Q&A: Design Psychology Coach Rebecca West on Living Happy At Home

Feb 06, 2020

Rebecca West is a design psychology coach and interior designer with 12 years of experience running her company, Seriously Happy Homes. She has worked with almost 2,000 clients and is a frequent speaker and business coach. She lives and works in the Seattle area. Her new book for Cico Books is "Happy Starts at Home."

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

There are so many questions you could ask a Design Psychology Coach. Rebecca West believes that your home is an important part of your well being. Let's chat with her about creating a home that loves you back.

What fun to be here today to chat about living happy at home! Excited to answer everyone's questions and help get everyone feeling seriously happy in their spaces! 

What if what makes you happy does not make your partner happy? Like clutter and organization!

What a wonderful question! I do see this a lot, and I find the key is to have a conversation not about the clutter, but about your combined goals. If the cluttery person can express what the clutter brings to their life (happy memories? or maybe they need to *see* stuff in order to know it exists?) and if the tidy person can express how the clutter is a hardship (maybe it creates a lot of stress? or embarrassment?) then you can start to understand what each person needs and try to find a way to solve for both. Maybe the clutter goes into a couple rooms, or maybe there is a monthly tidy-session. There is nearly always a good compromise if you can start by understand where the other person is coming from. 🙂

I have $300 to spend on something for my home that will make me happy. What would you recommend to get the most “happy” for my money?

I love this question because I truly believe that having a happy home does *not* require having a ton of money!! I had to make over my entire home on a recently divorced, unemployed budget before I launched my career, so I know it can be done! 😀 

For me, I know that paint is one of my favorite makeover tools. It is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to a room and how you feel in it!

But what I really recommend is stepping back and asking yourself - if I could wave a magic wand and change just one thing about my home right now - what would it be? The answer will be different for everyone. Sometimes it's actually about getting rid of something, like a piece of furniture that reminds you of an old relationship. Sometimes it's about selling something that was "expensive" and makes you feel guilty for hating it, and replacing it with something you love. 

(Hint - there are exercises in Happy Starts at Home to help you answer just these kinds of questions.) 😉

I hope that helps!! 😀 

What paint colors in a bedroom are joyful?

Don't hate me lol, but I have answer... it depends! 

When clients ask me that obviously I can answer with colors *I* find joyful (my bedroom has deep navy blue walls and burnt orange curtains for a restful, cozy space, but my guest bedroom is more joyful with buttery yellow walls and coral and emerald accents), but I rather dig into what *you* find joyful. 

I find the easiest way to do that is to go on Houzz or Pinterest and *without over thinking it* choose ten bedroom images that spark joy (thanks Marie Kondo 😀). Literally choose ten rooms that you'd LOVE to come home to. Then look at all ten thumbnails at one time - I'll bet you'll see consistencies in color and design elements, like all clean lines, a splash of color and bright white walls. Or classic, traditional lines, soft and luxurious bedding, and cozy colored walls. We all have things that we find joyful - the key is to discover what that is for *you*. 😀 

And if you put a water-pistol to my head and forced me to answer? Pink. All the blush colors out there right now feel SO happy! Sorry to all the guys out there lol!

And I find it very hard to get started. Please don't recommend working on something for 15 minutes. That doesn't work. You can't rearrange kitchen cabinets like that that. I have to take everything out, regroup it, make new decisions about what it going to be stored outside the kitchen, etc. It will mean emptying the kitchen cabinets and linen closet all in one go. I'm hoping to tackle it on Presidents day since I have the day off, but just the idea of trying to start is hard. And then there are the boxes of financial papers that go back several years unfiled to sort. Not unpaid. Not completely messed up. Just unfiled. I need to keep a few years around and some things going back further in case I need them for a future security background check. And so on and so on. Help?

I actually completely agree with you - I am the kind of person that has to go whole-hog on organizing, and then *once I have it organized* I can use the 15 minute concept to keep it up. 

I recommend a couple of ideas. First, if it's in the budget, hire an organizer to come work with you for about three hours. I am a SUPER organized person, but sometimes things get away from me. When that happened with my garage I hired my colleague Cheryl to come over and spend three hours with me, organizing. That helped because 1) if I pay for something YOU BET I am going to be motivated to get my money's worth from it lol, 2) having her there kept me focused so I didn't fall down rabbit holes looking through old photos or whatever, and 3) it literally just went faster - cuz four hands are faster than two 😀

If that is not in the budget, see about trading with a friend. If you have a highly trusted, highly organized, highly focused friend, maybe they can play that same role and you can trade with them for something *you* are great at?

Next, try aiming for the low hanging fruit. Pick the thing/area to organize that feels easiest. That will give you a boost and some momentum for the next area. So maybe it's just the sock drawer. 😀 

Finally, be kind to yourself. Try to figure out what is creating most of the resistance to getting it done. Sometimes there is a fear of dealing with what is in that space or other emotional stuff getting in the way. If your brain is stopping you then will power won't really help. I work with the most amazing hypnotherapist Iris Higgins when I am getting in my own way - none of us are perfect. 

I hope that helps!!! ❤️

You have such a fascinating job. I completely agree that a happy home is really important regardless if it's an apartment, condo, or a house. Mine is super colorful and full of meaningful objects and plants. And YET, I still have it be messy at times. How do I self motivate myself to clean on more regular basis without having to purposefully invite friends over as an external motivator?

I LOVE this question because to be completely honest, one of the reasons I enjoying hosting parties and potlucks at my home is that it motivates me to get things tidy and organized! So I encourage that social motivator. 😁

It sounds like your home is wonderful, so I guess I'd ask if the "messiness" bothers you or anyone you live with? If so, then it's important to find a way to keep up with it (so that you don't create a situation where you *wouldn't* have folks over!) - maybe having a once-a-month cleaning Sunday or something. Though honestly that would get pushed off my calendar if I didn't finish cleaning-Sunday with friends-over-for-wine that night lol.

But if it *doesn't* bother you, and you manage to clean up when you need to, then maybe take that pressure off your mind and realize that You are Doing Great! Sometimes social media (especially Pinterest and Instagram) make us think we aren't living up with social norms. I can tell you with 100% confidence that most homes don't look like Insta-Homes and that that is NOT essential for living a happy life. So figure out what *you* need and just do that. 😀 

How do you know where to start - if your home doesn't make you happy when you open the door.

When I have clients who feel that way I like to ask:

"If I could wave a magic wand and change just ONE thing for you, Right Now, what would give you the biggest sense of relief?" 

I find that that helps people zero in on something that would really give them some momentum and impact! 

But if that doesn't help, then start with something random. Like go to your sock drawer, or your linen closet, and just get rid of one or two things that you no longer like or need. 

Or just go change a burnt-out light bulb, or sweep the porch. Tiny things build momentum!

Good luck!!! ❤️

My house itself---furniture, paint, curtains, art, books, etc.---makes me happy, but the clutter and untidiness make me miserable, because they are a constant reminder of my laziness and disorganization. It feels so overwhelming, because based on past experience I will never get on top of it.

Oh dear - don't give up! First, realize it's not you. Things seems to flow into our home on their own (gifts, giveaways, whatever) and they only flow out if we make them. So don't worry about being perfect, or thinking that because it keeps coming back you are doing something wrong. You're not. 

Start celebrating what you *do* accomplish. If your list is a million things long like mine is, you'll never feel accomplishment if "getting it all done" is the measure of success. So make sure that every day, or every week, you celebrate something you accomplish, the list-be-damned! 

Did you take out the trash? Celebrate!

Did you take a bag of stuff to charity? Celebrate!

Did you paint the guest room? Celebrate!

I promise it'll help. And then ask for help if you need it! Friends, organizers, or designers are all out there - you don't have to go it alone! ❤️

I have a small space, lots of family photos going way back, and buy from artists I like and can afford. I can't put everything up and/or out at once, so I'm wondering how to plan a space where I can rotate in and out the things I've collected? (I'm not looking to declutter.)

How wonderful that you have all those happy memories in your home, and that you are able to support artists buy buying original art - fantastic!! 

My favorite way to have an easy-to-rotate space is to install picture ledges for gallery spaces. I especially love Room and Board's Trace ledges because they fit into nearly any design style, but there are more traditional styles available too. I love them because you can swap things out and never have to put extra holes in the wall! (If you have some larger pieces maybe hang those directly on the wall as part of the larger gallery.)

If you prefer a more organic gallery - go that route! I for one am not afraid to put holes in my wall - that's what a home is for! 😀 If you want my thoughts on how to put a great gallery wall together, here is a blog post I wrote on the topic! 

Do you often counsel couples who have design differences. Any advice for us - one is very traditional and the other wants to have modern.

You bet! It's not uncommon for couple to have different design aesthetics, and marrying modern and traditional can be a special challenge.

I always recommend starting with getting on the same *visual* page - sometimes folks argue about design using just words, but don't actually mean the same thing with those words. So try going on Houzz or Pinterest *individually* and each choosing 10 examples of the room you have in mind to change (like 10 bedrooms, or 10 living rooms, etc). Don't peek! 

Once you each have 10 rooms you'd be super happy to come home to, compare ideabooks. Ask each other what they like about the room, how it makes them *feel*. Look for things your rooms have in common - maybe one person feels more strongly about the color palette, the other about the style of the furnishings. 

No matter what, make it a *visual* conversation - words get in the way, for sure!

Hope that helps!! 😁

I am hosting a big event and need some ideas what to put in 2 medium flower pots outside my front door. Right now, they have some pine cones and items leftover from Christmas. Any non-flower ideas that you have? I could try pansies, it has been so warm. thanks

Gosh, this is a hard one - as an interior designer I definitely think more about the inside of my home than the outside lol. But if the event is in the evening, consider putting shallow birdbath toppers or large bowls on top and floating candles in water or setting candles on pebbles. If it's daytime, then I'd probably stick with plants, and I'd pop over to one of the box stores or a nursery for one of their big pre-grown arrangements for a big insta-splash. I'm all about easy when it comes to parties!! 😀 

I remember watching an episode of a House Hunters-type show where the man kept saying he wanted "modern", but what he meant was "brand new"!

Yes!!! Exactly!!!! 👏🏼

for the other poster whose disorganization makes them unhappy and overwhelmed, I'm right there with you, BUT I just took 2 carloads of (my!) stuff to Goodwill - and there's more to go soon. We can do it!

This is marvelous!!! It's amazing how good it feels - and then that feeling kind of becomes the reward. Be careful, it's addictive lol! 

If I can, I'd recommend a large plant!! I have a birds of paradise and it makes me so happy daily. Also, lighting!!! It's amazing how a few hundred dollars can update your entire living room or dining room.

Great ideas!! Plants bring so much life to a space (but only if you keep them alive - *no* plant is better than a dead plant lol) and lighting is Fab! I love lamps where the base brings texture or color to a space!! And you can find GREAT deals on one-off items like that at places like Home Goods! But shop with a plan so you don't just end up with clutter! 🙂

OP here. Thank you, that was very encouraging, and especially helpful was pointing out that "you'll never feel accomplishment if "getting it all done" is the measure of success." Thanks so much!

We bought a house knowing it wasn't our forever home and we needed to paint and replace flooring. Painted within 6 weeks of living there, floors withing 8 months. Yes, I WANT the new deck, stove, cabinets and other things, but changing the floors is what's made me the most happy. I cringe when I see photos from before we changed, they were awful! We also replaced the front door so quickly I don't really remember using the old one. Front doors make a huge difference, you walk into it every day.

Yes - So. Much. Yes! 

Speaking of front doors - painting the interior of your front door is a quick and easy way to bring a burst of fun and life into your home! Mine is Polka Dot Pink by Benjamin Moore and I LOVE IT!!!!!

Thank you Rebecca. It was great having you on the chat and thanks for being realistic! Next week we will have Carrie Locklyn from the new version of HGTV Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on to answer your questions! Bye.

While it's true you can't completely rearrange your entire kitchen in 15 minute increments, what you CAN do in 15 minute blocks is get ready for a bigger project, which will make the bigger project much easier and faster. For example, you can pick one cabinet and spend a few minutes throwing out trash, broken stuff, expired food, items you don't like or don't use or need, and do one little section every day until the Big Project Day arrives.

Absolutely true! So glad to see the encouragement shared here!

Defining what you'll accomplish in 15 minutes definitely makes the time more productive, since if "all I'm doing is throwing out expired food" I'm allowed to ignore the other tasks. It takes a little self-discipline, but it can For Sure do wonders!! 😀 

My mom was a naturally tidy person. She loved cleaning, it was effortless for her, and she had a gift for organization. When she would visit, within a day or two, my house would be completely set to rights. Even the cat was relaxed and peaceful. I have never been able to match her, no matter how hard I try. To everyone out there struggling with it--some of it is just natural, like being good at math. Just do your best. And if you have a Naturally Tidy Person in your home, sit back and let them have their fun. They have been unfairly maligned in much of popular media.

Perfectly said. ❤️👏🏼

What a pleasure it's been spending my morning with you all! 

Wishing you a very Happy Home!! Rebecca

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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