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Small home updates you can make right now that will boost your health and happiness

Your home should be a sanctuary from the chaotic world. These small changes will have a big impact on your mental health.
Image: Laptop on coffee table in a modern living room of an old country house
Adding plants and increasing the natural light in your space can instantly lower stress levels, boost productivity and improve your sleep.Westend61 / Getty Images

Any interior designer will tell you that the space in which we sit, gather and relax directly affects our overall mood. It’s why we place importance on “ambiance” when trying to figure out which restaurant to eat at for dinner, and it’s precisely why many make a concerted effort to design a beautiful home.

“I view my home, as well as my clients' homes, as very sacred spaces. They are sanctuaries from the chaotic world that should serve as a restorative place for us to recharge ourselves,” says Jeffrey Phillip, a NYC-based interior designer and organizer. “In the non-stop world we live in of never-ending to-do lists, activities and work, it's important to make the space comfortable, clean, and stress-free so that we are able to enjoy our time there.”

Marie Kondo, a world-recognized tidying expert and founder of the KonMari Method of organization, agrees wholeheartedly with Phillip. She adds that this investment in your space can even pay off in ways some may not wholly appreciate.

“Many of my clients gained confidence through tidying their homes and started making better choices in their careers and relationships. As a result, their lives — and not just their homes — became more joyful,” she told NBC News BETTER via a translator. “Additionally, when you expend time and energy taking care of your possessions and your home, you develop an understanding that your belongings are supporting your life and your home becomes peaceful.”

5 Small Changes That Make a Big Impact on Your Wellbeing

Creating a space that fosters calmness, a boosted mood, and a sense of pride doesn’t require massive changes or a large budget. Here are some small, intentional ways to update your home right now that will have a big payoff:

Add Plants

By now, we’re familiar with the positive impact that nature has on our mood. For example, a 2015 study concluded that people who spent 50 minutes in a natural setting, versus an urban one, felt happier. Additional studies have found that being surrounded by nature reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. It makes sense, then, to bring the outdoors into your space by incorporating living, breathing houseplants.

“Plants are one of my favorite inexpensive items to add to a space. They add life and are a terrific dead space filler,” says Melissa B. Rodgers, an interior stylist based in Kansas City. “They not only look beautiful but improve your overall health by reducing air pollution, increasing oxygen levels, fighting fatigue, relieving stress and improving your overall mood.”

A NASA study found that indoor houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxin in a single 24-hour span.

For low maintenance options, try Ravenea (majesty palm), Aspidistra Elatior (cast iron plant), and Ficus Lyrate (fiddle leaf figs).

Eliminate Clutter

“The KonMari Method encourages tidying by category in a specific order, addressing all belongings in the home in one go,” says Kondo. (Read more about this process in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). “However, if you want to experience the effect of tidying without the whole commitment, you can do so simply by letting go of items that do not spark joy,” she says.

It sounds nebulous, but this ultimately entails removing items that weigh you down, that don’t contribute anything to your space, and that create unnecessary “noise.”

Clutter can easily prevent a space from being relaxing since the visual stimulation can be a competition for your attention.

Phillip adds, “Clutter can easily prevent a space from being relaxing since the visual stimulation can be a competition for your attention. For example, magazines and mail stacked on the coffee table, visible electronic cords and cables, and tchotchkes on every shelf and surface.”

Beyond being unpleasant to look at, a 2016 study concluded that clutter negatively impacts our subjective well-being, and a 2017 study even found a correlation between clutter and overeating. So tidying up may be good for your waistline, too.

Get Organized

Once you’ve identified and eliminated clutter, the next step is to designate a place for remaining items.

“Specifying a home for each item and knowing where to put it away makes keeping a tidy space much easier,” says Kondo. “If you have loose items strewn around without a defined home — such as hand cream, keys and remote controls — try using a tray or basket to designate a place of belonging. Organizing possessions on a tray [or basket] looks tidier than putting those items directly on a shelf or table.”

Also take advantage of concealed storage, such as storage ottomans, storage chairs and cabinets with opaque (versus transparent) doors.

Adjust Your Lighting

Whether it’s too much or too little, lighting greatly affects our mood and the overall vibe of our home. Phillip says that striking the right balance can help create a relaxing, stress-free environment — and it only takes a few simple changes.

“First, increase the natural light in the room by removing heavy, dark drapes and swapping them for something lighter in color or a material that will allow more natural light to come into the room,” he advises. “Another trick is to add a mirror — or several small decorative mirrors — in spots where the light will reflect from the window. This will help bounce the natural light around the room.”

Increased natural light during the day improves productivity and subjective well-being, and that it can even improve your sleep once you’re ready for bed.

Interestingly, a 2014 study concluded that increased natural light during the day improves productivity and subjective well-being, and that it can even improve your sleep once you’re ready for bed. For the evening, Phillips says a lamp with multiple settings is ideal.

“They allow you to easily go from soft, relaxing lighting to brighter task lighting,” he explains. “Using several of these in your room is a great way to easily adjust the mood depending on if you are playing a game with your family or relaxing and watching TV at the end of the day.”

Change Your Color Scheme

In the same way that visual clutter can negatively impact our mood, an overly-stimulating color palette can be mentally draining.

Color is a powerful tool to make your space feel, cheerful, calm, dramatic or comfortable. Colors invoke emotions,” says Rodgers. “Changing paint color is an inexpensive way to freshen up a space and instantly change the mood of the room.”

If you’re unsure of which colors to choose, she notes that shades of gray, soft blues and even muted greens help create a tranquil, polished, inviting space. Also, many paint companies do offer online tools to help you create a beautiful scheme that works for your space (and experimenting online first ensures you don't waste time or money making a trip to the store and buying paint only to find that the color doesn't look right in your home).

We get it: painting an accent wall or an entire room might be too much to deal with right now. For a quicker fix, Phillip recommends adjusting your color scheme elsewhere, such as throw pillows and blankets, accent chairs, drapes, rugs, and even couch covers.


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