Your Home, Your Sanctuary: REAL SIMPLE Discusses Mental Health and Living Space

mother helping her daughter with homework at the kitchen table

Maskot / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • REAL SIMPLE hosted a panel on interior design in your home and mental health.
  • They emphasized the importance of letting go of the need for perfection.
  • Plants, good lighting, and improving the functionality of spaces are key.

On September 16 REAL SIMPLE hosted a panel in which mental health experts and interior designers came together to discuss the intersection of your living space and your mental health. “Your Home, Your Sanctuary” presented expert insights into making your home your own haven.

“The process that I went through during the pandemic was this realization that I need to stop trying to live in service of my home and instead create a home that serves me,” said KC Davis, LPC, a therapist and author of How to Keep House While Drowning.

The panel was moderated by REAL SIMPLE Editor-in-Chief Lauren Iannotti during the Weekend in Inlet Beach, Florida. 

Your House Does Not Have to Look Like a Magazine

The interior of homes online and in magazines are the epitome of perfection. But, the experts say this is likely not the best for your stress and mental health. 

Anita Yokota a licensed therapist and interior designer said she helped many clients change their spaces during the pandemic. However, a change of mind was also needed during the process. 

“What was really transformative for me was to help (clients) decrease their shame about (their homes) and help them break through their limiting beliefs that everything had to be perfect,” she said.

Anita Yokota, LMFT

What was really transformative for me was to help (clients) decrease their shame about (their homes) and help them break through their limiting beliefs that everything had to be perfect.

— Anita Yokota, LMFT

The panelists discussed how often people become tied to the appearance of their homes. They discussed how this can become an emotional burden on those who are responsible for the cleaning and decorating of the house. A responsibility that has historically fallen on women.

“I still hold these ideas that my space is a reflection of my worth as a woman and as a mother,” Davis said. “And this is this holdover idea from so long ago.”

The idea of the “perfect” space doesn’t serve the needs of an individual or a family. Instead, Courtney Mason, General Manager and Vice President of The Spruce and MyDomaine said a house serves no purpose if it isn’t treated like a living space. 

“What is the point of having this space that you’ve created to bring people together if you’re not living in it and appreciating it,” she said. 

Making Your House a Mental Health Haven

The panelists were asked what design choices could someone make to create a sanctuary but Mason said it might be simpler than that.

“Whatever makes your home feel like a sanctuary to you, that is the answer there,” she said. “There is no rule.”

However, the panelists were quick to suggest a few general ways someone could help make their space into a sanctuary. One main suggestion was a change of lighting.

“I’ve really invested in some lighting,” Mason said. “I feel like sunshine and light have just totally changed my mood when I’m (home).”

Yokota said natural lighting is great for mood as it increases levels of serotonin and dopamine. She said this could be as simple as changing drapery or adjusting window treatment. Sun tunnels and skylights are also options to bring in more light.

Bringing the natural world into your space is a great way to improve your concentration and focus, Yokota said.

Plants have a wonderful effect on us,” she said. 

Finally, the panelist discussed the importance of a functional house. They said someone's sanctuary space may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but it may be the one that works best for you and your family. And through improving its function, you rid yourself of any anxieties surrounding it. 

Davis shared a story about her relationship with laundry, a task she dreaded. She realized that folding the laundry of an infant was “insane” and stopped it all together. Additionally, she combined the closets in her house into one family closet, where she could dress all of her children without having to run around. 

Her point being that it improved her life. It gave her less stress to have several places where laundry can pile up and it improved her house as her sanctuary. 

“I think (functionality) is always the base level for your home being a sanctuary,” Davis said. “And making a home that functions for you might look different than the way other people's homes look.”

What This Means for You

There is no perfect formula for designing a space that is good for mental health because everyone is different and so are their individual living needs. Making little changes to lighting and incorporating elements like plants can help, but ultimately it's about creating a space you feel safe and at ease in. Let go of trying to design a Pinterest-worthy home and focus on what brings you peace.