Quick, think of an amazing environment. A place where you feel totally alive and inspired. Got a place in mind? Now make a list of the attributes of that place. Is it indoors or outdoors? Quiet or lively? What colors, smells, sounds, objects, people are present?
You’ve just defined what aliveness feels like for you. Now think about your home. What clues to your personality, interests and values does your space provide? How close is that to who you really are?
Let’s look at this another way. How many of the attributes from your "amazing environment” are present in your everyday environment?
If you’re like most people, the answer is "not many”. For many of us, our home environment is just there in the background. We haven’t given it much thought since the day we moved in. Maybe we started out with some hand-me-down furniture, and over the years added some new pieces. And added, added, and added. Ever noticed how the amount of stuff coming in the door greatly outnumbers the stuff going out the door? That exercise bike that seemed like a good idea at the time sits collecting dust in the basement. The collection of Royal Doulton figurines that your mother has been giving you every Christmas since you were a teenager (lovely thought, but definitely not your taste). The cat scratching post that’s seen better days.
So what’s wrong with a "lived in” house? Nothing, as long as it works for you. If your definition of "amazing environment” is last year’s camping trip family reunion, where the thing that made it amazing was the casual environment where everybody could kick back and relax… then the "lived in” look may be perfect.
But if your amazing environment involves spaciousness, quiet, and aesthetic beauty…then the casual cluttered family home will be a disconnect, and you won’t feel fully alive there. You’ll always have a vague feeling of wanting to be somewhere else.
I’ll give you a personal example. When my husband and I built our first house 20 years ago, cost was our biggest consideration. Whenever the builder asked us "would you like x or y?”, my answer was inevitably "which is cheaper?” As a result, we ended up with the perfect home for that stage of our lives – a modest home with a modest mortgage. We didn’t need a lot of space anyways, we argued – we’re never at home anyways.
Over the years, things changed. We became homebodies. Skiing and traveling were replaced by gardening and reading. We collected lots of books, paintings and even a few antiques. Our house started to feel cramped and a little boring. It didn’t reflect who we had become. Clearly our environment had not kept up with us.
I started working with a life coach, and one of the questions he asked was "how do you define success?” I was somewhat shocked to realize that among other things, for me success means living in a beautiful home. Not for the status, but because it means that I have made "home” one of my highest priorities. So with my coach’s help, I started looking for ways to make that dream come true.
Recently, my husband and I moved to an architecturally interesting house situated in a forest clearing and we are thrilled with our new environment. It reflects who we are now…a middle-aged couple who value spaciousness, privacy, and aesthetic beauty.
Incidentally, our new house has many elements consistent with my "amazing environment” – which is a woodland path.
Of course, moving is a pretty drastic solution and not possible or even desirable for everyone. That’s where taking a good look at your present environment and comparing it to your "amazing environment” can be instructive.
What I’m talking about is assessing whether your space reflects your current values and lifestyle. If your personal environment has not caught up with your life, there are lots of things you can do. Jan Addams, a Vancouver area interior designer and author of Inside Out Image and Design believes that the key personal elements that make up a home’s character should reflect the occupant’s personality and viewpoint. Jan says this is important because it is a symbiotic relationship: not only do our spaces reflect who we are, they also shape our behavior.
Jan gives an example of a dental office she redesigned. Originally, a rather antiseptic gray and pink office, the owners wanted to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere. In keeping with the Deer Valley location, Jan established a woodland theme by replacing the institutional concrete sidewalks with curving woodland pathways, and installing oak paneling, low lighting and forest colors in the interior. She also hired an artist to paint a woodland mural in the children’s area. Now when patients arrive they take their time walking along the attractive woodland paths and are more relaxed by the time they get to the dentist chair. And from a marketing point of view, the dental practice has branded itself as a warm, relaxed place that cares about the quality of people’s experience.
So think about your space: does it reflect who you are? How does it shape you? Are there changes you want to make? Maybe the reason you don’t use that exercise bike is because you never remember to go down to the basement. What would happen if you moved it up into the TV room?
Similarly, maybe your "amazing environment” involved walking on the beach. While you may not be able to move to oceanfront property, you could arrange some beach pebbles in a lovely aqua bowl on your coffee table. Then every time you looked at them you would be reminded of what nurtures you.
It’s clear that our spaces reflect who we are, and that we are always adapting to our environment. Does your space pull you forward or hold you back?
Barbra Sundquist, MPA, IAC-CC is the founder of LowCostLifeCoaching.com where you can hire a professional life coach for only $50 a month. This article is excerpted from Barbra’s ebook "Amazing Environments: How to Use Life Coaching Principles to Create a Home that Nurtures, Inspires and Enlivens”. To get a free copy, please go to www.LowCostLifeCoaching.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org