Decorating as therapy: Home improvement can be method of self-improvement

December 08, 1991|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

It's no coincidence that several phrases in the American lexicon often associated with New Year's resolutions can be traced to home. We talk about personal problems "hitting us where we live" or "coming home to roost" and vow to do better. Then we resolve that next year we're really going to "get our house in order."

The association between self and home shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, home is not just where you live, but a metaphor for life itself. Often, as life goes, so goes your home. If you're feeling depressed, if your self-esteem and self-confidence are flagging, those emotions are manifested in the condition of your home.

Little fix-it jobs have gone undone and begin to pile up. The drawers and cabinets in the kitchen are a mess. The closets look like Dagwood's worst nightmare. The basement has become a subterranean landfill. The attic -- well, let's not even discuss the attic.

A neglected home, it turns out, can be a symptom of a neglected life. And vice versa.

Pop psychology? No, just common sense. Think about it. When you feel good about yourself and your life, when you are at your happiest, your home looks good and feels right. When you're feeling down and out your house probably shows it.

It's my observation that human beings don't typically solve big problems with big, grand gestures. No, most of us work up to righting the wrongs in our lives. We take small steps first to getting our "heads on straight" and getting our "house in order."

Most of us are not going to totally reform ourselves or redecorate our homes overnight. But we can work up to both.

Home improvement as a route to self-improvement? Therapeutic decorating? There's nothing remarkable about that. We all know that a new coat of paint lifts our spirits as much as it improves the look of a room. Something as simple as putting up new curtains over the kitchen sink can improve our outlook and the view.

My advice, if you're down in the dumps and your house shows it, is to start slow with small projects. Just scrubbing the rust stains off the bathtub and the tile is a good way to work off some pent-up anger and frustration. It's amazing how much sparkling porcelain and gleaming chrome can improve your mood.

Tackle the little jobs that have gone undone for far too long. Vacuum the window sashes, wash the windows, clean the top of the refrigerator. Little home improvements, like little self-improvements, offer instant gratification and the incentive to on.

Edit the closets and weed out the things you haven't worn for years and, if you'll admit to yourself, will never wear again. Get rid of the flotsam and jetsam that's cluttering your house and your life. In the vernacular, clean up your act. Simplifying your home can help uncomplicate your life. Deciding what goes and what stays can help you decide what's important and what's not in other areas of your life.

Next, make small investments in room improvements and self-indulgence. Splurging on handsome new sheets and pillow cases for your bed can transform the bedroom and give you sweet dreams. New towels and a new shower curtain can revitalize the bath and renew your optimism. A new runner for the hallway, a new lamp for the entry, a new shade for an old lamp -- little, individual improvements have a way of adding up. They make your house look better and they make you feel better.

Do some things you've intended to do for years but have never gotten around to. Frame those botanical prints you picked up a long time ago. While you're at it, frame your diploma and the various certificates of achievement you've kept tucked away in the desk drawer. Artwork and awards, prominently and proudly exhibited, are forms of what's important to you and what you value and what really matters to you not just in terms of decorating, but personally as well.

Chances are, as you see how much difference even small improvements can make in the way your home looks and feels, you'll find the motivation to take on larger projects -- new paint for the living room, new wallpaper for the kitchen, new upholstery for a favorite chair, a new finish on a vintage table. And you may just discover that if you can reinvent your home, you can reinvent your life. If you can find the energy to change the character and personality of your home, even a little bit at a time, then you may realize that you can change your own personality too.

Start now and by the time 1993 rolls around, the chances are good that both you and your house will have new and improved attitudes.

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