Creating Environments of Harmony

Life Tree News
Creating Prosperity with Harmony
Alice G. Vlietstra, Ph.D. Editor
May 2011

In this Issue:
1.  Welcome
2.  Creating Harmony by Creating Order
3.  Beyond the Battle with Stuff
4.  Creating Environments of Harmony
5.  Upcoming Events

1.  Welcome

Here in St. Louis we are celebrating spring.  Many are planting gardens, cleaning, and making new plans. The change in our economy has led to a change in values.  Today, more and more people are simplifying their lives, focusing on developing a sense of place, reducing material consumption, and investing in restoring a healthy balance with the earth.  Rather than continually consuming more stuff, people are focusing on rebuilding caring relationships with family, community, and nature.  We see the need to honor our deeper moral responsibility to act with regard to the needs and well being of all. This newsletter looks at one aspect of this shift, the impact of simplicity and order on our relationships.

2. Create Harmony by Creating Order

Have you ever noticed that when your home, office and surroundings are clean, orderly and attractive, that the people around you seem to get along?  Less stuff means that you have less to manage, less stress with bills, and more opportunities to develop your relationships. 

Recently, Discover Magazine reported a series of fascinating studies that investigated the impact of disordered environments on people’s friendliness with others. The researchers discovered that when the environments showed signs of disorder, such as with scattered litter, graffiti and broken windows,
people had more stereotyped views. Even more, it increased the likelihood of more littering, trespassing, and antisocial behavior. This supports the theory that disorder breeds disorder.

For example, two Dutch anthropologists went into a wealthy neighborhood and subtly altered the environment by parking a car on the pavement, abandoning a bicycle in the street, and misplacing some of the pavement tiles. Then they gave volunteers a questionnaire about their views towards others and asked if they could donate some of that money to a charity called Money for Minorities.  The next day, the researchers ran the experiment again, but this time the tiles, car and bicycles were arranged in neat and orderly places. 

When the environment was unkempt the volunteers expressed more stereotypical views and gave less to charity.   Those who had the strongest need for structure also made the most stereotyped judgments. By contrast, when the environment was orderly, people where more charitable and prosocial. This suggests that investing in repair and renovation, and preventing neighborhoods from falling into disarray can be effective ways of promoting healthy social behavior while reducing stereotyping and discrimination.  

3.  Beyond The Battle with Stuff

I know from working with families that battling stuff can be a real challenge. It is much easier to move beyond the battle with stuff when you tap into your strengths, create a new vision, and then take action.  Here are a few tips to help make your experience more successful. 

1. Decide what you really want. Advertisers continually like us to buy stuff, but does it make us happier?  Indeed, it can create a hole in your pocket, and leave you feeling overwhelmed and depressed. In our family we decided we wanted pleasant and orderly surroundings, more time and space for each other,
and to create a lifestyle more in harmony with nature. 

2. Reflect on your beliefs about stuff. Many of our beliefs about the function of stuff are outdated.   For example, a certain amount of stuff, as clothing and shelter, is needed for survival.  Sometimes material objects also represent love. But more stuff is not more love; it depends on how it is used.  It can be a hassle.  Talk about it with others and decide what will work for you.

3. Create a new vision. What are the values that are important to you -- equality, a more balanced lifestyle, good relationships with each other? Then let your vision help you to allocate your resources and stuff more appropriately. Set your goals and follow through. 

4. Honor your strengths and align your activities accordingly. If you have a family, talk with your family and make sure each person’s strengths are acknowledged and appreciated.  It helps you work together as a team.  You can accomplish a great deal in a short time when you are supporting each other.

In our family, a number of us contributed in cleaning out the generational accumulation at the home of my elderly mother.  One looked for places to donate extra stuff, another coordinated, another had ideas for home design, another planned a celebration afterwards.  The women gathered the piles of stuff and
the men helped us with the heavy lifting and to focus on getting things done.  All contributed to the effort.

5. Set a time when you plan to do the work. As long as you have a general plan, let go of doing it any one way.  Let people contribute with what they know bet to do. Any big cleaning is easier with a group. Be sure to follow through on recycling and donating.  It connects your cleaning with a greater purpose.

6. When done, celebrate.  Ask everyone what made them the most happy.  We discovered we enjoyed the teamwork, creating a new vision for our lives, giving to those who could use it, and feeling productive. Most of all we really enjoyed the orderly, clean environment!  It was one of our most gratifying family
7. Lastly, give thanks for all than you have, smile, and pass your happiness on. 

4. Upcoming Events

Teleconference - "Creating Home Harmony"
Tuesday, June 14, 9:00-9:30 AM
Dial 760-569-9000, Access Code 308311#

Join us on Tuesday, June 14 for teleconference on “Creating Home Harmony.”  I will be interviewing Samantha Shields who helps individuals and families reduce clutter and design their homes to make them more harmonious and livable.  It is a real help to have someone who has experience and training
in creating home environments to give you new ideas.  Be sure to bring your questions.   We will also be hearing cultural views from anthropologist, Dr. Jane Granskog. Do sustainable societies and cultures require a lot of stuff?  What is really necessary for healthier environments and living?

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

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