Consider the times for a moment: We relax by watching Marie Kondo throw away suitcases of clothing and pantry-makeover companies get Netflix deals. So it’s pretty tempting to believe a higher consciousness (or just an air of superiority) is waiting for us after we throw away all our possessions to live humble-braggy in a well-lit loft with a citrine mortar and pestle and 24 plants.
The idea that life can be made better by redesigning your home is not new; there’s long been a correlation between health and home. Interior design has carried psychological power with it for centuries: Feng shui, which posits that a person’s destiny can be helped along by key home-balancing elements, dates to ancient China. But with a wellness industry that extends to vitamins, color therapy, and dog food, our homes are especially rife with self-care possibilities. Are some of the theories absurd? Absolutely. But for every unfounded or slightly kooky idea, there’s another that is backed by solid scientific research.
In the 1960s, Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa had perhaps the loftiest home design intention ever. The artist/architect duo, who founded the philosophy of Reversible Destiny, believed that they could build homes that would grant eternal life to the people who lived in them. They died in 2010 and 2014 respectively, thereby disproving the theory, but it turns out they were on to something. Studies have shown that social relationships, even for the shyest and most introverted people, can have a big impact on health and life expectancy — which means that having a cabin in the middle of nowhere, while great for meditation, might not be best for your overall well-being. The ideal home encourages interaction and connection with your community, even if only via passing pleasantries with neighbors.
This is where the front porch comes in. Dakar David Kopec, an architectural psychologist and associate professor of architecture at the University of Nevada, recommends inviting interactions with some kind of outward-facing entranceway. “A front porch encourages casual conversations with pedestrians, people who are out walking their dogs,” says Kopec. “It’s not intimate, and you can get some full-spectrum sunlight, which boosts serotonin and, depending on where you live, access to nature, which is grounding.” If you’re taking notes, that means you want your house to be close to other people, have a view of at least a few trees, and come with an appealing front porch (or stoop if you live in a city).
If there is one golden rule of decorating for the soul, it is this: Our third eye does not like clutter.
The inside of the Imaginary House of Optimal Well-being would apply many of the same principles. Namely, it’s friendly. Let’s start in the bedroom. Practicing good sleep hygiene (sleeping seven to nine hours a night and keeping the bedroom tech-free, cool, and dark) is now fairly common among the turmeric-is-a-miracle set, but there are other, more subtle health factors at play in designing a bedroom.
Color studies equate certain shades with psychological responses (greens and blues tend to lower blood pressure slightly and induce calm, while red can increase concentration and blood flow). These responses can vary between cultures. What is fairly universal: The absence of color can be disruptive to everyone. “Studies have been done on ‘the white effect,’” says Bonnie Sanborn, an environmental psychologist and the design research leader at DLR Group, an integrated design firm in Chicago, “which is essentially that blankness and white are very energizing to the point of being distracting because there’s a lack of detail to let the mind relax and focus on.”
Sanborn suggests integrating items for mindful focus throughout the home, such as pieces that reflect or refract light; water features, like fish tanks, that constantly change; and plants. Another strategy is to separate living spaces. The people behind those staged studio apartments at Ikea are careful to distinguish between the tiny loft area and the kitchenette. Discrete spaces, no matter how small, can help habituate the responses to each area, according to Kopac. This, in turn, will help stimulate the brain and train your mind to relax in the bedroom, concentrate in the living room, and plan a meal in the kitchen.
If there is one golden rule of decorating for the soul, it is this: Our third eye does not like clutter. “Make sure everything has a space,” says Laura Benko, a holistic feng shui expert and the author of The Holistic Home: Feng Shui for Mind, Body, Spirit, Space (Skyhorse). “Everyone has been Marie Kondo’d out, but Kondo is right: Only surround yourself with things you love and that truly represent happiness to you.”
"Personalizing your space is a really important part of expressing your identity, of self-actualization, and of control of your home."
Just as important: Make sure you’re living with your intentions in mind. If that sounds like yoga-speak and you’re more of a runner, think of it this way: If you want to accomplish a professional or personal goal, are you manifesting it in your space? When you can’t seem to get clarity, look around. “Is every plane covered?” asks Benko. “Clean surfaces will have a mental impact on your being able to see things clearly and will affect your health and happiness. Do you want to get into a relationship? Make sure there is physical space for another person and their things in your apartment. Want to write a book? Put books you admire and books by your mentors around your apartment where you can see them to inspire you.”
And buy pieces that resonate with you, furniture and art that reflect who you are, that mean something to you when you look at them. “Personalizing your space is a really important part of expressing your identity, of self-actualization, and of control of your home,” says Sanborn. “Be open to changing your decor when you’re going through a life change.... We’re always evolving as people, and decorating our home is a way of understanding ourselves and reflecting on that identity.” And remember, says Sanborn, that to be human is to reserve the right to change, and our homes should support that. Think of it in aesthetic terms: If decorating is silver, redecorating is gold.
Read more stories about self-care:
- What Reading Tarot Taught Me About Gender
- Selfies Help Trans and Nonbinary People Create Our Own Narrative
- Therapy Helped Me Learn to Express My Anger in a Healthy Way
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Originally Appeared on Allure