I am not an interior decorator, nor am I a therapist, but I do feel incredibly confident in saying this: If a room is bumming you out and you don’t love the way it looks, do not go down a rabbit hole of online shopping for things you don’t need. Instead, may I suggest an activity that’s relatively easy and 100% free? Look for the stories you’re telling yourself about your living space. This might be obvious advice, but how we feel about ourselves affects how we feel about our homes.
Take my living room. Although it’s a nice space in theory, our family has almost never gathered there. Part of the problem is the layout. One wall has a large window and a long radiator; another has built-ins next to a fireplace; the other two have French doors. When we moved in earlier this year, we positioned our furniture where the home’s previous owner had put his: couch against the wall, coffee table in front of that, a chair in the corner. We assumed it was the best way to go, but the flow was awkward. Everything felt far away.
The other problem? In a hurry to tear down some funky wallpaper before moving in, we rushed through choosing a paint color and chose a cool-toned white that reads a bit cold. And due to the supply chain crisis, we bought mostly secondhand furniture that wasn’t exactly right for our needs. Don’t get me wrong—I love buying secondhand. But our stiff sofa is better-suited for an office lobby than a family room, and as for the tulip table I’d wanted for years, its (potentially tooth-shattering, concussion-causing) marble top proved to be a source of anxiety whenever our toddler came lumbering into the room. Overall, the layout, color scheme, and materials feel clinical—exactly the opposite of how I’d like our home to feel.
They’re funny, the issues that come up around something as seemingly non-emotional as decorating your space. Having grown up worried about money, I have a hard time spending mine on nice, non-essential things. Deep down, I don’t always feel that I deserve them. I also don’t like wasting money, so if I’ve purchased a rug that isn’t right for a space, I feel like I must live with it as penance. I have developed a limiting belief around the way my home “should” look. I look at other people’s beautiful homes and think, “Well, yes, maybe they can have a home like that. But I can’t, because…” Cue victim mode. And victim mode is never cute.
Fortunately, my spouse doesn’t have these issues. I mean, he has issues of his own (don’t we all!) but he doesn’t have my weird emotional knots around money and worth. When I blurted out, “I’m sorry, but I don’t like the way this room looks, and I’m so bummed out by it,” I said it with an air of weary resignation—we’d be STUCK with the washed-out room… FOREVER! My husband kindly said, “I don’t think it’s working, either. Probably needs different paint, and as much as I like the tulip table, it’s an accident waiting to happen. We can just flip it and get something safer.” Without my baggage, he could see a different possibility, and then, so could I.
Newly energized, I aimed to reframe my perceived obstacles as opportunities. I picked up some paint swatches, created a mood board, and began to budget for a different sofa, rug, and coffee table. I listed some items on Facebook Marketplace and plan to put that money toward the redecorating fund. Using some books and candles, I styled a few empty shelves to make the room feel less forlorn. We changed the orientation of the rug, floated the sofa, and brought in a lamp and a chair from another room. Turns out this layout feels better and cozier. Now we gather in the room and it’s become a happy place in our home.
Is it my dream space? No, but it’s getting closer. Sometimes all you need is to shift your perspective—and your furniture positioning, while you’re at it. —Annie Tomlin