Your indoor spaces say a lot about you. But, can you make your indoor spaces help you build a better version of yourself?
Every day we leave traces that provide clues as to who we are: the way we talk, the music, movies, and books we like, the things we own, and even our spaces - both virtual and physical - shed light on not only our personalities today, but also our future ones. Often, our possessions are tied to our identity in ways we may not appreciate until we try to purge them from our lives. The popular push toward light or minimalist spaces forces us against our “material” selves— But how we can joggle with both? We provide you with a few solutions at the end of the article, with the intention to help you create spaces that support the best version of yourself.
What does your home say about you?
Whether it’s a family photo pinned to the fridge, an organisational system which has lapsed over time, or even a book which was at one time read but now pushed to the back of the shelf – most importantly, not thrown out... All these little details are a reflection of your personality, of how you view yourself, your family and what’s perhaps changed over the years.
Sam Gosling, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas, explains:
“If you meet someone for a short period of time you only have a very short sample of their behaviour. But the items in their home reflect persistent and repeated behaviours and choices - whether deliberately or subconsciously- carried out time and time again. This makes them a very reliable way to gather information about that person or household."
In his book, Snoop, Professor Gosling explores how we showcase our personalities in unexpected and unplanned ways in our private spaces:
“One way to think about it is that there are lots of ways we betray our personality in day-to-day life, both deliberately and inadvertently.”
Below, we summarise Professor Gosling's three broad ways in which we express ourselves in our spaces, and how these help reflect the changes our lives go through.
1. Conscious objects we use to display our identities
We consciously and unconsciously convey important information about our identities through our spaces. Gosling explains that we do this in a number of ways in his book Snoop. For example, Lindsay Graham, a personality psychologist at Berkeley University, explains about the longhorn stuffed animal sitting on her office bookshelf:
"This item not only reminds me, but also signals to others, that I studied at the University of Texas and that that experience is not only an important part of my history, but also my current identity. This “identity claim” is a deliberate choice I’ve made to express something central to who I am as a person."
Identity claims come in all shapes and sizes—from the artwork or photos we choose to hang on our walls, to the books, trophies, and knickknacks we display on our shelves.
2. Unconscious objects and activities that display our identities
Though identity claims are often conscious projections we put into our spaces, we also relay personal information in unconscious or inadvertent ways too. Gosling calls these clues like this “behavioural residue”, and often times they can be the most interesting and informative pieces of information as it is data generated from repeated, consistent behaviour.
Behavioural residue essentially refers to the wake of information our past, present, and future behaviours leave behind—this data tells us something about the activities that person engages in. For instance, Dr. Graham explains:
"If you walked into my colleague’s David Lehrer’s workspace, you would notice he has an assortment of coffee making accoutrements - fresh mugs, French press, and bags of coffee ready to be utilised each morning. Seeing this not only tells us David is “a coffee person,” but it also tells us David is likely to be a fairly conscientious and consistent individual."
The fact that he has all of the items neatly organised and handy not only tells us that he is an orderly, organised person, but also that he thinks ahead and likes to have all of the necessary things he will need at his disposal - a great give-away into his personality.
3. Things we use to support our feelings and mood
Finally, there are specific ways that we manipulate our spaces to modify or support our thoughts and feelings: putting on music to energise yourself and focus your thoughts, adjusting your lighting, choosing to experience a certain smell... These are examples of “thought and feeling regulators.” These manipulations can also come in the form of specific items. A motivating picture, that serves as a “pick me up” to elevate your happiness / determination levels, and so on.
Is your stuff—or lack of it—interfering in your life?
You've probably experienced that those who manage to shed excess clutter often speak glowingly of the experience. As anyone who has ever brought many donation bags to the local Salvation Army knows, you may have felt that clearing out clutter feels good. In fact, a study co-authored by University of Arizona marketing professor Catherine Roster found that physical clutter “has a direct negative relationship to one’s sense of well-being, safety, and self-identity in one’s own space.”
What we don't often acknowledge is that clutter is in the eye of the beholder. Bookshelves crammed with mementos and tchotchkes can feel cozy and comforting to one person, claustrophobic to another. At the same time, a room denuded of all evidence of human presence may seem blissfully pure to one occupant and painfully antiseptic to someone else. The key questions: Is your stuff—or lack of it—interfering in your life? Does it make you feel overwhelmed? Are you aggravating the people you live with by leaving your possessions everywhere, or by tidying up their things?
"People tend to be happier and more productive when they are able to convince others to see them as they see themselves" - Self-validation
Are people just personalising with things they want others to see, while hiding the pieces of evidence that may be less desirable? The psychologist Bill Swann pioneered an important theory in identity formation called self- verification in the 80s. This concept explains that we want to be seen as who we truly are—no matter how unattractive that trait may be perceived by others—because it is central to how we see ourselves. For example, a really disagreeable person, wants to be seen as such, even if it means others may think they can be sharp or challenging to approach at times.
The same can be said with how we project ourselves in our spaces—we want to be known accurately, so we express authentically.
Our identities are still flexible, how can we make your spaces reflect back to us and shape who we want to be?
Reading this you are likely someone who thinks a lot about environments and how you can help craft them to support you and others. We encourage you to look around and think about your own spaces and what they are communicating to you and others in your life. Something important to remember is our identities, though fixed in some ways, are still flexible no matter how old we get. If spaces can reflect who we are, can’t we also use them to reflect back to us and shape who we want to be?
How can your indoor spaces reflect the best version of yourself
Every home tells its owner's story. Consider your surroundings, and write the "environmental autobiography" you want the world, but most importantly, what you want yourself to see. The next suggestions by Martha Beck at Oprah can help you declutter and inspire your space in ways that can help your indoor wellbeing.
1. Detach yourself from undesired past
We tend to think of decorating as adding things, but one of the best ways to get started on your living-space autobiography is by subtracting—ridding your home of objects that make you feel bad. Some of us might have houses are crowded with items that remind them of unhappy events or relationships.
If something in your home evokes guilt or obligation, lose it—including possessions passed onto you without your express desire.
You can also shed decorating habits rooted in early conditioning. Clare Cooper Marcus, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who examines the relationship between our lives and our homes, says that many people buy or decorate houses to match their childhood environments. He says:
"It's amazing how recreating our past can give a sense of inevitability when in fact we have infinite options."
To see through your own biases, have a friend walk through your house with you. If there's something you don't like but aren't sure how to change, ask the friend for ideas. A different set of eyes might see potential where you see only obstacles.
2. Honour your heritage
As you let go of undesired memories, bring in items that reflect pride and joy in your history. What items from your childhood, family make your heart more open? Add any element that catalyses a small surge of pride, love, self-esteem, gratitude or confidence.
3. Give a space for those things you support
You can also fill your home with reminders of the things you love doing. If you happen to be a fan of mountain climbing, try decorating with the colours and textures of your favourite natural scenes: earth tones, natural fibres, rocky surfaces. If you've spent years designing tool-and-die machines, frame some cool mechanical drawings. A violinist known to Beck, recently turned her home office into a music room, filling it with antique, handwritten sheet music and old instruments she bought at pawnshops.
You'll get so much pleasure when you commemorate your own best experiences in physical form.
4. Create real life visualisations
Life keeps happening: your home should be an ideal spot for the best and most meaningful experiences in your future as well as in your past. Picture the experiences you want (or want more of), and then make your house a place to accommodate them.
"Create the settings for the life you want to live, and the jewel will fit easily into place."
Every autobiography requires its author to select and present what's most inspiring about his or her own life. The same goes for the "environmental autobiography" of your home. When you let go of old business and celebrate the best in all you've lived—and have yet to live—you allow yourself and others to know you. And that goes a long way toward living well.
We wish you the best success, and we're here to support you in creating spaces that show your unique individuality, and help your growth and wellbeing!