As part of a recent decluttering challenge, I spent an evening reading and recycling a large stack of magazines that had accumulated on my coffee table.
As an interior designer, the pile naturally included glossy editions of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Simple Living, and others.
After about two hours of flipping through the magazines, pouring over design details and drooling over gilded furniture I discovered myself feeling completely unhappy with my home. What?!
Now, I literally wrote the book on being happy at home—seriously, my book is called Happy Starts at Home—so this seemed ridiculous. I adore my home. When my hubby and I sit in our living room, one of us always pipes up about how nice it feels. Yet, somehow, after looking at all those design magazines, I felt like my own space didn’t measure up. Like somehow it failed to reach some arbitrary measure of “taste.”
Had my space changed? Nope. It was still the cozy cocoon I’d loved a few hours earlier. My perspective, not my space, had changed. I had managed to put myself in a “grass-is-greener” situation. In that moment, instead of practicing gratitude for what I did have, I was practicing envy and desire for what I did not have. It had nothing at all to do with how good or bad either space was, but simply where I was placing my focus.
We can fall down this dangerous rabbit hole not only in print but also online with sites like Houzz, Pinterest and Instagram. Are these bad sites? Absolutely not! I use Houzz with my clients all the time before we embark on a design project —it’s a great tool for getting us all on the same visual page. My book’s cover designer used Pinterest in the same way to get the two of us the same page before we started on cover design.
But the vortex of lust, envy, and desire can get a hold of us surprisingly easily, and when it does it can build habits we may not want in our lives—habits of greed instead of gratitude. It develops our discontentment instead of our contentment.
This isn’t just true with home design. Looking at too many photoshopped models in the fashion magazines takes a toll on our self-image. Making a list of all the annoying things your husband does instead of counting all the good things he brings to the table does a number on the marriage. How and where we focus our attention colors and guides our lives. That is why practicing gratitude matters. It brings in more good stuff. And why practicing whining just makes your life seem worse than it is (and can make you unpleasant to be around).
Does that mean it’s bad to look at magazines or online sites to see what’s trending? Of course not! But we have to be selective about what we let in. That evening I spent looking through my design magazines, I found that flipping through Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset Magazine, and HGTV Magazine actually improved my mood because the articles were about accessible design ideas that aligned with my lifestyle. The tips in these magazines were practical, the tone was light-hearted. That worked for me.
The key is to evaluate, for yourself what is helpful and what adds to your day and life, and what is hurtful, either because of the content, or the quantity. I have pretty much eliminated TV news from my life because it always seems to be framed in a “if it bleeds, it leads” way. That doesn’t mean I ignore the world. I simply get my news in a more measured manner from weekly magazines like The Economist.
As a design professional, I will stay subscribed to the higher-end design magazines because I have a responsibility to have my finger on the pulse of my industry. For myself, however, and in fact for my clients, the focus, mood, and content of the “regular-people” magazines is just a better fit and will help me see my home for the jewel that it is, despite its lack of ten-thousand-dollar rugs and sofas.
You home should work for you. If it isn’t then yes, you should make some changes. But if it’s doing its job helping you sleep well, host parties, snuggle with your cat, and raise your kids, then don’t worry about it so much. Keep it alive with fresh paint, regular cleaning, and a bouquet of flowers, and go live your life.
The same goes for your body, your marriage, and your career. If they are healthy, then don’t let some magazine or online article plant a seed of doubt in your mind. The comparison game is a losing game. You’d be better off enjoying a fabulous kitten video, or talking a walk with your partner.
Guard your eyes and your mind—that is your garden to tend, and no one else has any right to plant their icky weeds in that Eden.
Author: Rebecca West
Editor: Catherine Monkman
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