They have minimal clutter
The piles of mail! The tower of books in the corner! The tchotchkes crowding every surface! If this sounds like your home, you're not alone. (These are signs your house is stressing you out.) The first step to being truly happy in your space is to figure out what to keep—and what to let go. "A cluttered room is much more likely to produce, and contribute to, a cluttered mind," says professional organizer Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari method and author of the bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. "I believe that only in an uncluttered room, which enables an uncluttered mind, can you truly focus your attention and your energy on the matters in your life which are preventing you from reaching your truest happiness." According to design psychologist Sally Augustin, PhD, the powerful mental effects of clutter have roots in our evolution. "In our early days as a species, our lives depended on continually surveying the environment and seeing if anything was coming that was going to eat us," she says. "Today we continue to survey our environment, and too many things makes this subconscious reviewing more difficult, which is why the visual complexity of clutter is so stressful." A study from Princeton University shows that too much disorganized stimuli simply overwhelms the brain.
They display meaningful objects
The process of letting go of "stuff" doesn't mean you should live in a stark environment—Dr. Augustin says this would feel alien to us. Kondo's method uses the test of whether an object "sparks joy" in your heart. "When you decide what to keep based on what sparks joy, you are establishing and reaffirming to yourself what is most important to you," she says. It's not about the latest home design styles—it's how an object makes you feel. Still love showing off that soccer trophy from third grade? Keep it! As far as how much to display, balance out the chaos in your life with a visually quieter environment. The amount that feels right may vary from person to person, but Dr. Augustin suggests four or five pictures in a room and a couple of objects on a surface, depending on the size. Kondo says an added benefit of going through your possessions is learning how to get rid of mental baggage as well as the physical. "The skills you learn can be applied in your life well beyond deciding on which souvenir coffee mug to keep," she says. Here are more signs it's time to let go of your stuff.
They show your personality
When deciding how a room should look, you might feel taken in by the cool new design trend you saw in a magazine or on HGTV. But Dr. Augustin says making sure your house aligns with your personality is key to feeling happy in your space. "People who are extroverted get a real charge out of the world around them, so they can enjoy a more sensorially rich environment," she says. "People who are more introverted have a richer inner world so they should have a more carefully curated space." Bolder patterns and colors might stimulate extroverts but overwhelm introverts. A study from Switzerland shows that introverts were more sensitive to visual stimuli than extroverts, so they should have a more relaxing set-up. "Introverts do a much better job at processing the sensory information around them than extroverts do," Dr. Augustin says. "Introverts perceive it all and extroverts perceive only some of it," so they can handle more. Feel free to ignore these decorating rules.
They create a calming space
Finding a "sanctuary" in your home gives your mind a place to go to rest and restore, helping you feel more at peace. It doesn't have to be a whole room—it could be a reading nook, a knitting or craft space, or even a "home spa" in your bathroom. (Here's why a grown-up bath is the de-stressor you need.) In carving out your sacred space, Dr. Augustin suggests bright but muted colors like sage, soft textures like flannel, warm light, and curved lines in patterns and objects instead of straight lines. Studies show we prefer curved lines because we see sharp transitions, such as right angles, as more of a threat.
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They bring nature inside
Studies have shown nature to be calming to our psyche, so one way to feel happier in your space is to bring in plants or flowers. "Bringing nature into your home definitely has powerful psychological effects," says interior designer Rebecca West, also a design psychology coach. "Peace lilies are one of my favorites because they're easy-care and do well in low light conditions." Dr. Augustin also suggests avoiding spiky plants. "We associate comfort with curvy shapes and not spiky ones, which make us more alert," she says. Houseplants have the added benefit of helping to refresh the air in a room, making you healthier, according to research. "But if you aren't blessed with a green thumb, then fresh flowers or even a print of a garden or a wall mural of trees can affect some of that same profound healing," West says. "Even having natural wood furniture in your home partnered with green accessories or wall paint can bring that outdoor feeling inside." Try the new trend of forest bathing.
They make their space more social
Humans are pro-social beings, so your home should also be a place where you feel comfortable inviting friends over. Consider buying home items that lend themselves to socializing: a grill for barbecues, a fire pit to gather around, or board games for game night. Plus, make sure your rooms are arranged for easy socializing. "If you want your living room to be ready for a book club, then it should be arranged to focus on conversation, not a giant TV," West says. Dr. Augustin suggests considering your guests' varying personalities as well. "Extroverts would prefer couches and introverts would prefer an individual chair, so you should have a range of options," she says. "Arrange the furniture so people can make easy eye contact with each other, but also so they can gracefully break eye contact and look at something else like a fish tank, fire in the fireplace, a piece of art, or a window with a view." These "positive distractions" can help you and your guests adhere to humans' preferred length of eye contact—about three seconds, according to research. Learn how to throw a great party in a small space.
They use light well
Psychologists have long known that light has an effect on our emotions. So when choosing what kind of light to have in your home, think about what feelings you're trying to elicit in the space. "Warm light with warm light bulbs is better for when you're socializing and relaxing, where blue and cooler light is better when you're trying to do a really analytic task," Dr. Augustin says. So cool light might be better for a home office, but use warm light in the living and dining rooms. "When people are having dinner parties they bring in candles, which are a warmer light—something we figured out eons ago which aligns with modern research," she says. During the day, open the curtains and keep the windows clean to let the sun in. "Natural light is great for our mood," Dr. Augustin says. "But if a space is really glare-y because you have lots of shiny surfaces, some of these positive ramifications of daylight evaporate because glare is stressful."
They keep it clean
Having a clean home can have physical as well as mental benefits—less stuff means fewer things for dust and dirt to accumulate on, and you'll be more likely to keep it clean because it won't be so overwhelming. "The less clutter there is in your home, the easier it is to do basic cleaning chores, which let's be honest, spark joy in almost nobody!" Kondo says. Instead, you can use the time you save to do other things you enjoy more. (You'll wish you knew these house cleaning tricks sooner.) But sometimes, a good cleaning can actually help you feel less stressed and anxious, as a British study found. "If you find yourself feeling frantic and overwhelmed, taking a moment to tidy up the kitchen or your bed can really calm those nerves and bring more focus into your mind," West says.
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They make the bedroom a retreat
Our mood improves when we wake up "on the right side of the bed" after a good night's sleep, and not getting good sleep has been linked to depression. One way to feel more relaxed is to banish any reminders of unpleasant tasks in the bedroom. "If you have your home office in your bedroom, it's great if the room is laid out so that when you're actually lying down to go to sleep you don't see your desk and all the piles of papers," Dr. Augustin says. Ideally, the bedroom should be one space to keep tidy. "If you can't put your whole home in order, try to have at least one room, such as the master bedroom, that gives you peace and respite from it all," West says. Blackout curtains can also ensure the room is dark enough for good sleep. "It's better for our health when the conditions are darker for sleep," Dr. Augustin says. "You can pull them during the day to let the daylight in." In the morning, should you make your bed? It depends. "If you were brought up that an unmade bed communicated that you're slovenly, then you've got to get that bed made," Dr. Augustin says. "If not, an unmade bed could actually be more inviting to you when you get home at the end of the day." Try these ideas for clean sleeping.
They find storage solutions that work
Even if your living spaces are clean, if every time you open that closet you're pegged with an avalanche of stuff, it will still make you feel bogged down. "Simple storage methods are the best because they are the easiest to maintain," says Kondo, who prefers shoe boxes. "Some people devise their storage strategies like a 'Jenga' tower, and we all know what happens when one piece is removed!" Plus, being able to see everything you have also keeps you from buying new stuff you actually don't need. If everything is simple and easy to access, it becomes not only routine, but a healthy habit, Kondo says. "You will always find 'that thing' you are looking for much easier, and that extra 10 or 15 minutes you save can be used to do something you truly enjoy." Try these storage hacks to get organized.
They choose mood-boosting colors
Your wall color can affect your mood, so it might be time for a new coat of paint. Color psychology is an entire field dedicated to understanding the impact shades have on us. "It's the saturation and brightness levels of hues that determine our emotional response," Dr. Augustin says. "We're calmer and in a more positive mood in colors that are not too saturated but relatively bright like sage green, and we're more energized around colors that are more saturated and less bright, like a Kelly green." Energizing colors would be make you happier in a place you do work, like a kitchen, laundry, or exercise room, whereas muted colors are better for a relaxing space, like a family room. Certain colors are associated culturally as well, which can help us feel at home in the space. "Our culture seems links yellow with kitchens and blue with restfulness, a good option for bedrooms," Dr. Augustin says. Read about why you should stop painting your ceiling white.
They use the power of scent
Studies have shown smell has psychological effects, so use oils or candles to evoke good feelings in your home. "Researchers have learned that lavender helps people fall asleep so that can be good for the bedroom, and lemon can be good to smell when you're trying to do cognitive work like in your home office," Dr. Augustin says. Floral scents also elicit positive emotions. But don't lay it on too strong—scents will continue to have an effect even after your nose gets used to them. "Any smell in too great a concentration is off-putting and stress-generating, so you don't want to walk in and feel like the lemon Pledge factory next door just exploded!" she says.
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They fill your home with good memories
Let everything in your house bring up positive remembrances of things and people you love. "Each time you look at that picture of you and your friends in Paris, or see the painting you did that turned out better than you ever expected, it helps you keep perspective and connect you with what is good and wonderful in your life," West says. On the other hand, purge the things that remind you of negative experiences and bring you down. "A stuffed animal from an ex-boyfriend, or a piece of furniture that you inherited but have never really liked, can keep you stuck in the past," she says. "Life is too short to be surrounded by stuff you don't like." Read decorating rules you need to follow after age 30.