02/03/2011 11:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ask Xorin: Back to the Present

Ask Xorin is a weekly home and self improvement column created by award-winning architectural conservator, designer and philanthropist Xorin Balbes and best selling author Sandra Bark. For more info visit the official TempleHome website.

Dear Xorin,

I'm writing in for my mom, who would never even think of doing the same because she doesn't think she has a problem. The situation is this: she has been living in the same house for three decades, and it still looks basically like it did when I was a teenager. The drapes are new and she's had the house repainted, so it isn't like she doesn't care, but when you walk inside, it could be 1983.

Right now, all of the walls are peach or pale green. The couches are peach. All of the art has been there for twenty years, and the photos on display are all from when she was a child, or when my brothers and me were kids. And she never throws anything out! It's cool that she has the drawings I made when I was in the first grade, but what is the use of a checkers set with out any pieces? Or the yellowing old novels in the den? Or the broken toys in the attic?

What can I do to help her see how unhealthy this is?

Love in Squalor,


Dear Esme,

It's wonderful that you care so much about your mother, but before you can assist her in opening her eyes to her environment, I think you need to strip away all of your judgments. Find acceptance for the stage your mother is at; this way, you can offer to help her without making her feel judged or uncomfortable.

I often find that people are afraid to make holding her hand at the outset is an important first step towards helping her evolve. You might begin increasing her conscious awareness of her space by buying her gifts that she can play around her home. This method can help inspire change; as she looks for the right place to put a vase or a framed photo, she will see what is already there more clearly. You could also suggest that she take all of the items that represent the past and create a collection of her history in one part of the house, which will serve both to pay tribute to her life and experiences while freeing up some space to bring in new memories and experiences.

Have you asked your mother if she would be willing to work through her space with you, clearing and reorganizing so that she has a fresh take on her space and her life? Just getting her to a place where she feels safe enough to take one small step is a big invite her over to see the SoulSpace you have created for yourself...inspire her by giving her a gift of something new that she can put in her space...and trust and love her no matter what.


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