Taking life from trash to treasure
By Kelee Katillac
We all want to believe our lives have meaning and purpose. "Why am I here?" is a question launched from within us, out to the heavens. I had just sent out that soul-message when I met a woman that lived in the apartment below me. My first introduction to Lana came from loud voices heard through the hardwood flooring. Later, the meeting was more personal, a hallway encounter after her stay in a local hospital and then a shelter.
I found that Lana was in crisis. Both she and her apartment wore the marks of an abusive spouse. The furniture was battered; family photos shredded; and coffee splatters stained the walls. Somehow, she needed to take her life back, not only for herself, but her children. I knew that she had a Divine force within her that could do it. But, she needed help. Together, we began to paint away the stains and stitch new curtains. As the space transformed around her, she became more hopeful and brave. She was co-designing a new life in which her creativity could make her home peaceful, lovely and safe; a secure nest for her children, as well as, herself.
That project was a long way from the Fifth Avenue interior design firm, magazine photo shoots, and affluent neighborhoods I had worked in for the past few years. Lana's plight had reminded me of my own well-kept secret; exposing the cracks within me that needed authenticity to be filled and made whole. You see, no where in my interior design resume had I mentioned that my training had commenced at an elegant little design school on the proverbial "other-side-of-the tracks." Yes, I had gone all the way from a trailer park to Central Park!
The journey for me to help others, like Lana, through design and decorating, started in a most unlikely place. Once, when I was feeling very low, I found an old chair on the sidewalk of the trailer park in which I lived. It looked like I felt: broken, torn, and hurt. I felt empathy for it and took it back to my trailer. Eventually, I listened to a little voice inside that said, "Help it, mend it, make it beautiful." So, with little money and even less confidence that I was a creative being, I began to fix the chair. With every action of creativity, I felt better. I glued the wobbly legs, painted it, reused some fabric from a bedspread, and added a cushion. As I helped the chair, something began to heal inside of me. I started to believe in life and in my dreams. Creativity had changed things. I worked my way through that little tin house; upholstering over the paneling; making picture frames from branches I found outside; and generally applying myself to every wall and window. Soon, friends started asking me to help them decorate their homes! Within a few years I was in NYC as a professional interior designer. And, all with the experiences that began in what has come to be known, in my heart, as "the best little trailer house in Kansas!" To this day, some twenty years later, I have no formal art or design training.
Kelee and one of her "thrifty-nifty" projects; an old lamp, repurposed with artificial flowers from the craft store
I have now authored books on holistic and healing interior design; founded Design Gives Back to help those-in-need; captain a high-end design firm to help fund the non-profit projects; and have become a DIY Design Expert for Guideposts Magazine and The Katillac Shack Blog and videos.
All of these various "hats" work to support one basic idea: When we are creative and purpose-filled, we live better. Our homes can become a "studio" of uplifting ideas from which to conquer the world. We believe what we see. By creating beautiful spaces using color, meaningful objects and keepsakes, and employing thrifty-nifty ideas from almost nothing, we "see" that within us is a force that can do anything; empowering our parenting, workplace, relationships, and how we love. A creatively inspired home is a positive environment for ourselves and our families.
Kelee's kitchen, featuring her "Ingredients of Life" Jars. She pairs a
tea or spice with a life intention. For example: Courage is Cayenne;
Love is Cocoa (of course!); Laughter is Lemongrass....
Kelee asks, "What are your life values, goals and dreams? What spices
represent them?" See Kelee's video on how to make your own at www.katillacshack.com/video
No matter where we live- a trailer house, apartment, or mansion; the opportunity is the same for all of us: To own and accept our lives and make lovely use of where we have been and what we have been through.
Do you feel as if there is some greater purpose for your life you have yet to find? I believe that purpose is inextricably linked to something you may have experienced.
Getting started: Follow my example - read and answer the questions below
- Is there a project or passion from your childhood that stands out as being exciting or rewarding? At the age of six, I created a carnival to benefit Muscular Dystrophy, and to help others. I also loved to create; including sewing, painting, clay, cut-outs, jewelry, and anything with lots of color.
- When do you feel the most satisfied? When I work with others on a mission - like Habitat for Humanity. Teamwork gives me a sense of belonging and partnership in life.
- Is there a hardship or life moment that is embarrassing to you - one that you think you might be judged harshly about? Having lived in a trailer house! The millions of good folks that live in mobile home parks in the United States still fight some cultural stigma.
- Briefly recall experiences that keep coming around in your life - patterns that you would like to escape. What is the lesson? Even though I love my high-design career I seek integrity in practices over material gain and I no longer accept clients that are not in-line with those values.
- Are there "coincidences" when people or moments have magically come into your life? What messages or opportunities have they brought to you? Certainly, my time with Lana. That "coincidence" changed my vision for my work. I have found purpose in holistic creativity and design.
Here are the important aspects that I learned about my purpose from the answers I shared:
1) Service and Creativity
2) Organization and Teamwork
3) Authenticity and Self-Acceptance
4) Integrity and Values
5) Expectation and Miracles
Life is a DIY project in which we recycle, repurpose and recreate with the substance of our personal journey. Our experiences become the source material; furniture to decorate the house of "us". We find purpose by taking something that seems useless, or even painful, and allowing our creativity to make it beautiful and new. What looks like trash, can become treasure. From cast-off chairs to childhood experiences, we can make purpose-filled lives. That is what The Katillac Shack blog is about. It is my home on the internet. I hope you stop-by. I would love to meet you; to hear your story and your dreams. I know they are amazing ones.
Kelee Katillac is an artist, creative therapist, and author. Her first book, House of Belief: Creating Your Personal Style, was an Amazon.com best-seller, and featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her second book, Kids Sacred Places: Rooms for Believing and Belonging, was named one of the top independent mind/body/spirit books of 2005. Kelee is also founder of The House of Belief workshops for Habitat for Humanity International. Today, Kelee writes "The Inspired Home" for Guideposts, the world's foremost inspirational magazine, as their House and Home expert.
In addition to The Oprah Winfrey Show, Kelee has appeared on The Discovery Channel's Christopher Lowell Show, Pure Oxygen, the FamilyNet television Network, and ABC's View From the Bay, with Spencer Christian. Kelee has appeared on the covers of Catholic Digest, Utne Reader, and in the pages of USA Today, Better Homes and Gardens, Body and Soul Magazine, as well as over 300 newspapers nationwide.