Changing your home decor can create a space where you feel calm, restored or inspired can certainly have a positive impact.
Our surroundings impact our physical and mental health and how we choose to decorate our homes can change how we feel about the place and ourselves.
And the best thing is that decorating your space doesn’t have to be expensive or involve physical or structural additions that risks costing you your rental bond.
Here are some tips from two design psychology experts on how to go about making yourself the perfect place for you.
Don’t fall for the latest trends
Kylie Sandland is a psychologist and designer who runs a design psychology business in Sydney.
She says many people “fall into the trap” of trying to recreate pictures of rooms they’ve seen in magazines or online, which might lead to a pretty room, but can feel soulless.
“Even the most aesthetically amazing house may not actually feel good [to you],” she says.
Jan Golembiewski, a Sydney architect, agrees that following trends for the sake of being on trend, is not going to make you happy.
Dr Golembiewski suggests you think of decorating your home like “setting a stage” and to ask yourself: “what is the script that we’re setting the stage for?”
“What am I trying to say here about me and about my life?”
Decluttering is important, but minimalism isn’t for everyone
Ms Sandland says the first thing she recommends people do when they wanting to make a change in their home is to deal with the clutter that can pile up.
There is evidence that suggests having lots of stuff lying around can increase anxiety, negatively affect sleep and our ability to focus.
But decluttering doesn’t have to mean getting rid of all your stuff and going for minimalism.
“A lot of people will design environments for themselves which are minimalist, because they don’t want to be distracted or have some ideas about Zen or something like that,” Dr Golembiewski says.
“And it’s a real trap. Because if you’re in an environment that is essentially empty, with clean, pure surfaces, every little imperfection will shine.”
Biophilia — it’s more than just house plants
Biophilia is a theory that humans have an innate affinity to nature and the natural world. Biophilic design is about bringing elements of nature into the built environment.
“There is evidence to say that using nature in some way in our buildings can lower blood pressure, it can lower heart rate, it can lower cortisol levels, it can improve our perceived mood, and it can sharpen our cognitive performance,” Ms Sandland says.
Pot plants are often the go-to when you want to add some nature to your indoors, but there are lots of other ways you can bring natural elements into the house.
“You’re on a walk on an urban street and find a cool branch, you can put that into a vase, and it has the same impact [as a pot plant],” says Ms Sandland.
Fake plants can give you the same visual as a living one without the risk that you’ll find it withered and dead one day, says Ms Sandland. Pictures of natural landscapes have also been found to have a similar restorative effect as seeing the real thing.
Ms Sandland says she likes to look for organic shapes to add to a room, but choosing furniture that’s more rounded than straight and sharp, adding a curved vase or having soft, round cushions in greens, blues or sand colours.
Forget about colour theory
Another term you might come across when looking for design inspo is ‘colour theory’, although there’s little science to back up the popular idea that colours can make us feel certain things.
It’s said brighter colours make you feel more energised and muted colours more calming.
Your association with a colours though is “very personal” says Ms Sandland.
Dr Golembiewski says he personally avoids having white walls whenever he can.
“If you have darker coloured-environments, then the focus becomes much more on the people in those environments. If the walls are white, the focus goes to the walls,” he says.
If you’re not able to change the colour of the walls around you, you can look at ways to cover them with posters, pieces of art or fabric.
Making a lighting change can also make a difference — change your globes or use lamps instead of overhead lighting.
Ms Sandland says, in general, lights with a blue, or cool tone will help wake you up and keep you energised, while warm-toned lighting having a more calming, cosy effect.
“To improve your wellbeing at home, you really want to choose lighting to suit whatever task that you’re doing in the space,” she says.
Make spaces for doing, or discovering, what you love
Dr Golembiewski says he finds it’s much more important for people to focus in on what brings them joy in their space than to follow any theory or research that might differ from a person’s preference.
This is why he uses the stage-set analogy when talking to people about what they fill their living spaces with, asking them what they like to do and what they want to do in that space.
“Our mental wellbeing doesn’t just determine our behaviour, it is also determined by our behaviour,” he says.
“If we want to create desirable behaviours, we put in things that are called desirable affordances into the environment.”
An “affordance” is something that prompts a behaviour. A common affordance many people have in their homes is a TV, for example, that prompts the behaviour of sitting down and watching something.
So if you want to watch less TV and learn to guitar, take the TV out of the main space and put a guitar in.
“If you’ve got a guitar on the stand in your living room … you’re much more likely to pick it up. And so the stage set that you designed will actually become an active participant in your own journey,” he says.
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