I can’t pinpoint when sage smudging first piqued my interest. It might have been the time I spotted sage bundles in Jenni Kayne’s chic Southampton, New York, store. Maybe it was when my friend—who works for a renowned high-end interior designer—told me they sage smudged their clients’ homes after each install. Or maybe it was the time I read about it in Vogue. If all these hip and fabulous people were doing it, why wasn’t I in with the It crowd? One thing’s for sure: Over the last year or so, sage smudging has transitioned from an alternative practice into a mainstream ritual beloved by the fashion crowds, interior designers, and celebrities alike. Naturally—like juice cleanses and dry brushing—I had to try it.
Let me preface by saying I’m no reiki master. I don’t own crystals, I don’t align my chakras, and I don’t really practice feng shui. I do read my horoscope monthly, I tried a psychic reading once (at a dinner party), and I’ve been trying to KonMari my apartment for what feels like over a year. In essence, while I’m partially intrigued by all things spiritual, it has never been a focus in my life. But as the quest for all things wellness has proliferated among my generation, I, too, felt like my life would surely be healthier, happier, and more organized if only I burned a bundle of white sage in my studio apartment. Throwing all logic out the window—along with bad vibes and negative ions—I lit up for the first time. This is the account of my first sage smudging experience—doubts, fire scares, and all. Find out if it made me a believer, and pick up a few sage-burning tips along the way.
Being slightly Type A, when I set my mind on something, I need to do it right. So when I first set my sights on sage smudging, I wasn’t going to be satisfied with lighting the bundle and calling it a day. Cue a deep dive into the internets and everything it could teach me about the practice. My main takeaway: In order for sage smudging to be efficient, you needed to really know what it entails and why you want to do it.
As energy healer Colleen McCann told Vogue: “Sage clears bacteria in the air. Scientists have observed that sage can clear up to 94 percent of airborne bacteria in a space and disinfect the air. When sage is burned, it releases negative ions, which is linked to putting people into a positive mood.”
Somehow, the scientific backing of this practice soothed my skeptic soul. It also helped me pinpoint why I was smudging and what I should focus on when doing it. As someone who’s never really experienced paranormal activity at home, I wasn’t doing it to scare away bad spirits. If anything, I was simply comforted in the thought that burning sage would make me feel happier at home and clean my air in the process—no air purifier required.
When I moved to New York City not too long ago, it made me significantly lower my standards of living. In the first few months, I found myself getting frustrated about how small my bathroom was, the lack of storage for my clothes, and how everything was in plain sight in my studio apartment—from my stove to my bed to my laundry basket. So if I had to set intentions for this experience, it was going to be about releasing my negative feelings toward this 400-square-foot space that felt so cramped at times. In my bathroom, in particular, I felt like everywhere I turned, I bumped into something. Between the tangled cords of my curling iron and hair dryer, and the tubes and jars holding every latest beauty craze, there simply was no space.
I also learned that I should focus on every space that felt needed healing: “Feeling like the room is clear is an intuitive thing. You want to go based on your feeling and personal comfort,” energy healer Jenni Finley told us.
I decided to focus on mirrors. Moving to New York City will do things to your body (the food and wine) and your skin (the pollution), so transforming my perception of my body image was important to me. I also wanted to focus on my desk, where I had been feeling a little uninspired lately and slacking off on personal projects that are dear to me. Lastly, I decided to focus on areas of my studio apartment that weren’t yet “decorated.” Being a home décor editor, my personal space had always been very important to me, and I had recently been getting frustrated with how my décor was not yet where I wanted it to be.
Setting intentions for sage smudging is a very personal process, and it helps you focus on areas of improvement around your home and your life in general. For instance, Finley suggested saging jewelry—diamonds specifically—when going through emotional times. “To sage a crystal, hold the stone up and hold the sage underneath it. It’s best if the smoke can run around it. When you feel like it is clear, move on.” She also recommended focusing on your bed if you’re having trouble sleeping. This wasn’t my case—between work commitments and social outings, my head tends to hit the pillow the moment I get home.
Similarly, McCann also suggested taking those intentions, and voicing them out loud: “I also ask my clients, once they have the area ventilated and have lit the sage, to ask the unwanted energy to leave their space, in their mind’s eye as well as voicing out loud.” While I didn’t chant or talk to the spirits that may or may not have been inhabiting my apartment (I would advise this is probably best reserved for advanced smudgers), taking the time to think through each zone and focus on my intentions felt like I was setting the tone for my new-and-improved home.
The main rookie mistake people make when burning sage for the first time, as I quickly learned, is to not open any windows or doors. Negative energy needs to have a pathway to exit a home. McCann illustrated this by relating it to an eight-grade science class: “Imagine that you took a bunch of chemical compounds and put them in a jar, sealed the lid, and shook the jar. You just created a chemical reaction, but the mixture has nowhere to go, so the jar could explode, crack, or not complete its chemical reaction because of the lack of oxygen.”
I opened a few windows around my studio apartment, but when it came to opening my tiny bathroom window, it was sealed shut. Maybe it was because of accumulated humidity or the old mechanism, but my bathroom was destined to remain a negative energy trap. Great, I thought. And my tiny bathroom was the space I wanted to focus on the most.
After doing a little more research, I learned that by smudging from the inside out and directing bad vibes toward the doors and windows, I could overcome this. Because of this mild hurdle, I focused a lot of time on my bathroom, going back and forth between the small room and my open window to really clear the air. Finley suggested relying on your intuition to judge when a space was cleared. While I was clearly a rookie, I tried my very best to feel the energy clear in each space.
Most healers recommended burning the sage in an abalone shell and spreading the smoke with a turkey feather, but because my apartment isn’t an occult store and I don’t exactly have these things handy, I used a simple heat-proof bowl and my hand. After all, Marie Kondo would probably not approve of me cluttering my space with feathers and seashells.
Most importantly, as I quickly learned, it’s important to have some kind of receptacle to hold the burning sage stick to contain ashes and burned bits. I’m really glad I researched this before lighting my sage bundle, as I probably would have burned holes in my precious Parachute bedding otherwise.
Hesitantly, I lit the bundle—inhaling the smell not too dissimilar to a certain natural alternative to pills. I love the smell of sage when cooking, but not so much the scent of smoke. Maybe this isn’t for me, I thought. Maybe I’d be better off staying home with a glass of wine and cook a hearty chili after my Handy cleaners have come and gone. Now that feels like an energy-cleansing experience.
In fact, when I started smudging, I was worried that it wouldn’t work and that I would have to report back that the practice was a total crock. I hesitantly started clearing areas of my apartment, moving in circles counterclockwise as indicated—slightly concerned that my neighbors would see and think I’d lost my mind. Still, I brushed those feelings off, and dedicated myself to the process. The only issue: The stick kept burning out, and I found myself feeling more frustrated than healed.
Luckily, I had read about this, too: The bundle was probably woven too tightly. About 10 minutes in, I loosened the leaves and attempted to light the stubborn stick one last time. It worked! Now the sage was really lit—and smoking up my apartment more than Snoop Dogg in a hotbox, at which point I became more concerned with starting the fire alarm than purifying my home. What would I tell my landlord if I had the entire building evacuated while trying to chase bad spirits out of my apartment?
When burning the sage bundle, I was told to focus on corners, as this is where energy tends to accumulate like bad cobwebs. Once my trusty sage stick was really, truly smoking, I went around my apartment one last time, carefully avoiding my smoke detector. Finally I felt like something had shifted; I was finally doing something right. I became more at ease with the process, and it even started feeling enjoyable—were the negative ions really being released from my space?
When I finished, I let the sage burn out, as advised. Nothing had really changed: My apartment was still small and cluttered. Thirty minutes later, the smell of smoke had dissipated, but the lingering fragrance of sage remained. It brought me back to evenings at my country house cooking with my mother. It made me feel at peace, comforted, and clearheaded. It also made me crave a bowl of spaghetti with homemade sauce. Finally, the space felt different: cleaner and more energizing. My apartment hadn’t changed, but my perception of it had. Maybe it was the smudging, or maybe it was taking the time to set intentions for each area of my home—to be more productive at my desk, and more tolerant to my newfound mini digs—but my space did feel happier and healthier. When I opened my medicine cabinet that morning, the toothpaste tube fell out (as it often does), but it didn’t frustrate me. Instead, I brushed it off as I happily started getting ready for work. Bonus: I didn’t feel as stressed or rushed as I often feel in the morning.
The verdict: Maybe there’s something to be said about sage smudging after all. While I probably won’t be running to my local occult store on the reg—it’s mostly always closed anyway, as I learned while trying to purchase my sage—I still have a couple of sticks from the bundle I purchased, and I will definitely be lighting them up again. It may not make me lose weight (I’ll probably crave homemade spaghetti every single time), but if it can bring me a sense of peace at home and offer a positive, stress-free respite from New York’s hectic day-to-day life, I’m all for it. Bring on the positive vibes.
Want to give sage smudging a try? Pick up these basic essentials, and let us know how it goes.