Suddenly, because of the pandemic, our homes have become one-stop shops. It’s where we work, teach our kids, and attend religious services. It’s where we sleep, eat, and relax (in theory).
Besides taking walks and running urgent errands, most of us are staying in. So, it’s helpful to make our homes into a place we actually want to be.
Currently, our homes need to “replace a lot of the ‘feel-good’ emotions we had in going out,” said Victoria Vajgrt, a professional home organizer in San Francisco. For example, she said, the yoga studio helped us to relax, while romantic restaurants helped us to reconnect to our partners.
Creating a safe, serene space combats stress and hyperviligence. “The COVID-19 pandemic is causing our brains and bodies to be in a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, as we are experiencing ongoing trauma, fears of scarcity, and feelings of helplessness on a personal, professional, and global level,” said Nidhi Tewari, LCSW, an EMDR therapist who treats trauma and anxiety in Richmond, Va.
And it’s hard to de-stress in a chaotic, cluttered space, noted Katie Lear, LCMHC, a therapist in Davidson, N.C. Many of her clients have reported that rearranging and redecorating their homes has helped to boost their mood.
“It can feel empowering to take control of your own space and make something new and different out of the familiar,” Lear said.
But this doesn’t have to be a complicated, involved process. Here are 12 simple tips for making your home into a sanctuary that supports your mental health.
Create a dedicated workspace. This could be a separate room—or it could be a corner in your bedroom, a spot in the guest room, or the dining room table, said Patty Morrissey, an organizing and lifestyle consultant and KonMari consultant in Huntington, N.Y. To get you into a productive frame of mind, she said, use this space or desk solely for your work.
If space is super limited, use a portable file box to contain your work materials and tools—“when the box comes out, you know it’s time for work,” Morrissey said.
Communicate about everyone’s needs. Talk to everyone in your household about what they need from your home and what a sanctuary looks like for them, Morrissey said. Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in Valley Stream, N.Y., has a work corner where her 7- and 9-year-old kids typically play. She’s talked to them about the importance of this space for her—to take calls, work, and stay calm and focused.
Add meaningful touches. Fludd put live flowers and a diffuser on her desk to instantly invoke a sense of peace and signal that this is her space. “I also face the wall which has a framed quote on it, and keeps me from seeing the explosion of Legos behind me, [creating] the mirage that this is my escape.”
Look to your senses. Los Angeles-based master coach Jackie Gartman suggested asking yourself these questions to create a sanctuary on your own terms:
- What scents do you love? This might be anything from the ocean to freshly baked banana bread.
- What sights help you to feel calm? This might be a photo of your loved ones and a bowl of bright navel oranges.
- What do you love to feel? It could be your beloved cat and a soft blanket.
- What sounds help you to feel safe and connected? It might be listening to church music or the wind.
- What do you love to taste? This might be anything from your grandmother’s cookies to a juicy grapefruit.
To create a sense-based space, Gartman said, you might play jazz while cooking dinner, spray lavender on your pillows before bed, bake Grandma’s cookies, and put wind chimes on your patio.
Create a Zen zone. Creating a specific spot in your home solely for relaxation helps you cultivate a habit of relaxation, said Andrea Travillian, a life and business coach who helps women transform their lives into the happy successful dreams they crave.
And this space can be anywhere—your spare bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet, balcony, or screened-in porch, Tewari said. She suggested adding soft blankets, fluffy pillows, holiday lights, and plants or flowers.
Travillian has a chair and side table in her bedroom that’s dedicated to journaling, meditating, and drinking her morning coffee.
If your retreat is your bathroom, make your bath or shower into a luxurious experience. Use candles, which “add aromatherapy and a soothing glow to the space,” and put towels in the dryer for a warm, sensory experience, Tewari said.
Make a soothing sensory box. According to Tewari, you can use this in your Zen zone or anywhere in your house. She suggested using any storage container to house items that calm and comfort you. “Having all of these items in one place will take away the pressure of finding a way to decompress at the end of the day, when decision fatigue has taken ahold.”
Focus on lighting. During the day, open up the blinds or curtains to let in natural sunlight. In the early morning and evening, use candlelight to “increase a sanctuary-like atmosphere,” said Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, Calif.
Use special-occasion items. Morrissey stressed the importance of taking out the fine china, cloth napkins, pretty placements, and linen tablecloth. Put on your favorite perfume or silk shirt. Burn the good candle you’ve been saving. “This may seem frivolous, but little joys go a long way,” she said.
Bring the outdoors in. If you’re able to get outside, Vajgrt suggested gathering rocks, pruning a bush and arranging the clippings in a vase, or growing new plants from existing greenery. What natural objects can you bring into your home that ground you?
Use your favorite places as inspiration. Reflect on how you can channel the atmospheres of your favorite places into your home. According to Vajgrt, you might reflect on how your favorite café or yoga studio evokes a sense of peace. Maybe the café has comfortable seating and the scent of sweet, strong coffee. Maybe the yoga studio diffuses calm-inducing lavender and has a minimalist esthetic.
Contain clutter with baskets and bins. The first week of online school, Travillian’s son had his schoolwork spread across three rooms. Their quick, effective fix was to put everything into one large basket, which now lives under the dining room table. “Now when he is done he packs it up and the mess is gone!”
Have 5-minute decluttering sessions. “Clearing the clutter from your kitchen, office, or other places you spend a lot of time in will not only make you feel better and freer but more in control of our crummy circumstances,” said Gartman. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, set a timer for 5 minutes every day. For example, toss expired spices or organize your kitchen utensils, she said.