Press Coverage

New York Times


1st Page, Home Section
June 6, 2013

Cleaning More Than Cobwebs
Those known as space clearers make sure the house is scrubbed right down to the vibes.

by Penelope Green

Bhakti Sondra Shaye New York Times It turns out that Bhakti Sondra Shaye does windows. She also scours microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers and closets.

Recently, 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, as played by Anne Hathaway.

Ms. Shaye, who has an M.F.A. in creative writing and practiced for years as a corporate 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.

Beloved by reality television show producers and Manhattan real estate brokers, space clearers like Ms. Shaye barely garner a raised eyebrow anymore. Running off the fumes of the big four religions, with a lacing of indigenous ritual and a dash of early 20th-century palaver - Madame Blavatsky by way of L. Ron Hubbard - 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 big 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. They get more publicity than most decorators and architects, and have armfuls of testimonials from brokers at companies like Core and Corcoran.

Uncertain times, it seems, call for unorthodox housekeeping - or "that extra advantage," as Desiree Gruber, a founder of "Project Runway," put it.

Jeff Sharlet, who has written extensively about faith and religion in this country (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, creative director and art adviser who said he calls upon Ms. 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. (Regarding the money: Ms. Shaye charges $50 for a project clearing, $250 for a remote home clearing and from $350 to as much as $1,000 for an on-site zhoosh of an entire house.)
. . .
Bhakti Sondra Shaye uses a pink spray bottle filled with tap water that she blesses with a prayer.
. . .
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 Ms. 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? . . .

I hired them because they had the most press, particularly in the tabloids, and the most broker accolades. . . .

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. But its service required multiple sessions, and I feared a misdiagnosis or, worse, some kind of boomerang effect: a collision of everyone's mojo in my tiny apartment. Two magicians seemed safer.

I gave Ms. 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 she'd years ago and then "tweaked" by a decorator who corralled all my knickknacks and moved them around. More recently, it was worked over by a designer friend who rearranged the furniture and then dejectedly moved it back again. Really, it needs nicer stuff, a paint job and that bookshelf ripped out, but who can afford such things in these uncertain times?

Ms. 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 aforementioned pink spray bottle, which she filled with tap water and "blessed" by saying a few prayers over it. She also blessed her coffee.

"I'm raising its vibrations," she said shyly. "Clearing it of negativity, making it much healthier."

Does it taste better?

"I don't know," she said, "because I do it to everything I eat."

Ms. Shaye, who grew up in a family of lawyers, told me she left the law to join a "mystery school" more than a decade ago. Mystery schools, she said, are graduate schools for folks like herself, who are initiated into various practices, including space clearing, which she turned out to have a gift for. Her first mentor, she said, taught her to push all the bad energy out through a client's front door, into the yard (or the hall, if it was an apartment). "But that didn't make sense," she said. "So now I just remove it."

Like vacuuming instead of sweeping?

"Exactly."

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. "They do hate it," she said, explaining that she used to work with a bowl of water and her fingers, but everything got drenched.

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. "I usually do this in small rooms, or those with low ceilings. In New York, it's a very big deal."
. . .
When my 16-year-old daughter came home from school the day of Ms. Shaye's visit, she said: "What happened? It feels bigger in here."

"Get out!" Ms. Shaye exclaimed when I mentioned it to her later. "I say no more."