Stressed out? Get a life by sorting out your socks

A spate of books suggests that the key to happiness lies in a well-ordered home. Andrew Tuck investigates
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The Independent Online
Do your relationships keep on failing? When you leave your home in the morning are you already feeling stressed? Is there no time in your life for fun anymore? Cancel your appointment with the doctor. What you need is a good interior-design book. Publishers have created a new genre of books for the home - titles that go beyond paint charts and superficial style, and instead show you how your home can be transformed - and even heal your life.

Dawna Walter is one of the authors leading the way with her book Organized Living that attempts to show how even a tidy sock drawer can improve the quality of your life. Ms Walter is the owner of the Holding Company, a shop selling hundreds of storage ideas on London's King's Road, which has been such a hit that she is planning to open four new outlets next year.

Born in America, Ms Walter is a fast talker, a self-confessed perfectionist, and a tidiness fundamentalist. "If it takes 10 minutes for you to find a matching pair of socks in the morning, then you are not in control and you're outlook just isn't spiffy. Being organised saves you a couple of hours every week and gives you more time to do the things you enjoy," she explains.

Her book contains dozens of tips for streamlining your life. In the kitchen Ms Walter recommends filing magazine recipes immediately, and organising them by types of dishes or particular cooks, and using ice-cube trays to freeze sauces in individual portions. Her ideas seem commonsense but nevertheless require you to be at least slightly anally retentive. CDs are a case in point: "You want to find that one CD, now how much easier would that be if you placed them in alphabetical order? That will only take an hour. Then divide out the ones you listen to regularly into a separate section."

Ms Walter thinks that British people are particularly bad at getting to grips with their homes and lives: "There's still this war mentality where you just won't throw anything away and soon your house is not working for you and is full of things that don't give you any pleasure." Ms Walter has a passion for getting rid of her property: "I love giving things away to friends - if someone admires something I have, I'll just give it to them."

She admits that some of her customers turn into storage addicts (many come to her shop every week) and reveals that even children are getting the bug: "We have 13-year-olds dragging their parents to the store because they want to get their lives organised." And what does this alphabetised life do for her? Looking at her new red kitchen, with everything in place, she says: "It's so beautiful I could cry."

At the beginning of November Sarah Shurety's book Feng Shui For Your Home was published. Within 14 days every copy had been sold. This room- by-room guide to creating a harmonious living space, is based on the ancient Chinese tradition of Feng Shui which, in very crude terms, claims that the design of your home and where you place everything, from mirrors to your bed, can impact on your happiness, relationships, wealth and health. The book contains hundreds of rules. At a dinner party you are told to place quiet people at the head of the table and facing the door as this will make them feel more garrulous; then place pink flowers by your bed if you want romance (or an attack of hay-fever); and don't buy a house built on sloping foundations because it will make your life unstable.

Ms Shurety believes that Feng Shui could heal the world, but says that applying it in your home is a good start.

If these approaches seem too severe for you, then look out for Creating Space by Elizabeth Wilhide, due to be published in the New Year. Although the book says it could "not just improve your home - it could transform your life", Ms Wilhide says that she is not too obsessional and does not fall into the "sort-your-socks category". But she believes that as we increasingly work from home, we need to reassess the way our houses work (especially if you add children into the equation) if we want to avoid being overrun by junk and that feeling of "being mentally weighed down". In the kitchen, for example, she suggests discarding chipped crockery and throwing out gadgets you no longer use.

Has this approach changed her life? Ms Wilhide sheepishly confesses to having dumping zones in her house, a handbag "that doesn't bear looking in to", and a car that's a no-go zone. Sounds like an emergency case for Dawna Walter.

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