7 Steps to Create a Home Sanctuary & Feel More Relaxation at Home
Be honest: When you look around your home, does it inspire an “Agh!” or an “Ahhh?” It’s surprising how many of us take so much time to look good or put together in public or on social media, while our homes remain disaster zones behind the scenes. But making the home feel like a sanctuary, not a nightmare, is more important than you might think—with real physical and psychological benefits.
This isn’t about being “perfect” or ready for a magazine photo shoot. It’s about boosting the way you feel in the place where you spend a good chunk of your life. The home environment can impact our and our children’s well-being. When we’re bogged down in clutter, straining to see under poor lighting, or living amid chaotic, disorganized spaces in the home, we’re subjecting ourselves to unnecessary stressors.
Fortunately, there are a variety of easy steps you can take to create a more calming environment for the entire family. To get you started, I’ll be sharing some great ideas for planning, designing, and decorating spaces that promote relaxation, mindfulness, and stress reduction.
7 Steps to Creating a Relaxing Home Sanctuary
Need a mental health makeover for your home? Try some of these strategies—or all of them:
1. Incorporate Water Features
Did you know that the sound of trickling water is associated with positive effects on our mental health? In recent years, researchers have become more interested in the benefits of human interaction with “blue spaces,” or areas with water, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. And we can bring those benefits into the home as well, through simple additions like desktop fountains. A 2021 review of 21 scientific studies found that people can enjoy a variety of health boosts, including “significant psychological benefits (e.g., stress restoration) and behavioral benefits (e.g., physical activity and social interaction),” simply by incorporating artificial water features into their surroundings.
2. Add Greenery
Just as human beings find restoration in the sounds of water, other natural elements can have a similarly calming effect. Indoor plants are a great option, as they can be very easy to care for and brighten up any room in the house. You can get the entire family involved, making plant care into a team bonding activity. It can even educate children firsthand about topics such as photosynthesis and botany. If needed, you can choose synthetic plants (if lighting or other conditions aren’t favorable). But live plants offer additional benefits, such as improving the air quality of indoor spaces. Studies have also suggested that plants boost psychological well-being while improving everything from blood pressure to academic achievement.
3. Create a Scentual Experience
You may have heard about the old real-estate sales trick—appealing to potential home buyers at an open house with the scent of fresh-baked food. That’s because pleasant aromas instantly help create a welcoming home environment. Make enticing scents part of yours by utilizing scented candles, essential oil diffusers, or room fragrance misters. Choosing relaxing scents, such as lavender, rose, or chamomile, is a great idea. But you can also do some research on selecting different scents for different effects, like anti-anxiety, happiness, or alertness. You’ll literally be able to breathe some relief in an instant.
4. Choose the Right Lighting
OK, maybe light bulbs aren’t the sexiest part of interior decor, but they can sabotage your mood (and your vision, over time) if they’re inadequate. First, it’s helpful to let in as much natural light as possible. We know that, for people with insomnia, it’s a helpful practice to expose the eye to natural light after waking. That’s because it helps establish circadian rhythms in the body, alerting it when to be awake or asleep. Conversely, light exposure late at night can disrupt our sleep, so you want to have the ability (through window coverings) to ensure total darkness while sleeping. Having indoor lighting that is variable, such as through a dimmer switch, is also helpful to transition you from activity to relaxation and sleep.
Of course, for when you are awake, ensure that lighting is bright enough to enable reading and other tasks without straining the eyes. Eye strain can lead to headaches and difficulty concentrating, among many other negative effects. Finally, if needed, adding bright light therapy to your home can help counteract the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), associated with negative moods and lower levels of vitamin D in the darker winter months.
5. Enable Separation
In our busy modern world, it’s far too common to let various areas of our lives bleed together. For example, we watch television while eating dinner, or answer a work email while in bed. This creates a lack of definition in our home spaces and promotes constant multitasking, which we know is terrible for our brains, leading to forgetfulness, lack of focus, and other issues.
Instead, set aside a space to eat dinner with the family—one that’s screen-free. Leave your laptops and mobile devices outside the bedroom. If you’re one of the many people now working from home, create a designated workspace. Blending too many areas of your life together creates blurred boundaries and compromises work-life balance, potentially leading to stress and overwhelm.
6. Enjoy Some Color Therapy
There’s a reason why stop lights and sirens are red—we humans associate this color with an alert. At the same time, gazing at a blue sky or clear blue water can put us immediately at ease. We all have associations with color, whether we consciously recognize them or not, so put them to use throughout your home. This is a personal decision, so ask yourself: What colors put me at ease? What colors stimulate me or raise my alert levels?
In fact, there’s an entire system for using color to influence mood and heal physical ailments. It’s called chromotherapy, another term for color therapy, and it’s been used for centuries. Today, we have tons of ways to incorporate color in our homes: paint or wallpaper, furnishings, decor, carpets or flooring, etc. Find the color scheme that works for you—and for the room you’re in. For example, you might want a more stimulating color in an office space to boost alertness, or a more muted shade in the bathroom for a spa-like feel.
7. Select Uplifting Decor
What kinds of things are taking up prime space in your house? Piles of bills, frantic to-do lists, shoes strewn around the entranceway? It’s easy to let busy schedules get in the way of maintaining an orderly environment—we’ve all been there. But establishing a more peaceful home includes being intentional about the items we place around us.
For example, certain objects can uplift us rather than bog us down. Pictures of the family during fun outings or souvenirs from favorite trips can bring back happy memories. Mirrors can create the illusion of more space in smaller rooms so we don’t feel as cramped. Signs with positive affirmations or statements can remind us to be more mindful and maintain perspective.
One word of warning: Don’t create too much clutter with your selections. Even an excess of positive items can overstimulate your brain, distract from your focus, or increase levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. If you find yourself drowning in stuff, enlist the family’s help to start putting aside items to donate to charity. As a bonus, giving back benefits your mental health, too.
Creating Relaxation at Home
When our home is our chaos instead of our castle, we can’t expect ourselves—or our families—to function at our best. A clean, organized, decluttered, well-lit home helps enable a more peaceful life. But add a few relaxation-enhancing extras, like plants, light-blocking curtains for the bedroom, and soothing water features, and you’ll feel less stressed every time you walk in the front door.
Decor trends may come and go, but that’s a home investment always worth making.
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