Why your home’s appearance is more important than you might think.
Ah, a new year – the perfect time for fresh starts and new goals. If improving your home is on your list of goals for 2020, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve got some great articles lined up for the coming weeks to help you get your literal house in order.
January is all about laying the foundation so you start your home improvement journey on the right foot. Throughout this month, we’re going to discuss motivation, your vision, and how to develop new habits – all topics that are essential to seeing this project through successfully and creating the house of your dreams. Ready to dive in? Let’s do this!
It’s for your health
I want to start off the new year by reminding you why the way your home looks matters. People often tout organizing or decorating as “self-care” – and it is – but not in the wine-and-bubble bath sense. It’s not an indulgence, or a reward, or a guilty pleasure. It’s literally Self Care, as in an act of taking care of yourself, your health, and your overall well being.
Why do we strive to exercise, eat healthy, meditate, or practice yoga? We essentially do those things to counteract the negative effects of our overstimulating world. Our modern environment is full of stressful situations. Getting in the car at rush hour, going to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, having a difficult conversation at work, reading the news, figuring out your taxes, wondering if so-and-so is mad at you because you forgot to text her back last Wednesday….all of these things can cause a biological stress response in your body, and they happen every single day. Unfortunately, many of them are out of your control.
But your home is in your control. If the state of your home is one more environmental stressor, that is not ok. There’s evidence that women with messy, cluttered homes sustain higher-than-average levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. High levels of cortisol lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, digestive distress, concentration and memory problems, and even anxiety and depression. A home’s cleanliness has also been shown to be a good predictor of the inhabitants’ physical health.
So that feeling of dread when you open your overstuffed closet to get dressed, or the irritation your husband feels when he can’t find his keys for the 3rd morning in a row is actually causing a negative biological impact on your body. Yikes!
Are you motivated to tidy yet? I’m willing to guess you feel like you ought to be, but you’re not necessarily champing at the bit to get started. That’s ok. Our brains don’t like to be yelled at to do better or else. If they did, everyone would eat their leafy greens, maximize their retirement savings, and get 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Instead, let’s shift the conversation a bit. Ok, a lot….
Let’s talk about JOY
In her book Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee challenges the popular notion that meaningful joy and long lasting happiness can only come from within ourselves, rather than from the material world. But her design work and observations suggested otherwise, as she noticed over and over again how people seemed to glean true joy by viewing art, watching a sunset, or blowing out brightly colored candles on a birthday cake.
Inspired, she discovered the expanding body of research on how our surroundings affect our mental health, and embarked on a worldwide quest to study “the aesthetics of joy”. Throughout the book, she explores these aesthetics through real-world examples. She hopes readers will use her research to “design and craft more joy” into their lives.
“The power of the aesthetics of joy is that they speak directly to our unconscious minds, bringing out the best in us without our even being aware of it.”
-Ingrid Fetell Lee, Joyful
Great news for color lovers!
These concepts are a welcome departure from the monochromatic photos of the “simplify your life” movement that’s taken over Instagram and lifestyle blogs. While I agree with the spirit of this “living with less” concept, the way this message is often discussed or delivered can be really alienating to people like me who prefer colorful spaces to all-white ones, and who prefer to display treasured objects on surfaces rather than keeping them completely clear. I think it can even scare off some people from the entire concept of decluttering – they don’t want to get rid of all their belongings; they don’t find the idea of empty white walls or a 12 piece beige and black wardrobe at all appealing.
So reading about how the feeling of joy comes from aesthetics like energy, color, abundance, play, celebration, and surprise got me really excited. Furthermore, I firmly believe that when we like the way our home looks, we are more motivated to do the work to take care of it. So it stands to reason that if we can inject more joy into our homes, we will in turn be more willing to tackle clutter, establish organizing systems, and keep it clean. This isn’t just theory; I’ve seen this in my own behavior, as well as by observing others.
My parents’ laundry room was a bland and boring space. It serves as the only passage between the garage and the home’s interior, as well as housing the washer and dryer, litter box, and cleaning supplies such as mops and brooms – all in a space about 5×9. The single white wire shelf was hung so high that it became a magnet for homeless clutter from all over the house. The various bottles of detergent and bleach were scattered on a table built to fit in the awkward space between the washer and dryer. This surface too tended to attract…whatever. And as the space was essentially the main entrance to the house for my parents and visiting family, there were plenty of opportunities to set things down there and forget about them.
You might be thinking, “So what? It’s a laundry room, who cares how it looks?” But it’s also the first thing you see when you enter the home, and that’s so significant. Feng shui emphasizes the importance of entryways, and for good reason. If the first thing you see when you get home from a long work day or a vacation is a dingy, messy corridor decorated only with a Swiffer spray mop, cat litter, and half-empty bottles of Clorox, do you feel good to be back home? Even if you no longer consciously register the clutter, that mess is still causing a physical stress response in your body.
My mom had been wanting to revamp this room for a while, so I decided to do a surprise remodel while they were out of the country for a week. I so wish I’d been there to see their faces when they walked in the door upon their return, but her ebullient text message said it all.
Four months and lord knows how many loads of laundry later, the room still looks like the after picture most days. It’s no longer the place to shove things they don’t know what else to do with, and even the act of putting laundry supplies back into their places after use is done with pleasure (although by now I’m sure it’s become an automatic habit). Clean clothes no longer hang in there for days on end; they are moved to the closet as soon as they’re dry, because when they’re hanging, they block the view of that beautiful shelf. (In case you’re wondering, the cleaning supplies and bulk laundry detergent bottles are now stored in a closet just outside the laundry room door – a space that was previously just another dumping ground for homeless stuff).
How does your home make you feel?
Think about some similar spaces in your home – spaces where stuff tends to collect, or where you don’t see the point in putting supplies back where they belong when you’re done using them. Now picture the space when it’s clean and tidy. Do you like it? Does it make you happy? Do you feel a sense of satisfaction and excitement after cleaning it, or does it feel like a major chore, an unpleasant or even useless task?
I’m willing to bet that there’s some correlation between rooms in your home that are consistently cluttered and messy, and rooms that you don’t particularly like. If cleaning or decluttering isn’t something you enjoy doing, it makes perfect sense for you to prioritize cleaning and tidying the rooms that do make you feel good when you see them clean and tidy, and neglect the less-pleasurable areas.
It’s not a free pass
I do want to be clear and say that decorating is not a substitution for decluttering. In fact, if you try to add decorative elements to a very cluttered space, you’ll just end up creating a more chaotic and visually overwhelming environment. I recommend using this mini-makeover approach in rooms where you notice yourself not putting objects away when you’re done using them, or where you feel like some simple organizing would help, but you can’t muster the motivation to tackle it (not for spaces that are are so jammed with clutter you can’t see the floor – I think it’s pretty clear that decluttering is the only logical first step in that case).
And depending on how much you do to improve the space, organizing what lives there and discarding items that you find and know you never use can be natural parts of the process. But how much more fun is it to tell yourself you’re “revamping your laundry room” rather than “getting organized”?
Change your perspective
So in this new year, I want you to shift your thinking toward those problem areas. How can you inject some joy into the space? What visual improvements can you make that will motivate and inspire you to keep it clutter-free?
Maybe your chaotic entryway has become an extension of your closet, with coats, shoes, and bags scattered about. Have you noticed that the dull beige walls are scuffed from shoe marks and the paint on the coat rack is peeling? Repaint the walls a bright cheerful color, replace or repaint the coat rack, and while you’re at it, pick up a new door mat and mirror from Target or Home Goods. Then notice how much more willing you are to actually hang up your coat the next time you come home. And how you take the extra second to place your shoes on the rack, rather than just kick them off wherever. And I bet you even notice yourself smiling to yourself in your new mirror.
So give it a shot! Pick a problem area in your home and devise a plan to infuse it with joy, because your health and happiness depend on it.
Not sure how to begin? Don’t have a budget for a full room makeover? Strapped for free time? Don’t worry, I got ya…Click here for 10 inexpensive and joy-infusing decor ideas you can do in less than a day.
Click here to check out Ingrid’s blog, The Aesthetics of Joy.