You know the drill. You come home from work, drop your keys on the coffee table and your bills on the desk. You try to ignore those huge piles of paper that already cover your desk and swear to yourself that you will get to them soon. But the clutter grows, and soon you are so overwhelmed by the piles that the very idea of dealing with them paralyzes you.

If this sounds familiar, then maybe it is time you developed a clutter-control strategy.

Sonja Rünar, a former interior decorator who specializes in environment management, employs many strategies to put a house in order. Rünar is based in Hillsborough, but she makes house calls. She knows a lot about containing clutter.

“First of all, it’s important to recognize how difficult it is for you to do your work when your world is unorganized,” she told me. “Clutter has energy that works against you. You lose focus and forget what it is you want to be doing with your life. I teach strategies for transforming your home into an environment that sustains you rather than drains you.”

She describes her work as interior decorating with a twist. Instead of taking you out shopping as a decorator might do, though, she encourages you to work with the items that already fill your home.

“Most of us don’t need more stuff,” she says. “We need more time. We need to relax. We need harmony and balance to sustain us. There is truth in the adage that keeping it simple gives you time to do what is truly important in your life.”

For people stuck in a clutter-holding pattern, Rünar offers individual sessions or a monthly maintenance plan.

To get a sense of how a professional attacks clutter, I asked Rünar for advice on how I should go about creating balance in my living room. She suggested that we apply the principles of feng shui–the ancient Chinese practice of arranging an environment in a way that optimizes the balance of energy–to my room.

When Rünar first studied this art of measured placement at the American Feng Shui Institute, she learned how a heightened awareness of your actions will create heightened awareness in general and more positive energy and control over your life. “Everything has a place,” she says. “When your world is balanced, you are balanced.” She stresses simplicity, not consumerism, in all her approaches to clutter. In a feng shui session, she also stresses energy balance and careful attention to how invisible electromagnetic fields and your reaction to them can benefit or harm you.

We began my session outside. Using a Chinese lopan compass, an instrument of measure based on astronomy, physics and numerology, Rünar determined the energy around my home. Then she used my birth date to determine what Chinese “house” I am in. Like an astrological profile, a “house” has particular characteristics. My Chinese house’s primary direction, for example, is northeast, and my dominant element is earth. I also learned that the color yellow is particularly soothing to me.

Rünar normally analyzes an entire home, but we focused on my living room. My fireplace, I learned, is important because earth-mamas like me source our life energy from fire. I was happy to learn that most of the elements in my living room already strengthen my chi, or life energy, according to feng-shui principles.

I had never really noticed how much metal I have in that room, but Rünar pointed it out right away. She called attention to my funky grandfather clock, created by mounting a heating duct on a birch base, which is one of the prominent pieces of art in the room. Lucky for me, metal objects such as my clock balance my strong earth tendencies. My yellow walls balance me, too.

Wood, earth, fire and metal are in place–but I found that I needed to address the absence of water in the room. Finally, a great reason to turn all of those river rocks I lugged back from upstate Washington into a continuously flowing fountain. The lesson here, as I understand it, is that a little bit of each element creates balance, but too much of any one of them creates disharmony–or, for more literary types, an untuning of the spheres.

To “feng shui” an entire building, Rünar divides your home or office into a nine-part grid that highlights the interplay of your energy sources. You have a wealth area, for example, and your energy surrounding finances is enhanced or drained there–which explains why Donald Trump employs a feng shui consultant to balance every room in every one of his buildings. These areas are also characterized by particular ailments. Feng shui allows Rünar to position you in your “power areas” where your best energy is.

Rünar’s primary goal is to ease your anxiety by empowering you with knowledge and useful strategies that help you understand how your environment is either draining or sustaining you. Toward this end, she encourages you to continuously remind yourself that you cannot create harmony without getting rid of things that are not serving you. Give each item a home, she says. Commit yourself to creating a home that motivates you, not one that reminds you of all the obligations that sap your energy. “Remember,” Rünar says, “that you have enough stress in your life that is difficult to control. Why should you live in an environment that works against you?”

For example, ask yourself if that hideous chair you keep out of a sense of obligation to your Aunt Nancy–who can never let you forget the fact that she gave it to you–is worth the negative energy that you feel when you encounter it. Is that chair sapping your energy? Get rid of it.

Once you have liberated yourself from that chair and experienced how cleansing such an action can be, you move on to the next step. Pick a day when you have no other commitments. Study your environment critically, working with one room at a time. What happens to your energy when you focus on each object? Do you need to leave your briefcase out on your coffee table? If it drains you or reminds you of stressful commitments, then give it a home or send it out the door with the chair.

And that pile of bills? Organize them, too. Make a place on your desk or in a desk organizer for them. Organize them by date if you need to, or better yet, sign up for automatic deposit. Enable yourself to deal with your belongings efficiently. Surround yourself with positive energy that feeds and sustains you.

Clutterers are not alone–although in our spirits, we frequently dwell in the closet or under the bed where we have shoved our junk. So quit beating yourself up already and create a clutter-free home now. EndBlock

Sonja Rünar is a certified consultant of the American Feng Shui Institute. You can find her at her Web site,, her e-mail address, or by phone at 644-0969.