Keep calm and carry on? Not quite. Nowadays, it feels like we’re perpetually surrounded by a big cloud of pure, overwhelming stress. And in case you didn’t get the memo, being stressed is never a good thing.
“Stress raises our cortisol levels and keeps us in a state of fight or flight,” says Amber Dunford, design psychology expert and lead stylist at Overstock. “Elevated cortisol levels can result in mood swings, feeling irritable or depressed, and rapid weight gain, often in the abdomen or face.”
Meet the Expert
Amber Dunford is a design psychology expert and lead stylist at Overstock. She holds a Master's Degree in Psychology and developed a Design Psychology course at Salt Lake Community College that she has been teaching since 2001.
“A cluttered or messy home puts unnecessary stress on our minds, as we tend to view our homes as an extension of ourselves,” Dunford explains.
It makes a lot of sense. Your home is a lot more than a place you fill with pretty furniture and accessories; it’s your private sanctuary. As the first and last thing you see, your home has the power to set the tone for the rest of your day. So shouldn’t your home be as stress-free as possible?
To help, Dunford is sharing five ways your home might be stressing you out—as well as easy tweaks to give your space a soothing feel. Follow these tips and let the chill vibes come pouring in.
Not Enough Light
Never underestimate the power of good lighting. Not only can strategically placed pendants and table lamps transform your space’s atmosphere, but it can also affect your mood. According to Dunford, it’s important to choose the right type of lights.
“Natural light helps us regulate and lift our moods, and not having enough of it can have negative effects on a person,” she says. “Humans prefer to be under dappled lighting, which is the same light you might experience when the sun shines through the leaves on a tree.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to have a jungle bungalow to achieve this look. Dunford recommends swapping out your lampshades and pendants or a basket-weave material, which will create the look of dappled lighting. Lacking natural light altogether? Hang a mirror across from a window to make your space appear brighter.
Overwhelming Amounts of Color
Sorry, maximalists, there is such a thing as too much color. In fact, an abundance of vibrant hues can turn your once relaxing into the epicenter of stress.
“Highly saturated hues and multiple contrasting colors can be great for creating an energizing effect in humans; however, this combination is difficult to be around for extended periods of time and will lead to anxiety and stress,” Dunford says.
But just because bold colors can be stressful doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate them from your space. Instead, use these vibrant hues in moderation.
“Consider proportion when using bold colors and look to nature for your palette,” she recommends. “In nature, earthy neutrals appear in the largest proportions, while bold pops of color show up in smaller amounts in flowers and plants.”
Not Enough Variation
We know what you’re thinking: If bold colors are too stressful, you should opt for a crisp white, right? Well, not necessarily. Believe it or not, too much white can turn your home into a stressful space.
“While most people report feeling calm and relaxed in spaces with more of a natural and uniform palate, spaces with no variation in hue can elicit the opposite response,” Dunford says.
She has a point. After all, how many of us get extremely stressed out when they wear a pair of pristine white pants? (Just me? Okay.) Your home is meant to be lived in with as little stress as possible, and a pristine, can’t-touch-me white will do nobody any favors.
While most people report feeling calm and relaxed in spaces with more of a natural and uniform palate, spaces with no variation in hue can elicit the opposite response.
Dunford says beige is a less stressful alternative, and doesn’t demand the obsessive upkeep as a coat of white paint. But what’s a design enthusiast to do if you have white walls and don’t want to undergo a time-consuming paint job? Warm up the space with accents in neutral hues like tan, gray, and, of course beige.
Clashing Prints and Patterns
Admittedly, we can’t say we were surprised to learn busy prints can be stressful. After all, where there’s bright colors, there are usually bold patterns, too.
“Too many prints, especially when they largely vary in scale or feature too many contrasting colors can mentally clutter a space, regardless of actual clutter,” Dunford says. “Our ancestral past leads us to be wary of being surrounded by too many prints; consider the idea of being in the woods or living outdoors before modern day housing.”
Just like with bold colors, you can still incorporate prints in your space; however, you need to use your editor’s eye. For example, alternating between a small, Swiss dot and large-scale botanical can strike a balance between statement and stress-free.
“If you are using a large scale print on a headboard for example, try introducing a stripe or color block print in your bedding to mix up the scale,” she recommends.
Too Much Visible Clutter
Marie Kondo was right: A tidy home is a happy home. After all, there’s a reason her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, resonated with so many people.
“Clutter makes us feel tense and requires more of our mental attention,” Dunford explains. “We tend to focus more on overflowing stacks of paperwork or piles of toys, as our brains cannot mentally arrange clutter in the same way we can with tidy stacks or organized bins.”
Instead, keep clutter to a minimum by storing your belongings in containers and baskets. That way, you can think less about your looming clutter and more about the important things in life, like your to-do list or which television show to stream. Now that will spark some joy.