Places have power—not only the physical power of sheer presence, but the emotional clout to alter our moods. Of course, the converse is also true: We have power over places. If we don't take advantage of that fact, we're squandering a major opportunity to bring positive energy into our lives. What luck, then, that you happen to know the world's leading authority on creating an environment that nurtures your most contented self: you. By tapping your instincts and noting your reactions, you can begin to create a home that will make you happier—right now.

Take a Virtual House-Tour

To begin, grab a pen and a sheet of paper. Then picture yourself heading home after a day of working, attending yoga class, or whatever. Your house is in its usual state of orderliness—or disarray—though at the moment no one else is home. As you imagine walking up to your front door, notice your mood. Are you feeling tense or relaxed? Are you happy—or anxious, angry, or depressed? As you walk in, do you feel relief, excitement, anxiety, dread, joy, or despair? Briefly describe your feelings on paper.

Continue to pay attention to your emotional reactions as you visualize entering the house. Envision yourself touching the wall to your right and walking through your entire home. This "hands-on" approach will help you to remember to visit spaces you might skip if you merely formed a mental picture of each room. We tend to forget about places that make us feel uncomfortable; the discipline of mental wall-touching ensures you'll include them.

As you imagine entering each room of your home, write its name down (as outlined below). As you proceed from one area to the next, note how your mood changes. Perhaps the soft light and scented soap in your bathroom make you feel relaxed, but you tense up when you near the disorganized pile of unpaid bills in your home office. Maybe you love the thought of snuggling into the soft cushions on your living-room couch, but you feel gloomy as you approach the darkness of your bedroom closet.

Give each area of your home a number representing how you feel in that space. If your breakfast nook fills you with bliss, give it a score of +10. If the basement feels scary and disgusting, it gets a -10. If you feel nothing at all about a room, it gets a score of 0. If a room is okay but not great, it may get a +4, and so on.

  AREA OF YOUR HOME   EMOTIONAL SCORE
(+10 = great; -10 = awful)
1. _____________________   _____________________
2. _____________________   _____________________
3. _____________________   _____________________

If all the rooms in your home are +10, then you obviously don't need this article. Have some champagne. Enjoy. If you're like most people, however, you will feel better in some areas of your house than in others. It's time to figure out the reason.

Pinpoint the Problems

Go to the lowest number on your list. Imagine standing in the designated space, and scan it slowly with your mind's eye. Observe how your mood reacts to different elements of the room. For example, you may dislike your kitchen's drab color but like the fixtures and cabinets. If you have trouble figuring out what bothers you about the space, consider the following categories:

  • Sensory elements are everything you experience physically. Start with the visuals. How do the room's colors, lighting, and patterns make you feel? Touch-elements, such as texture and temperature, are also important; if your fabulous industrial-modern chairs are hard and cold, you'll never be able to fully relax in them. Don't forget the smells and sounds that waft through a space—the fragrance of aromatherapy, the laughter of friends, the quiet that means your children are plotting some outrage.

  • Utility refers to the usefulness of a space. Is it convenient to do whatever you need to do there? A friend bought a zillion-dollar refrigerator, which, it turned out, could be opened only by a strong man, preferably one using explosives. My friend's kitchen was spectacular—and she was miserable in it until she trashed that fridge.

  • Organization is about order and chaos, ranging from absolute precision to the full-on catastrophe of a teenager's bedroom. Nothing is more depressing than clutter run riot—except for antiseptic cleanliness, complete with plastic upholstery covers. Is your space too tidy, or too spartan? Either merits change.

  • Association can charge even a perfect-seeming space with negative emotions. If you decorated your bathroom to please the ex who dumped you, or you slavishly copied your mother's taste until therapy revealed you're absolutely nothing like her, then your home may be dragging you down. Time to redecorate.

The Fix

Once you've identified your least favorite part of your least favorite area of your home, work on the exercise below. Use it to list three adjectives that describe your less than delighted assessment of it. For example, your kitchen might be "disorganized," "cluttered," and "crowded." Perhaps a corner of your family room is "stark," "unremarkable," and "boring." Write your adjectives. Then list an antonym for each one. For instance, an obvious antonym for disorganized is organized. For boring, you might use exciting.

LEAST FAVORITE SPOT
  ADJECTIVES   ANTONYMS
1. _____________________   _____________________
2. _____________________   _____________________
3. _____________________   _____________________

Now think of objects that (1) could be described by your antonyms, and (2) would suit the space. When I consider kitchen items that fit the word organized, drawer dividers and ceiling-hung cookware racks come to mind. If the antonym for a stark family room is comforting, I think of big pillows and homey wallpaper.

This will help you to detach from the unpleasant space and focus your attention on the objects, colors, and lighting you'll use to transform the room into a mood mecca. We get stuck in decorating ruts because, once we get used to a space, it's hard to imagine it being much different. The way to unstick yourself is to think of items that correspond to the antonyms on your list, rather than focusing on the space you dislike. Bring in one thing that makes you happy, and you'll think of ways you can complement that object.

If you can't figure out the answer on your own, hire professional help or ask an arty friend for advice. Show that person your list of adjectives and antonyms. Say something like, "To me, this space feels cramped, stuffy, and fuddy-duddy. I want it to feel open, airy, and hip." This specificity will give your advisor the best shot at creating a solution that will have just the right effect on your mood.

Transforming one area of your home from an emotional downer to a source of uplift has a double benefit: It cheers you up and reminds you of your capacity to create places that shelter you emotionally as well as physically. It also gets you ready to work the same magic on the next most unsettling area. By recognizing and embracing your power to change one small space at a time, you can use your gut, heart, and brain to make sure your home takes you further toward happiness and satisfaction.

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