16 Tips for Creating a Healthy, Happy Home

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Photo courtesy Room and Board
An uncluttered, simple eating space invites sitting and chatting while food is being prepared.

Have you ever stepped into a well-designed room and felt instantly calm?

Or conversely, walked into a cluttered, hectic space and felt suddenly on edge? Our surroundings affect our emotions and our mental state. Most well-designed homes share common elements—pleasing colors, views of the outdoors, uncluttered surfaces and interesting accessories that convey something about the personality of their owner. We can tailor our homes to our own unique vision, creating a home that supports us in our quest to live a naturally healthy lifestyle tied to the cycles of the seasons. Use these tips as a jumping-off point to create a beautiful, peaceful, happy home perfectly suited to your family’s life.

Serene by Design

Spending time in spaces we love can help us relax, recharge and prepare to face the world. Use these design tricks to create a soothing atmosphere in your home. 

1. Lighten up. To promote a feeling of calm in any room, try a soft palette of whites, pastels and neutrals. “Beautiful pastels add an unexpected softness to interiors,” says Santa Fe, New Mexico, designer Jennifer Ashton. “I like white, too—both as a wall color and an accent—and I especially like the way white looks against natural and earth tones.” Need just the right white? Top white paint recommendations from the popular design website Apartment Therapy include Benjamin Moore’s Super White, Linen White and China White; the brand’s Natura line contains no volatile organic compounds (chemicals that offgas at room temperature and contribute to poor indoor air quality).

2. Blend textures. Combining a variety of textures in a room is a designer’s trick to add subtle visual interest. Try using a mix of soft and hard elements to create balance. If you have a contemporary, angular couch, you might add a fluffy throw. If your chairs are soft and slouchy, pair them with something sleek such as a glass coffee table. Experiment with tactile fabrics such as smooth silk, soft wool or nubby linen, and rustic materials such as handcarved wood, oil-rubbed steel and natural stone.

3. See the light. Lighting is an often-underappreciated element that can have a huge impact on whether a space feels warm and bright or drab and dreary. Often just changing a light fixture will bring new personality to a room. Consider installing dimmers to overhead fixtures to alter light levels for various needs and moods. Table lamps add warmth to living spaces, and task lights can reduce eyestrain for reading and up-close work. Seek out energy-efficient LEDs, many of which work in compatible dimmable fixtures. Experiment with nontraditional light sources, too; put out a collection of vintage oil lamps (check out Lehmans) to create ambience for a romantic dinner, or string holiday lights on a mantle to add sparkle to a party.

4. Color pop. Rather than redoing a room, try accessorizing with new accent colors to freshen a space. “I’ll sometimes design a room with the major furnishings in neutral shades so we can add color with bright pillows, drapes and rugs,” says Denver designer Andrea Schumacher of Andrea Schumacher Interiors. Buying or making new pillow covers is a low-commitment way to experiment with trendy fabric patterns and colors.

5. Create an art archive. We tend to collect art, treasures and mementos for years until the walls, shelves and tables are full. Simply editing and rotating accessories can keep things fresh and interesting. Choose your favorite artwork and treasured photos, and pack the rest away for now. When you’re ready for a change, you can revisit your personal archives for a new piece. You may find a whole new appreciation for the things you have when they’re rearranged in a new configuration.

6. Less is more. The most peaceful rooms are often minimalist and open, giving the eye and spirit a place to rest. Keep clutter at bay, seek out unobtrusive storage solutions, and give spaces visual breathing room. (For more decluttering advice, read How to Organize Your Storage Spaces.) Arrange furniture with at least 2 1/2 feet of walking space around every side. Experiment with leaving a bookshelf or two empty, and don’t feel a compulsion to fill every space in a room.

Let Nature Be Your Guide

Science has proven that the sights and sounds of nature are supremely calming to us. Bring the outdoors in via views, plants and natural materials to let the serenity of nature pervade your home.

7. Let the sun shine in. Views of nature help us relax. Maximize your indoor-outdoor connection by washing the windows and making the glass sparkle. Push drapes to the sides, clean the screens, and open the windows to let in fresh air. For windows that face private areas, consider removing drapes and blinds altogether for a clean, contemporary look. Draw your view outdoors by putting eyecatching but unobtrusive items of interest outside windows—consider bird feeders, plants in window boxes or pretty solar lanterns.

8. Green it. Adding plants to interior spaces can eliminate toxins from the air, increase oxygen levels and raise indoor humidity. According to feng shui, houseplants balance the energy in the home and foster a sense of harmony. Houseplants may promote good health, too; researchers at Kansas State University discovered that adding plants to hospital rooms improved surgical patients’ recovery rates. Easy-care choices include the succulent jade plant, the heart-leaf philodendron (if you have pets, beware; the plant can be toxic to them if ingested) and the spider plant. Do you have a really black thumb? Try a parlor palm, also known as the cast-iron plant because of its hardy temperament and ability to thrive in low-light conditions with infrequent watering.

9. Bring nature in. “Adding something organic to a room can soften the space and connect it with the outdoors,” says Sun Valley, Idaho, interior designer Jennifer Hoey Smith. To breathe life into a space, try to include something organic in every room of the house, whether you create a nature-inspired craft or raid your yard for interesting leaves and branches to display inside. See “Organic Elements” later in this story for more ideas.

Support Your Passions

Our homes are meant to be our getaways—the one place in the world we can mold to fit our vision. Make your home support your endeavors by creating spaces for the activities that are most important to you.

10. Dine in. It doesn’t get more wholesome and nourishing than eating a home-cooked meal surrounded by our loved ones. Yet busy schedules often lead to meals eaten in the car, standing over the kitchen counter or in front of a screen. Creating an inviting eating space will naturally inspire more meals at home. Whether it’s tucked into a kitchen corner or in a formal dining room, the most essential element is a sturdy table sized right for the typical number of people in your group. If you enjoy entertaining but don’t want a large table year-round, look for an expandable table with leaves (antique and secondhand stores are good sources) or “Murphy” tables that fold up on the wall when not in use. If you don’t use your formal dining room for everyday eating, you may prefer to reconfigure the floor plan and move the table to the kitchen where people naturally congregate. Comfortable seats and warm lighting create ambience and encourage lingering and conversation. Don’t let the dining table be a repository for mail and homework; keeping the space uncluttered will impart a sense of calm to the room.

11. Create a nook. Designate a special spot to relax and recharge, whether it’s a window seat, a music room or a comfortable chair tucked in an alcove with a good reading light. After trying each day to find the right place in her house to unroll her yoga mat, Diane Sieg, author of 30 Days to Grace, finally finished and painted her back sun porch and converted it to a yoga room. “My partner and I have discovered that having a dedicated, comfortable space in our home honors and supports our intention to practice yoga every day,” Sieg says. Whether your passion is yoga, reading, playing the trumpet, grooming your dog or gardening, carve out a spot to dedicate to it. (Read our article, Home Garden: Create a Gardening Nook, for a list of ideas.)

12. Cultivate “household graces.” Do you have special routines that make your house feel like home? Honor them. Perhaps the smell of your fresh-brewed Guatemalan coffee permeates the house like a warm hug—wake up 15 minutes early and find a cozy spot to really indulge that luxurious feeling. Or maybe you always keep the cookie jar stocked with fresh, healthy treats to show your loved ones how much you care. Have fun by experimenting with new recipes and methods of display, whether on a pretty tray or in decorative vessels. Perhaps you have a gift for hospitality, and you want to create a welcoming, inviting table that always has room for one more: Enhance that inclination by taking a floral arranging class or starting a collection of quirky placemats. Explore and seek ways to creatively express your unique talents and style in your daily life at home.

Healthy Maintenance

Creating a healthy home isn’t all about décor—sometimes it’s about maintenance musts. Keep an eye on these little chores to keep your home running smoothly.

13. Look up. Over time, dust and dirt can accumulate on ceilings, especially in corners. Remove dust and cobwebs monthly with a vacuum brush attachment or a long-handled dust mop. Dust the vents and smoke alarms, too, and don’t forget attic door covers. For ceilings too dingy to clean, a new coat of paint will instantly freshen the space; light hues reflect light and make a room feel bigger. As long as they’re not too delicate, light fixtures can be cleaned with a feather duster or vacuum brush. For chandeliers with hanging crystals, cleaning expert Julie Edelman, author of The Ultimate Accidental Housewife, recommends hooking an open umbrella to the bottom of the chandelier and simply blowing the dust off with a hair dryer.

14. Breathing space. EPA studies have shown that indoor pollutant levels can be two to five times higher inside the home than outside, in part because of the chemicals used in synthetic home furnishings. Natural fabrics and fibers are breathable, comfortable, nontoxic and often longer-lasting. When replacing floor coverings and furnishings, consider items made with natural, renewable fabrics such as organic cotton (conventional cotton farming is laden with pesticides), wool, hemp, sisal, jute and sea grass, and water-based, non-VOC glues.

15. Maintain “hot spots.” We all have them: places such as the kitchen counter or dining room table that attract papers, keys, jackets and other assorted “stuff.” Identify these spots, then spend 10 minutes a day in this area minimizing clutter. If you don’t have a dedicated mud room, set up a small table or cupboard to corral gloves, keys and mail, and place a sturdy rug nearby to keep muddy boots and shoes off the floor.

16. Give yourself a break. Finally, remember to take a moment to appreciate your home and the life you create inside it. “Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need,” says Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance. Enjoy your home and overlook its imperfections (as your guests surely do), knowing that it’s more important to spend time with family and friends than to maintain a perfect household.

Organic Elements

A touch of nature can enliven a room. Bring the outdoors in with these simple, natural accessory ideas:

• A bright green bamboo stalk in a glass vase with pebbles

• A pretty polished seashell

• Flickering candles of natural beeswax

• A textural burlap table runner

• A vase of just-cut branches

• A naturally shed deer antler

• Forced narcissus bulbs in a clay pot

• A sun-bleached piece of driftwood

• A fragrant topiary rosemary plant

• Autumn leaves displayed in a pottery dish

• One perfect blossom floating in a glass bowl of water

• A sea grass basket filled with found objects

• A bonsai tree in a handpainted pot

• Pinecones piled in a handcarved wooden bowl

• An interesting rock or fossil

• A terrarium filled with small succulents

• A bowl of fresh green apples

Eliza Cross blogs about sustainable living, organic gardening and saving money at Happy Simple Living. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, The Quinoa Quookbook.