Our houses are so much more than just shelter from the elements. It’s the place where we expect to find peace; feel safe; be ourselves; relax; represent who we are; have friends over, and most of all, be happy!
As an excited first-time homeowner, it’s so important that the place that Mr.D and I call home is somewhere that brings us a lot of peace and happiness – a place that we can’t wait to come home to every day. And happiness doesn’t always come from designer kitchens, finished basements, and Olympic sized pools – although I wouldn’t say no to any of those! But quite often it’s the simple things that that make a house a home and bring a sense of peace, happiness, and well-being. These are the things that make mine a happy home.
1. LET’S GET PERSONAL
Many of us would like to live in the kind of home that wouldn’t look out of place among the pages of Home and Garden – or in my case, MTV Cribs! But in trying to do so, we get so bogged down with the details concerning our chosen theme or colour scheme that we discard anything that doesn’t ‘go’ with the decor – even though quite often these are the very things that reflect our personality and gives the home we live in a sense of identity and signs of life.
I’m often quite underwhelmed by homes that don’t seem to contain anything personal or tell me anything about the people who live there. To me it feels a little soulless. So I love to see photographs, artwork, holiday souvenirs, collections on display, a library of well-loved books, home made furnishings, home-grown flowers in a vase… anything that tells a story and says something about the habits, interests and personality about the owner of the house.
True there should be some flow between personal objects and the style of the house but with a little imagination, you can bring together the most eclectic of objects bound together in your own inimitable style. So our house is most definitely going to refect our love of travel, rock music, food, family and friends, 1980s nostalgia, angels and… Lego! Now that’s some story to tell!
2. DISPLAY PHOTOS
There’s hardly anyone out there who doesn’t carry some kind of device for taking photos which means that they can literally snap away any time, any place, anywhere. Taking photos has never been easier. But unfortunately most people have a tendency to just leave the photos on their phones or tablets or upload them on to social media and then just forget about them. When I worked in a gift shop, most of my customers would only really buy photo frames or albums as a last resort. “Well that’s what Facebook’s for,” they’d say.
Well I personally think that’s a waste of a good photo.
When I lived at home with my family, I was photo mad. My room was a shrine to me and Mr.D. which some people found nauseating but who cares! Then I framed photos and put them all over the house which annoyed my family as they kept knocking them over. Which in turn annoyed me if the photos were just left lying there, or worse the frame was broken. And when we moved to the States, I couldn’t bring my mammoth collection with me but I made sure I had enough to put all over the apartment.
I love displaying photos and I don’t think a home feels complete without them. There’s nothing like seeing the faces of the people you love most every day, especially when they can’t be with you in person as often as you’d like. Each photo tells a story and gives you the chance to relive memories. I’ve also found that photos can be a real talking point when you have guests over – especially with people you don’t know very well.
And there’s an array of gorgeous frames available to suit everyone’s taste, to simple and elegant to colourful and funky. Yep, I’ve got the lot!
3. A SOFT SPOT FOR SOFT FURNISHINGS
As the child of parents who own a soft furnishings business, I definitely have a liking for soft furnishings – much more than Mr. D does. I think they add a touch of luxury and a lot of comfort and really make a house feel like a home. True, I’m not into doilies, you’ll never find chairbacks or armcaps on my sofa, and I’m not sure how fussed I am about tablecloths.
But I know that I’m most definitely a fan of curtains. I appreciate the beauty of a well dressed window as well as the practicalities of providing privacy and retaining warmth. Beautiful bedding is a must; beanbags and floor cushions provide extra, informal seating for guests, and I don’t believe that a couch is really a couch unless is got throws – perfect for snuggling under when you’re watching TV or surfing the net – and a truckload of cushions. Not that Mr. D would agree with me!
And what I love most about soft furnishings is that it really is the quickest, most convenient, and possibly the cheapest way of instantly changing the appearance of a room.
4. SIMPLY SCENTSATIONAL
Like songs, certain aromas are highly evocative and have an effect on our moods, feelings and well-being. But quite often how fab – or unfab – your home smells is often overlooked.
When I used to live in a house-share, some of the highly pungent foods that my housemates used to cook would make me want to gag. I would have to hold my breath as I walked into the kitchen and I would be afraid that the not-so-sweet fragrances would be lingering on my clothes. And I couldn’t even escape it in my bedroom where the dreaded smell would be wafting up into my room. So even though I do have happy memories of my time in the house-share, this was not one of them!
But pleasant aromas can have a positive effect on us and can make us feel refreshed, calm, energised and can induce sleep. Everyone knows why people eager to sell their homes are keen to have the aroma of freshly baked goodies wafting around their home, and its that same smell that can be delightfully welcoming to a guest visiting your home. That and freshly ground coffee, and beautifully-scented cut flowers.
I’m not really a fan of air freshener or highly fragranced cleaning products with that ghastly synthetic smell, so I wouldn’t use those. But I do love good quality scented candles and incense sticks; good old-fashioned drawer liners and lavender sachets; essential oils being used in oil burners, floral-scented water spritzed over bedding, and an aromatic bath doesn’t just do wonders for you but also makes your bathroom smell divine.
And although I wouldn’t normally have it in the house the rest of the year, I really don’t think Christmas is Christmas without some festive-looking and festival smelling pot pourri!
5. MAKE TEA-TIME A REAL TREAT
It wasn’t anything as grand as afternoon tea in a posh hotel or quaint tea-room but growing up, tea-time was a pretty big deal in my family – especially when I went to Granddad’s house. Everything stopped for tea! I guess that’s where I get my love of afternoon tea from.
Unfortunately with the hours most of us work, tea at four o’clock every day is impossible. It would however make a fabulous, relaxing weekend treat – just what’s needed to help you unwind. And why not go to town by using real china, cake stands and serving lots of scrumptious, sweet, creamy delicacies?
There’s no reason why tea-time at home shouldn’t be every bit as enjoyable as at your local tea shop.
6. HAVE A BAKE-IN!
Closely linked to number five, baking used to be regarded as something that your mum or gran would do especially if you needed cheering up or deserved a treat. But for a long time it wasn’t really considered cool or especially trendy. When we wanted a birthday cake or fresh bread, we headed over to our local bakery rather than whip something up ourselves. We all live such hectic lives that when we get home after a hard day’s work, the last thing we feel like doing is creaming butter and sugar!
But baking can be relaxing, enjoyable and therapeutic. And shows such as Great British Bake Off, Masterchef and Next Great Baker have reignited our enthusiasm for baking and enabled us to get happy with the mixing bowl again.
Baking is an activity which involves all five of the senses. Who doesn’t love the sight of prettily iced cupcakes; the texture of bread as it’s being kneaded; the taste of choc chip cookies; the aroma of delicious home baking, and best of all, the sound of everyone happily tucking in!
If there’s something else I think that makes a home complete other than framed photos out on display, it’s candles – and lots of them. And if they’re scented candles then that’s even better. There’s nothing like the cosy, warm glow of candlelight to bring that touch of magic into your home. It’s great for when you want to unwind, meditate, or get romantic. Candlelight is also great to fall asleep to but for this I would strongly recommend the common sense option of battery operated candles.
8. CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE
When Mr.D and I lived in London, we had to make do with a flat that was a little on the cosy side! But despite this, Mr.D and I both marked out places that were our ‘spots.’ These were places where we could put our feet up; watch a bit of telly; read; have a cuppa; blog or do crafts (me!) play computer games (definitely Mr. D!) and have it looking the way we wanted it to look.
When you live with others, I think it’s important for you to pick a place in the house that you can call your own: a place where you can talk on the phone; read a novel; write etc. and generally just slow down, enjoy your own company and be lost in your own thoughts. Absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Your own space could be a comfy armchair by the window; a window seat with a nearby bookcase containing your fave novels; a corner of the room with bean bags, floor cushions and a side table with all your fave knick-knacks on it. In fact who even says it has to be indoors? Maybe you could relax on a blanket beside gorgeous, sweetly scented rose bushes in your garden, or a bench under a tree.
In one episode of Wife Swap, I came across a lady who had built a thirty thousand dollar meditation feature in her garden, which she never used for meditating but she did like sitting out there and admiring it (admittedly, we don’t all have the budget for that!)
9. TO READ OR NOT TO READ
Knowing that printed literature is fast becoming obsolete makes me feel sad as just looking at a book puts me in a better mood. To say that I am a bookworm is something of an understatement. I grew up with books, newspapers, and magazines and I cannot imagine a world without them.
Yes, I know that E-readers are all the rage and that everyone reads newspapers and magazines online these days. But when I was growing up, the focal point of the sitting room were the bookshelves that contained Dad’s vast collection of books which he used to sit and read most evenings in ‘his space’. And I like the fact that some kind of reading material perched on a coffee table gives a home a nice ‘lived-in’ feel.
And taking a look at people’s bookshelves also tells you a lot about them. Mine reveal my love of crafts, writing, studying languages and chick lit. My mum’s extensive collection of recipe books gives away her love of cooking, being a bit of a feeder, and ambition to be the next Masterchef! My brother’s books show that he’s sports mad, while Mr. D’s reading material point towards being a Trekkie and avid watcher of Game Of Thrones and that he loved Brian Jacques books as a kid.
10. WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
Sleep: the one thing that most of us can’t get enough of and would never say no to more of – if only we had the time!
When I’m sleep deprived I am not a happy bunny but then, who is? That’s why it’s so important that your bedroom is a tranquil haven where you can nod off easily and get adequate hours of peaceful slumber. And when I’m not sleeping, my bedroom is the place where I lounge around, read, and meditate, so it really is the place where I get some much needed rest and relaxation.
That’s one of the reasons why I firmly believe that, if it can be helped, you should never use your bedroom for working or studying in. It should ideally be kept clutter-free and as device- free as possible which, yes I know is hard, but we all know how technological gadgets interfere with our sleep. And if you suffer from allergies like Mr. D and me, then its important to keep your sleeping area clean, tidy and dust-free.
Even though my bedroom when I lived at home was pretty loud (which wasn’t a problem for me) most people would generally decorate their rooms in calming, serene colours or darker colours which help them to nod off more easily. Use adequate blinds, curtains and poles for windows as early morning sunlight seeping into your room might cause you to wake up sooner than you would like.
You can decorate your home any way you like but it’s the people we love who bring the happiness and laughter into our homes. And being a born hostess who loves nothing better than to entertain, I love having friends over to watch movies, major sports games or to stay for the weekend. I enjoy throwing parties and gatherings; hosting formal dinner parties or informal supper nights, and my famous cocktail and canapés events.
After all what’s the point of having a beautiful home of you can’t share it with your amazing family and friends?
So a new year has begun, and for most of us, it will begin in the same way as it does for every other new year: trying to get our finances in order; working off all that excess food that was consumed over the festive period, and making resolutions which – let’s be honest – are most probably broken by now!
I begin every year by wondering what the new year has in store for me – and hoping that it will be the best ever yet. I was very fortunate that the last couple of years have been very good, and without wanting to sound greedy, I am hoping for another one! And that’s why I’m determined to make sure that I play an active role in trying to make life the best it can be. That means taking control and doing what’s best for me. I’m also going to spend more time working towards my goals and doing what I need to do to become a much happier person. Hopefully by the time we celebrate 2016, I’ll be able to look back on another awesome year (2016! Oh my goodness!) And I’ve already started putting my plans into practice…
So that’s what the first post in the Better Living series is dedicated to: setting a few basic rules to guide you into becoming happier, healthier, less stressed, and more focused on getting what you want out of life. It’s a good starting point but in future posts, we will look into each of these aspects in more detail.
20 STEPS TO A NEW YOU!
- Take care of the basics! – Eat healthy food; consume lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; take supplements if necessary; get lots of fresh air; drink plenty of water; do physical exercise; sleep well; meditate, and be happy!
- You are the scriptwriter and the star of your own show – not the supporting actor – It’s always important to listen to those around us who are genuinely there to give us support. But ultimately no one knows you better than you do so do what’s best for you. Don’t be afraid to get advice or ask for opinions but listen to the most sincere voice, not the loudest. Don’t let anyone push you off stage or grab your microphone. No one else tells you what to do or speaks for you – just you and you alone.
- Be a wise decision maker – Sometimes we only have one shot at things, so it’s important to be careful before making major decisions. Too many people jump head first into making decisions that require a lot of thought and then go on to live with the disastrous consequences. Much of our happiness and wellbeing depend on the little decisions we make in our everyday lives, so be aware of the consequences, don’t rush and choose carefully.
- Stop chasing your tail – Life can sometimes resemble being on an exercise bike: you’re peddling away like mad but you’re not going anywhere. Being unnecessarily busy and being productive are two different things. You can rush around like a crazy person but at the end of the day you still won’t have achieved anything constructive and will only have succeeded in stressing yourself out. Cut down on things that you don’t need to do and don’t be afraid to ask people for help.
- Do what makes your heart sing – This year I’ve started doing things that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s not just new skills like learning languages or instruments that are on my to-do list, but also spending more time with friends, getting more ‘me time’, and spending more quality time with my better half. So rather than concentrate on what you have to do or what you’re able to do; think about what you were meant to do and take steps towards doing it. And if you only have half an hour a day to spend on it, at least it’s half an hour that’s going to make you very happy.
- Do what’s right – not easy – There have been many times I’ve done what was the easiest thing to do rather than what was right. And what was ‘easy’ was usually what other people wanted which I went along with for the sake of a quiet life even though the person who lost out in the end was me. But there have been times when I’ve really had to put up a fight and do what was right because the easy way wasn’t going to benefit anyone at all. And looking back, I’m glad that I had the courage to stand by my convictions. You don’t have to do something purely because you can. Do what’s right in the long term – not what’s easiest. In the long run you’ll feel less stressed and resentful.
- Worry solves nothing, action does! – I can’t help it, I’m a born worrier. My friends actually worry about me worrying. But I know that in the long run worrying solves nothing. It just causes more stress and more problems. Replacing worry with solutions and positive action gets far better results. Don’t believe me? Just look at the most determined, successful, happiest people. Do they look like they have endless sleepless nights worrying their socks off? No, I didn’t think so either!
- Burying your head in the sand solves nothing!– Now this is advice I really need to follow. The only way to combat something negative is to take steps towards doing something positive in order to resolve it. Burying your head in the sand and not resolving problems only leads to stress; sleepless nights and a great deal of unhappiness. Now that we can live without.
- Let little frustrations go – Admittedly I do get wound up by silly, trivial little things. In fact I’ve been known to brood over things for days that most people would shrug off. But it’s absurd to let one meaningless incident put a dampener on tons of good things that are happening around you. Everyone has their fair share of day to day dramas but a lot of people have learned not to let it get them down, so focus on the positive.
- Peering over the garden fence gets you nowhere – If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s people who never count their blessings and are forever wanting what other people have. The thing about people like that is whatever good fortune they’ve been blessed with, they’ll never be happy. Let’s be honest, it’s human nature to feel a twinge of envy when we see others with something we would like to have. But comparing ourselves to others and keeping up with the Joneses won’t make us happy. Focus on yourself and your own unique circumstances. Work on what you need to do to make life better for YOU. And don’t underestimate the power of gratitude and counting your blessings. Be grateful for the life that you have and all that is yours – you’ll feel happier, more positive and confident.
- Give from the heart… but don’t let anyone steal your energy – Don’t give with the expectation of getting something back because not everyone thinks the same way and you’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s why if you’re going to do something for someone, make sure it’s because you really want to do it; that the gesture comes straight from the heart, and that you don’t expect anything back in return. BUT be wary of those who keep taking and give nothing back. All they do is drain your strength and energy and make you feel worthless and resentful. This is where good decision making comes in to play: know when to give and when to draw the line. And if someone really is taking advantage, it’s time to close the door and focus on those who are more appreciative of your efforts.
- Start focusing only on what you can control – It’s pointless banging your head against a brick wall. Do the best you can and then let whatever happens happen. If it’s meant to be it will be, but if not then you have to accept that there are some things that are out of your control and move on.
- You own technology – technology does not own you – Twenty first century living definitely has its emphasis on gadgets, and while they are very useful, it’s very easy to let them take over your life and I feel that some people have definitely lost that human touch. Don’t allow technology to control you. Know when to put down your iPad, to switch off your phone, and to stop texting, make eye contact, have face-to-face conversations, write letters, and hug more!
- Live in the moment – Don’t carry the heavy burdens of the past on your shoulders. And don’t excessively worry about what the future holds. Time has a habit of going by so quickly and before you know it, the here and now will have passed us by without us having the chance to experience it. Try not to dwell on past mistakes, and don’t get caught up in thoughts about the far, distant future. Enjoy the present and live in the moment.
- Start being the difference you want to see in the world – We are all destined for great things. Some of us realise that and act on it, but sadly some of us never fulfil our potential. Being ‘the difference’ can mean writing a prize winning novel, finding a cure for cancer, or winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Or it could be something as simple as making time to have a cup of tea and a natter with someone who needs a friend. We all have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life in one way or another – it’s a gift that should never be wasted.
- Be relationship rich! – Working hard and making money is essential to live in today’s world. But don’t get so caught up in the daily grind that you forget about the people who matter. Show those special people that they are loved and valued. Close relationships are important to our happiness so make an effort to be rich in good friendships and value family time.
- Embrace new growth opportunities – I’m not always one for change but I wonder how much different my life would have been if I hadn’t taken a different path from time to time. I wouldn’t have experienced everything that I have done up to now and I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. We have to accept the possibility that there may be things out there that are better for us and in order to find it, we may sometimes have to get out of our comfort zone. Try something different; go somewhere new. Life is full of countless opportunities and new possibilities. So embrace life, keep an open mind and have fun exploring new avenues.
- Understand life’s lessons – Sometimes life teaches us painful lessons that we didn’t think we needed. But everything happens for a reason and these lessons make us wiser and help us to grow, Everything that happens helps you grow. Learn from your experiences but furthermore learn from the painful experiences of others too. There’s always a lesson to be gained from everyone’s experiences.
- Be proud of those little achievements – We all think that when we hit a certain age, we’ll be at a certain stage in our lives. But real life doesn’t always work that way and you may find that you’re not where you want to be right now. But bear in mind that you’ve come a long way and you’re not stuck where you once were. Don’t set unrealistic targets for yourself. Give yourself attainable goals and work towards achieving those. As a work in progress, you’ll get there a little at a time, not all at once. So celebrate the small progresses that you make.
- True happiness comes from within – You could have all the money in the bank, a jet set lifestyle, a fabulous relationship, and be stunning to boot – and still not happy. That’s because being happy starts with you. If you’re not happy with who you are, you won’t find happiness from any external influences. So if there’s something in your life that you’re not happy with, it’s time to start making the necessary tweaks, adjustments, and changes, and getting rid of what doesn’t work for you anymore.
I hope this post has given you food for thought and that you’re able to put some of these plans into action. We all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day so it will take some time before you see results but don’t let that put you off. The trick is to take things one step at a time. Just think, by the time we get to the end of this year, we could be looking at a whole new you!