Unlock the Door and Throw Open the Blinds: A photo series

Photos are on display at Union Station in Kansas City April 9th-23rd as part of the Inspire KC exhibition.

Nikki Crawford, PhD

A story about a woman who feels buried in her stuff.

 Gift Wrapping Table

Gift Wrapping Table

“Ten years ago my house was fine, even 7 years ago it was okay. My dog passed away in 2010 and then I retired, it really started to pile-up after that. I don’t have my grand kids over anymore, frankly I am too embarrassed to have anyone over. Only one of my friends and Nikki has been in my house in the past several years.”

 Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Meet Ruth, a brave and delightful woman who agreed to let me take photos of her home. We are working together to make her home a place of peace where she can feel calm and settled.

The excess stuff is a major challenge for her, yet it certainly doesn't define who she is. Ruth is a very engaged mother and grandmother, dedicated volunteer in her community and church. She is a retired professional who loves musicals. She is a loyal and compassionate friend. I find her to be curious, funny, and engaged in an interesting life outside of her home.

It took courage for Ruth to have her “stuff” photographed, she hopes that in sharing these images she might inspire others to open up and ask for help.  

 Overflowing Cupboards

Overflowing Cupboards

Enough? Too much? Too little? - we have our individual thermostats.

A “Thrifty” gene related to compulsive collecting has been discovered by scientists. This gene, they suggest, was helpful to our ancestors who were more likely to survive when they held on to excess resources.

 "I don't even know where to begin"

"I don't even know where to begin"

Ruth’s living room, hall and spare bedroom are full of gifts she’s not yet given her family –  many of us use gift giving is a way to express our love. This way of showing affection has gotten even easier as our ability to manufacture and import goods cheaply has improved. According to research at UCLA our consumption of material goods has actually doubled over the past 50 years.

 "I really am capable"

"I really am capable"

“I really am capable”, is a phrase I often hear from clients wanting me to know that although they’ve gotten behind on managing their stuff, they function very well in other areas of their lives.

Excessive clothing is an area of struggle for many of us, and low prices have greatly increased our rate of purchasing.  Shopping for many people is a soothing and distracting way to avoid being home amidst the clutter. According to Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain, a textile-recycling company, we as Americans now buy five hundred percent more clothing than we did in 1980.



Too much clutter cascades into other challenges. A few years ago Ruth had a roof leak fixed, but she has not yet repaired the ceiling because she is embarrassed to have a painter in her home. So when she notices the ceiling she criticizes herself for not having it fixed, which spirals into more self-criticism. She worries that in a health crisis paramedics would have to come into her house. Broken appliances may remain so for months due to the shame of having a repair person come into her home.

 No Rest

No Rest

Most of us know someone who lives with too much stuff. Extreme hoarding behaviors have been diagnosed in approximately 2-5% of U.S. residents. Although I don't know if Ruth has extreme hoarding behaviors, she has definitely come to a point in her life when she is interested in drastically changing how she lives.

When I work with Ruth I see a nuanced and beautiful person who is far more complex that any particular set of behaviors.

I see dreams yet to be realized. I see a woman stepping into another phase of her life.

I see we all want the same thing - to live a life of love and acceptance of ourselves and those around us.

I love to find ways to support people who are overwhelmed by their stuff. To walk with them to reclaim their homes and create a life that feels more expansive, satisfying and rich.

I’m grateful to Ruth for being brave and wise and for allowing me to share a small piece of her story.


Stuff that makes me Wonder

Do you wonder how you can show your love and appreciation during the holidays, without buying so much stuff? Consider alternatives to clothes, housewares, and electronics. We’ve all been in the position of receiving gifts we won’t use (gravy boats) or don’t want (sparkly Santa socks), but feel stuck with the gift because we don’t want to appear ungrateful. There are lovely ways to let others know you’re thinking about them AND skip the mall. Kiva is one of my favorites and is highly rated by the detail-oriented folks at Charity Navigator, an organization whose mission is to, “guide intelligent giving.” Kiva is a micro-lending charity with networks around the world to support small business owners needing no-interest loans to create or build a business. I have been loaning small amounts of money to this organization for over 10 years and have let my money ride from one loan to the next; as one business pays me back, I choose and invest the same money with another small business. Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. I appreciate that the focus is to help people, to help themselves, there is beauty and dignity in this model. Learn more about how it works go to their website, http://www.kiva.org/

Stuff that makes me Wonder

Over the next several months I am exchanging coaching with a woman who is helping me dive deeper into my creativity and I am helping her create a peaceful office/studio space.

Our conversation last week was about “space”. She is from the worlds of theater, dance, and music where performing space is sacred, which is so lovely and prompted me to consider how I can create sacred spaces in my home.

She also encouraged me to see space much more broadly than rooms in my house. Which has me noticing all kinds of spaces in my yard, in my desk, in my cupped hand, even my ear, (I may have just gone too far for some of you), but this noticing has truly expanded my perspective.

So anyway, I am now tuned-in to space as a much broader concept and am going to continue to play with the idea, and have started posting photos of peaceful spaces on facebook.

Join me if you'd like:  https://www.facebook.com/yourpeacefulspace/  Tag with #mypeacefulspace

From my Closet


“When we diversify our experiences, we’re more likely to come up with new ideas or ways of looking at the world.” I am unable to cite the wise person who said this, but boy it feels true for me! Packing away all of but 33 items of clothes, shoes and accessories for 3 months is offering me a new way of looking at my belongings as I experiment with Courtney Carver’s Project 333 http://bemorewithless.com/project-333/  On June 26th I picked out my 33 favorite items of clothes, shoes, and accessories and put the rest in the basement, (not counted as part of the 33 are gym clothes, underthings, loungewear and pj's).

I was inspired to experiment with this after hearing about Courtney’s journey to live more simply as a way to reduce stress and its impact on her health.  As I listened, it was clear that Project 333 wasn’t just about the clothes, it was about discovering ways to reduce the stressful “noise” in her life.

After sorting through the items in my closet and dresser, my bedroom feels very different. I notice a sweet spacious feeling when I open the closet door. Although I only have 33 items from which to choose, it’s enough. This feeling of enough-ness is solid and peaceful; this stays with me throughout my day, and I am happy to have it tag along. I’ve also noticed that I have more time, money and energy. I spend less time and money shopping and managing my clothes. And because there are fewer options from which to choose, I waste no energy trying to figure out what to wear….it’s straight forward and effortless.

Maybe there is an area of your life where you would like to create more peace, re-claim time and free energy. Might be your closet, maybe your schedule or perhaps your office? What can you let go of in order to create more clarity and peace and that delicious feeling of enough-ness?

Here is a list of the 100+ items that moved out of my dresser and closet and into the basement.

Clothes: 13 tops, 3 slacks, 5 dresses, 1 jacket, 5 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts.  Plus a bag of clothes tucked in the back of my closet that I had forgotten about.  And of course the 5 pair of shorts and 3 pairs of slacks I had stashed on the top shelf in case I lost 10 lbs.

Shoes: 2 boots, 1 flip-flops, 3 heels, 2 flats, 1 hiking shoes, 1 wing-tips, and a 4-shelf shoe rack.

Accessories: 1 hat, 2 purses, 2 belts, 8 scarves (and the fabric covered box where they lived), countless earrings, necklaces, and rings.

Photos of what feels like enough...here are the 33 items I am wearing for the next 3 month.

Open Your Door

Sometimes, the stuff we’ve accumulated weighs on us so much that we don’t feel free to open the next door. We can’t see the next step, the opportunity or the gifts. We only see the piles of clothes, shelves of dusty books, boxes of dishes, drawers of old electronics. We may use physical clutter as a way to slow down our movement forward in life, as a way to distract ourselves from imagining a bigger, more fulfilling life for ourselves.

It’s helpful to wonder what’s underneath of our stuff, what’s the next possibility, what’s on the other side of the door?

Want out of the Clutter?

The process of de-cluttering is often spurred by a significant life transition. A transition holds the place of just before and just after, the line to cross, the threshold to step over.  These are the markers of life. I find myself referring to events in relationship to these transitions, “oh, that was before I moved,” or, “that happened after my daughter left for school.” Regardless of the initial reaction to a job change, divorce, or empty nest, I’ve may come to appreciate the experience for what I eventually learn about myself and what the “after” has to offer. I feel energized by the newness and openness of my reality. I am driven to re-set my personal surroundings to mirror the inner shift in perspective.

Often, while in the process of clearing what now feels like clutter, I expend a lot of emotional energy. After about an hour I feel stuck, sad, tired and overwhelmed. I try to remember to be kind to myself, it takes some effort to consider each item and choose which to keep and which to donate. These uncomfortable feelings are typical but they don’t have to stop progress. I pay attention and do the following when I feel stuck:

  • I step outside and focus attention on what is around me. How my feet feel on the ground, what I hear, what I see. I breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Go for a walk around the block, stretch or dance.  
  • Treat myself to a cup of hot tea, sparkling water or glass of wine.

When I feel rested and clear, I resume the de-cluttering for another 30 minutes, knowing it’s okay to take a break if I feel stuck again. Here are a few more things I do be successful:

  • Deal with de-cluttering projects in short chunks; no more than two hours at a time.
  • Take before and after pictures to share and remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished.
  • Spend a few minutes appreciating myself for focus and efforts, even if I don’t finish the whole job.

Nikki Crawford, Ph.D. is the owner of Your Peaceful Space, where her focus is to help you clear the clutter and create more peace in your life. To learn more, contact Nikki at yourpeacefulspace@gmail.com or call at 913.908.2298.

The Next Trip

As I peek into the openness of next year, I wonder which of my habits served me well enough in 2015, to help me create the life I want in 2016? Are there some I should leave behind?

These are the kinds of questions I asked Leah as we looked into her den. Leah asked me to help her create a room where she could peacefully read. Standing in the doorway I saw that all of the corners were packed with stuff. The couch was used as a large storage bin and every horizontal surface held deep piles of things.  I helped Leah mindfully consider how she wanted this room to feel, what it would look like if it were exactly the way she wanted. We talked about the stuff in the den that made sense to keep and the items that just didn’t fit with her intention of a reading room. At the core of this process was a focus on what Leah wanted to create, a focus on creation rather than blame. It is not helpful to spend time talking about how this den got so cluttered; lots more engaging and energizing to focus on what’s next.

This week I am going through a similar process. I am taking the time to thoughtfully consider how I want to feel as a walk through the days and months of the new year. When I focus on what I want to create for myself I consider the habits that are helpful, and which are inconsistent with my intention. Which enlivening habits will I tuck into my purse for the 2016 trip?

Kansas City Giving

If you’re interested in funneling some of your holiday budget to Kansas City area charities, check-out the Giving Guide from the Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City. Jump to the chart on pages 9-11 to see which local charities meet the BBB’s 20 standards for charity accountability.


BBB has 20 standards focused on governance, effectiveness, finances, and fundraising.

You can feel good about a gift that shows your love to those you know, while benefiting those you’ve never even met.

Happy holidays for everyone!