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Keep clutter minimal

Keep clutter minimal
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A stack of books. A pile of papers. Knick-knacks everywhere! If objects are crowding every surface of your home, you’re not alone. 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 organiser Marie Kondo, 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, 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 going to eat us,” she says. “Today we continue to survey our environment, and too many things make 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 disorganised stimuli simply overwhelms the brain.

Display meaningful objects

Display meaningful objects
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The process of letting go of ‘stuff’ doesn’t mean you should live in a stark environment, according to Dr Augustin that 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.

Create a calming space

Create a calming space
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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. In carving out your sacred space, Dr Augustin suggests bright but muted colours 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.

Bring nature inside

Bring nature inside
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Studies have shown nature to be calming to our psyche, so one way to feel happier in your space is to bring plants inside. “Bringing nature into your home definitely has powerful psychological effects,” says interior designer and design psychology coach Rebecca West. “Peace lilies are one of my favourites because they’re easy-to-care-for 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.”

These are the 18 best air-cleaning plants, according to NASA.

Make your space more social

Make your space more social
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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 socialising: a barbecue, a fire pit to gather around, or board games for game night. Plus, make sure your rooms are arranged for easy socialising. “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, 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.

Not an introvert or an extrovert? Here are 8 signs you could be an ambivert.

Use light well

Use light well
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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 socialising 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 glarey because you have lots of shiny surfaces, some of the positive ramifications of daylight evaporate because glare is stressful.”

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Keep it clean

Keep it clean
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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. But sometimes, a good cleaning can actually help you feel less stressed and anxious. “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.

Here are 20 little things everyone forgets to clean – but shouldn’t.

Make the bedroom a retreat

Make the bedroom a retreat
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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.”

Here are 12 simple ways to update your bedroom.

Find storage solutions that work

Find storage solutions that work
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Even if your living spaces are clean, if every time you open that cupboard 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.”

Follow our 22 best ideas for organising your walk-in wardrobe.

Choose mood-boosting colours

Choose mood-boosting colours
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Your wall colour can affect your mood, so it might be time for a new coat of paint. Colour 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 colours that are not too saturated but relatively bright like sage green, and we’re more energised around colours that are more saturated and less bright, like a Kelly green [an intense, pure green].” Energising colours make you happier in a place you work, like a kitchen, laundry or exercise room, whereas muted colours are better for a relaxing space, like a family room. Certain colours are associated culturally as well, which can help us feel at home in the space. “Our culture links yellow with kitchens and blue with restfulness, a good option for bedrooms,” Dr Augustin says.

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