Are you genuinely happy in your home? Or is there something missing? Something you can’t quite figure out, but it’s stopping you from saying “This is my forever home”.
We live stressful lives. With never-ending to-do lists. And when you come home after a long day, is your home the peaceful retreat you crave for?
In this guide, you will learn the ten steps to make your home your happy place. I can help you find the balance you need and improve your wellbeing.
Independent Design Focus: This how-to guide is part of a series that showcase the best local home decor shops and designers. I meet nice indie shop owners/designers and share their best style tips with you. Got an idea? Contact me now to take part.
It’s not just about decoration
Today, I’m accompanied by designer, maker and independent shop owner Kirsty from Home byKirsty. When I started writing this guide, I never imagined it would be this long, with over 4,400 words (20 minutes reading time). There’s so much to talk about. Make sure you save it on your favourites or pin it for future reference using the image below.
So, you want to make your home your happy place. Maybe make it your forever home or fall in love with it again. You’re in the right place. That’s precisely what I will help you with. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find expert decoration tips and science-backed advice to be happier at home. No myths or factoids. Only the good stuff.
What does happiness mean to you?
Being happy is not letting the worries and troubles of work and the outside world take over your private space. And doing what feels good to you, not what others are doing. Happiness is connected to your personal wellbeing, both body and mind. Ultimately, it’s a subjective concept and it can only be defined by you. Although we all share common values.
And what about your happy place? That’s where you feel at peace and in total balance. The space where you like to retreat and enjoy spending time in whether on your own or with your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be an exotic destination or a luxurious five-star hotel. It can be the comfort of your home.
Let me help you find your happy at home
Over the last decade I’ve lived in twelve different homes: from a tatty seaside B&B to an Edwardian house by the river. Now, I’m settled in a little Victorian terraced house. I want to share with you the exact steps I took to make my home my happy place. Rented or owned, house or flat — none of that matters when it comes to happiness.
You’ll be surprised to learn only half of the guide is about interior decoration. Happiness at home doesn’t come from an expensive piece of furniture or the approval of others. It’s a journey that requires an open mind, dedication and routine. And it all starts here.
How to make your home your happy place
The guide is divided into ten style-packed sections. You can use the index below to navigate the content when you reread it. The order of the steps is relevant. It shows how being happy at home begins with you, the internal factor. And then your happiness bubble expands incorporating external factors around you. Let’s go!
Index – The 10 Steps to make your home your happy place
- Find your “me” place and use it
- Decorate with things that give you joy
- Make tidying up part of your daily routine
- Your bedroom is your sanctuary
- Create multi-sensory spaces
- Let fresh air and sunshine in
- Bring in fresh flowers and plants
- Decorate one room at a time
- Master the art of lighting layering
- Be part of the community
You know well the importance of having some “me” time regularly. You need time for yourself to relax when you feel overwhelmed and to disconnect for a while. But where do you go? You instinctively resort to your “me” place. This could be a reading nook by the window, a cosy sofa with a view or a secluded corner in the garden (weather permitting).
When I was in university, my only “me” place was my bed as I was sharing the bedroom with someone else. It was a comfortable place to read books, listen to music and to step back and relax away from noises and distractions. Later, I realised that essentially I was practising mindfulness. This allowed me to balance a busy life in student accommodation whilst maintaining my privacy.
Have you found your “me” place?
It’s likely that you already know where it is. Spend time there every day and make the most of it. Start by letting people around you know the importance of this place. Tell your family or flatmates and they will understand. I remember interrupting my mother’s mindfulness sessions as a child. Although soon I learned to be patient and wait. This is only the first step to make your home your happy place. Next, let’s talk about decoration.
Imagine this situation: you’re allowed to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to your dream destination. With only one condition — you have to take five people you know. It sounds straightforward but choosing who you want to go with requires thought. Pause for a moment and think.
You can be friends with somebody, but you may not want to share a whole trip with them. In the end, you choose the people who you know will be on the same wavelength as you to ensure good vibes and fun times.
Filling your home with stuff requires a similar decision-making process. There’s so much nice stuff out there. But we often forget to curate it. Every item in your house not only has to have a purpose but also give you joy. Yes, even the broom. Joy is not only aesthetic but also comes from stuff that works well and fulfils its purpose efficiently. Don’t get me started on my super efficient rubbish bin…
The hoarder syndrome
Have you ever done this? Collecting/gathering piles of home decor items and accessories you like and then desperately trying to find them a place in your house. It doesn’t matter how big it is, your house is a finite space and you can’t fit all the stuff you like. That’s the hoarder syndrome — but I got the antidote.
Think about it the other way around. Let me use another analogy. A room is like a puzzle. Made of several pieces that fit together. Instead of buying random-shaped pieces and force them in, shop for the exact pieces you’re missing to complete the puzzle.
For example, if your lonely armchair is screaming for a cushion. Go out there and shop for the one you love the most. Sometimes it can take a while until you find the right one. When you find it, it will give you extra gratification and accomplishment points. It will be exactly the piece you’ve been looking for. It will have a purpose in your home and give you joy.
Following this method will ensure your home is filled with the most precious objects and memories that give you positive feelings. Do it for every object and room in your house. Remember, each room is a puzzle. And if the pieces don’t give you joy? Well, there’s only one solution… Decluttering. More on that next.
Real homes don’t look like those in magazines. Even the ones in Elle Decor are a mess once the photo shoot crew leaves. So, why try to pretend you live in a perma-styled house? It’s OK to have “organised mess”. And I say organised because things can go out of control if you’re not careful.
Simple things you can do to keep the house tidy
Add these tasks to your routine for an effortlessly tidy home.
- Washing up daily after the meals
- Empty dishwasher as soon as it finishes
- Plump cushions at the end of the day
- Do the laundry regularly to avoid basket overflowing
- Clean a part of the bathroom after the shower each day
- Sort your mail daily and if action is required, do it now
- Make your bed every morning
The last task is the most important. If you have to do only one thing, make your bed. People who do this daily have proven to be happier and more successful. A large-scale survey1 revealed that “bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested”. And if you have a duvet, it’s ridiculously easy. There is a caveat, though, as you’ll discover in step #6.
TIP: If you hate tidying up, try to make it more entertaining by listening to music you love. Time will pass faster. I recommend cleaning to ABBA’s Voulez-vous.
Decluttering is curating
When I say decluttering people imagine a determined Marie Kondo entering your house with five bin lorries parked outside. It doesn’t have to be like that. Yes, we have way too much stuff. And it’s not surprising to learn that clutter is a cause of stress2. But the secret is to persevere to achieve balance.
Take a more relaxed approach to decluttering. It is something you may want to do at least once a year, perhaps as part of the spring clean. If you don’t love it, don’t use it or there’s no space for it, get rid of it. I follow this scale to help me decide how to get rid of each item based on its value and condition:
Give to a friend – Sell online – Donate to a charity shop – Give away on Freecycle – Recycle – Bin
For every object ask yourself: “Is this piece part of my puzzle?” Maybe that piece fits someone else’s puzzle. And that’s why there are five options other than binning stuff on the scale above. Involve all the family in the decluttering process so everybody understands the positive impact — and they’ll do it on their own!
Your bedroom is the most overlooked room in the house. Yet, it’s the most important — even more than the kitchen. Treat it as its own universe with special rules and rituals. And that’s because, in this space, a core human body need takes place: sleep. Like health, you only miss it when you don’t have it. There are steps you can take to make your bedroom your ultimate sleep and relaxation temple.
Kirsty shares some tips to help you sleep better including “fresh sheets, maybe a bath before and nice chilled tunes on.” Changing the bed sheets often (every one to two weeks) is the easiest way to prevent the build-up of bacteria and mites. I will not cover this in detail because typing it makes my whole body itch.
Not all bed sheets are created equal
There is a way to determine their quality — and it’s not thread count. The key factor is the material. Natural fibres such as cotton, linen and related non-synthetic blends are the best option to maximise breathability. And for that luxurious hotel bed feeling? Invest in a good mattress topper.
Blackout blinds or curtains are a must unless you enjoy waking up at 4 am in the Summer. Solid shutters are a good choice as well. In terms of the walls, the link between colour and sleep has not been properly studied. There was an anecdotal survey3 from a hotel chain claiming blue is the winner. However, it’s safer to say warm/red colours are not recommended as they’re associated with attention and focus.
My personal rule is “no tech allowed”
I try not to use my phone in the bedroom and you won’t find a TV or tablet around. Most of these devices emit blue light via their screens. Our brains interpret blue light like the morning sky and will trigger alertness responses. That’s the last thing you need before bed. Some devices have a Night Shift mode, which helps, but it’s not as good as No Phone mode.
Humans are visually driven creatures. And when it comes to interior decoration, the visual aspect of a room design easily takes over everything else. Sure, it’s the basis of the whole process. But if you want to make your home your happy place you have to feel it. I don’t mean this in a mystical New Age way. Literally, feel it with all your senses.
Long gone are the days when we were told we have five basic senses. Now, depending on how you define sense, scientists believe we have many more. I’ve selected some of those. They are all related to how you feel in a room. And you’ll learn how decorating can improve your wellness by stimulating your senses.
Introduce exposed wood in your rooms. Warm timber surfaces create a source of wellbeing by lowering blood pressure and stress levels, according to recent studies4. This natural material has two purposes: it’s functional and biophilic. Biophilic design is a concept I first heard from interior designer Phoebe Oldrey. The results of the research on this topic are promising.
Make the most of your view from your home. Viewing nature also reduces stress and helps block negative feelings5. Even if it’s a single tree on the street or a few potted plants in a patio/balcony. No view? No problem. It has been shown that the benefits of observing nature can be obtained by both looking at real landscapes and images of those (painting, photograph or video).
The obvious way to introduce scents in the home is by burning candles, candle waxes or using oil diffusers. When choosing a candle always check the ingredients. Nowadays, there’s no excuse to use nasty paraffin. Try soy wax instead. And don’t forget the crucial ingredient, the scent. Natural essential oils are the way forward. Synthetic fragrances are OK, but you’re not smelling the real thing.
Another way to enjoy scent is with herbs and flowers. Plant fragrant flowers in your garden like gardenias, roses, hyacinths, lavender or peonies. If you don’t have a garden or balcony, potted herbs in the kitchen will do the job. I’ll tell you more about flowers and plants in step #7.
Touch, pressure and thermoception
The three above are all different senses, but I’ve grouped them together because they’re related. When you think about touch, soft textiles and sumptuous fabrics come to mind. It’s all about tactile experiences. And you have plenty to choose from: velvet, linen, wool, silk, etc. Make sure you add several layers of texture to your upholstered furniture and accessories.
Pressure? This one sounds weird. But we all know how it feels to sit on a deep comfy sofa or a heavenly bed. Invest in the highest quality mattress you can afford — I call mine “The Cloud”. Thermoception is another strange one. It’s the ability to feel heat and cold. At home, you should feel 100% comfortable. That’s why an efficient heating and ventilation system is fundamental.
As Kirsty pointed out earlier, listening to chilled music helps you relax. If you want to go the extra mile try nature soundscapes. It’s no surprise that listening to the sound of the ocean or waterfalls helps reduce stress and improves sleep6. My favourite is Solitudes by Dan Gibson. You can also enjoy real nature sounds in your home: garden birds, water features, etc.
Indoor air quality
My mother always made me open all the windows a few minutes every day. To the extent that I would be told off when I didn’t! Now, I understand the importance of doing this, as annoying as it can be. Indoor air can become polluted7. Two of the main offenders are smoke (fireplaces and cooking) and mould. But you will also find volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in some paints, varnishes and toxic cleaning products.
So make my mother proud and open the windows 10-15 minutes every day when you wake up. Leave the bed undone with the sheets or duvet pulled so it dries. And after the morning shower and breakfast, close all the windows and make the bed. Add this simple task to your routine and it will improve the indoor air quality in your home.
If you live in the UK, the chances are it’s raining right now. And where there’s moisture there’s damp. I have a decent quality dehumidifier to tackle this problem. The cheap ones won’t cut it. It runs automatically when humidity levels are over 50%. So all I have to do is empty the water container every now and again.
The key element of biophilic design. Daylight not only helps reduce stress and improves general wellbeing, but it’s proven to uplift your mood by increasing the serotonin levels8. A sunny home is a happy home. When the sun is obscured by Britain’s perma-cloudy sky, you have to squeeze every ray of light.
This is something Kirsty knows well and here’s how she lets the sunshine into her home: “I have no curtains, just blinds. So the windows are kept as open as possible.” I try to follow Kirsty’s advice in most rooms, but sometimes privacy is important. Luckily, there’s a myriad of window dressing options available that allow daylight through. Remember to clean both sides of the windows every 2-3 months.
There’s no more literal way to introduce nature into your home than bringing plants in. Interestingly, the benefits of indoor plants are like those on step #5, viewing nature landscapes. So expect lower stress, improved mood and better performance. Plus, there’s the bonus of purifying the air by absorbing pollutants through their leaves. Aren’t they clever?
Now, I know not everybody is green-fingered. In fact, the market for faux plants is now huge. Some people may be wary of them. However, based on the studies shared earlier, faux plants are likely to bring some of those benefits too. If you prefer the real deal, don’t despair. Luckily, Kirsty is an avid plant-lover and shares her top picks.
Kirsty’s top three low maintenance indoor plants
- Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)
- String of hearts (Ceropegia woodii)
- Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides)
“They just need a good amount of natural light and watering once a week. Easy peasy!” There you go. And if you ever wonder how many plants are too much? Let me tell you, the limit does not exist as Kirsty confesses: “I really need to stop taking plants home from the shop. My house is looking like a jungle!” There is a fine line between bohemian and Jumanji.
STYLE TIP: Looking for a way to enjoy fresh cut flowers for longer? Try creating your own lush posy table arrangement with wet foam.
Growing something is an experience on its own. As a child, I remember growing lentils in a jar and it was fascinating. How could that plant come out of a tiny lentil? Try to plant something in a pot. Perhaps herbs, as I discussed earlier, or maybe propagate a succulent. The new plant will be your little green pet. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.
Focusing on one thing at a time makes you more productive and efficient9. So why not apply the same principle to decorating? No rush. Take it easy and enjoy it. If you have a long to-do list, sort out the tasks one by one, without worrying about the jobs pending. Trying to do it all at once will lead to stress. And you don’t want that after all these candles and plants.
Let go of perfection for instant happiness
Setting yourself decorating goals is motivating and challenging. But if you focus too much on the objectives, you might miss the process — sometimes referred to as Life. The truth is your house will never be exactly the way you want it. That idealised version of your house only exists in your mind. Accept that and embrace it.
For example, I’ve planned my long-term house renovation in three phases. After two years living here, I haven’t even finished Phase One. The reality is I don’t think I will soon. My house is not Instagram-ready. And that’s fine because I love it, anyway. Letting go of perfection takes so much pressure off you. It’s like that Friday feeling, every day.
Decorate for yourself, not to please others
Ignore the pressure on social media to share hyper-styled snapshots of your home. And don’t adopt trends you don’t love, despite their popularity. Kirsty sums it up perfectly: “I only ever decorate for me. It is me living here. It is super nice when people like things, but you live in your house so you need to love it!”
Lighting is the easiest aspect of a room design to get wrong. It’s the clue that gives away if a room has been professionally designed or not. It’s all about the details. You have the power to transform a cold soulless space into a cosy and atmospheric room. As a designer and lighting expert, Kirsty’s advice on this topic is priceless.
“Lighting is a crucial feature in the room. It’s worth investing time in getting this right. Look at the function of the room. When are you going to use it (most day/night)? Will you be using the space for multiple functions (entertaining, relaxing, etc.)? You will then know how much illumination is required.
Then, it’s the best part — choosing the lights. Light shades and ceiling pendants don’t have to be boring. They can add a strong or delicate statement to your interior. Add extra directional light with floor or table based lighting to finish off the look.”
Light bulb colour is something to consider too
Avoid cold LED lights as they contain blue light (remember step #4). Aim for warm white (for dining and living areas) or the slightly colder natural white (for kitchen and bathroom). You can compare the colour temperature of a bulb, measured in Kelvin (K), to make sure it matches the rest of the room lighting.
This is the last step to make your home your happy place. It all started with yourself and your “me” place and slowly you have expanded your happiness bubble to incorporate external factors around your home. Well, now the bubble is bigger than your house! The next section involves being part of your local community.
Social interaction stops you from feeling lonely
Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, we need each other to thrive10. And that’s because social connections are closely tied to your personal happiness. You have your relationships, your friendships and the community around you. The local community is your neighbours and local people who you often interact with (such as shop owners).
Meeting your neighbours and connecting with them can bring you many benefits. There’s an increased sense of security as you know who lives next door. And if you build a trustworthy relationship with them, they can help you in many situations. Watering the plants when you’re away, keeping an eye on the cat or even a cheeky lift to the shops.
What does being a good neighbour mean to you?
Kirsty shares her view: “Being there for a cup of tea, chats over the hedge or just to check you are ok. I have the loveliest neighbours. I am very lucky.” Is this a 1950s idealised vision of a neighbourhood? I don’t think so. It can happen if you want to.
It doesn’t cost a penny to be nice to people. You don’t have to bake apple pies for the whole street — saying “Hi” with a smile is a start. Like Kirsty, I feel lucky where I live, surrounded by helpful neighbours. So stop for a nice chat when you see them and join local community events. Make your happiness bubble as big as you can. It’s contagious.
Visit Home byKirsty
This guide would not have been possible without Kirsty’s tips and expert advice as a lighting and homeware designer. Her shop is curated with the finest home accessories, lighting, jewellery and stationery. Sourced from over 60 British designers and makers. The shop’s tagline says it all: “Love Design, Love your Home. The Design Shop around the corner.”
Both shop and studio are based in the cutest Victorian coach house. And the modern interior is the best use of space I’ve ever seen. With clever pegboard modular shelving and storage. If you live far from Cardiff, you can still get all the good stuff on the nifty online shop.
You’ll find Home byKirsty in 64A Glenroy Street, Roath, Cardiff. Why not say Hi and connect with Kirsty on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook? Tip: keep an eye on the plants in stock — you’ll want them all!
What’s your favourite tip to make your home your happy place?
Is there a tip in this guide that stood out for you? What would you add? I’d love to know your thoughts.
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