🏠 How to turn your home into a haven of happiness
Expert ideas for creating a personal sanctuary
"There is nothing like staying home for real comfort,” Jane Austen once wrote. I hate to disagree with a literary icon but [does some quick googling] Jane Austen never lived through a pandemic.
For the past two years, our homes have been the backdrops to crisis and loss. Or, if we’ve been lucky, they’ve merely been the scenes of seemingly endless boredom. For many of us, our private sanctuaries have been intruded upon to serve many new purposes. Our intimate spaces have been forced into double duty (triple duty? quadruple duty?) as home offices, home schools, and home gyms.
Is it any wonder we’ve become thoroughly fed up with our surroundings? We long for a haven of happiness that can soothe and calm us. For a home that feels like a delight rather than a default.
Making your home feel happier
It’s time to reclaim our homes and elevate them once again to “holy places of one’s private universe,” as historian Mircea Eliade put it; echoing philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who wrote, “Our house is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.”
In today’s Happiness Letter, I’ve collected ideas for making your home feel happier – from philosophers, architects, and happiness experts. Because, to quote one of my favourite philosophers, “Time at home is still a precious part of living.” (– Marie Kondo. Yes, Marie Kondo! I love her.)
Happiness comes from how your home feels, not how it looks
According to Architect Edward Hollis, a home’s architecture and decoration are less meaningful than the feeling the space evokes: “Home is less attached to brick and mortar, cushions and curtains, than to a sense that we deserve to belong in our surroundings, to shape them, to change them, and in doing so, to dwell in them,” he writes in How To Make a Home.
And how can we make our homes feel happy? Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin suggests that a happy home is achieved through imprinting a joyful state of mind onto our living space:
“My home was a reflection of me: It would be serene, festive, loving, and welcoming only if I brought that spirit to it… A happy home wasn’t a place that I could furnish, but an attitude of mind I must develop.”
Choose what you want to keep
My beloved Marie Kondo gets a bad wrap because people mistake her for a ruthless minimalist, concerned only with decluttering and discarding. But Kondo is more sentimental than most when it comes to material possessions. She believes that our possessions are faithful companions, which we should respect and cherish. Her ‘tidying up’ method is less about chucking stuff out, and more about identifying which objects to love:
“Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness,” Kondo writes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of… Keep only those things that speak to your heart.”
Anthropologist Daniel Miller has found that we create meaning in our lives through our belongings: “The closer our relationships are with objects, the closer our relationships are with people,” he writes in The Comfort of Things. “These things are not a random collection. They have been gradually accumulated as an expression of that person or household.”
Make your home feel personal
“For your home to be a true sanctuary, you must make it as personal as possible,” advises architect Anthony Lawlor. “While the latest design trends may be visually stunning, don’t adopt them wholesale. Make sure each reflects your own character and values. What matters is not the particular style you choose or the amount of money you spend. It’s making home an ally. A place that brings forth who you genuinely are and what you long to be.”
Reframe housework as a ritual rather than a chore
In A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto writes about the meditative ritual that begins a monk’s day – cleaning, sweeping, and polishing the temple:
“We don’t do this because it’s dirty or messy. We do it to eliminate the gloom in our hearts. We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments… If your world is bright, you can be kinder to others.”
I recently heard someone on social media say they’re reframing housework as a privilege rather than a chore. I quite like that perspective too – as long as you’re not the only one in your household with such
emotional labour privilege!
Welcome in natural light
Author and interiors expert Michelle Ogundehin believes a happy home “can be the ultimate foundation for the life you dare to dream of having”. Ogundehin writes in her book Happy Inside that natural light is one of the biggest influences on how we feel. She recommends clearing clutter from around windows to let light stream in unobstructed:
“An ability to look outwards and see the world is still in motion is reassuring if not essential. Thus clear away fussy window treatments or external planting that might block views, keep glazing clean and make it a given that you will open drapes or roll up blinds to greet the day every morning whatever the weather - daylight triggers the production of serotonin, the body’s natural happymaker.”
Display some books
500 books is the number recently recommended in the New York Times to make a place feel like home:
“Physical books continue to beguile us. Individually, they are frequently useful or delightful, but it is when books are displayed en masse that they really work wonders. Covering the walls of a room, piled up to the ceiling and exuding the breath of generations, they nourish the senses, slay boredom and relieve distress.”
And finally, why buying beautiful objects won’t make you happier
“Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us,” warns philosopher Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness. “What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”
So… I should refrain from buying more accent cushions? And seek instead to resemble an accent cushion?
Ok, I mean, I’ll try.
My tips: hire someone to clean, if you're able to afford that. Create a space that's just for you, no matter how small. And take risks: I redesigned my home office based on the aesthetic and vibe of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. (My husband thought I was nuts, I maybe even agreed -- it turned out better than I imagined. Now I share it with my 7yo, who loves it so much she asked for a desk of her own.)