Step inside my home and you’ll find a rubber band holding a doorknob together, a tub that needs regrouting, and a kitchen that lacks a dishwasher. The chaos in my closet defies description. In short, my apartment falls shy of my dream homes on Pinterest. However, I’m determined to be satisfied with my home. I asked experts for suggestions about how to embrace my abode, and I put them to the test. It turns out you can be happier at home, no remodel or relocation required.
“Always keep the entrance to your home clean,” says Laura Calder, author of The Inviting Life. “It’s your own first impression when you return and last impression when you leave.” When I got home that night after talking to her, I realized my entryway was a dumping ground—a stack of framed art waiting to be hung, shoes piled on the floor, mail and magazines on the console—and my cortisol levels definitely shot up! The next night I got to work, and cleaning up the entry took less time than I’d anticipated. Once the clutter was cleared, I styled my console table to look its best and promised to keep it that way.
Try It: Identify the recurring problem items and create storage or organizational solutions for them. For example, I had to admit that shoes will gather here, so I designated a bin for them. I also installed two hooks at toddler height for my son’s backpack and coat. Finally, get your family on board: Explain your goals for the space and, if necessary, leave little notes to reinforce the new behavior. (Post-it notes work great for this!)
Loving your home is more than just arranging the objects within. Calder suggests inviting friends over as a strategy to achieve greater at-home contentment. “Make your house alive—a place that you bring people into,” she says. “You’ll get that good energy from other people, and also from your own better self that you tend to be when you entertain.” While I entertained a lot pre-parenthood, I hadn’t much lately because it seemed so hard with a toddler. I summoned the courage to send out a save the date for a late-afternoon, kids welcome get-together for our neighborhood friends and vowed to be low-key about it, as Calder instructed. The resulting gathering was a blast, and because my goal was to spend time with friends (not impress them with my Martha Stewart–level entertaining), I enjoyed myself and basked in the good vibes.
Try It: Entertain at home, and stop worrying about what guests will think of the mess in the kids’ rooms or the clutter in the mudroom. Your friends won’t care—really! Keep the snacks simple and open some wine, mama: You’ve got this!
Seriously, I had no idea of the jolt of joy a broom could give me. However, when Calder suggested, “Get a groovy garbage can or a funky laundry bin,” I was reminded of a flower-patterned hammer my mother bought me years ago that always made me smile. To test Calder’s theory, I upgraded my broom and dustpan for more attractive models than the humdrum ones purchased for function and price. My new cleaning tools instantly brightened my kitchen and give me a ping of happiness when I use them.
Try It: The next time you need to make an everyday purchase, look for one that pleases you—it can be something that makes you laugh or something you find beautiful. And unlike flowers, which need to be replaced often, a new broom should last a long time, so spend a few extra bucks, if you need to.
Multiple studies have shown that flowers make people happier, including one study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology that used three experiments to determine if receiving flowers improves mood. (Spoiler: They do!) I usually only buy blooms for special occasions, but in the name of happiness I stopped into my local florist. Just picking out the bouquet sparked a smile, and I felt happier when I saw it on my dining table all week.
Try It: Treat yourself—or better still, command a family member to buy you flowers! Or consider a flowering plant like a kalanchoe or a phalaenopsis orchid, suggests Susan Armstrong, of the floral design studio Gorgeous Concepts, in New York City. Armstrong’s tip: Choose a plant with plump, green unopened blossoms.
Sophie Donelson, author of House Beautiful Style Secrets, suggests setting up a “remembering space,” as she did for her late father. “Think of it as a secular shrine, a visual tableau to honor a person or even an idea,” she says. I decided to dedicate a corner to my grandmother. I printed photos of us together at her 90th birthday and of a rose from her garden. I placed her rings in a saucer from her set of china. Immediately, my son noticed the photo and said, “Mama!” and I added, “And great-grandmother.” I got a warm-fuzzy feeling of strengthening family ties. Plus, I love seeing Grandma’s gorgeous things every day.
Try It: Gather mementos that remind you of a loved one and create a space dedicated to the person, like a section of a bookshelf or the top of a dresser. Your remembering space can also recognize a special time or place—say, when your son was a newborn. Make it your own!