13 Tiny Changes That Will Make Your Home Instantly Happier
When your space is piled with clutter or doesn't reflect your personality, it can be hard to feel truly at home. Here are some science-backed ways to improve your state of mind—by improving the state of your house.
Keep clutter minimal
The first step to being truly happy in your space is to figure out what to keep—and what to let go. “A cluttered room is much more likely to produce, and contribute to, a cluttered mind,” says professional organizer Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari method and author of the bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “I believe that only in an uncluttered room, which enables an uncluttered mind, can you truly focus your attention and your energy on the matters in your life which are preventing you from reaching your truest happiness.” According to design psychologist Sally Augustin, PhD, the powerful mental effects of clutter have roots in our evolution. “In our early days as a species, our lives depended on continually surveying the environment and seeing if anything was coming that was going to eat us,” she says. “Today we continue to survey our environment, and too many things makes this subconscious reviewing more difficult, which is why the visual complexity of clutter is so stressful.” A study from Princeton University shows that too much disorganized stimuli simply overwhelms the brain.
Display meaningful objects
The process of letting go of “stuff” doesn’t mean you should live in a stark environment. Kondo’s method uses the test of whether an object “sparks joy” in your heart. “When you decide what to keep based on what sparks joy, you are establishing and reaffirming to yourself what is most important to you,” she says. As far as how much to display, balance out the chaos in your life with a visually quieter environment. The amount that feels right may vary from person to person, but Dr. Augustin suggests four or five pictures in a room and a couple of objects on a surface, depending on the size. Here are some organization tips from Marie Kondo.
Show your personality
When deciding how a room should look, you might feel taken in by the cool new design trend you saw in a magazine or on HGTV. But Dr. Augustin says making sure your house aligns with your personality is key to feeling happy in your space. “People who are extroverted get a real charge out of the world around them, so they can enjoy a more sensorially rich environment,” she says. “People who are more introverted have a richer inner world so they should have a more carefully curated space.” Bolder patterns and colors might stimulate extroverts but overwhelm introverts. A study from Switzerland shows that introverts were more sensitive to visual stimuli than extroverts, so they should have a more relaxing set-up. “Introverts do a much better job at processing the sensory information around them than extroverts do,” Dr. Augustin says. “Introverts perceive it all and extroverts perceive only some of it,” so they can handle more.
Create a calming space
Finding a “sanctuary” in your home gives your mind a place to go to rest and restore, helping you feel more at peace. It doesn’t have to be a whole room—it could be a reading nook, a knitting space or even a “home spa” in your bathroom. In carving out your sacred space, Dr. Augustin suggests bright but muted colors like sage, soft textures like flannel, warm light and curved lines in patterns and objects instead of straight lines. Studies show we prefer curved lines because we see sharp transitions, such as right angles, as more of a threat. Check out how to decorate your home according to your zodiac sign.
Bring nature inside
Studies have shown nature to be calming to our psyche, so one way to feel happier in your space is to bring in plants or flowers. “Bringing nature into your home definitely has powerful psychological effects,” says interior designer Rebecca West, also a design psychology coach. “Peace lilies are one of my favorites because they’re easy-care and do well in low light conditions.” Dr. Augustin also suggests avoiding spiky plants. “We associate comfort with curvy shapes and not spiky ones, which make us more alert,” she says. Houseplants have the added benefit of helping to refresh the air in a room, making you healthier, according to research. Here are some easy-care houseplants that improve your air quality.
Make your space more social
Humans are pro-social beings, so your home should also be a place where you feel comfortable inviting friends over. Consider home items that lend themselves to socializing: a grill for barbecues, a fire pit to gather around or board games for game night. Plus, make sure your rooms are arranged for easy socializing. “If you want your living room to be ready for a book club, then it should be arranged to focus on conversation, not a giant TV,” West says. Dr. Augustin suggests to “arrange the furniture so people can make easy eye contact with each other, but also so they can gracefully break eye contact and look at something else like a fish tank, fire in the fireplace, a piece of art or a window with a view.” Check out these other organization ideas for your living room.
Use light well
Psychologists have long known that light has an effect on our emotions. So when choosing what kind of light to have in your home, think about what feelings you’re trying to elicit in the space. “Warm light with warm light bulbs is better for when you’re socializing and relaxing, where blue and cooler light is better when you’re trying to do a really analytic task,” Dr. Augustin says. So cool light might be better for a home office, but use warm light in the living and dining rooms. “When people are having dinner parties they bring in candles, which are a warmer light—something we figured out eons ago which aligns with modern research,” she says. Take a look at these ways to brighten your home in the winter.
Keep it clean
“The less clutter there is in your home, the easier it is to do basic cleaning chores, which let’s be honest, spark joy in almost nobody!” Kondo says. Instead, you can use the time you save to do other things you enjoy more. But sometimes, a good cleaning can actually help you feel less stressed and anxious, as a British study found. “If you find yourself feeling frantic and overwhelmed, taking a moment to tidy up the kitchen or your bed can really calm those nerves and bring more focus into your mind,” West says.
Make the bedroom a retreat
Our mood improves when we wake up “on the right side of the bed” after a good night’s sleep, and not getting good sleep has been linked to depression. One way to feel more relaxed is to banish any reminders of unpleasant tasks in the bedroom. “If you have your home office in your bedroom, it’s great if the room is laid out so that when you’re actually lying down to go to sleep you don’t see your desk and all the piles of papers,” Dr. Augustin says. Ideally, the bedroom should be one space to keep tidy. “If you can’t put your whole home in order, try to have at least one room, such as the master bedroom, that gives you peace and respite from it all,” West says. Blackout curtains can also ensure the room is dark enough for good sleep. “It’s better for our health when the conditions are darker for sleep,” Dr. Augustin says. “You can pull them during the day to let the daylight in.” Check out these soothing decorating ideas for your bedroom.
Find storage solutions that work
Even if your living spaces are clean, if every time you open that closet you’re pegged with an avalanche of stuff, it will still make you feel bogged down. “Simple storage methods are the best because they are the easiest to maintain,” says Kondo, who prefers shoe boxes. “Some people devise their storage strategies like a ‘Jenga’ tower, and we all know what happens when one piece is removed!” Plus, being able to see everything you have also keeps you from buying new stuff you actually don’t need. If everything is simple and easy to access, it becomes not only routine, but a healthy habit, Kondo says. “You will always find ‘that thing’ you are looking for much easier, and that extra 10 or 15 minutes you save can be used to do something you truly enjoy.” Don’t miss these organization tips from the pros.
Choose mood-boosting colors
Your wall color can affect your mood, so it might be time for a new coat of paint. Color psychology is an entire field dedicated to understanding the impact shades have on us. “It’s the saturation and brightness levels of hues that determine our emotional response,” Dr. Augustin says. “We’re calmer and in a more positive mood in colors that are not too saturated but relatively bright like sage green, and we’re more energized around colors that are more saturated and less bright, like a Kelly green.” Energizing colors would make you happier in a place you do work, like a kitchen, laundry or exercise room, whereas muted colors are better for a relaxing space, like a family room. Certain colors are associated culturally as well, which can help us feel at home in the space. “Our culture links yellow with kitchens and blue with restfulness, a good option for bedrooms,” Dr. Augustin says. Check out these other things psychologists wish you knew about happiness.
Use the power of scent
Studies have shown that smell has psychological effects, so use oils or candles to evoke good feelings in your home. “Researchers have learned that lavender helps people fall asleep so that can be good for the bedroom, and lemon can be good to smell when you’re trying to do cognitive work like in your home office,” Dr. Augustin says. Floral scents also elicit positive emotions. But don’t lay it on too strong—scents will continue to have an effect even after your nose gets used to them. “Any smell in too great a concentration is off-putting and stress-generating, so you don’t want to walk in and feel like the lemon Pledge factory next door just exploded!” she says.
Fill your home with good memories
Let everything in your house bring up positive remembrances of things and people you love. “Each time you look at that picture of you and your friends in Paris, or see the painting you did that turned out better than you ever expected, it helps you keep perspective and connect you with what is good and wonderful in your life,” West says. On the other hand, purge the things that remind you of negative experiences and bring you down. “A stuffed animal from an ex-boyfriend or a piece of furniture that you inherited but have never really liked, can keep you stuck in the past,” she says. “Life is too short to be surrounded by stuff you don’t like.” Here are some mind-boosting foods that will make you happier.