How houseplants can be clutter

I’ll never forget the astonished look on my friend’s face when I casually picked up a houseplant in my kitchen one day while we were chatting, opened my bin, and threw it in.

‘Did you just do what I think you did?’ she asked, incredulously.

‘It was beyond redemption,’ I explained. And it was true. I had struggled with that plant for many months, trying to find a place in my home where it would thrive, but it always looked like an eyesore. Perhaps it would have been better if I had not chosen that precise moment to dispose of it, but when I saw so clearly that it had become clutter, into the bin it went.

Ornamental houseplants can beautifully enhance the look and feel of a home. Some also purify toxins in the air, as described in B.C. Wolverton’s wonderful book, How to Grow Fresh Air. But if plants are unhealthy, neglected, too large, too numerous, too spiky, or too droopy, they can affect the energy of a space adversely, and can in fact become clutter.

Dead, dying, or scruffy plants

Dying houseplant

You’d think the decision about whether to keep a plant that’s as far gone as the one in this photo would be a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often I see such specimens in people’s homes that are beyond salvation or unspeakably scruffy.

When I ask the person why they still have them, sometimes it’s simply a matter or laziness, busyness, or neglect. They just haven’t got round to doing anything about it. There is also sometimes the hope that the plants can be revived or their appearance can be improved over time, and this is certainly worth a try if you have the patience and know-how to do so. But in many cases, there is another factor that lies at the source of the indecision, and that is the guilt about throwing a living thing away.

It was this that caused my friend to be so shocked when I binned my weary old houseplant in such a matter-of-fact way, so I took a few minutes to explain.

Plants are alive in the sense that they have etheric life force, but they do not have an astral body so they are not conscious in the same way as animals and humans are. So just as no-one hesitates to throw an out-of-date lettuce in the bin or on the compost heap, I do not hesitate to throw houseplants in my compost bin if they become too unhealthy or unsightly. All plants come from the earth and return to the earth. The cycle of life continues, and I’m merely accelerating the process a little.

Spiky plants

Spiky plant

There are other types of plants I would never bring into my home in the first place because they have undesirable effects from a feng shui perspective.
Spiky plants, such as the one pictured here, are in this category. This one is called a century plant, and even though it’s in perfect health and some may find it attractive, I definitely wouldn’t have it in my home.

The reason is that spiky plants tend to create a corresponding energetic sharpness that makes arguments more likely. The only place I would consider putting such a plant is in the home of a person whose mental faculties have become dulled, because they may benefit from the continual stimulus of sharpness in their space. Even so, I would put it in a corner, well away from where they usually sit or pass by, so that it is out of harm’s way (the tips of this particular plant are so sharp that they can pierce human flesh to the bone!).

Another reason to use spiky plants is for their air cleansing properties, but wherever possible, use softer leaved varieties instead. For more information about this read Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them by B.C. Wolverton and Kozaburo Takenaka.

Droopy plants

Spider plant

These can be problematic because they tend to pull the energy of a space down. One of the worst offenders is the spider plant, which has spiky leaves and also hangs downwards. I’ve noticed that depressed people often have them in their homes, and I have often thought that this may be because of an unconscious affinity with the shape. There is also an uncanny similarity between the way spider plants sprout little babies and how a depressed person’s problems seem to endlessly multiply.

Hanging baskets of flowers outside in the garden are fine, by the way, providing they form a rounded shape with no long, downward-hanging tendrils. Their wonderful colours create a bountiful, cascading effect.

Plants that are too big for the space
Sometimes the problem is not the condition or shape of the plant but the sheer size. When a plant grows so big that it dominates a room, you have some choices to make. You can move to a home with taller ceilings (very expensive for the sake of a plant). You can prune it back to a more reasonable size. You can give it to someone who would love to have it. Or if it’s a truly splendid specimen, you may even be able to sell it and purchase a smaller plant with the proceeds. Throwing it in the bin (if you can find a bin big enough!) would be a last resort.

Having said this, I do know of one person who loved their gargantuan rubber plant so much that they removed the ceiling of their room and created a 2-storey space for it to continue to grow up into. They had a large house with large rooms, so it looked fine there, but rubber plants commonly grow up to 40 metres tall (131 feet) so the saga may well have continued.

Too many plants

Too many plants

Some people simply have far too many plants in their home. They keep bringing them home, week after week, and the collection grows and grows. Even if the plants are not spiky, droopy, too tall, or half-dead, they may still be cluttering the space because of the sheer quantity. My advice in this situation? As with many other forms of clutter, keep the best and dump the rest in whatever way works for you.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2014


About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her best known book, ‘Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui’, has sold 2 million copies in 26 languages. She is known for her in-depth, practical and perspective-changing approach.

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12 Responses to How houseplants can be clutter

  1. Nadine says:

    I’m curious what your feelings are on artificial plants. Although I keep live plants where light levels permit, I have a small bathroom in my home with no window. I recently bought some artificial flowers to liven what I feel is an otherwise decoratively mismatched space (something I plan to change in future). Thoughts?

    • Real plants are always best but in areas where they will not grow, good quality artificial flowers or plants can create a visually uplifting effect that can be useful. I would never use them in my own home, though. If I had a bathroom such as the one you describe, I would hang a beautiful picture of a Nature scene on the wall rather than use a fake plant. In a small bathroom, this would also have the effect of leaving hat little shelf space there is available for other essentials.

  2. Anne says:

    ps If I do grow plants indoors; I will get window planter; not plain pots.
    all in all I like and appreciate your advice; Happy Holidays to everyone.

  3. Anne says:

    Thanks Karen: I began a plant collection; I am not a top notch gardener; mostly I overwater; this creates “sour soil”; I was thinking about getting more plants ! After reading your article I will not !!!
    I just cleaned the clutter leaves from the plants I have; I then planted herbs in water to root them…I do not intend to grow plants indoor. AR

  4. Barbara says:

    You reminded us in this article that “All plants come from the earth and return to the earth.” Unfortunately, a discarded plant probably won’t return into the earth for a long, long time if it’s put in the trash bin, as you recommended. But plants whose in-house utility has ended can keep the cycle of life going if they are put in a compost bin, soil and all, if doing so is at all possible. Others have commented on this, so perhaps next time you write about discarding house plants, this “recycling” recommendation can be included. Thank you!

    • It seems I didn’t make this clear in my article, so I have amended it. In our house all food scraps and dying plants go in our compost bin, so if people have the option to create and use a compost bin, of course I recommend that.

  5. thefolia says:

    I am surprised by how surprised your friend was regarding an unhealthy looking plant. I feel sad when I do fail a plant on occassion and will recycle the dirt into my garden as well as the leaves into the compost bin but soon it will be bring life to another area of the garden. We have a plant for about 20 years now that we move with us every time and for the first time, I have placed it lower than in other spaces and trained it to grow upwards instead of the usual stick it up high and let it grow downward…how I love to be in my nest now and happy to be working from home! Happy Nesting.

  6. Lisa says:

    Oh that is such good advice! I really struggle to throw plants away and have been guilty of keeping many unsightly, droopy specimens for years. Despite not actually liking them! Yes – it was the feeling that they are living things and should be given a chance. I had been improving my attitude (firmly but politely turning down offers of plants), but your article has given me extra resolve. Thank you!

  7. caroline says:

    Enjoyed your article about throwing out plants. I have done this too in the situations such as you mention. In the past I always felt guilty about throwing away a plant until recently. Now my town now has a started green composting program. Because of this I am now OK with throwing out a dead or dying plant into the compost container. Trusting it will be “reused” once it turns into composted soil, to grow new plant life.

    Your comments on spikey plants are interesting and also downward droopy plants too. Always something to learn, thank you.
    Caroline

  8. Virginia says:

    My husband loves a particular ‘droopy’ plant which has lovely flowers once a year but the rest of the time looks horrid. I am on a mission to get rid of them (four in total). Houseplants never do it for me, I admire people who can grow them indoors and look nice but it is a lot of work for me so now I will either give them away or put them in the compost with no guilt.

  9. Charlotte says:

    Oh my gosh, this post is PERFECT timing for me!

    I have a plant that someone gave me (site unseen) as I had said I needed a large plant for my new house. For whatever reason, I don’t like this plant, I guess because it is scruffy, and I don’t want to water it, so it gets droopy, which makes it look even worse, and I feel guilty every time I pass it. I have moved it several times and it doesn’t look good anywhere that I put it. In addition, the tray underneath the plant had a hole in it, unbeknownst to me, so it was soaking my carpet, then it ruined my hardwood floor! I hate this thing!

    Now, with your words of wisdom, I am giving myself permission to get rid of it. It was the guilt that prevented me from doing it sooner, so thank you Karen, I will no longer feel guilty about letting it go back to the earth!

    Charlotte

  10. Naum says:

    “My advice in this situation? As with many other forms of clutter, keep the best and dump the rest in whatever way works for you.”

    After reading your book several times, I’ve started reading every night a single statement of it, i.e. several lines. This is my approach, your words are so deep and that richness of expression and sense, amazing.

    Most of the books nowadays (very often) have hundreds of pages and almost empty inside, kind of marketing I guess. You always have something to say that is true, applicable, useful and very very CLEAR and EASY.

    Thank you

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