The secret to a happy home

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by Emily

Emily Walker writes about making your home a haven, and is a stay at home mom to two littles. While she and her husband have fixed up their 1960s ranch home, Emily has learned lessons along the way in do-it-yourself, making do with what you have, simplifying, and living life to the fullest. When she's not busy bossing her husband around on remodel projects, Emily blogs at Remodeling This Life.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that over the last few years of gutting and remodeling our home, I spent far too much of that time thinking that through building a newer, prettier home from the ugly shell we started with, that I was creating happiness.

With each shiny new fixture, new white cabinet, shiny new piece of tile floor, and transformation of each room from drab to fab, I thought that I was making happy for myself and my family. The truth is that no matter what the walls, floors, cabinets, or fixtures are made of, they aren’t what was making our family happy.

What makes a home happy is the people that are in it, the attitudes we come in the door with, and the simpler things that we can do to the space we call home each time we’re in it that don’t cost a thing.

Going on nearly two years of no house projects and therefore two years of no physical transformations to the space we live in, I now see that those changes were necessary (the house was falling down, after all) but not everything.

No matter how pretty the house is now, if it’s a mess or we’re grumpy from a bad day or we’re too hard on ourselves for the house not meeting every grand expectation (It’s still too small! I need more storage space!), a home is only happy if we’re happy in our home, and that happy can be created without any physical change at all.

It’s hard to see other people with big, beautiful, tidy homes and to not end up feeling bad that there isn’t enough time, money, or energy in the world to have all of those things in my home.

I used to try to compensate for what my home lacked by adding things – stuff bought at stores like pillows, pretty objects, stuff for the walls – that didn’t really do anything but fill up space and I had nothing to show for it but continued lack of contentment.

Nowadays, I don’t even have time to think about shopping, much less decorating anything. I am lucky to get one room organized on a Sunday afternoon. Because of that, though, I have realized that doing the most with what my house has to offer myself and my family right now is the true way to be happy at home.

I am way happier after tidying and organizing a room or putting some flowers cut from the yard in a vase, or opening a few blinds to let some sunshine in while I build lego towers with my kids, than anything I could buy would make me.

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I don’t have to go anywhere and get anything to make my home happier. I can organize what is here. I can personalize my walls with canvas photos of my family – things that actually mean something. I can relax and let go of expectation.

With those simple things, I am happier in my home than any expensive decorative item or room makeover could provide. And I know now that the bliss of a shiny new room wears off. The room gets lived in, used, filled up with things that living brings – toys strewn about, dirt tracked in, tables cluttered.

Real life happens after every new project and that is where the happiness is – through living in the space. I finally know now that it’s not the beautiful new playroom that makes me happy, but seeing my kids play in it.

It’s not the shiny white kitchen that makes me happy, but the hours spent teaching my kids to make pizza and time spent at the kitchen island helping with math homework.

It’s not a new living room that makes me happy, but the things we can do in it – laugh, learn, wrestle, and play that make it happy.

A happy home isn’t about the styles that we can get hung up on – the things magazines convince us we need to have or change; it’s about the people in it.

What do you do to make your home happy?

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Comments

  1. Absolutely beautiful!

  2. We write a blog about renovating our home and the lessons we learn through doing that. Couldn’t agree with you more. I used to live in a home that needed no work, but it wasn’t a happy one because love was missing. Now, the list of projects is long, but it doesn’t matter because love takes the edge off all those “flaws.” If the process of working on the house doesn’t bring us closer together, we take a break from all projects until it does again.

  3. avatar
    Katherine Broadway says:

    A breath of fresh air, thank you!

  4. Well said and timely, too. I was just thinking I needed to add some Valentine decorations to my house but I realize now, I don’t. Just tidying and making homemade Valentines will be memorable and lovely enough for my boys.

  5. We move regularly and often – we’ve been together nine years and lived in seven cities – but this move we needed to drastically downsize. Two skip bins and a truck load of junk later, I’ve definitely come to the realisation that stuff is superfluous to happiness. In fact, it can choke it, if caring for your stuff takes up too much time. So now we live a simpler, but still very happy life. I think the energy each person brings into the home is the most vital ingredient to a happy household. If one parent is grumpy, it’s almost a guarantee it will rub off on the rest of the family! By no one should have to fake happy…. So if someone here has the grumps, they win a whole bucketful of alone time ;)

  6. avatar
    Robin from Frugal Family Times says:

    Lovely post, Emily! We make our home happy by putting our family first in all our decisions, be it decorating or work hours or commitments. Having a home filled with pretty stuff feels good, but a home filled with laughter trumps that any day!

  7. I absolutely ADORE your site and I luv coming here to read your articles. My favourite was the article about working from home and I’ve saved it on my laptop to keep reminding myself not to give up and do what I need to do. I still get dressed and look “present” even though I’m home :)
    As such I have nominated you for The Addictive Blog Award!
    http://suaaddartistry.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/the-addictive-blog-award/

    Thanks for all the hard work and great articles, here’s to MANY,MANY more :D

  8. Well said and so very true! Beautiful post Emily! XOXO

  9. Love love love this post. So true and timely for me. Our home feels complete when there is lots of fun and laughter and hugs. :)

  10. What a good reminder. And I built a lego tower with my daughter yesterday, so I was nodding in agreement on that point. :) To make my home happy, I keep music playing throughout the day, tickle my kids often, and get everyone involved in daily tidy-up time.

  11. How timely – last night in Bible study we were reflecting on contentment (in Phillipians 4) and I had some comments to contribute that sound much like your post. Thanks for the reminder to continue to learn and grow in this area. My house will NEVER be “done” the way I’d ideally like, but I have peace in living in this house with my most important people, my husband and our 2 beautiful kids.

  12. I used to get caught up in what others had, too. That just created unhappiness and discontentment. I have learned to love my home and in turn can now enjoy and love the time spent in it. I find joy in doing chores together, in cooking dinner and in cuddling up on the couch to watch movies. It’s the little things…

  13. Ahh… LOVE your post and SO true too.. I agree, I am happiest when the messes are hitting the fan, literally.. but my daughter’s face beams with glee.. I used to stress about perfection and the shine.. but what really matters is the sheen of happiness that envelops our family at the end of the day:-)

  14. What a beautiful (and timely for me) post this is! I just helped a family from my church clean their GIANT home as they were packing up to move. I left there that night feeling jealous of/a little depressed that the shower in one of the bathrooms was as big as my kitchen (seriously — and my kitchen isn’t terribly small), wanting the fireplaces upstairs and down, dreaming about the mini movie theater, and bothered by the fact that the smallest bedroom was as big as the master bedroom in my home. But now that I’ve read your post and I look around, I see the flowers I got at the grocery store on the kitchen table and the cute paper hearts my son cut out and hung all over the cabinets, it really doesn’t take a lot to feel content. Thank you for the reminder!

  15. So refreshing to hear you talk about what is really important in life and how you have managed to find priorities that will help your family to thrive, love and enjoy life!

  16. How appropriate and much needed for me to read this…especially after I have just been thinking about being more “present” to my kids rather than being swept up by all the distractions I get internally or externally! Thanks for the post!

  17. avatar
    abigail gray says:

    I also look around my house and try to find ways to improve on it…even though I rent. We moved into our apartment with no intentions of staying more than a year. Three years later we are still here…still here with pink and green tile in the kitchen….and in all the bathrooms. Yes pink and green like a watermelon. Everything also has gold trim. Now how fancy is that lol? After the shock of the tacky decor we actually learned to like the place. That is until the new neighbors moved in below us. They are the type that say their kids never played and made noises like ours do. So hopefully soon we can get a house that may not be beautiful all the time but my kids will be able to play without anyone getting mad at us.

  18. avatar
    Emily (Random Recycling) says:

    Such a wonderful reminder. I’m trying to let go of the stress I feel when the kids are creating a mess. Couch forts are a regular occurrence lately. I’m hopeful if I allow my kids their space, they will fill it with their own imagination.

  19. YES! Thanks Emily!! :)

  20. Emily, you are so right! It’s so easy to get trapped on the materialistic changes needed in life and lose sight of the core values that are the people in our lives that create happiness. I feel the stress of building a new business with a baby on the way and a daughter who is rapidly approaching 3 y.o. yet my husband and i have learnt to focus on grabbing quality time with our daughter rather than worrying about all the usual daily chores and business worries. Keeping life in perspective is so important too!

    Zoe xxx

  21. I’m burnt out on interior design blogs and magazines. I love the beautiful images but I want to invest in what comes after the design. A great space provides the stage for a family to want to be together. To create a happy family has me more excited than design trends. Function matters as much as form. Thanks for an awesome blog post!

  22. Amen. Too many mamas are completely caught up in making their homes look like something out of Real Simple (“real boring” if you ask me and my kids! ;)). It truly does break my heart. Children will remember the time you spent with them, not the “fab” things you had in your house and how impressed you made other people. We are preparing to move overseas in just two suitcases a piece, and seriously, my kids have never been happier! Most cultures are relational…and most of the populous countries are very poor compared to the US…we should take a few clues from them to see what happiness really consists of, and what it doesn’t. :) Since we don’t have a big house and fancy stuff, we don’t have to spend much time taking care of it. Instead, we spend the time caring for each other and our community. (We intentionally chose this life when, with our educational backgrounds, we could have easily joined the American rat race.) The number one thing I hear from those we have over to our home (who, by the way, would likely see us as “poor” ;)) is “Your house is so peaceful.” Yes, I am so thankful to live with just what we need…and the thing we need most is LOVE. Mamas, please hear this message! I dare you to try it…you’ll be amazed at how freeing it is to stop being a “consumer” and start being a “giver”! :)

  23. avatar
    Lisa Olaynack says:

    We live happily in our home to make it happy. we don’t sweat the small stuff. For example, we love our Christmas tree so much, it is still up:)

  24. 100% agree, very well said!

  25. This is such a great post!!! I love it!!! People before things isn’t just a mantra!!!

  26. This is a beautiful take on simplicity and contentment. I agree, I am so much happier “curing” my home with fresh flowers, fixing something or cleaning something. And I am far happier when I instead enjoy the people that create that home.

  27. This is such a nice change of pace from reading lifestyle blogs written by women who just finished redoing every room in their house, and are now eager to start redoing them all again. I’m happy when my home is tidy, smells fresh (we have cats and boys, after all) and we’re all home together.

  28. Love this post, refelects my thoughts entirely but doesn’t hurt to be reminded! We’ve chosen for me to be a FT SAHM and with that decision come sacrifices, but they are mostly, if not all, material. We don’t have a fancy home and never will, and while it would be nice to have enough money to replace the uncomfy, hideous sofa with the mystery stain, I’ve accepted with each day I spend with my very young girls that it will never be replaced at least in the next 10 years or so – and I’m good with that now. It’s incredibly freeing to just stop caring what people think. Folks can like us for who we are, not the stuff we have / don’t have, and if the stuff we don’t have bothers them, well, they’re not worth bothering about. I’m so happy I have finally arrived at this point :) Love your blog, another awesome post!

  29. This is a beautiful take on simplicity and contentment. I agree, I am so much happier “curing” my home with fresh flowers, fixing something or cleaning something. And I am far happier when I instead enjoy the people that create that home.

  30. This is SO true! Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I are thinking of moving, and I keep finding myself day dreaming about how we could decorate or remodel our new house, but usually, it only leaves me feeling forlorn or stressed because it will never be as picture perfect as I want it to be. The thing that really makes me happy is when I consider all of the friends that we will have over to our new home for dinner parties and game nights and movie nights. Just having our community in our home, filling it with love, is more valuable then having my home design featured in a magazine.

  31. Loved this post. There’s a quality of “feeling at home” that takes time (not stuff). We recently moved after living in the same house for 10 years, the only house my children knew. We had done a lot of remodeling to it and I miss the stuff that was exactly what I picked out. I look back and remember that even with all the stuff we did to that house that I think I miss, there were still things I had wished were different (higher ceilings, less weeds, bigger bathrooms, better climate!). But what I miss most is how comfortable I felt there, that “feeling at home” quality, being in a house that so many good memories were attached to and continuing to be made. Surely that doesn’t come from the right cabinets or floor or paint. I know we will achieve that here too, with time, and I look forward to it. THAT is what makes a house a home. (I think I just started one of my upcoming posts!)

  32. This is a tough one for me because I have full blown PMDD that I am trying to control with diet and exercise. It is very difficult and causes many tears at times. For me making my home happy is usually very easy. But there are times in the month when it is like a nightmare and it is all I can do just to complete even the smallest task without completely melting down. The worse is when I eat processed food the best is when I eat clean vegetarian. The later is very difficult with my busy lifestyle. Wait, I am rambling, this is another symptom. So, to get to the point. The way I make my home happy during the dark days is to say I need help. Please help me, it hurts and I can’t deal with my high crazy emotions. I would go on, but unless you have experienced real PMDD you will never get it. Thank you much for the article. I am sorry I spoke so much. Peace to you and yours always,

    Pam

  33. oh wait, my momma always said Its not the “stuff’ we have but the “stuffing” we give. I aim to give a whole lot of good stuffing to my family in this life of mine. I am going to stuff them with kind words, love, a good story, a clean heart, and lots of good clean food. As for the stuff, if they want stuff they get a few things here and there but any other stuff will be earned during that part-time job in high school and cleaning up puppy poop in the yard now, when they are short enough to still reach it really quick.

  34. i like this. stuff can make a pretty house. only we can make a happy home.

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