel whatever sensations come up without judging them as good or bad, that is when the real magic happens. You might notice yourself feeling lighter without having lifted a finger or moved a single box. This approach is what makes clutter clearing fun and doable and sustainable.

There are some specific questions that people can ask, too, when addressing the physical clutter in their lives. When evaluating if something is clutter or not, for example, I suggest that individuals ask themselves these three questions:

  • Do I love this?
  • Do I need this or use it?
  • Does this have a home?

Any “no” answer means it’s clutter.  Even if you love something madly or depend on it for your livelihood, if it doesn’t have a dedicated place to house it, and/or it is not put away regularly, it is clutter. As I like to say: “no home, no have.”


QFL: "What questions do you think people should ask themselves to make this world a happier and healthier place to live?"

SBV:  Since clearing is my thing, my goal is always to bypass the busy mind, and go direct to the heart space – the part in all of us that is infinitely more aware, uncomplicated, and not attached. With that in mind these are some of the questions that have helped me cultivate that level of spaciousness in my own home and life: 

  • Does this [thing, place, person] serve and support my best self?
  • What is one simple thing I can do right now that would lift my spirits, lighten my load, or make a positive difference in my home [workplace, life]?
  • For what and whom am I doing this?
  • What do I need to know right now?
  • What would help me feel better right now?

If none of these questions do it for you, you can always reach for two of my favorite contemplations. The first is by the poet Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The second, by the medieval French rabbi, Rashi – which has become like a personal mantra for me is this: “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”

That last one especially goes right to the heart of what it means to clear and be clear.

For more information regarding Stephanie Bennett Vogt and SpaceClear, please visit: 

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