We’re living in the golden age of interiors inspiration, with an endless stream of images and videos serving up ideas and advice on creating a home you love. And while all of those dreamy bedrooms and meticulously organized pantries can spark creativity for your own projects, it can also open doors to feelings of envy or inadequacy. “When we see how other people are living in their homes, it may trigger our own insecurities or deeply held beliefs about how our home is supposed to look like, which may lead to a spiral of challenging emotions,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health, a provider of outpatient in-person and virtual healthcare.
In a way, it’s only natural that we’re curious about how other people are living—and the idea of keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new. What’s changed, however, is the ability to see inside the homes of neighbors and strangers alike. “For so many of us, the pandemic blurred the lines between our public and private lives and those of our friends and colleagues,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. Think of those Zoom calls with colleagues, or TikToks filmed in a friend’s living room. “[Those] gave us a new and intimate view into people’s lives and homes. It’s completely understandable that someone might fall into a comparison trap in light of this new normal,” she notes.
But as the saying goes, it’s not helpful to compare your life with someone else’s highlight reel—or home-tour Reel. That’s because frequent comparison can impact our self-esteem and self-worth, Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “While it can be challenging, especially in this age of social media when we are constantly bombarded with images of people living aspirational lifestyles, those struggling with low self-esteem should be mindful of how impactful comparison can be.” Plus, even if we’re not actively comparing our homes to those of others, simply viewing them can influence our definition of what homes “should” look like.
For some, home envy can be tied into self-worth. This, says Dr. Patel-Dunn says, presents an opportunity to understand the deeper issue. “A great way to start identifying where these feelings come from is just getting curious,” she says. “Rather than immediately believing your automatic thoughts, like ‘I’m not good enough,’ or “I’ll never achieve what they have,’ experiment with questioning those thoughts. Oftentimes, we default to catastrophizing or believing negative thoughts when there’s no factual basis behind our fears and concerns.”
If difficult feelings come up, give yourself the space to explore what’s coming up for you, Dr. Patel-Dunn says. Another step, she adds, is to cultivate gratitude as a way to reframe the negative feelings. “For example, start by simply observing,” she says. “Look around your home and acknowledge the things that make you feel happy. This can be as simple as appreciating having heat or a feeling of safety—maybe a piece of furniture. Reflect on how your home functions for you and whether you have what you need.” It may also help to remind yourself that social media and home-improvement TV shows tend to grab attention with dazzling before-and-afters, but most people are just living life in their homes as they are. Another reality check? Happy homes are made by the people and relationships within them, not achieving aesthetic perfection.
Another way to respond if you start feeling all the feelings while scrolling Instagram? Incorporate a mindfulness practice as a way to cope with those emotions. “I frequently advocate for incorporating mindfulness practices as a healthy coping technique when we feel emotionally activated. “This could look like doing a breathing exercise, checking in with our physical body, taking a walk around the block, listening to your favorite music, etc.,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “It also doesn’t have to be long—just enough time for us to ground ourselves when we notice we’re getting swept away by challenging thoughts or emotions.”
Although it’s normal to experience some moments of envy when looking at beautiful homes—after all, wouldn’t most of us enjoy waking up in a villa overlooking Lake Como?—there are some warning signs that indicate a problem. For instance, if you’re never satisfied with your own home, if you’re spending beyond your means on decorating, or if you spend excessive time on socials comparing yourself to others, that may be a red flag,” Dr. Patel-Dunn says. “Pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after you spend time on social media or buy a new item for your home,” she says. If these activities cause stress, debt, or unpleasant comparison, she says it might be time to reassess them—and perhaps speak with a licensed therapist who can help you develop coping skills.