How to Make Your Space Your Space
Your home environment is so much more than just a place to live. For so many of us, it’s an opportunity to make our own decisions for the first time. This is true, even in the small things – where to hang a picture, what color to paint the walls. As a young woman, especially, it is so important to create a space for yourself to feel like yourself. I am learning how much my external environment affects my mood and it is important for me to have a space that allows me to relax and let go of stress and frustration. I have never heard anyone say they feel more relaxed when surrounded by disorganization and chaos. Your home is one of the few environments you can control, and when the rest of the world is in disarray, you need a place to let your guard down and unwind.
Organization and tidiness are particularly important to me, but it isn’t the only way to create a space that elevates your mood. The colors and textures you allow into your space can also play a role in the ambiance. For these reasons, moving out on my own has been lifechanging! I am excited to share with you some of the ways I have improved my physical and mental wellbeing by creating a space that promotes good health.
First, you have to decide how you want to feel, and there isn’t a wrong answer. For me, it was relaxed and calm. For you, it might be energized and happy. Whatever it is, in a couple of words, write down how you want to feel when you are alone in your home.
The cheapest and most beneficial change I made was the lighting. For less than $30, I changed out most of the bulbs in my apartment from a dingy yellow color to a bright daylight color. This is an instant mood booster, especially if you get the winter blues. Though I am not allowed to paint, I brought in light pastel colors with my furniture and linens to create a feeling of calm and peace. There is a lot of interesting research that demonstrates the way certain colors affect your emotions. For example, light cool colors have a naturally calming effect. I also added some house plants. They not only purify the air but studies show that exposure to nature (even if it is just a picture of a landscape on a computer screen) can have a positive effect on your mood.
An environment is more than just what it looks like. What does it feel like? I like my home to feel warm and inviting. I create this atmosphere with lots of blankets and throw pillows. I love walking barefoot across a carpet or a rug. Having a soft floor has always made a big difference in how comfortable I feel in my space. My junior year of college, I lived in a dorm that had a gross tile floor; I’m talking 100 years old and so brittle that dropping your phone would break the tile rather than your phone. The tiles were also all different colors (none of them aesthetically pleasing) and in no particular pattern. I bought a cheap outdoor carpet and a lot of floor tape and then, cut it to size to cover the whole floor. That simple trick alone made a huge difference in making a cold cinderblock room feel like “home”. Before you try that, I’ll admit, I did rip up several tiles pulling it up at the end of the year and am surprised I was never asked to pay for that, but for all the hassle, it was definitely worth it.
Create a space for yourself where you can engage all five of your senses. Light a candle, use an essential oil diffuser, or in my case (I am not allowed to have open flames in my apartment) get a wax warmer. Smells are the strongest draw to our memories, which often are associated with certain emotions. I am a big believer in the therapeutic effects of essential oils, but I haven’t fully crossed over, no matter how toxic candles are said to be. My mom didn’t use essential oils when I was growing up, so the smells that make me feel safe and reminiscent of being a child are the more artificial scents. Fresh cotton is a big one that reminds me of being a kid hanging out with my mom while she put clean sheets on my bed, usually with all the windows open. In the fall, there would always be a Yankee Candle in the kitchen that smelled like apples or Christmas trees. Those are my comfort smells and I use them in my apartment now to make it feel more inviting.
Sound is a big trigger for me. When I am in a place with very loud music and a crowd where everyone is talking at once, I go into sensory overload and become very overwhelmed and irritable. I HATE that so many new trendy restaurants play the music so loud you have to yell to talk to the person you are having dinner with. Noise makes me feel more claustrophobic than actually being in a small space. Of course there are loud things that take place in our homes at times (the garbage disposal, the vacuum, etc), but I make a conscience effort to eliminate extra noise. I don’t leave the TV on when I am not watching it, and I don’t have constant music playing in the background. For some people, noise is what makes them feel comfortable or even helps them fall asleep. There is no right or wrong amount of sound to have in your home. The point is to be aware of it and make sure it is conducive to you’re the mood you are trying to create for yourself. This idea can apply to media more broadly. What we take in affects how we feel. As someone who lives alone, I have to limit my exposure to true crime podcasts. I am also trying to consciously increase my consumption of comedy and light-hearted humor because I am usually so focused on politics, religion, and the more emotionally laden genres. Sometimes I need to make an effort to keep it light by being mindful of what I am listening to. The same is true for music. The style and tempo can often be reflected in our mood. We are more impressionable than we sometimes think.
Finally, consider the tastes of your home. I’m not suggesting constantly having something delicious in the oven. If you come home after a long day and you’re trying to relax, making an elaborate meal is probably the last thing you want to do. I’m talking about staples. Growing up, we always had granola bars in the house, so I keep those too. Maybe your parents never let you buy a certain kind of snack you loved as a kid. Now that you have your own place, keep that snack in stock, or don’t! That’s the beautiful thing about creating your own space: You actually get to make it YOUR OWN. When I lived at home, we always had Little Debbie boxes in the pantry. When I moved out, I made it a goal to improve my diet and limit my sugar intake, so I don’t buy those things. By removing the temptation, I have eliminated that weakness and I don’t have to try so hard to eat healthy at home because unhealthy options are less available and convenient.
All of these suggestions are easily modifiable. I have lived in a college dorm and an apartment, both of which had limits on what changes I could make to the space. Just because you can’t change the paint color, doesn’t mean you can’t make small inexpensive adjustments to create a space that is edifying and supports your goals. The most important thing to realize is that having your own space is an opportunity to choose which habits you want to carry over from the way you were raised, and which habits you prefer to leave behind. So think about what you loved about your home growing up and think about the things that perhaps didn’t serve you well. Then make changes as necessary, and don’t be afraid to make changes others don’t understand or like. No one is responsible for your life except you. Live accordingly.