Monday, April 23, 2012

Making Your Family Home a Haven of Relaxation with Less Stuff

It dawned on me the other day that we would rather stay home than leave the house. Why is this? Without really setting out to do so, I've realized that our home has become a sort of vacation recreation spot for us. It's comfortable, free living, simple, and open ended. The adaption happened over the years to accommodate homeschooling, and ended up producing a place of relaxation for all - a retreat from the stress and fast paced activity of the outside world. It's a world where imagination can run free, where fussiness has no place, and intensity is replaced by a softness, and a hopeful spirit. There are rules, expectations and loose structure, but there is also room to breath and be one's self.

The physical environment of a home lends itself to establishing or paving the way to an atmosphere which encourages psychological freedom and relaxation. Forget what the furnishing and interior decorating industry models as the perfect home, full of themed suites of furnishings for each room. Comfort depends on your ability to think outside the box and adapt your home to your own needs. This may mean your home decor will not look like a staged magazine lay-out, but if it works for you, that's all that counts. The goal is freedom, relaxation(sanity!), and a family centered home; not a stuff centered home.

The most important physical element to a stress free home is cleanliness and ease of cleaning. Ease of cleaning comes with an uncluttered home with open places and minimal furnishings. No one wants to exhaust themselves getting their home under control, only to have to do it all again without much rest in between.This vicious cycle only makes you want to to stay away from home as much as possible in order to get some peace. And of course, the more time you avoid, the worse the mess gets. It doesn't have to be this way if you can imagine yourself living in a home with less stuff. The trade-off will be peace, and a sense of pride in being able to take control and handle your housekeeping and home life.

Ease of cleaning can only be accomplished if you have open floor spaces. If there are hard to reach spaces throughout the house, either they stay dirty until a deep cleaning, or furniture must be moved every time you clean. Evaluate how much furniture you really need. In our bedrooms we have a bed and a night stand. A dresser is not needed if you make room in your closets for hanging clothes cubicles or storage bins. Plastic storage bins on the closet floor can be pulled out quickly for cleaning. Ours contain items that will not hang such as underwear and socks. Larger closets can accommodate self installed wire shelving for customized storage.  Living room areas need a couch/sofa(sectionals for large families), coffee table(or any low table), large deep open shelving for storage baskets/containers, and possibly a media storage unit. A dining area needs only a table and chairs. Linens can be stored in a kitchen drawer or closet.

If the dining area doubles as a craft and school area, simple low shelving with baskets for storage keep the room feeling open. High shelving closes in a small space. Keep only your most precious and useful books. Get rid of books that can be checked out at the library, or read on an e-reader. Walls of floor to ceiling book shelves hold dust and take up precious physical and visual room. Rethink whether you really need to store 600 books at home. Our family reads books daily, but we rotate the books through the house, keeping only the ones that we might need/want for later. Most of our books are gotten weekly from the public library. Easy! We can check-out our favorite books as much as we want, but they are not taking up space at our home.

Another sanity saver was taking out our wall-to-wall carpets which has freed up concerns of potential carpet stains and cleanliness issues.

A few benefits of a no-carpet floor:

-Spills wipe up quickly with a microfiber cloth. No more stress or fussing about spills or stains.
- Carpet steamers and cleaners are a thing of the past
- A heavy duty vacuum is no longer needed. A lightweight stick vacuum is all that is needed, and/or a broom and dustpan.
- Hidden and embedded dust and dirt is minimized making for cleaner air and reduced allergies.

A no-carpet floor looks and stays cleaner with minimal work, thereby reducing stress. Pulling up your carpet and replacing it with solid surface flooring need not be expensive. Solid surfacing flooring is getting much less expensive, and sales and price reductions are offered throughout the year at big box stores. If you can install it yourself, so much the better. Installation costs are what makes solid surface flooring out of reach for those on a budget. We had laminate placed in our kitchen, den and hallway years ago, but finances at the time precluded laminate in the rest of the house. Instead, we pulled up the carpeting and painted our floors. Sherwin Williams has some quality floor paint which goes on sale around this time of year. Right now there is a 40% off sale on paint at Sherwin Williams stores. If you get on their mailing list, coupons come to you and these can be combined with store-wide sales. We've had painted floors for over a year now, and they are very easy to maintain. Glue, children's paints, muddy feet, spilled juice, food, cat barf, and other messy wet stuff comes right off with the wipe of a wet cloth. My staircase is always clean, now that I can just wipe it down.

For low cleaning maintenance and a sense of breathing space:

- Solid surface flooring
- Minimize furniture to absolute basics to gain open spaces which ease cleaning and promote relaxation
- Make storage in existing closets
- Minimize collections that need floor to ceiling shelving, like books.

Solid surface flooring needs some areas of plush comfort. Small low pile area rugs are very easy to clean and provide cozy spots for children to play and spread out. Large floor pillows function as extra seating for young people. Even extra thick blankets placed temporarily on the floor are comfortable for children(and make good tents). We purchased inexpensive vintage hand-tied ethnic wool rugs off ebay for our bare floors. They are soft and very sturdy. The low pile makes them very easy to clean, almost like floor cloth, and the colors are beautiful. Some of the smaller hand-tied wool rugs are very inexpensive, are like-new, and are very comfortable for lounging on. We layer a few over the thinner carpet. Floor pillows can be handmade inexpensively with drop cloth and fiberfill. You need a lot of fiberfill for floor pillows. I'd recommend buying multiple throw pillows at thrifts and yard sales at very low prices. The fill can be cut out and recycled. If you are lucky, you'll find a big fat clean pillow that you can recovered or use as-is. We found two of these that where like-new with very heavy fill. All these open empty spaces can be used for play(think creativity!) and lounging.

For easy comfort on solid surface floors in low furniture living areas, add:

- Low pile area rugs(easy to clean)
- Assorted pillows for floor lounging
- Layer smaller heavy pile soft area rugs(for sitting) over larger area rugs
- Thick blankets or textiles for tents or cozy floor time.

Window blinds are a pain to clean, and they collect dust like nobody's business, and children and pets tend to tear them up. We got rid of ours and added sheers and drapes(thrift store purchases). If your home is cut up into smaller rooms, light and bright will keep it feeling open. Minimal drapes, ones that diffuse the light, and light wall colors enlarge a room. The only exception to light textured window coverings would be the bedrooms, where heavy drapes or light blocking coverings will keep a room dark for a good nights sleep. Hang long window covers high enough so that you don't have to hold them up for floor cleaning. Sheers get sucked into the vacuum when hung too low, as they often are.

Too many framed wall pictures are difficult to keep up with when they need frequent dusting across the tops. Limit framed wall pictures and curio wall shelves.

Lighting can be a cause of furniture overcrowding when you rely on table lamps. Table lamps require side tables. Try going with overhead lighting with higher wattage and/or add a floor lamp. Add small squat table lamps to the tops of entertainment centers and shelving units - use the space you already have. Fluorescent light bulbs put off more light and the bulbs stay cooler, which is great for floor lamps. Fluorescent lighting is also convenient for helping plants grow in darker rooms. Houseplants clean the air in a household, and promote relaxation with their natural beauty and green-scaping. Decorate with plants rather than knickknacks. Plants do get dusty, but a weekly spritzing with water seems to wash most of it off. In warmer weather, take them out for rain shower baths.

Keep it light and easy:
- Limit framed wall pictures; they hold dust which means more work running the dust rag across them.
- Keep drapes minimal and light. Get rid of blinds.
-  Limit table lamps; use overhead lighting or floor lamps.
- Add plants instead of knickknacks. Plants will work for you and promote relaxation with their natural  beauty.  

Everyone is on a budget these days, and despite financial constraints, we've managed to create a home that we enjoy as much as any vacation spot. Look to the web for creative ideas, especially places like Pinterest. Seek out home items at thrift stores, yard sales, and resale places like ebay; and/or make your own and do it yourself (DIY). If you are paring down, it may not cost a penny if you use what you already have creatively.

Keep it simple and clean, design for maximum efficiency. Shoot for larger unencumbered spaces and adaptability. Forget what it should look like - design your home to work for you, not against you. If housekeeping exhausts you, and your home drains you, it's time to let go of stuff - declutter, streamline and reconfigure.

Easy homemade sectional sofa couch - easy to clean, comfortable, sturdy for families, and easy to make.

Easy homemade platform bed with storage shelf at end.

DIY easy low pine storage shelves 

Pictured below - easy homemade shelving units with deep shelves for storage and media....a really old picture(my son is a teenager now), but these shelves are still in service. We also made the toy chests which slide on the floor below the shelves. The wood used to make these units is inexpensive construction grade pine lumber from a big box store. We no longer have those heavy drop cloth curtains. We've left the windows bare for more light and less dust.


pdmmom said...

Great advice...I am always trying to minimize time spent on cleaning. I have a hard surface floor with rugs and I love it.

Lola said...

This wonderful post is pointing the way. I've been thinking of serious decluttering/simplifying of our home. Yes for years.

Your simplified home is an inspiration. And, I'll focus on what really matters instead of achieving a "Look".

Thank you!

doityourselfmama said...

Alexandra! This is an amazing resource!!!!!!!!!

Eva said...

This is so true, but our house is too small for our family! No matter what you do we really do need a new one, but can't really afford or find one. This house was not meant to be used by 7 people.

Anyway, do you have any suggestions about what to do with asbestos tiles on top of a lovely oak floor? We have a horrible carpet in the living-room/dining-area, but there are asbestos tiles between the carpet and the wooden floor in some spots. I would love to get rid of the carpet and do something with the floor underneath, but I don't know how to.

Otter Mom said...

I've been in the declutter/cleaning out/simplifying process for a while now. I wish I'd started it sooner! We do have carpet, but I'm not worried about it. I'd prefer hardwood floors, but the carpet was fairly new when we bought our home and it's good quality. We probably won't do anything about it until it needs to be replaced, but that may be a while.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for all your comments. :)

Eva, that asbestos can only be removed by certified professionals because of its health hazards. You can add things on top, just not tear it out yourself. I've got floating laminate over two or three layers of vinyl flooring.

Eva said...

That's also what I heard. It's too bad because it's just in the dining-area, which is part of the living-room. Maybe one of these days after we have painted the house from outside and fixed the water problem in the basement.

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