It turns out that Bhakti Sondra Shaye does windows. She also scours microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers and closets. She arrived at my front door, swathed in a pale pink pashmina, brandishing an empty pink spray bottle. Slight and pixieish, she looked like a New Age fairy.
Shaye, 49, who has an MFA in creative writing and practiced for years as a lawyer, is no mere clutter buster. She is what is known as a space clearer. And she was there to perform a really deep spring cleaning of my apartment, beyond anything the vacuum might reach – way, way beyond.
The dust bunnies were safe; it was bad vibes she would be Hoovering up.
Running off the fumes of the big four religions, with a lacing of indigenous ritual and a dash of early 20th-century palaver, the shamans and healers, mystics and mediums of the last century’s not-so-New Age have become indispensable exterminators for certain homeowners in New York and other cities, who summon these psychic scrubbers to wash their apartments and town houses (as well as their offices and even some events) with ho-hum regularity.
Uncertain times, it seems, call for unorthodox housekeeping.
Jeff Sharlet, who has written extensively about faith and religion (his last book, “Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness and the Country In Between,” came out in 2011), would argue that woo-woo ablutions are no longer merely a coastal practice. “It’s in many ways a small-town Midwestern phenomenon, a red-state phenomenon as much as a blue one.”
Fair enough. But why clean so, ah, thoroughly?
Why not? asked Dominic Teja Sidhu, 31, a curator who said he calls upon Shaye for all his projects, including photo shoots, gallery shows and art installations.
“It’s very affordable, the cost of a car service, and the money is going to such a good place,” he said. (Shaye charges $50 for a project clearing, $250 for a remote home clearing and from $350 to $1,000 for an on-site zhoosh of an entire house.)
Consider it internal redecorating, said Miriam Novalle, who has her Harlem brownstone cleared by Barbara Biziou, a wildly well-publicized Huffington Post blogger and executive consultant (or “global wisdom keeper and agent of change,” as she calls herself), every year for her birthday. “And I just had a big one,” Novalle said, ducking a question about her age.
“Think of how you get stuck at home and you can’t move a pillow,” she continued. Space clearing gets rid of that stuck energy, she said, adding that after one session with Biziou she had stayed up all night repainting her house.
Fix this living room
Faith is a powerful motivator, as psychologists and religious leaders will attest. Clearers claim they have no unhappy customers. There are no bad reviews on Yelp.
And as I watched Shaye spin slowly in my living room, transfixing the cat, I thought, what’s not to like? Who wouldn’t want a gentle pink fairy to bless the house? Or a mischievous elder, like Reggie Arthur, 69, who arrived two days later?
As it happens, clearers also work remotely. One group in England specializes in pets (another niche, like the post-divorce home, is the badly behaved pet), and I considered hiring it to treat my irritable cat.
I gave Shaye a specific assignment: to make my living room bigger. (Yes, she said she could do that.)
She was not the first to tackle this awkward space, which is rectangular and made more so by a room-long set of built-in bookcases. It’s a bummer of a room, and nobody sits there except the cat.
It had been feng shui’d years ago and then “tweaked” by a decorator who corralled all my knickknacks and moved them around.
Shaye offered to discount her services to her “remote” rate of $250, which was cheaper than a paint job, and she promised to do the entire apartment. Her equipment was minimal: just the pink spray bottle, which she filled with tap water and “blessed” by saying a few prayers over it.
Bad vibes, be gone
It took three hours to suck all the bad vibes from my apartment, a process that included standard services like windows and closets, and a few extra flourishes, like opening a healing vortex over my bed. “Just a gentle one,” she said, noting my alarm.
Most of my surfaces received a spritz from her pink bottle, spooking the cat.
The final flourish was in my living room.
“I’m going to push these walls out energetically,” she said, pivoting like a ballerina in an old-fashioned music box.
Two days later, Arthur appeared.
My living room won high marks from Arthur, who pronounced its energy “Oriental and creative,” although he thought it did need to be “popped with colors of orange and persimmon.”
And his was not the only positive review of the living room. When my 16-year-old daughter came home from school the day of Shaye’s visit, she said: “What happened? It feels bigger in here.”
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