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7 secrets to a happier home

Sarah Heeringa shares her simple steps that help make a house feel more of a home

By Sarah Heeringa

1. Don’t just declutter
Several years ago Marie Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing set off a global wave of people tipping the contents of their cupboards onto the floor, asking if each item gave sparks of joy and thanking old socks for their acts of service.

Modern living seems to involve a constant flow of things into our homes and the only way to keep even remotely on top of things is to perpetually sort and eliminate stuff in equal measure. Whether you adopt the KonMari method or a less extreme approach, clearing the clutter makes your home look bigger, reduces mess and makes cleaning easier to achieve.

But while decluttering is crucial, extreme minimalism is not practical – or even that desirable – for most of us. Getting rid of almost everything and living according to strict minimalist ideals is not any healthier or any better to aspire to than never getting rid of anything, says Rachel Hoffman, author of Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess . “Compulsive decluttering and compulsive hoarding are opposite sides of the same coin; they both result in extreme behaviour that dictates how you interact with the stuff around you.”

To function in life we all need a certain amount of stuff. But we’re better off with three pairs of jeans we like wearing, rather than seven pairs we’re so-so about. And most of us won’t use a juicer or a pie maker. Reducing our total possessions is a worthy goal for most of us – even better is buying fewer things in the first place.

2. Engage with possessions
Sometimes we deny the importance of possessions or feel embarrassed about our enthusiasm for them because we don’t want to appear materialistic. Studies show that people with materialistic attitudes tend to be less happy and we know that the desire for possessions can further undermine happiness. But as Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author on happiness points out, the line between possessions and experience isn’t simple to draw. For instance, a camera is a possession that helps keep happy memories vivid. Also, many wonderful experiences require, or are enhanced, by possessions. Camping is more enjoyable with a great tent. Throwing a party is more fun with wonderful decorations. Meanwhile a dog is a possession, an experience and a relationship.

From woman caves to adding colour to your spaces, for 5 ways to fill your home with joy, click here .

3. Make your peace with the housekeeping cycle
Does cleaning the house make you feel angry or filled with despair? You’re not alone, according to Hoffman. One of the toughest concepts to wrap our heads around is that by its very nature, cleaning is a never-ending cycle. You’re never done – and that’s probably the most aggravating thing about it, she says.

The point of figuring out a system of cleaning that works for you isn’t to end the cycle but to identify which parts of the cycle you can control and how to work with them in a way that results in a clean, comfortable home with the least amount of stress on your part, says Hoffman. The shorter the cycle for any particular task, the less time overall it will take to do it, and the more pleasant your home environment will be in the meantime. When you do household tasks more often, you’ll be less angry about them overall because you will spend relatively less time doing each chore.

4. Abandon perfectionist thinking
Perfectionist attitudes have you running on a mental treadmill chasing that elusive moment when you manage to get everything just right. Perfectionism provides convenient excuses to not try things. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you’re setting unattainable goals for yourself at home, or not accepting anything less than a perfect result, you’re not being fair on yourself. “Try not to get overwhelmed making your home look like carefully staged pictures of rooms that actual people never use”, says Hoffman. “Having a clean home doesn’t make you a better person, it just makes you a person with a clean home.

5. Foster connections
In 2016 a Harvard Study of Adult Development tracking the lives of hundreds of people since 1938 confirmed what we intuitively know to be true – a key factor determining long-term health and wellbeing is the strength of our relationships with family, friends and spouses.

Simple daily habits can go a long way to fostering warmer relationships with the people around us. It starts with knowing yourself and understanding what approach might work for you and your unique household. Research suggests that kissing boosts feelings of intimacy, eases stress and encourages bonding and connectedness between couples. In Happier at Home, Rubin resolves to make a habit of kissing her husband every morning and every night. She soon found that by “acting more loving, I made myself feel loving – and at the same time, made Jamie feel more loved.”

Other connecting habits to consider might be turning mobile phones or the television off and sharing the evening meal around a table, encouraging everyday courtesies such as saying please and thank you, or instituting a zero tolerance of teasing.

Live as thought these are the good old days

6. Cultivate hygge
This quintessentially Danish word comes from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console”. It’s related to the English word “hug” but is closer in meaning to “cozy”. Hygge is described as a feeling but also something that has meaning in itself, not something you do as a means to becoming a better person. It’s to do with slowing down, candlelight, relaxation, indulgence, and an attitude of gratitude.

The concept of hygge is not dissimilar to gezellig, which is core to Dutch culture and just as difficult to translate into English. A gezellig room is typically warm, safe and comfortable – everything that is enjoyably familiar or nostalgic. A gezellig atmosphere can be relaxed but also gregarious and filled with laughter. It might equally be a moment of togetherness and shared understanding, where we enjoy a sense of connection and belonging.

7. Now is now
“Each time of life has its own kind of love,” wrote Tolstoy. In the busyness or tedium of home life it is easy to let significant moments slip by unrecognised and unremembered. Every stage of life has its unique challenges, and chances are you’ll look back on this time with a pang. As Rubin puts it: “The days are long but the years are short.”

One of the best ways to be happy is to make others happy, so be ready to celebrate the daily triumphs of those around you. Light candles at dinner time and put on music while doing the dishes. Live as though these are the good old days.

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