When you buy through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more.
Countertop clutter, color palettes, and lighting can all influence anxiety and overall mood, especially as we’re all spending the majority of our time at home these days.
Inexpensive swaps like a softer light bulb or reorganizing your shelves can go far in helping you unwind and de-stress.
We tapped interior designers and licensed mental health experts for the easiest and most impactful changes you can make to create more calm in a room.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
While I’ve always considered my home a true haven where the sweatpants come on and I can truly unwind, it wasn’t until I met my partner that “home” took on another meaning. Originally from Denmark, he grew up in a household that regularly practiced hygge, a Danish term that describes a way of living. This includes creating a cozy, relaxed home full of chunky blankets and comfortable seating areas, and something that celebrates togetherness.
Though hygge has been part of his culture for centuries, 2020 has more Americans rethinking the atmosphere their home provides. After all, when we’re under the same roof and surrounded by the same four walls all day, every day, it’s natural to want to upgrade your space. And as we continue managing the coldest season of the year, having a warm, inviting, and calm home may help you get through the darkest days (literally).
The keyword to focus on here is ‘calm’ – in a time where everything around us feels uncertain, this becomes a crucial theme to carry throughout every room. New York City-based clinical psychologist, Dr. Gladys Frankel, Ph.D., told Insider that in this unique environment with unusual stressors, we need our space to feel like an oasis, a vacation, and a spa for our mind and body. This improves our mental health, fights anxiety, and gives us a kind of comfort we may not currently be able to receive from our friends and family.
How to create more calm in your home
Elliot March, co-founder of March and White Design in London, told Insider the first step to make a space more calming is to go through a soul-searching exercise and define what ‘calm’ means to you, your family, your partner, or your roommate. Everyone values different things – some need a clutter-free area while others value framed photos of people they love.
“Traditional and cozy may feel soothing for one person, while minimalist and clean could work for another,” March said. “There’s no right or wrong, and these moods can, and should, be layered to add authenticity.”
The next step is to decide what kind of changes feel realistic to make. In an ideal world, you’d have a spacious house with different rooms to work and relax in, and an extensive budget (with endless mental bandwidth) to redesign whatever room isn’t delivering the calm vibes you seek.
The reality is that many of us live in small spaces or without the budget to do a full (or even partial) overhaul. That’s why interior designer, Lisa Queen, suggests starting with one corner and allowing it to embrace the calmness and comfort you desire.
“There might be a neglected corner, niche, or room in your home that would make the perfect spot for meditation, reading, or something else,” Queen told Insider. “Oftentimes, a spare bedroom or a living room has seldom-used space that can be transformed into a grounding reprieve.”
Whether you’re turning the broom closet into your cozy corner or overhauling your entire bedroom to help lower your anxiety, the approach is the same: Add a few elements that help you unwind like on an oversized chair, a chunky throw blanket, a soft pillow, a spot for your tea (or wine), mood lighting, or even just a candle.
Upping the calm-factor of your space doesn’t have to be expensive, either, and in some cases, it can actually be free. Strategically-chosen small gadgets and simply rearranging your existing furniture can go a long way to making your current space feel calmer and more inviting and comforting.
Below, I’ve outlined nine ways to create more calm in your home, whether you’re using this room to work, play, workout, eat, entertain, unwind, or, let’s be real, all of the above at some point in the day.
Strategize the sunshine
Natural light offers a slew of benefits on our biology and productivity, says research out of the Netherlands that found being exposed to UV light may improve one’s mood. Specifically, natural light helps regulate the function of serotonin — better known as the happiness hormone — and may even be tied to a lower risk of mood disorders like depression and anxiety, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
When considering your work area, direct sunlight may actually exacerbate anxiety, but indirect sunlight can help people be more committed to and satisfied with their job, reported a 2016 study in PLoS One.
Though some people’s living rooms may already flood with sunlight, others have to get creative. Interior designer Malka Helft recommended to Insider using natural light lamps that double as a decorative item to create faux sunshine. And if you have the luxury of a well-lit space, re-situate your desk or your favorite chair to be near the window where you can be cozy and calm.
Try these to let the sunshine in:
Stock up on plants
People who had to spend a lot of time at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic had better mental health if they were exposed to greenery regularly, including indoor house plants, an outdoor garden, or even living in a greener neighborhood, according to a recent study published in Environmental Research. It helped them feel like they were away from home, even when indoors, the researchers explained.
This is something interior designers like Taj Hunter Waite have long known. Waite told Insider that incorporating biophilia (or a love of nature) into your home can put you in a more relaxed, open, and positive mindset.
A 2019 Australian study found that when people were hospitalized and stuck in a single room for the better part of three months, those who had flowering plants to look at were less depressed than those who had no plants.
Leverage the calming power of mother nature by incorporating more plants into your rooms, creating clear sightlines to the great outdoors, and changing up how you style your windows. As an example, a simple sheer, flowy curtain could feel calmer than a bulky dark-colored one.
If you want to adopt more plants but have a hard time keeping them alive or don’t have a ton of natural light, heed the advice of urban farmer and plant expert, Nick Cutsumpas: He previously told Insider varieties like pothos and spider plants are hearty and easy-to-care-for, while others like monstera deliciosa and snake plants don’t need much light and are visually striking when you walk in a room.
Another tip: Plants, particularly trendy, Instagram-able varieties, can be expensive, so ask your green thumb-friends if they can cut you a propagation of their healthy children, and then you can grow your own for free.
Try these to add biophilia design:
Add a calming scent
Smell is one of the strongest influences on humans. Smelling certain fragrances and scents actually changes the activity of your brain waves and activates different regions of your brain, reported a 2016 study in Scientia Pharmaceutica.
Without putting in much effort, a single whiff of a candle can take you back to a happy memory, like summers by the shore, your wedding day, or a favorite holiday. Or, you can strategize your scent strategy to ease tension in your body and mind: There are many essential oils and fragrances like rosemary, ylang-ylang, basil, and bergamot that are well known to relieve stress and anxiety.
Try these goods to calm your space with scent:
Separate your work and life
The vast majority of us learned how to work remotely in 2020 and are now carrying that knowledge into 2021. If you haven’t already, it’s vital to separate your workspace from your living space to offer your mind a much-needed break from being ‘on’ 24/7, interior designer, Eddie Zaratsian, told insider.
At the very least, make an effort to pack up ‘work’ each day so it’s out of sight and thus, out of mind. As Culver City, California-based marriage and family therapist, Amber Trueblood, explained to Insider, our senses are often bombarded in everyday life, and when we notice a pile of work papers or our open laptop late at night, it can make us feel overwhelmed and may even encourage us to finish a little more work rather than unwinding and focusing on being calm.
If you live in a smaller apartment and typically work from your kitchen counter, make a concerted effort to physically put your work laptop away at the end of each day, even if that’s just in a neat pile under the coffee table. (And for the sake of your shoulders, neck, and back, try and make your workspace as ergonomic as possible.)
If you’re lucky enough to have an unused room in your house or even a corner that you can squeeze a desk into, convert it to a dedicated work area. Etsy has endless inventive options for floating murphy desks that you can fold out to work on and latch flat against the wall when you need that space at the end of the day.
Zaratsian added that not only will it help you feel calmer to have spots where you check email and places where you don’t, but it’ll improve your productivity, too.
Try these items to keep work contained and comfortable:
Create symmetry and repetition
“An object that is repetitive can facilitate calm,” Dr. Frankel said. “When stimuli are repeated, neural activity is reduced.”
It’s the same thinking for symmetry, which science has long shown people are drawn too in faces, images, and objects. Symmetry indicates purpose and intent, March added.
This is one of the cheapest changes since it usually only involves re-arranging items you already own. Start in the rooms you spend the most time relaxing in and choose a center point you look at when you walk in or when you’re sitting in your favorite spot. Work outward from the middle, placing objects on either side and designing for a mirror image.
You can also work with matching pieces as decorative items, like bookends or vases, and incorporate circular shapes to keep the mind relaxed. An easy way to achieve Dr. Frankel’s calming repetition is by pulling up the now-classic fireplace YouTube video on your TV to unwind (or even a real fireplace if you have one).
Try these to create symmetry:
Lower your lighting
Along with natural elements, light — both natural and human-made — is one of the most important factors in helping your home to feel at ease, according to interior designer, Sandra Nunnerley.
She’s right: Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough found that human emotion, both positive and negative, is felt more intensely under bright lights. So, if you’re trying to feel more at ease and less activated, keeping the lights lower actually helps you calm down.
Just trading out a soft white lightbulb for a bright white bulb, or adding a lamp on a side table can change the entire mood of a room. Adding a dimmer switch softens the overhead lighting for a smoother, more gentle transition from day-to-night. Experiment with a variety of lighting options for every room since it’s not always a one-bulb-fits-all experience.
Another hack: Swap out your lampshade for something darker or moodier to provide a more relaxed ambiance.
Try these to shift your lighting strategy:
Soften your color palette
Colors evoke feelings — that’s why we’re drawn to some and repelled by others. It’s one of the first lessons artists learn in design school since a red wall won’t exactly have you feeling at ease, while a light blue or grey might, said Dr. Frankel.
If you want a big impact, paint one or all of the walls in a room. You can also cultivate a color palette with less effort and money by bringing in blankets, lamps, curtains, and accent decorations all in a certain shade. Start by walking around your house and pulling together all the odds and ends you have in one color palette, then grouping them in a room together.
If you’re looking at new paint or accessory colors, interior designer, Emma Kemper, recommended warm neutrals to foster a sense of calm.
“The key to making your neutrals feel energizing instead of stale is to make sure to layer in different textures and different shades in the same overall color-family so that your eyes still bounce around a room and things feel interesting,” she told Insider.
And don’t forget about the ceiling, said Nunnerley. It doesn’t always have to be white, but instead, it can be a pared-down version of the wall color to create a seamless flow that’s soothing and uninterrupted.
Try these to improve your color palette:
Clean up clutter
For many of us, a messy desk, sink full of dishes, or bedroom floor littered with clothes slowly eats at the back of the mind. Meanwhile, other people just don’t seem to notice the mess — but they certainly feel it: Meghan Marcum, PsyD., chief psychologist at A Mission For Michael Mental Health Center in San Juan Capistrano, California, told Insider that people with cluttered homes have more of the stress hormone cortisol in their bodies.
Too much cortisol has a large impact on our physical and mental health, including things as simple as feeling more anxious and activated. “An organized home helps you feel at ease and prepares your body for rest at night,” she said.
To begin, everything in your space should have a deliberate purpose and, as Marie Kondo reminds, fill you with joy, not anxiety. “Take advantage of closet and cabinet space for items that are less visually appealing,” Kemper recommended. “For items you need to store in plain sight, use pleasing storage pieces like woven, lidded baskets.”
You can find simple storage bins at the dollar store and cheap, funky ones at thrift stores. Repurpose old containers, especially from bigger bulk items, to keep items in closets and cabinets organized.
Kemper says to follow the rule of three for the knick-knacks or sentimental items you want to display. This means grouping together items in threes and playing with differing heights and colors to add extra interest.
Clean up with these picks:
Invest in soft and comfortable textiles
When people are in a negative mindset, they’re hyperaware of tactile stimuli (i.e., the way things feel to the touch) and more likely to reach for soft or pleasant textures, according to a study in The Journal of Consumer Research.
Soft items like a cozy bathrobe, a fluffy comforter, or a weighted blanket all help you feel more calm and relaxed. For Chicago-based interior designer, Kara Mann, the best luxe indulgence is bedding — high-quality sheets, comforters, and throw pillows.
Consider what makes the most sense for the room you’re focused on creating calm in, and, if you can’t decide, opt for a cashmere or alpaca wrap sweater or silk nightgown that can move from room-to-room with you.
Try these to add comfortable textiles throughout your home:
Read the original article on Insider