Soothe: Set Up Your Inner Sanctum

Soothe: Set Up Your Inner Sanctum

Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a spa, you feel the tension begin to melt away before you even have a treatment? You're likely being cloaked in a preplanned double whammy of beautiful music and calming scents upon entering. But there is actually much more at work here, because spas make sure that their entry points are designed to make you leave your regular life literally at the door.

In other words, it's all about the entry point, your door to stress relief. Mike McAdams, who is a co-owner and the designer of the ultra glamorous Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, reports that spas use many different sensory cues to make sure the nervous energy and troubles from outside stay there.

How can you incorporate what a spa does when it comes to your own home?

Start by focusing on the entrance to your home. Of course many of us who live in apartments or have small homes can't exactly build a flowering pathway to the front door. Perhaps you can't have an archway with roses blooming overhead or the perfect Japanese rock garden as your bridge between the stress of the outside world and your home. But you can look at the entrance of your home and make a few great changes. This might include a hanging plant or a fancy, colorful welcome mat. Or maybe you could buy a few big pots and plant seasonal flowers or other foliage at your door--a grouping of Shasta daisies in the summer, a big pot of marigolds in the fall. Ideally the flowers should be in soothing colors such as pale yellow, lilac, and pale pink.

Nix clutter. Do you have clutter leading the way from your car to your door? This is common when people have to go through their garage in order to get into the house. You need to clean up the area. Again, the last thing you need to see is your home in shambles the minute you pull up. A few tips:

  • Designate an area for keeping all your athletic equipment. You don't need to wade through a sea of bikes and balls to reach the front door.
  • Have a major garage-cleaning day. Everything that's not in a cabinet or put away in a box or plastic container must go.
  • Consider renting a storage facility as a way to reduce the anxiety of seeing all this clutter. Or if you truly have too much stuff, and have a backyard, you can look into getting a shed.
  • Think about painting the garage interior a calming color like yellow and sealing the floor for easy cleaning. Imagine pulling into an organized garage that looks clean and polished. Suddenly, home becomes more of an oasis than a form of a giant to-do list.

Clean up your dump area. Many of us step inside and go right to "the dump": that table, chair, or special stair that gets to hold your mail, the newspaper, a briefcase or computer case, a purse, and that empty Tupperware salad container you used at lunch. Sure, sure, you're just using this spot as a pit stop, and you'll clean it up once you make sure everyone is home and alive. Stop in the name of soothing! And put your shoes back on your feet. Clean up that dump area (or don't create one in the first place). With that area, you indicate that the minute you walk into your home, there should be chaos. "That chaos creates an immediate sense of being overwhelmed and buried by your life," says Anne McCall Wilson, former vice-president of Spas, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, and now a principal for McCall and Wilson.

A quick fix-it tip: Have one basket for all the junk. It should be cleaned out daily, and set inside a closet so you don't have to look at it piling up. It shouldn't be a huge basket either, as you are not starting a Goodwill collection here, but instead are just putting a few things in limbo while you tend to your life. You have to clean out the basket before it overflows, which will keep you disciplined. And this routine also helps you not to trip over a zillion things and fall down the stairs.

Invest in mood-enhancing lighting that is not too bright or too dark. Don't go for a big light overhead, but instead choose a smaller one that casts a subtle glow. You want your home to look warm and welcoming, not like you're walking into the DMV. Set a dimmer switch timer to keep your light dim when you return at night, but make it a bit brighter for the day.

Remind you of . . . you. If you have the room, buy a small table for your entryway and place framed pictures of great vacations or beloved family members on the table. You want to have a clear line between work and home. Home should remind you of loved ones and special times.

How to come home

I know this sounds crazy, but how you enter the house often reflects how you feel about coming home. Counselors say that you should give yourself several moments to unwind when you first enter the door. Maybe as a family you agree that everyone should make an effort not to rush and create stress the minute the door opens. Unless the house is burning down or someone is bleeding, everyone can make time for a simple hello and five minutes of quiet to let you get your head straight and not dread walking in the door. Likewise, you will also have to agree not to open the door and start shouting, "Who made this mess? Did you do your homework? What is that smell?"

If you say a gentle hello to your partner and other family members, they will calm down and perhaps not give you a laundry list of complaints and things to do before you even take off your coat. Remind those who live with you that you need to ease into the next situation. Can they just give you 5 to 10 minutes to unwind and get acclimated before launching into the inevitable to-do list?

Other ways to soothe your home:

  • Get rid of the fake flowers and invest in some real ones. You can buy them cheaply at the grocery store, and they really do add a lot to the room.
  • Buy quality, foot-friendly rugs if you have hardwood floors. There's something very soothing about the contrast between the hardness of wood and the softness of rugs.
  • Rethink your kitchen. Most of us spend so much time in the kitchen, yet it's usually the most chaotic room in the house. Take a moment to walk into your own kitchen. What do you see? Clutter? Mess? A zillion papers from school and work everywhere? Get rid of half of what's on your counters and surfaces. How do you feel now? Also think about taking the TV out of the kitchen because of the noise factor. Replace it with a stereo or an iHome for soothing tunes while you cook.
  • Make a list. You can do this on paper or on your phone. There is something satisfying about checking things off that you really didn't want to do but did. You'll feel so much better once the garage is clean or the junk drawer is organized--a weight will be lifted from your shoulders.
  • Rethink the rooms in your house that you never use. Maybe it's a living room that goes unused because you do your living in a great room. Or you never eat in the formal dining room except on Thanksgiving Day. Looking at unused rooms is a huge stressor, studies indicate. Why? Your brain is trained to fill up spaces, so now you're thinking that you need a piece of furniture that you can't afford or locate. All of this equals stress because suddenly you have another item on your to-do list. Rethink how you can use the room to your advantage. Make sure each room in your home is functional. What would you do with some dream space? Clear out your unused space and you can live that dream. Get rid of that home gym that's gathering dust and make it into a playroom or an office. That dining room could become a great reading room, with an overstuffed chaise lounge. You can create your own Pilates studio out of that back room where you just dump extra clothes. What could you do with some dream space? Clear out your unused space and you can live that dream.
  • Let there be light. If your house has dark areas without any windows, add lighting and mirrors to bounce the light. If rooms with windows are too dark, consider getting rid of those heavy drapes and putting up shutters or gauzy curtains. Your brain feels soothed by seeing the light, since a dark room can be depressing.

Soothe now

Remember that your environment is a reflection of your life. If your house looks chaotic, you will feel chaotic. A calm demeanor results from a clutter-free, clean, inviting home.

  • Think comfort. Sure, the couch that looks like it belongs on an episode of Mad Men is pretty sexy, but if it kills your back when you test it in the store, pass on buying it. You want your rest spaces to be comfortable and inviting. Make sure that you have more than one rest space. It's not enough to have only that leather chair. Each room should have a piece of furniture people just want to sink into and stay. Don't make it a case where everyone in your family fights over the one great spot. Comfort versus style? I'll go for comfort every time.
  • Your bedroom is your everything. We'll talk about this more in Chapter 4, but don't cheap out on anything that goes into your bedroom. Yes, buy those 500-thread-count sheets when they go on sale, and spend a few extra bucks on your bed. Invest in good pillows. Sleep is when you really de-stress and restore. You can't afford to have a nonrestful rest area.
  • Decorate your bedroom to soothe. Use neutral, calming colors and make your bed. An unmade bed is distracting. Put fresh flowers on your bedside table.

Reprinted from Soothe by Jim Brickman. Copyright (c) 2015 by Jim Brickman. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

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