We broke a lot of bad “home habits” this year.
Like other bad habits, problems with your living space can become as invisible as... well… wallpaper. You get so used to what is that you need to make a conscious effort to become aware of what needs changing. For this awareness, I found myself indebted to my old friend “annoyance.” Annoyance woke me up, shook me by the shoulders, and screamed: “Change this!”
Here were a few things that I discovered were annoying me beyond all reason:
The bathroom table. Actually, the annoyance was the lack of a bathroom table. There was neither a table nor a hook in the downstairs bathroom. Where exactly was a woman supposed to put her purse? I was tired of hanging mine from the doorknob or slinging it into the sink. I decided to take a few brisk walks at the nearest mall and search for a small table. I found an inexpensive 3-tier glass table—on sale yet!— that looked like it was made for that bathroom. Now there’s a place for my purse, as well as for half-read New Yorkers and other essential bathroom supplies.
I’ve written before how one small accomplishment—like making your bed before you leave the house in the morning—is a “small win” that can trigger other good changes. The “small win” of the bathroom table must have sent a spritz of feel-good dopamine into my brain, because I was soon contemplating other changes. What else annoyed me?
The recliners. My partner Brian and I each had a recliner in the TV room. Mine was a source of annoyance every single day. I could not recline without the leg rest digging into my calves in a way that eventually cut off circulation. I dreamed of a recliner that would comfortably support my legs. I also wondered if my saggy old recliner was making my chronic lower back pain worse. In a best-case scenario, that might change.
I decided to lobby for new recliners. Brian readily agreed, and we sallied forth to explore our recliner options. We settled on ones with padded leg rests and electric controls that could set us in over 100 different positions (our shrewd salesman pointed out how convenient this feature would be as we aged). I can now blissfully nap in my recliner. And my lower back pain has largely vanished. Miraculous!
Finally, I felt ready to tackle a longtime source of both annoyance and anxiety:
The basement stairs. For the 30 years my partner has lived in his house, there has been no handrail along the basement stairs. To go down safely, we've had to use the side walls to steady ourselves. Although I had nagged about this unsafe situation for years, Brian, an expert DIYer, explained that putting up a handrail involved more than was apparent at first sight. Finally I hired a carpenter, and Brian supervised him in fixing the stairs, installing better lighting, putting up a new ceiling above the steps, and, finally, attaching the handrail. I called this “the gift of safety.”
Once the basic repairs had been done, it was Brian who got fired up to improve the situation even more. First, he put up a storage shelf. Then he painted the ceiling, walls, and steps. Then he installed mats on the treads. Then he began decluttering the basement, one bag at a time. Now he is contemplating painting the basement walls. It turned out that this one repair was like a “keystone habit”—once we changed it, a cascade of other good changes followed naturally.
Happiness! These improvements have lifted our happiness quotient! It's so satisfying to make a plan and carry it out. But, according to the happiness research, our happiness will fade over time as we get used to our new situation (a process known as "hedonic adaption"); soon we will return to our original happiness “set point.”
Or maybe not. Recent research suggests that meaningful motivators lead to more life satisfaction than pleasure-oriented motivators. While our new creature comforts may seem trivial and hedonistic, they were all connected with meaningful motivators—“self-care,” “health,” and “safety.” Also, as we progressed from one improvement to the next, my partner and I shared in the stress and fun of the experience, and our relationship grew stronger. We're still regaling ourselves with stories about that recliner salesman.
Now, every day we can savor the small changes we made—changes that made our lives better in big ways.
And you? What "good home habits" improved your day-to-day life in 2013?
© Meg Selig, 2014
Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
Small wins. Keystone Habits. Duhigg, C. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012).
Recent research suggests that meaningful motivators... See Seligman, M. "Pleasure, Meaning, and Eudaimonia" here.