KonMari Project 1: Lifestyle

It’s January, the traditional time of my people to make life-altering resolutions. (Actually, it’s late January, the traditional time of my people to abandon those resolutions, but I’m running a bit behind.) I’m thinking big this year, and I’ve decided to work my way through the KonMari Method as both a life-altering and home-altering resolution for this year.

Now as I’ve said, almost no one mentions visualizing their ideal lifestyle in their descriptions of applying the KonMari Method; they mostly talk about the decluttering and the sparking of joy. But it’s clear that lifestyle planning is how you’re supposed to start. If I’m going to follow this plan, it would be silly to screw it up this early in the game. So, Step One:

Before you start tidying, look at the lifestyle you aspire to and ask yourself, “Why do I want to tidy?” When you find the answer, you are ready to move on to the next step: examining what you own.

As I’ve also mentioned, I never really spent much time thinking about the lifestyle I wanted to have when I grew up. My current lifestyle developed along the lines of “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So Kondo’s first step was two steps for me: to figure out what lifestyle I aspire to and to answer that question.

The lifestyle of my dreams

First off, I don’t hate the life I’m living right now. I’ve barely done a thing to plan it, but the decisions I made throughout my adult life have gotten me the lifestyle I have today. For example, I chose to go to college almost 500 miles away from my hometown and to not move back after I graduated. I moved to some neighborhoods and not to others. I made relationship decisions that resulted in my staying single and childless. And this series of decisions where I was trying for the best possible outcome turned into a lifestyle that could stand to be tweaked, but I hope won’t need to be completely overhauled. What I want out of all of this is to consciously create the life I’m living, not fall into it absentmindedly.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been documenting my current lifestyle. What do I like? What do I want to be rid of? I’ve also been noting what I see in other people’s lives that I either want to have as well or wish to keep avoiding. I’ve ended up with pages of notes in no particular order: I like sitting in cafés to write, I like being in walking distance of interesting or useful stores, I don’t want to have a commute to work that’s more than an hour long, I haven’t decided if I want pets again or not. A lifestyle is made up of little things. I haven’t covered everything yet because I keep thinking of new things to add, but I’ve got enough to work with.

Why tidy?

I already knew I’m uncomfortable being around clutter. That’s probably true of most people who read Kondo’s books. I do like a place to look lived in: a sterile home is a home without life. But too much stuff piling up leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I have a pretty low trigger point on this, and I know that by many people’s standards, my apartment isn’t cluttered. Still, I look around at what is clutter to me and because I can’t just wave my hand and make it all disappear, I feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Even if Kondo’s method does nothing to change my lifestyle, it offers a way to make my home less oppressive and I figure that’s worth the price of the books.

Also, even when I’m not feeling defeated by the mess, clutter is distracting. I sit down to do something and notice piles of papers and books (and sometimes yarn) around me. Then I’m torn between doing what I was planning to do and stopping to straighten everything up. I don’t like being scattered and unfocused, especially at home—it’s “anti-Vestal.” Yes, Vesta is the goddess of focus, so to speak: the English word comes from a Latin word for hearth and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth. Focus starts at home, it seems. So to answer Kondo’s question: by tidying and decluttering, I will bring my life into clearer focus, aligning it with what I want and like. I’ll make a living environment in which it’s easier for me to focus. And through all this, I’ll be honoring Vesta.

A search for “lifestyle” got me lots of photos of the Sims, so enjoy this nice picture of a hearth instead.

I don’t know as I’ll find the perfect lifestyle buried in my apartment, just waiting to be revealed as I discard various random items. But I figure my apartment should reflect the life I’m living now, not one that I was living years ago, and I think the KonMari Method can help me with that. Off to figure out what sparks joy!


photo credit: A Rare Sight! – 52WFND 6/52 via photopin (license)

V is for Vesta

When I was writing about Juno, I mentioned how astrologers often use mythology to figure out what a newly discovered asteroid or other body might symbolize. But unlike the other Olympians, the few myths featuring Hestia don’t have much of a storyline. Over the years, I’ve read that Hestia was the first-born of Kronos and Rhea, making her the first swallowed and the last regurgitated. She had a throne on Mount Olympus, but when Dionysus came and there weren’t enough thrones to go around, she voluntarily surrendered hers, saying that she was content to sit by the hearth. I’ve read that Apollo and Poseidon wanted to marry her, but she turned them down, vowing to remain eternally a virgin. (What myths might have been told had she accepted one of those proposals?) The Roman poet Ovid tells a myth of Vesta, in which the goddess was almost attacked by Priapus as she slept, and was saved only because a nearby mule brayed loud enough to wake her. (He also describes her as Saturn and Ops’ youngest daughter—mythology is rarely consistent about details.)

Vesta. (Photo credit: nasa.gov)

Looking over Vesta’s rulerships, I started wondering how many of them came directly from the mythology of the goddess and how many came more from what we know of her Roman priestesses, the Vestal Virgins. Now one way or another, every planet and asteroid has something to say about your sexuality, but issues involving virginity, celibacy, sublimation, and so on tend to be Vesta’s territory. Certainly Hestia was a virgin goddess, but when writers describe her, they usually start with “goddess of the hearth” and get to her virginity later. But the very title of the Vestal Virgins puts their virginity front and center, as do the descriptions of the priestesses’ lives and their roles in Roman society. By comparison, Athena is also a virgin goddess, but I haven’t read much about virginity in descriptions of the asteroid Pallas except for occasional references to sexuality sublimated into creativity.* Whether it’s from mythology or archeology, Vesta’s astrological meanings often have a sense of the spiritual threading through them: dedication, devotion, solitude, sublimation of sexual energy into spiritual practice.. Vesta is perhaps most often summed up as “focus,” which comes from her principal role as goddess of the hearth: the Latin word for hearth is focus.

The astrological glyph for Vesta.
The astrological glyph for Vesta.

I’ve only recently started understanding how Vesta may work in charts. It’s one thing to read about focus, dedication, and self-integration, or Vesta’s downsides of alienation, burnout, and inhibition. It’s another to try to see how that plays out in real people’s lives, including my own. My Vesta conjuncts my Midheaven, but it took me the longest time to realize that that might mean that I needed solitude and opportunities for single-minded focus in my career, not that I should be considering becoming a nun. In general, I think Vesta’s house location shows areas of life in which we need to be alone periodically, areas in which we commit ourselves without reservation to what we’re doing, in single-minded focus. Vesta’s sign has been harder for me to understand in charts. My Vesta is in Scorpio, and various astrological writers have said that means focusing on discovering secrets. Sure, I’ve been known to try to ferret out secrets; I’m sure many people have, regardless of how many planets they have in Scorpio. And I’m also capable of focusing on my knitting—which isn’t a specifically Scorpionic activity—as well as many other things in life. So I have a ways to go yet in understanding the astrological Vesta, but I figure at this point, it’s a matter of quietly paying attention and watching for the insights. Which sounds completely appropriate to Vesta.

*I don’t know enough about the minor asteroids to know if Artemis’ virginity has anything to do with the asteroid Diana’s astrological meanings.

Creating a modern Vestalia

I have decided to observe Vestalia this year. As it lasts for nine days, this will give me a good opportunity to figure out how to convert an ancient Roman festival into something one modern American can manage on her own.

I started simply today, lighting a candle to honor Vesta. Holiday though this is, I was planning to go to work and I didn’t want to just cram in a bit of celebration after I got home. A real candle—anything involving open flame—was out of the question, so I used another one of those battery-powered tea lights. I wasn’t sure how well this was going to work. How would it feel to try to honor a goddess of hearth and home in a cubicle at work? Would an ersatz candle just be too fake to take seriously?

To my delight, this arrangement worked out really well. Whenever I caught a glimpse of my little hearth fire, it reminded me of home in a warm, cozy way. On the practical side, I could walk away from my desk indefinitely and leave the candle “burning” unattended. It was a bit of a perk to come back to my desk and find the little fire waiting for me, plus, leaving a fire burning continually is reminiscent of the original Roman practices. It was also small enough to be discreet; if anyone noticed it when they stopped by my desk, they didn’t say anything (something to remember in case I ever work somewhere that is less Pagan-tolerant than my current situation).

Happy Vestalia!

Baby-steps in altar creation

My kitchen has this nifty built-in shelf over the sink. It’s a great place to keep herbs and spices (ignoring the recommendation that you should store them in a dark place) because they’re right there at eye level for grabbing during cooking, yet out of the way of splashing water. I also store some teas there, again, conveniently located for browsing through when I’m in the mood for a cup. And so it didn’t take long for the shelf to fill with these herbs, spices, and teas, often stacked two and three high.

As it happens, my move to this apartment roughly coincided with my growing interest in hearthcraft. The apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, so I can’t make a literal hearth its spiritual center, so I’ve been trying to suss out what the center really is. While I’m not ready to commit to any location yet, I’ve realized that the kitchen shelf wants to have an altar.

It’s been a bit of a challenge. Despite years of being Pagan, I’ve never gotten into having a permanent altar, so I lack that sort of altar experience. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a kitchen altar. The shelf was too enclosed to safely burn candles and even if I cleared it off, too narrow to let me put up a lot of stuff. Whatever went there would have to be simple.

Kitchen altar to Hestia
The shelf and the altar.

And finally it hit me: don’t make a generic altar, make one to Hestia. This is hearthcraft, right? A goddess often pictured simply as a flame probably doesn’t require a super-ornate altar—indeed, Hestia surrendered her throne on Mount Olympus to Dionysus and took a seat close to the hearth. A single candle would be a fine symbol—or in this case, a single battery-powered LED tea light. I’d love to leave the candle burning 24/7, echoing the eternal flame in the ancient Temple of Vesta, but that wars with my concerns about wasting resources. For now, being a beginner at this whole altar thing, I’m just trying to mindfully light the fire when I’m starting to prepare a meal and extinguish it when I’m done with the dishes and ready to leave the kitchen.

Kitchen altar to Hestia 2
The tea light, balanced on top of a canister of tea, is just at the right level to see easily.

Christopher Penczak writes in The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, “By making a space for [an altar] in your home, you are symbolically making a space for the life of a witch in your life.” A tiny altar may not take up a lot of space physically, but symbolically, I may have constructed Stonehenge.

Vesta, Vestalia

In the early 19th century, astronomers discovered the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. Many of these asteroids were named after Roman goddesses. The fourth of these asteroids was Vesta, which may have been named for the goddess of the hearth fire because it is the brightest of all the asteroids, visible to the naked eye under the right conditions. Well, what astronomy discovers, astrology adopts. Astrologers who chose to work with the asteroids concluded that Vesta represented one’s capacity for commitment, focus, and personal integration.

The keyword “focus” links Vesta to its divine namesake. The Latin word focus means “hearth.” As the Greek goddess Hestia, Vesta’s name had also meant “hearth.” Over the centuries, though, as the needs of her people changed, Hestia/Vesta’s  own focus changed. Hestia had been the goddess of the hearth fire that was the center of individual Greek homes. Eldest of the Olympian deities, she received the first share of any sacrifice conducted at home. Barely appearing in myth, rarely depicted in art, she was nevertheless the heart of Greek domestic life. By Roman times, Vesta’s responsibilities had expanded to include the welfare of the empire as well as that of its citizens. The Temple of Vesta was the hearth of Rome, and the sacred flame, tended by the Vestal Virgins, was the vitality of Rome itself and could never be allowed to go out.

Vesta’s annual festival was the Vestalia. Beginning on June 7, the Temple of Vesta was opened to women. The high point of the festival was June 9 and it concluded on June 15, when the women would clean the temple before it was closed to the public for another year. There seem to have been a variety of activities associated with the Vestalia, including making offerings to Vesta which involved sprinkling bits of a special salt-cake over the sacrifices. As hearths were where bread was baked before ovens took over, the Vestalia was also a holiday for bakers and millers, and millstones and the donkeys that powered them were garlanded with flowers.

With my growing interest in Vesta/Hestia and hearth witchery in general, I didn’t want to let the Vestalia slip by unnoticed, but I wasn’t sure how to observe it. Since I don’t know what the salt-cake meant to the Roman women celebrating the Vestalia and it means nothing to me, making one of my own would be pointless. I have neither a millstone nor a donkey to garland, and anyway, honoring baking really does seem to be a better fit with the Fornacalia. And while cleaning my apartment might echo the temple cleaning of centuries ago, I’m not enlightened enough to see it as anything more than housework.

It was Frances Bernstein, author of Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome, who pointed out another option: as Vesta is the goddess of the hearth fire, invoke her by meditating—focusing—on fire. Specifically, Bernstein recommends meditating on a candle flame, which delights me as an idea. My apartment is just as devoid of hearths as it is millstones, and substituting a candle would be entirely in the spirit of apartment-style Paganism. Plus, meditation is often seen as an effective means of developing the personal integration that the asteroid Vesta is associated with. A quiet time with a small flame may be a perfect-sized Vestalia for the modern home.