How can a happier home improve our overall wellbeing?

Our mental health and wellbeing are affected by many different aspects of life, including our homes. This blog post is the first instalment of an insightful interview with professional organiser Maria Saxby, who explains the emotional attachments we develop within our homes and how we can create a sense of calm and contentment. 

Becci Oldman, Interior Designer

Becci Oldman, Interior Designer

The Good Home Report, an international study carried out by the Happiness Research Institute and Kingfisher, has proven the strong link between our overall happiness and our happiness with our homes. There are five emotions identified in the report that embody our attachment with our homes, the greatest of which is pride. 

If we are proud of where we live we can be more relaxed and content, and we wanted to explore this further by considering how a happy home can affect our mental wellbeing too. 

Maria Saxby is a decluttering and organisation expert, whose journey began when she happened upon a book called ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, by Marie Kondo. The ‘konmari’ method Marie uses became more popular when she appeared in a Netflix series earlier this year and builds on the concept of creating greater happiness in your home through a process of intensive organisation. 

Maria Saxby, Professional Organiser

Maria Saxby, Professional Organiser

After transforming her own home Maria found she was more peaceful, and she began helping others to do the same. She supports people to understand what they want from their homes, to see what their blockages are, and how to overcome them, decluttering and organising their belongings to achieve significant shifts in their happiness and wellbeing, and creating homes they are proud of. 

“Our home is holding who we’s meant to be a place of restoration. We can completely let go and truly be ourselves.” Lindsay Graham, psychologist.

What are the most common issues you are presented with when working with new clients? 

Most people want to live tidy and organised lives, with minimal time spent cleaning and looking for missing items. We all want our life transitions to be smooth and manageable but instead my clients often find themselves stressed out, feeling frazzled, disorganised and unhappy about their space, so they reach out to me for help. They might be feeling overwhelmed by life in general and clutter specifically. Sometimes clients are even too embarrassed to host parties or have friends drop by unannounced, and this can actually cause loneliness and isolation. Other clients are just simply too busy to tackle certain projects and just want to outsource it to a professional so they can spend their time doing other things. 

The moment I love most is when I see a client come ‘unstuck’ and find peace, freedom and new energy in areas of their home and life they previously felt so negative about. That moment can come when the last of a huge pile of papers gets shredded, and they see the intimidating mountain has been reduced to one organised folder. For some, it is realising that in amongst a previously cluttered wardrobe, was hiding a collection of clothes that makes them look amazing. If I have done my job well, I will have made myself dispensable to my clients.

What are the common instigators to people enlisting your services?

My clients are often at a time of change, and realise they need their space to change too.  Sometimes they need someone to just come in and sort it all out so they can focus on other aspects of the approaching changes that need attention.

Moving home or downsizing is a common instigator. Putting your house on the market can feel overwhelming because everyone wants to sell for the best price and it’s a competitive market. When potential buyers come through they are looking with a critical eye and often my clients realise they need someone to take a fresh look and help make it more of blank slate, while showcasing the best features by removing clutter and letting the house speak for itself. 

Working on decluttering and organising before you market your home has the added benefit of less tidying before viewings and you don’t need to pay to move all your unwanted stuff. It’s a win-win!

There are many changes that mean you need to rethink your existing space; the arrival of a new baby, older children moving out, elderly parents moving in, beginning to work from home, or homeschooling children. We are all so accustomed to our homes that it is sometimes hard to see potential change and thinking outside the box means I can help clients get the best out of their storage spaces, making transitions easier, less stressful and often cheaper. 

How do you encourage clients to part with ‘stuff' that is creating a mental and physical block in the home? 

This is a process of helping them realise why they want to keep things and sometimes it needs talking through. There are several reasons that excess belongings become an issue and then there are the barriers we come up against when decluttering. For each issue, there is an antidote but I am careful to work it through with my clients and listen to what they need and what’s beyond what they're saying. 

 These are some of the most common emotional reasons I find people have for keeping belongings that they may not actually want or need. 

Fear - 'What if I need it? What if I can’t afford another one?'

 We often have too much rather than too little and it causes us stress. The very fact we have clutter is a testament to the fact we will not go without. That sounds simplistic but there is a logic there!

 Guilt - Especially relating to gifts people don’t actually like or use.

I talk to my clients about the relationships that the gifts represent and it can sometimes highlight issues with boundaries in general. Saying 'I love this person but I don’t have to keep every pair of horrible socks they gave me' is healthy. Learning to think of your home as YOUR sanctuary is so important. It's your corner of the world and you only need to keep what you love.  

Feeling wasteful - 'I spent good money on that!'

This is a big one and I help people realise that the money is already gone, it doesn’t have to take up space in your home as well. We pay a lot for our homes per square metre here in the UK and everything you keep is living rent free in your space! Is it giving anything back? Does it make you smile? Is it useful? Do you have ten of them already? Part of this process is about confronting our role as consumers and thinking about why we buy things, and it can change a client’s relationship with shopping and consequently their finances too. 

Sentimental reasons 

Massive collections of ticket stubs, post cards and other items are pretty popular! I talk to my clients about the memories and why they matter, and how you can keep those alive without having a lot of items around. We look at ways to make something beautiful out of items that are important not just being stored somewhere around the house. Displaying memorabilia or making custom pieces of art or textiles is a brilliant way to keep items and treasure them. 

We love this bedspread made for one of our younger clients out of his Das’s extensive collection of rugby shirts. Thank you @magpieslaundryquilts

We love this bedspread made for one of our younger clients out of his Das’s extensive collection of rugby shirts. Thank you @magpieslaundryquilts

I don’t believe in buying tons of fancy storage or getting a bigger house to fit everything into, I believe in simplicity, and a home filled only with what you love and value. This is the key here - you don’t have to live in a minimalist house to benefit from decluttering and organisation. Do you have a penchant for shoes? No problem; let's refine your collection until your heart sings when you open your wardrobe. Let’s store them properly, with the respect they deserve. Enjoy your shoes! If you don’t care about shoes, that’s fine. Keep the six pairs you love to death and store them properly, and we’ll move on to organising your extensive library instead. 

For parents and carers it is a great gift to actively teach your children how to tidy step by step. I love to work with families because I know how great it is for Mum and Dad to be happier and less stressed because the house is tidier, there is less washing to do and more time for fun. For parents of children who have special needs, as I am, even more so.

I see my work as part of encouraging good mental health and self care. We live such busy lives and expect so much from ourselves that we need a place to rest and recuperate, and that’s what your home should be. Chaos around us can often indicate difficulties within and it is the brave and the wise who tackle the mess in order to have a more peaceful life. Calmer, cleaner, tidier spaces reduce anxiety, help the ability to concentrate and improve mental health and quality of life. Who wouldn’t want that? 

Both the Good Home Report and Maria’s experiences show us that, undoubtedly, a happy home can have a positive effect on your mental health and your outlook on life, and in our next blog post we’ll continue her interview with some great ideas for how you can make changes in your own home. If you are looking to make a change, create something new or if you’re unsure about what’s even possible, book in a chat with us today and we can build your happy home together.

Becci Oldman