I grew up as on children in a small house with a decor scheme I call Hoarder Horde. I replicated this aesthetic in my dorm rooms and first apartments, outfitting them with stacks of old magazines, stray shoes, and collectible jelly jars. As my piles of debris grew increasingly overwhelming, so did my agitation over the disarray, but I didn't know how to fix it.

Eventually, when I matured, got therapy, and began self-helping, my environment shifted, too. I began replacing objects I didn’t care about with ones I loved, which practically arranged themselves into a pleasing order.

After years of rattling around in both my mind and my living space, here's what I've learned: Your surroundings are an expression of your inner state. You can’t change your life without changing your stuff, and you can't change your stuff without changing your life. I now fill my rooms with things that energize and delight me. Mostly. And when I make a mess or notice something shabby, I no longer view it with disgust; I just let it show me where I need a little work.

These are the essential elements that make me feel at home:

The Lady of the House

The moment I wake up, I see pictures and figurines of Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion. I didn’t intend to collect them or let them migrate to my bedroom, but that’s what happens when your subconscious is your decorator. One is a picture I painted. Another is a gift from a friend who had no idea I'm a Kuan Yin megafan. The others I picked up in Asia at roadside stalls and markets, never realizing that they were all the same being. Kuan Yin starts my day with unconditional kindness, the best launching pad for anyone’s right life.

A Grand Vision

In the past, I've usually had vision boards—but unlike my other valued objects, they're not placed where I can see them often: In my house in Phoenix, I kept them in my walk- in closet. I believe you should focus intently on a vision board while you're creating it and then stop thinking about it. The key to making those visions happen isn't to mentally strain yourself but to relax, which leaves you open to opportunities that involve the things you seek.

My most recent collage portrayed my fantasy lifestyle: a little house in a primordial forest near the ocean. I no longer keep this vision board in the closet, because now I live it. After waving to Kuan Yin, I open my curtains to see ancient oaks and, occasionally, the tracks of mountain lions that have cruised past during the night. (This might not please everyone, but it thrills me.) I haven’t made a new board in a while because I’m still absorbing the miracle that the last one has become my reality.

Spirit Guides

Every morning I check in with a few favorite books that calm me down, lift me up, and make me feel safe (a.k.a. my perfect paper parents). The assortment changes, but the greatest hits include Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, Byron Katie's Loving What Is, and a compilation of conversations with the Indian guru Nisargadatta Maharaj titled I Am That. I grab a book and read a page or just a paragraph until I feel much braver than I am.

Love Pictures

No, not sex tapes (I wish!). I mean the dozens of photos on built-in shelves at the center of my house. I never declutter here; I just keep adding. The faces shining out at me are the sun of my home, its source of emotional warmth and light. Some of the people have passed away. Some have drifted out of touch. A couple of them, last I checked, no longer wanted to be in contact with me. That’s okay. These aren’t just pictures of people; they represent my love for those people, which is independent of anything they do or think.

My Menagerie

The inspirational things I love most aren't things at all. They’re the living, breathing beings who pass in and out of my space every day. Only one (my son) is a blood relation. The others are soul mates of all kinds. Some live in my house, some just across a broad meadow, some in the woods. They belong to many species: human, dog, horse, squirrel, the birds that visit my feeders. The way all these creatures enjoy life reminds me to keep enjoying it myself—playing, resting, feasting, cuddling, rambling, rejoicing.

When you look at your home, what kind of self-portrait do you see? Do the things around you spark happiness? If not, you don't have to throw everything out and begin again. Clearing a single spot on a cluttered desk is a good start. So is adding a flower or a comfy pillow. When you’ve made one tiny change, make another. And then another. One day you'll wake up enveloped by your own most compassionate, wise, creative, loving self, in three dimensions and living color. In every way possible, you’ll be at home.

Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.

Illustrations by Jasu Hu.

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