After a long, demanding day, people want to come home to a house that beckons with promises of peace, comfort, and calm, cozy serenity. But crossing the threshold can bring about a sense of foreboding. Anxious? Jittery? Unable to unwind? Possessed with unexplained feelings of melancholy and agitation, you may just want to get the dickens out of your bleak house.
Don’t worry. The house is not likely haunted. Instead, an imbalance in home decor is likely responsible for your plummeting mood — not a style-conscious poltergeist bent on punishing questionable design choices. Studies suggest that more space, higher ceilings, and better window views may help alleviate tension and despondency, but often these features cannot be controlled without costly home renovations or a “for sale” sign planted in the front yard.
Don’t despair. You can make your existing abode less frighteningly depressive and more of a cheerful, healthy haven in which to hang your hat.
Proponents of feng shui, meaning wind and water, believe that home environment and placement of objects can affect one’s level of happiness. This ancient Chinese practice uses various energy sources to help bring balance between individuals and their environment. True advocates go a bit further, believing that strict adherence to the principles of feng shui can create positive life energy and result in the achievement of goals, optimized health, and obtainment of overall life success. Total compliance requires quite a commitment, but individuals need not adhere completely to all the principles of feng shui in order to reap some benefits. Modern psychological studies support the idea of a link between home decor and disposition. The following are some easy household modifications that may boost your spirits and help exorcise any phantom feelings of gloom and doom.
Anyone who has ever tried on a swimsuit in a department store dressing room knows the impact lighting can have on mood. An overly bright, flickering fluorescent light bulb can make you dive for the nearest rock and refuse to come out until winter coat season rolls around again. Living under the right light is the first step to alleviating depression and anxiety. Natural sunlight is optimal; not enough can interrupt your natural circadian rhythm, further amplifying feelings of funk. Clean, unbroken windows are essential for obtaining plenty of warm, welcoming sunlight.
If a home is not blessed with numerous large windows, light paint and plenty of artificial lighting can be a good substitute for sunshine. Using sconce lighting on walls can compensate for a dearth of windows, and halogen or LED bulbs help mimic daytime lighting. Layered lighting can also help create more natural levels of brightness. And any flickering fluorescent bulb (a.k.a. light of the living dead) should be tossed.
The colors that surround us have a huge impact on our frame of mind. From paint to furniture to room accents, color can invigorate or calm, elevate or depress, motivate or stifle. Depending upon the desired emotion, paint and accent choices can fluctuate from room to room. Colors also vary in concentration and shade, so being a little off-color might make a seemingly improper hue perfectly acceptable when toned down in intensity.
Yellow — A good choice for kitchens, dining rooms, and bathrooms; yellow is reminiscent of sunlight, increases metabolism, and adds energy and warmth to every space. It also encourages socializing, so perhaps it’s best to use it sparingly in the bathroom. Too much yellow anywhere can increase feelings of frustration, possibly because it reflects great amounts of light, which can result in eye fatigue.
Orange — It may be the new black, but for home decor, orange is best used primarily for accents. Excessive use of orange can make a room feel cartoonish and inelegant. It is, however, an ideal choice for exercise rooms because it adds energy and promotes enthusiasm. It is also said to increase appetite, so if you are attempting to cut calories, use sparingly in the dining room and kitchen.
Blue — Too dark a shade can leave you feeling blue; too light can be perceived as chilly and unwelcoming. Blue used with the proper intensity, however, is thought to bring down blood pressure and slow respiration, making it an excellent choice for the bedroom. It is also an outstanding option for an office because it increases productivity and encourages relaxation.
Green — The envy of all the other colors, this hue gets a green light for almost every room. It promotes restfulness and tranquility and is rumored to be good for fertility, so take that into consideration before applying heavily to the bedroom.
Red — Paint the town red, but use caution when painting your house. Red is the color of alarm, and while it does raise energy levels, it can also be seen as hostile and scary. It is a poor selection when attempting to create a calm, serene space, but used sparingly as an accent, it can stimulate passion, create energy, and increase appetite. Fans of fiery dinner conversation and heated, animated exchanges should use plenty of red in the dining room.
White — While it does promote feelings of cleanliness and innocence, too much white is like setting a sound machine on high; overpowering white noise ceases to be soothing and quickly becomes intrusive and disturbing. Excessive use of white can make a room cold, sterile, and mindful of a doctor’s visit. It is best when used sparingly on accents or trim.
Black — Unless you are hoping to be featured on a paranormal special or are constructing a year-round haunted house, use black sparingly. Too much makes a room heavy, sad, and a bit scary. It is, however, an ideal choice for home office accents, such as on picture frames or vases, because it adds a touch of power.
The word clutter comes from the word “coagulate,” which is reason enough to avoid it. Even small amounts of disorder can have a negative impact on mood. Stray items on the floor, countertops covered in unused gadgets, items stacked on furniture until they become part of the furniture, all contribute cumulatively to increased levels of stress. Studies show that clutter can also cause overeating, isolation, and depression, and may actually become a fire hazard if windows and doorways are blocked.
It is difficult to declutter for the same reason you originally begin amassing unneeded items — the fear of letting go. However, de-cluttering is not impossible. Instead of hanging on to every sentimental piece of memorabilia, such as the guitar-playing stuffed cat wearing a leather motorcycle helmet that your grandmother brought back from her trip to Branson — take a picture of it, store the photo, and get rid of the cat.
If guilt about money squandered is keeping you from clearing the decks, consider how much you would gladly spend to live in peaceful, clutter-free comfort. No overpriced vase etched with the characters from Frozen bought during your last visit to Disney World is worth your peace of mind. Let it go.
Often the fear of regret impedes the cleaning process. The feeling of apprehension comes from a fear that once an item is discarded it will immediately be needed. But that rarely happens. Have you not used the item in over a year? Throw it away. That includes that college calculus textbook sitting on your coffee table and those scrapbook stickers filling up your kitchen drawer because you might one day put together that “Baby’s First Year” book for the child who is now old enough to use your calculus book (but won’t because he has an interactive text he uses online).
Be ruthless. Get rid of it.
The knights of Camelot sat at a round table rather than a long, harsh rectangular one for a reason, and it was not just because no one wanted to sit at the head and get stuck with the mead and pottage bill at the end of the evening. Round or oval tables promote congenial conversation, increase comfort levels, and may even decrease conflict and misunderstandings.
We are also naturally programmed to fear sharp edges. Those with scars on their chins know only too well the terror induced by a coffee table corner. Soft, round edges promote feelings of safety and happiness. If replacing sharp-shaped furniture is not an option, add the appearance of roundness with scalloped table runners or plush pillows on sofas and chairs. A Lazy Susan, round vases and rugs, or year-round wreaths can also bring soothing shapes into an otherwise harsh room, making it feel more inviting and secure.
It might not be easy being green, but being near-green can vastly improve mood. Bringing the outdoors inside by adding plants to the decor has been shown to decrease depression, increase a sense of relaxation and focus, and add a sense of connection to the greater world. Plants improve the air quality, because they take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, making them the perfect air yin to our yang.
If you were not born with a green thumb — if plants literally shrink from you at the nursery and you can only be trusted with those that thrive on neglect — consider buying a small cactus. They prefer to be left alone to their prickly little selves but still offer natural benefits for the home.
Sounds and Scents
Some sounds are heard so frequently, they may go unnoticed. Yet the brain is still absorbing the noise, and that can create feelings of irritability and tension. If the small dog next door never stops yapping, or a neighbor insists on belting the soundtrack to Cats while doing yard work, consider soundproofing the windows. Ambient noise tracks can help, but keep in mind that what is considered soothing for one person may be an irritant to another. The noise of a heartbeat might relax you, but your spouse might be reminded of the Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” and justifiably be disturbed. The same is true of wind chimes: what is a quiet, soothing tinkling noise to one is just annoying clanking to another.
Scents by way of candles, diffusers, or atomizers also create reactions that differ from person to person. Smells trigger memory, so roses could be reminiscent of a lovely romance for your mother but remind your brother of a relative’s funeral. Studies show how some aromas generate standard emotions in most people. Jasmine and grapefruit promote happiness and optimism, while lavender helps with relaxation, apples ease anxiety, and cinnamon boosts mental clarity. None of these scents will boost morale, however, if the house isn’t minimally clean and fresh. A room in which popcorn has just been burnt or the kitty litter has been neglected will never be inviting.
Do you want to tell your friend what happened at a recent party but prefer that your visiting in-laws not decide they were right about you all along? Then make sure your chairs are placed close enough together, no more than 2 feet apart, to allow for private conversation.
Room organization greatly influences how inhabitants feel and interact as they move through the house. If the goal is to create more conversation, group chairs close together. In larger areas, use area rugs to allow for smaller, more intimate interactions. Provide plenty of room between area configurations to ensure easy movement around the furniture and to avoid the feeling of clutter.
Balance in a room will help alleviate stress. Be sure that your choice of furniture works well together with a comfortable flow from room to room. If the rooms are small, give the illusion of space and a higher ceiling by choosing slim furniture pieces, hanging mirrors, and having low back chairs that give the appearance of a higher ceiling. Avoid putting all the furniture against the walls; instead, pull pieces into the center to encourage a cozier atmosphere.
With a little creativity, you can make your house a much needed refuge from the clatter and turmoil of the outside world. Start with few small changes to the decor, or jump right in with an expansive, all-encompassing transformation. Either way, you will be one step closer to bounding up the front porch steps, flinging open the door, and relaxing in an ambiance of soothing hues, shapes, scents, and sounds.