Or how to love your home, without doing anything to it
Evolution has bred us to be dissatisfied. For most of human history, until really very recently, the next drink of water, the next meal, the next warm, dry resting place were not assured. If you were lucky enough to find a handful of berries, you couldn’t take long enjoying those before you needed to think about where the next nourishment was coming from.
If you were someone who was easily satisfied, content with what you had, able to live in the now without thinking about the future, you starved or froze to death because you hadn’t quickly enough looked for the next meal or warm resting place. Survival of the fittest meant survival of the dissatisfied.
Our primal brain kept us alive by making us continually search for the next good thing, no matter what we had already. So dissatisfaction is a deeply inbred survival instinct.
The problem is that, for most of us today in our lives of comparative comfort and abundance, our primal brain is no longer serving us. When we have enough, this automatic search for more leaves us unable to be content with what we have, always focusing our happiness on getting more at some point in the future, to the cost of our contentment in the now.
This is nowhere more true than when it comes to loving our homes. We are, as a nation, obsessed with bigger, better homes. You only have to flick across TV channels to see endless shows about decorating, extending or moving houses. We seemingly cannot have enough of dreaming about more beautiful, bigger, better homes.
This obsession with pimping our homes may seem harmless but in fact, it can be seriously damaging to our wellbeing. It can make us feel unhappy and restless. It can cause us to negatively compare our situation to others, leaving us with a sense that we’re not doing so well and aren’t as successful as our peers. In turn, this can make us unhappy with our salaries and therefore job, or those of our partner. Before you know it, we’re telling ourselves that nothing is right in our lives – a thought that is guaranteed to make us feel pretty miserable.
Even worse, if we do manage to redecorate, add a room in the roof or move to our dream home, we will almost always find that it doesn’t make us feel how we expected it to. It doesn’t complete us and bring the contentment we expected, precisely because we’ve fed our primal brain’s dissatisfaction, and reinforced our own need to always want more. Even when we attain the more that we thought would satisfy us.
So what’s the alternative?
Most advice about how to love your home will take you through how to make it fit your desires more closely – whether that’s by decorating to the latest trend, slimming down your belongings to live more minimally or finding a house that better meet your needs. But, whilst we all enjoy a good Kondo session (and if you haven’t discovered file-folding, where have you been?) the more sustainable solution is actually not to change your house at all, instead changing how you think about it.
Because by changing how we think about our home, we can change how we feel about our home. And if we change how we feel about our home, we can love our home exactly as it is, without any costly work or moves. And with the average home renovation in London costing several hundreds of thousands and Stamp Duty for the average move almost as much, changing how you feel about your home could be a much smarter simpler, and considerably cheaper option.
So here are five steps to help you think differently and therefore love your home.
1. Change the story
We can love anything if we just tell ourselves the right story. Just look at how many lovable mice, pigs and even bugs there are children’s stories. The chances are that you’ve got a pretty good idea of everything that’s wrong with your house, and could recite the list pretty quickly – too small, wrong street, that radiator that’s never worked, the stain on the carpet etc. You’re telling yourself the story of your house not being right, and you need to change that narrative. So get in the habit of brainstorming the things that you do love about your home every day.
Start by writing the longest list you possibly can. Make sure you don’t ignore the stuff that you take for granted. The roof that keeps you dry, the oven that means you can cook hot dinners, the windows that let the sun in. Then work up to the great stuff, the stuff you love. The gorgeous period fireplace in the living room. The sun-drenched balcony. The giant bath. Whatever it is, write it down. Challenge yourself to find just as many good things as you can. Then every morning think of three things that are great or that really work for you in your house. Every single day.
Remind your brain of what you love, not what you hate. Gradually your brain will start to believe the new story that you’re telling it.
2. Love your home by actively noticing the good
Now that you’re getting clearer about what you love about your house, get present to it. Notice it consciously as you live in and move about your house. As you go about your house each day actively notice the stuff you love.
Hey big bath!
Oh there’s that beautiful view.
So glad the roof is keeping out this heavy rain.
Mmmm that blue wall.
You get the picture. Don’t leave it to chance to notice how lucky you are to live where you live. Look out for it. Wallow in it. Enjoy it.
3. Compare at your peril
The grass is always greener. Our primal brains make it so. So there will always be houses around you that you covet. Your friend’s newly renovated house. That big place on the corner you’ve always longed to own. The kitchen in this month’s Living Etc. Stop it. Just stop comparing what you have to those.
Because the truth is, no matter what you have, there will always be something you do not have. There will always be a bigger house. There will always be a more beautiful kitchen. There will always be a better street. And all the while you are wanting it, you won’t be able to love your home. So just stop comparing. It will help if you stop buying and looking in magazines (their sole purpose is to make you want to buy stuff), unfollow any Instagram account that does interiors, and delete Rightmove and Houzz. All of them just feed your dissatisfaction.
And if you still find yourself comparing, change your comparison. Rather than comparing your house to the rest of Balham, compare it to where the majority of the rest of the world live. The tiny shacks, shantytowns, crowded high rises. Get some perspective.
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4. Learn to love your home by focussing on the experiences you have in it
Homes are about what happens in them, not what carpet you have. So celebrate the moments of joy, love and play that happen in them. In the middle of the family dinner where you’re sat around laughing, or the film night wedged onto the sofa, or the Sunday morning in bed with coffee and toast notice the incredible life you’re leading in your house.
Make a mental audit each evening as you drift off to sleep of that day’s precious moments in your home – the five minutes playing on the living room floor with the kids before school, the kiss from your partner as you walked into the kitchen, the cup of tea you enjoyed in front of the TV this evening. The little special moments that together make a house a home. Take account of them every day and they’ll make you happier than any roll of wallpaper.
5. Be realistic about how good life would be on the greener grass
Trouble with dreaming about a better future is that we make an error. We over-index the benefits of the improvement we’re dreaming about – the extra space in a bigger house or the great outdoors around that home in the country – and we under-index the rest of life around that.
Moving to a house in the country is a classic. We imagine the cleaner air, the huge garden, the views of fields and the long walks, and can already feel the relaxation and the improved quality of life. But we don’t think enough about the fact that the alarm clock would still ring in the morning, that the kids would still fight, that work would still be work. The problems we have today would, by and large, still be with us. And that’s before we factor in any new ones – longer commute, having to drive everywhere – that the move might bring. It’s why so many people who leave London to move to the countryside end up moving back.
So don’t fool yourself by overdoing the good stuff and ignoring the negatives or the fact that your everyday life is going to move with you.
Work your way through these five steps and you'll be able to change how you think and feel about your house, helping you to love your home. Potentially saving yourself a lot of money and effort on the way!
To Sum Up…
Being dissatisfied was a great way to stay alive when we lived in caves, but in today’s more comfortable dwellings it doesn’t serve us well. Love your home by:
1 Changing the story you tell yourself about your house to one of all the great stuff about it
2 Actively noticing the great stuff as you move about your house every day
3 Giving up comparing your home to others
4 Bringing your focus to the experiences you have in your home
5 Being realistic about what your life would be like after you’ve achieved whatever improvement you’re dreaming about.
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