When we completely redesigned our house, retrofitting a small century-old bungalow, I knew that I'd be having babies in it, and that would mean a lot of time spent indoors. Here in Winnipeg, I also knew there would be some cold dark winters ahead. Seeing the opportunity to be proactive about my mental health, I made some decisions that have been SO SO good to live with! If you are looking for a new house, or even looking to make some small changes, look for some useful ideas here to elevate the mood of your home.
How does home design affect our mood?
The design of our environment can influence our behaviour towards things that help us. If you are looking for a more academic article on how the built environment affects mental health see the link below. (Evans, 2003)
I have come to accept that I am very affected by the things I see, colours, and environment I'm in and have stopped trying to fight it, and to follow my instincts. After all, being aware of what sights make me feel, allows me to transfer those feelings to the viewer through my paintings. A spoof radio show, This is That, did a segment on someone with "Visual Allergies" and it was so relatable! Please don't make fun of me! I'm really enjoying our home, and how it makes me feel.
My design necessities in our small home:
#1 - Great Light
Natural light gives us energy and improves our mood. In a small house, there's no separate sun room so we've made sure that space where we spend all of our time has plenty of windows. The sun sets at 4:30 here in the winter, so good interior lighting is also important! Warm lighting from lamps, pendants, sconces, a candle lit at breakfast, all help our mood. The Danish, with their philosophy of Hygge, seem to understand the importance of this. Having workspaces well lit can make tasks easier, and motivate you to go to them. Nowadays LED bulbs use so little energy, that you shouldn't feel guilty for "wasting" electricity, when leaving a few extra lights on. If you feel like it will help you feel better, give yourself permission to turn on some of those lights!
#2 - Traffic flow.
We've focused on eliminating choke points. This is especially helpful during the meal preparation time when everyone is their least patient. This is huge for me. We gave up cupboard space in order to have two exits from our kitchen. Without them I know I'd get panicky at meal time when I'm hungry, and children start crowding around me wanting food, but I can't make them food because they are crowding me... you get the picture. Without a corner for them to back me into, I feel like I can keep moving forward, literally and figuratively! With a galley style kitchen, there is room for more than one chef, room to receive help and to have children help. It feels like we are working as a team, a much better feeling!
#3 - Spaces for Connection
Cosy chair pads make it comfortable to stay around the table chatting, talking through feelings, connecting about what's happing in our lives. A pull-out couch allows the whole family to put their feet up. (Or in the case of our young family, space for all the cute wiggly limbs moving at once!) .
#4 - Connection to the outdoors, to nature.
Think about creating a view beyond your walls, or making that view more visible. Try taking down those summer-use black-out blinds in winter, changing out blinds that when pulled up, block part of the window. If the sun is just behind them, taking them down could mean giving yourself some concentrated rays to warm your back while having a coffee on a Saturday. Tension curtain rods can be used to hang a light curtain just where you need the privacy, without blocking too much light. Often placing something nice to look at outside the house, can draw you to a window to look out. Perhaps you'll see a stranger walking by, and wonder if they're having a good day. The antics of a local squirrel, might remind you of the needs of other creatures.
#5 - Plan for the flow of paper
Having a plan will keep you from getting overwhelmed by paper. When the paper comes in the door, it goes to "triage" on the kitchen table. Papers to keep go in the filing cabinet, (We have a distressed vintage one) literally the next piece of furniture to the table, the rest are sent to the back door where there is a basket for shredding and a recycling bin. From there it gets taken to the bin on the street as we leave. I am not on top of my paper clutter (don't judge me!) but it is not overwhelming because we have this system we are using, making it easier.
#6 - Places to huddle in.
I know it's a small space already. It probably feels like as soon as you walk in the door you are huddled together, but creating another layer of further huddling gives both privacy when it's needed, and the feeling of more openness when you go to the rest of the house. Think of putting your bed facing the wall like a nook, hiding bunkbeds behind a room divider curtain, or having a kids tent indoors. Find a place to journal, to read your bible or sit with a cup of tea, a place to feel open to new thoughts and to untangle a messy brain.
#7 - Flexibility, to change the space as needed.
We have a pull-out coach, (Speaking of flexibility, the electric fireplace actually slides aside in order to make room for this!) an expandable table on casters allows us room for projects, stacking chairs for guests give us the ability to invite others over, even if it's squished and not fancy! We need community, and there's something about visiting in our homes that feels good. We also are able to slide furniture aside to make room for simple indoor workouts when the weather is cold.
#8 - Room for art
In a small space, you might be tempted to also try "keeping the walls uncluttered", but it is really surprising how much certain pieces of art can open up a room. A mirror opens up a room in a way, but it can also make it look like there are twice as many objects in there. You also might find a new tolerance for the space other objects take up, when they're balanced by more things on the walls. Consider leaving wall space for something that you like to look at, even if it doesn't feel as practical as hooks or shelves would be. When we design a house for people, not for things, we value human experiences.
As fall approaches, let's look ahead to the times when we'll be spending more time indoors. I hope that with this post you'll be able to carry on in this vein, to think of more ideas that will help you manage your space in a way that will give you access to things that are good for your mental health.
This post was written for inclusion in the September collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!
Check out these other great posts in our Small Family Homes blog Community!
600 Sq Ft and a Baby-- "Our necessities for small family living" : While I could list the items in our home that make small living possible (ahem, wall bed), it's really about our commitment to living small and some questions we ask ourselves before we buy anything.
Justice Pirate-- "7 Simple Living Must-Haves" : When simplicity seems so far away or impossible to embrace, you realize it is the best and easiest way.
Little Bungalow-- "Small Space Essentials" : My five favourite items for making small space living more enjoyable.
Real Food Simple Life-- " Furniture Free Living: A Necessity in our Small Family Home" : Why our large family decided to go furniture free and how it helps us thrive in a small family home.
A Life Shift-- "10 Must-Haves for Small-Space Family Living" : What is essential to how we live compared to families with more space?
Tiny Ass Camper-- "Our Essentials for Thriving in a Tiny Space" : Reflections on what skills have become our essentials for thriving in less than 100 sq. ft.
Shelley Vanderbyl-- "Home Design for Happiness" : Artist gives 8 ways to design your space for happiness.
RISING*SHINING-- "Necessities in Our Smallish Home" : The tangible and intangible things that keep our home functional and enjoyable.
Fourth & West-- "Hashtag Flexibility" : If one characteristic has punctuated our life in a small home, it is flexibility.
Evans, G. W. (2003). The built environment and mental health. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 80(4), 536–555. https://doi.org/10.1093/jurban/jtg063