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Make your home a happier place: A design psychology coach provides tips

Rebecca West, a design psychology coach, interior designer and founder of Seriously Happy Homes, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt. Q: What should you do if what makes you happy does not make your partner happy, such as clutter and […]

Rebecca West, a design psychology coach, interior designer and founder of Seriously Happy Homes, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: What should you do if what makes you happy does not make your partner happy, such as clutter and organization?

A: I see this a lot, and I find the key is to have a conversation not about the clutter, but about your combined goals. If the cluttery ones can express what the clutter brings to their life (happy memories, or maybe they need to see stuff to know that it exists) and if the tidy ones can express how the clutter is a hardship (maybe it creates a lot of stress or embarrassment), then you can start to understand what each person needs and try to find a way to solve for both. Maybe the clutter goes into a couple of rooms, or maybe there’s a monthly tidying session. There is nearly always a good compromise if you can start by understanding where the other person is coming from.

Q: I have $300 to spend on something for my home that will make me happy. What would you recommend to get the most “happy” for my money?

A: I truly believe that having a happy home does not require having a ton of money. I had to make over my entire home on a recently divorced, unemployed budget before I launched my career, so I know it can be done. For me, paint is one of my favorite makeover tools. It is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to a room and how you feel in it. What I really recommend is stepping back and asking yourself, “If I could wave a magic wand and change just one thing about my home right now, what would it be?” The answer will be different for everyone. Sometimes it’s about getting rid of something, such as a piece of furniture that reminds you of an old relationship. Sometimes it’s about selling something that was “expensive,” which makes you feel guilty for hating it, and replacing it with something you love. There are exercises in my book, “Happy Starts at Home,” to help you answer these questions.

Q: What paint colors in a bedroom are joyful?

A: When clients ask me this, obviously I can answer with colors I find joyful, but I’d rather dig into what you find joyful.

I find the easiest way to do that is to go on Houzz or Pinterest and, without overthinking it, choose 10 bedroom images that spark joy. Choose 10 rooms that you would love to come home to. Then look at all 10 thumbnails at one time; I’ll bet you’ll see consistencies in color and design, such as all clean lines, a splash of color and bright white walls. Or classic, traditional lines, soft and luxurious bedding, and cozy-colored walls. We all have things that we find joyful; the key is to discover what that is for you. If you forced me to answer? Pink. All the blush colors out there right now feel so happy.

Q: My place is a mess, and I find it very hard to get started. Please don’t recommend working on something for 15 minutes; that doesn’t work. I have to take everything out of the kitchen cabinets and linen closet and make new decisions about what is going to be stored where. I’m hoping to tackle it on a day off, but just the idea of starting is hard. There are also boxes of unfiled financial papers that go back several years that I have to sort. Help?

A: I completely agree with you. I am the kind of person who has to go whole-hog on organizing, and then, once I have it organized, I can use the 15-minute concept to keep it up. I have a couple of ideas:

First, if it’s in the budget, hire an organizer to come work with you for about three hours. I am a super organized person, but sometimes things get away from me. When that happened with my garage, I hired my colleague to come over and spend three hours with me, organizing. That helped because if I pay for something, I’m going to be motivated to get my money’s worth from it; having her there kept me focused, so I didn’t fall down rabbit holes looking through old photos; and the task literally just went faster because four hands are faster than two.

If that is not in the budget, see about trading with a friend. If you have a highly trusted, highly organized, highly focused friend, maybe they can play that same role and you can trade with them for something you are great at.

Next, try aiming for the low-hanging fruit. Pick the thing or area to organize that feels easiest. That will give you a boost and some momentum for the next area. Maybe it’s just the sock drawer.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Try to figure out what is creating most of the resistance to getting it done. Sometimes there is a fear of dealing with what is in that space or other emotional stuff getting in the way. If your brain is stopping you, then will power won’t really help. I work with the most amazing hypnotherapist, Iris Higgins, when I am getting in my own way; none of us are perfect.

Q: How do you know where to start if your home doesn’t make you happy when you open the door?

A: When I have clients who feel that way, I like to ask: “If I could wave a magic wand and change just one thing for you right now, what would give you the biggest sense of relief?” I find that helps people zero in on something that would really give them some momentum and impact. If that doesn’t help, then start with something random. Go to your sock drawer or your linen closet, and get rid of one or two things that you no longer like or need. Or just change a burned-out lightbulb or sweep the porch. Tiny things build momentum.

Q: I have a small space with lots of family photos that go way back, and I buy from artists who I like and can afford. I can’t put everything up at once, so I’m wondering how to plan a space in which I can rotate in and out the things I have collected? (I’m not looking to declutter.)

A: My favorite way to have an easy-to-rotate space is to install picture ledges for gallery spaces. I especially love Room and Board’s Trace ledges because they fit into nearly any design style, but there are more traditional styles available, too. You can swap things out and never have to put extra holes in the wall. If you have some larger pieces, maybe hang those directly on the wall as part of the larger gallery. If you prefer a more organic gallery, go that route. I am not afraid to put holes in my wall; that’s what a home is for.

Q: Do you have any advice for couples who have design differences? One is very traditional, and the other is modern.

A: It’s not uncommon for couples to have different design aesthetics, and marrying modern and traditional can be a special challenge. I always recommend starting with getting on the same visual page. Try going on Houzz or Pinterest individually and each choosing 10 examples of the room you have in mind to change, such as 10 bedrooms or 10 living rooms. Once you each have 10 rooms that you would be super happy to come home to, compare idea books. Ask each other what they like about the room and how it makes them feel. Look for things your rooms have in common. Maybe one person feels more strongly about the color palette, the other about the style of the furnishings. No matter what, make it a visual conversation; words get in the way, for sure.

Q: I am hosting a party and need some ideas for what to put in two medium flower pots outside my front door. Right now, they have some pine cones and items leftover from Christmas. Any non-flower ideas that you have?

A: If the event is in the evening, consider putting shallow birdbath toppers or large bowls on top and floating candles in water or setting candles on pebbles. If it’s daytime, then I’d probably stick with plants, and I’d pop over to one of the big box stores or a nursery for one of their big pre-grown arrangements for a big instant splash. I’m all about easy when it comes to parties.

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