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Preparing for the Dark Half of the Year

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

As many of you know, my main form of financial security is renting apartments for landlords here in Chicago. It's really an exciting job, and it's one that does more than just pay the bills. At the same time, I'm helping people with a basic need: Shelter. (it's one of the Big Three I've heard; Food and Clothing being the other two.) Oftentimes, I show apartments while people are still living there, and it's always fun to learn new ways to decorate and make the best use of space. It also teaches me what not to do, based on my personal preferences.

Over the years, my husband Ron and I have played with all kinds of styles for our own brand of interior design, based on our budget, what we like and what makes sense. I know there's professionals out there, I'm working for one right now in fact, but at the end of the day, all of that advice means nothing if I don't like it and/or it doesn't serve its purpose. We have our own set of rules when it comes to interior design, which in many cases mimics the standards, but we do so with a Pagan eye for detail.

We like the modern look - straight lines, bold colors and so on - being the big city folk that we are, and yet we try to incorporate homey comfort and Nature in just about everything. We work a lot of hours, and when we finally get a chance to breathe, we want to walk in and feel at ease within five minutes.There are two times of year where we focus on organized comfort, the Spring and Fall equinoxes, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you some of our thoughts.

Ron is a very neat and tidy kind of a guy, so he really stresses on the modern look which includes coordination and clean slates. Very little is on the tables when not in use, everything gets dusted, swept and vacuumed regularly, shoes are lined up, clothes are put away after being washed, and yes, the bed gets made with tight corners every morning.Needless to say, our place is showroom quality at all times; I can have company come over with only 15 minutes of notice without fretting over it.

It's a far cry from how I was raised, let me tell you! My office, which I claimed the second bedroom after our son got his own place, does not meet up to his standards, but it's not terrible. I'll let papers stack up for a couple of weeks before they're filed away or shredded, and my trash bin will sit until it really needs to be taken out. Even so, it's not terrible, like I said. At least I tell myself that. I thank him for keeping my messy habits in check, because I always feel better when everything is in its proper place.


(It ain't perfect, but it's a pleasant work environment!)

I read articles all the time on both organization and design, but like I said, I keep our taste in mind and am ever-mindful of our values as Pagans. Think about it: How many books and articles have you read where it talks about keeping your home clean? In the Wicca 101-type books, it's somewhere in the first chapter or two. And yet, many Pagans I know, in person and online, often mention how their homes are lived-in and even downright messy. I don't judge, but it had me wondering why that is.

The simple answer is we Pagans are DIYers, and going it alone, even if we're part of covens, means we have more stuff that needs places to put it all. And that stuff is often handmade, so the craft materials start to multiply by themselves. Urban Pagans often do not have the necessary space to hold all of that stuff, so the mess becomes that much more obvious. But what are we supposed to do about it?

Here are some guidelines I've been following over the years that have helped immensely for us to have that showroom quality apartment people often mistake for a fancy condo:


(Here's a shot of our living room. Iris approves, but I admit my photography skills could be better.)

Throw. It. Out: However you get rid of it, do it. If you don't need it, you don't absolutely love it, or if it doesn't make you money, get rid of it.

- Go through your home and resell, donate or upcycle everything. Yes, that includes books. We keep some books, like the ones where I feel have rereading material (for me, that would be recipes), and ones that just make me tickled to have, but most of them get donated or sold on eBay.

- Go through your closets and get rid of the clothes you haven't worn in a year.

- Toss or repair that nasty sofa you can't stand. (Ours was a throw-away, ugly pattern, and we made it gorgeous by putting a black slip cover over it and sewed bold-colored microsuede on the cushions.)

- Swap things like extra craft supplies you don't see yourself using anytime soon for stuff you need now.

Paint!: If you can, paint the walls in colors that will make you want to show them off instead of covering them up. For our living room (or as we Chicagoans say, the frunchroom), we painted the walls sage green with chocolate trim in order to mimic the woods - leaves and bark. We also have a huge fireplace, decorative only, that was also eggshell white when we moved in. Instead of blending into the white walls, I took a sea sponge and some red paint and brought out the brick, making it look real again. I painted the wood trim chestnut so it looked like a mantle again. Unlike many Pagans I know, my favorite holiday is Yule, and that red brick mantle with the sage green walls sure does feel really festive once I'm done decorating! We even went so far as to buy a fake fire to put in there, which adds to the illusion. And yes, it is very romantic.


(Above, you can see what I did with the mantle as well as color choices.)

For our bedroom, we wanted it to be dramatic, so we went with red walls, burgundy to be specific (same as the fireplace) and chestnut trim (the mantle). See what we did there? We saved money on paint as well as had colors carry over from one room to the next. And for my office, I wanted Spirit to be front and center while I'm working, so I painted the walls a deep purple and left the trim the eggshell white the apartment came with. I'm no green thumb, but I wanted foliage, so I bought realistic fake ivy I hung in baskets as well as a fake tree to accent the corner. (I keep the dust off with a product called Leaf Shine; I spray it on once a month.)

Organization: So you've got rid of a bunch of stuff and painted the walls, so now it's time to put everything that's left to good use. I'm big on making fancy meals on an Aldi budget, so I'm crazy about spices. I have the cupboard nearest the stove dedicated to them, and needful things like Ron's fancy coffee in there, and it's set up so I don't have to dig very much to get what I need. We've done that with everything. My magickal herbs have its own place, my teas their spot, Ron's video games have dedicated space, and so on. We also did a lot of upgrading, too. Target came out with classic board games that look like books, and that made so much sense to me. Never again will the shoe piece from Monopoly get lost, and they sure look cool on the top bookshelf compared to being in worn-out cardboard boxes duct-taped on the corners and stacked on top of each other.


(Just some of my stuff! I keep the magickal/medicinal herbs separate, as I'm sure people appreciate I don't add a dash of black nightshade because it was next to the cilantro! Or if they hate cilantro, maybe that's better?)

Remember though, when you're organizing, do what makes sense to you, and do it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Two birds, one stone. Don't be afraid to change things around! One of the things I've done is move all of my ritual gear into my office on an old CD shelving system. To the nonPagan at first glance, it just looks like a cute curio shelf with odds and ends, this and that. It's allowed to be a little more free-form and out on display because it's all together. Larger pieces like Ron's athame, we placed them inside the mantle's bookcase doors as museum-style statement pieces, kind of like a museum. And his favorite guitars? We put them on stands right on top of the mantle. We have high ceilings, so the necks draw the eye upward.

Lighting: Speaking of drawing the eye, lighting is an important aspect many people give the bare minimum of attention. Sure, we have a gazillion candles, probably enough to survive a week without power, but the kind you flip a switch with is just as important.You want not just the ceiling lights your place came with, but lights that come up from below, lights that shine down in certain areas, and ones for when you just need a little (or a little more). Good lighting will boost your mood, especially during the winter months. It's good for your spirit!

Our apartment does not have a formal dining room, so we made the best of the ridiculously huge living room we have by getting a two-top pub table. It's higher than the couch in front of it, and it's right in front of a wall of windows, so we can have a nice meal either watching the world go by or watch a good movie. But when we added the table, I felt it was missing something... special. So, I added strings of tiny lights - just enough so we could see what we're eating, but dark enough if we're having a special meal. We don't go out to eat often, but the way we're set up, I could crop a photo and you'd swear that was taken at a fancy bistro.


(Above is the place setting with very little light. I love eating at home!)

Accents: It's the little things that matter, but make them count. Color of course makes everything better, just little pops here and there, and I believe in instilling my faith this way. I've already mentioned the mantle pieces, and the guitars, and so on, but we also have paintings and pictures. I wasn't raised in a family that was big on picture-taking, so the ones I do have, we went and bought small frames for them. Family, especially those who have departed from this plane, are especially important to many Pagan paths, so honoring them by giving them a special place in your home should be essential. If your family is chosen rather than by blood, that's fine, too! Put your crafty skills to work here, but try to stick with some type of theme and go with very special over "all teh things". You will feel more comfortable if your eyes focus on just a few things at a time rather than everything all at once.


(When Tiger died, it left a hole in our hearts. We have an altar just for him.)



(And above are some family photos which include members, including the four-legged variety, who are no longer with us.)

Celebrations: Around here, the big holiday we gear up for is Yule, and I start the decorating the weekend before Thanksgiving. Why so early? Because I make dinner for everyone all by my lonesome, and I do it like caterers, prep work spread out over several days, so I too can enjoy the meal instead of slaving throughout the day. And, I figure it makes our home that much more inviting and special. And even with all the extra decorations, I still curb back from All Teh Things so our home doesn't look like Walmart's holiday section didn't blow up in our living room. Needless to say, I only have one large bin for all of the decorations, plus the tree. (Yes, we do fake around here. I love the scent of pine, but I hate the needles.)


(People love the Yule diorama I do every year, and if you scroll back up, you'll see a few new pieces on the mantle I just picked up that will be added this year.)

Some people decorate more than just their altars for every holiday. For those who go with the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, that's eight holidays to set up for on a regular schedule. Keep your decorations pared down to one bin per holiday, and keep the bins in storage - be it the back closet you don't really go into otherwise or a storage locker. And for the love of the Gods themselves, take down your decorations when the holiday period is over. I keep Yuletide going from that weekend before until New Years, as I really love seeing the lights. But come the first week of January, even I am sick of seeing it. Mark your calendar with a time slot to do this task!

Organizing yourself: So yes, speaking of which, you have your place functional, so now it's time to get yourself together. So many people moan how much they hate PST (Pagan Standard Time), but some of the people complaining are guilty of doing just that. Many people have cell phones now that are tiny computers in their pockets. They're alarm clocks and reminders for everything. Get used to working with them, and slot yourself extra time. It's better to be early than late, and you can use the extra time on your hands to catch up on your reading, window shopping, planning or whatever. Your state of mind will be much more pleasant when you have one less thing to worry about.

And yeah - that too: Stop worrying! I got out of this habit years ago, and it's made me a happier person. If you're doing the absolute best you can with what you have, and you are constantly improving on what it is you have, then that's all anyone can ask of you. Ending the cycle of worry starts at home, living in a clean, healthy and clutter-free environment. So go back to the beginning of this article and see where you can improve. It's a constant work in progress for us, but it's goal-oriented. It's not about having nice stuff, but stuff that is meaningful for our spirits.

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Lori Dake is a life-long native several generations back, a mom to an adult son and has been together with her husband over twenty years. She is a real estate broker primarily serving the North Side and has also worked as a paralegal for several years. Sometimes, she’s a hardcore fashionista, and sometimes a concert shirt and jeans are more her style. Hobbies include painting while listening to 80’s metal, writing, participating in various forms of philanthropy and creating fabulous meals on a budget.


  • Deborah Blake
    Deborah Blake Monday, 22 September 2014

    I try to do a lot of this--although I'm not as brave with paint colors as you are :-)

  • Lori Dake
    Lori Dake Tuesday, 23 September 2014

    The trick with painting the walls is ... there is no trick. :) You just need to be happy!

    Think of your favorite colors, then think which one of them will look good with most everything you already have in that room. If you have a "busy" room, you have two options:

    1 - Declutter!
    2 - Cluster (like my first photo)

    If your wall color is a neutral (whites, browns, greens and blacks), your trim color can be the one that pops! Do what makes you happy! And just like a bad haircut, you can always repaint if you end up hating it.

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