Homeportfolio’s Co-Founder and CEO, Rolly Rouse, had a long chat with Sarah Susanka soon after the release of her latest book, the not so big life. Rolly has known Sarah for years, and this seemed the perfect time for them to re-connect to discuss Sarah’s philosophy on design, life balance, and Ghandi! Below is part one of this two-part interview.

Photograph by Cheryl Muhr
Rolly Rouse (RR)  More and more, people are seeking to create homes that truly reflect their tastes, values and aspirations. In your new book the not so big life, you beautifully capture the connections between home and heart. Would you please share with us your vision for achieving authenticity in your home and in your life?

Sarah Susanka (SS)  What’s key is that we’re not trying to impress the neighbors. We’re trying to live a life that really brings a sense of meaning and vitality to us personally. I ask people to look at the things that they surround themselves with, including the environment, and realize that that’s where your sense of wellbeing comes from. Start to live more of that person you know yourself to be on the inside.

RR  How do you recommend that readers begin to make their physical spaces reflect, and resonate with the new meaning that they have discovered?

SS  Well, it’s a symbiotic relationship because our houses have the capability of reflecting us back to ourselves. I often say wellbeing begins at home. And as you allow that process to occur, you start to find a vitality that you didn’t know was possible. I often point out that we think when we build a bigger house, it’s going to be a better house. And we discover that bigger isn’t better. Quality of house has almost nothing to do with size. In the same way, quality of life has almost nothing to do with how many activities we are jamming into it.

RR  You say that it’s often very hard to see what’s truly holding us back, and of course that applies to both our lives and our homes, and so given that it’s so hard, what are you suggesting in terms of how to escape that kind of cursive invisibility?

SS  Well, there are a lot of exercises in this book, and after each chapter there is a process that you can go through where you can begin to find the issues in your life that are either holding you back or the things that truly inspire you, but that you rarely make
time for. There are other ways that we can discover more of our potential, because when we’re really passionate about some things we want to pursue them. There is a whole variety of different tools that this book provides you with, including what I call the owner’s manual that you can review on a monthly or an annual basis. These are things such as how can I make sure that I am attuned and in balance.

RR  Your focus in the book is on seeking new wisdom that comes from the inside. Yet, you also cite many examples of providing help yourself as an architect and also as a kind of life counselor to your clients in their efforts to overcome their own difficulty with well-concealed challenges. What’s your advice in terms of home design choices and life choices?

SS  You have to do both, and it’s exactly true in both house design and life design. As you know in my books about house design, I really encourage people to find a good architect, find a good designer, find a good builder, because as much as we might think we can do it ourselves, it’s really necessary to involve someone that knows what they are doing. And in our life design, I mentioned in a couple of occasions that I’ve worked with a number of teachers in the process of living more consciously.

The real core message of this book is that the best way to draw to you the things that will support your growth are to be open and to pursue the things that you are interested in, but not to push it. Don’t push the rope; a rope is a wonderful thing for pulling. When you try to force things into being, you are actually getting in the way.

RR  You talked about creating a time and a place of your own. Tell us what you mean by this.

SS  Well, it’s very simple, but quite a challenge for people to do in our busy lives today, but the first and most important step you can take is to take a few minutes just for yourself. So, if you are a mother with young
children, make sure you’ve got someone that can take care of those kids for ten minutes, twenty minutes while you are just by yourself.

You are not thinking about anything, you are not reading anything, you are just simply sitting and letting yourself calm down and be still. Some people would call this meditation; others would be more comfortable with the idea that it’s just quieting your mind. It’s like bringing ventilation into your life because we have so little of this kind of free and unencumbered time, that we don’t even have the time to perceive whether or not what we are doing each day has any meaning.

When you bring your attention just to the present moment without thinking about anything, amazingly the result is that things can start to shift. And, then you begin to actually experience the day in an entirely different way, and this is what happened for me, and it’s actually why I began to write the not so big house series.

I describe the story at the beginning of the not so big life; I was so busy just like most of our world today, I’d get home cook dinner, rush around, make a few phone calls and then it was time for bed. And I was sitting, reading a book before going to sleep, and I suddenly realized, is this all there is to life? Part of my personal longing was to have time to write; I’d always loved writing, and I recognized that if I didn’t make some shift in my life that would never happen.

And so, it was actually by taking a few moments to just calm down and let myself be still, that I recognized one, that I needed some time to write, and then two, got the courage to actually take that time. That’s one of those things that is really a surprise, and I try to explain it in the book, that when you absolutely commit to something, you end up finding support for that commitment to the thing that you really want to put your time and effort into, that you would never have imagined possible.
— End of Part One —

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