The other day, my mom and I were texting about how stressful the past year has been — the uncertainty of the future and endless news cycle has left many of us feeling anxious and depressed at various moments, sometimes when we least expect it. But then my mom wrote, “This year has proven that so many things we count as essential really aren’t. But love is. And family is.” I couldn’t agree more. As I thought about her statement, I realized I’d add one to the list: a happy home. Most of us have never spent so much time between our own four walls as we have over the past 12 months, and it’s either shown us how much we love the place we live… or perhaps inspired us to spend a bit more time cultivating surroundings that spark joy.

The fact that our homes have become our offices, schools, gyms, and pretty much everything else has also influenced our approach to design. Forbes reports that, though open floor plans are still sought after, there’s also a new desire for the ability to create privacy. Home Director of Apartment Therapy, Danielle Blundell, says, “We’re looking to actually have defined spaces again… compartmentalization for things like working from home, exercising and people being home at the same time and taking calls.”

Many are also looking for budget-friendly ways to create a sanctuary of one’s own, whether that’s a place to do yoga or meditation, or simply the ability to run a hot bath and shut the door (my personal favorite.) In my experience, sometimes the things that make the biggest difference in my happiness levels don’t cost any money at all. As you’ll read in our editors’s mood boosting tips below, using music, scent, and the outdoors can be just as joy-sparking as buying a new sofa.

So, scroll on for a few of the most recent things our editors have done to create a happy home this year (starting with mine), and I’d love to hear in the comments how you’re creating joy in your own home.

Place a soft, plush rug under the bed.

I used to have natural fiber rugs like jute or sisal in my bedroom because I love the earthy texture. That said, it’s not the softest material for bare feet. After swapping it out for a higher-pile wool rug under the bed, I’m wondering how I ever lived without the feeling of sinking my feet into something warm and plush when I climb out of bed in the morning. It’s truly the ultimate luxury, and such a comforting way to start the day that always puts a smile on my face. (Here’s a link to my rug – I’m obsessed.)

Organize the pantry – it makes meal prep way more fun.

Recently, I took a hard look at the state of my family’s pantry. Cluttered shelves, mismatched food storage containers, mason jars with crumbs in the bottom… not ideal for one of the most hardworking areas of our home! We installed a pantry organization system that would ensure things stayed clean and tidy, even when life got busy.

The key first step was to inventory every item I needed in my pantry – I counted the exact number of cans, boxes, cereals, bottles of vinegar – and then gave it all a specific place to live. Next, I stocked up on baskets, bins, and food storage containers that would keep it looking beautiful. And finally, I purged everything that was past its expiration date or that I knew we’d never use. My new and improved pantry is designed so efficiently, I actually have extra space, even though it’s the same size as the old one. And for me, enjoying the process of cooking dinner in the evening is key to a happy home. Bliss!

Create a meditation / reading / chill-out space that’s all your own.

Home should be a calm oasis that feels like an escape from the outside world. There’s truly no better feeling than coming home at the end of a long day to a place that feels truly restorative. Having a designated space in my home for meditating, reading, or just having some alone time has been a game-changer! The essentials? A plush rug, low table, a couple of candles, and lounge-y floor cushions are all you need to carve out your own private retreat. Something personal like a piece of art or photo you love will also up the happiness factor.

Have plants and books in every corner.

Suruchi Avasthi, our food editor, says:

As a renter, I’m sometimes limited when it comes to the customizations that I like to imagine I’ll one day have when I own my home, so what I’ve really leaned into for now is having lots of plants and books around my home. Plants for many people, feel like an obvious choice for making a space feel happier, but it’s the routine of having them around that’s made the difference for me. Especially living alone, I love that my plants have become my own source of company throughout the year, too. I love my morning water and light routine rotation with my plants, and the regular leaf cleaning!

The other thing for making my space a bit happier is having books everywhere. Books for me are my own form of decor, and I love sorting and stacking various reads around different corners of my home. It feels special to have beautiful words from so many respected voices AND guilty pleasures around the house. Plus I love that one day when I have my own home library, they will all fit in nicely on a shelf together.

*Image from this gorgeous and happy home (and it’s only 400 square feet!)

Create an outdoor living room.

Anne Campbell, who writes about family and wellness, says:

While I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and cozy bedrooms to tuck my three kids in at night, for me, it’s the outside of my house that I am most proud of. My husband Cameron, a landscape architect by day and DIY extraordinaire by weekend, transformed our anything-but-interesting lot into a magical space. Shrubs and trees soften the edges of our yard and offer the kids privacy and room to cartwheel, twirl, and make-believe in the open air.

Cameron recently designed and hand-made a custom ‘nature swing’ — as he calls it — from Ipe wood, where the kids sit and read and look up at the sky for hours. He also custom constructed concrete lounge chairs and a fire pit – this is a space for our family meals and friend gatherings, a place to roast marshmallows and talk about our day. These uniquely our moments in our outdoor living space are what makes our house a happy home.”

*image of Anne’s backyard by Matthew Niemann

Play a mood-boosting soundtrack.

Hannah Zahner, our beauty and wellness editor, says:

Growing up, my mom always had music playing, and I love that it automatically inserted joy into our days. Plus, it introduced us to so much amazing music! Taking a cue from mom, we use music throughout our day to set the mood and add some happy into our day.

We start the day with some peaceful worship or something calming, which then turns into a more playful playlist that we can dance a little to as we move into playtime/getting things done. A kid’s song or two is sprinkled in there (I love this one by Imogen Heap, cause I still have standards people, haha. My sons obsessed too!). Naptime = some peace and quiet while I get work done, so I hit pause on the music and enjoy some quiet or a podcast while I work. Then by the time dinner time rolls around, I usually like to turn on something chill like this one or something jazzy like this one to wind down our day.

Design a joy-sparking play area.

Brandy Joy Smith, whose pieces on CS cover motherhood and wellness, says:

The grandparents got the kids a swing set for Christmas. So many of the parks were closed off and on and we really enjoy being outside in the yard as much as possible. Of course, I had to do a DIY up-cycle moment on the playset so it matched my house. It’s not a forever piece but it’s brought us a ton of joy for now.

inspiration image above from Bev Cook’s DIY playhouse here.

Burn splurge-y candles every single day.

Kelly Krause, our wellness contributor, says:

I’m in that weird place between renting a place and buying a home, so I don’t totally feel like my space is inspiring style-wise. I don’t want to spend too much on decor and furniture and not have it work in my next place. Does anyone have a good interior designer for small or rented spaces? Sacha’s & Camille’s homes are def goals.

That said, the thing that literally and figuratively lights me up and makes me happy is lighting a candle every single evening. This is where I splurge a bit. Go-to’s include: Boy Smells x Kacey Musgraves Slow Burn, Diptyque’s Feu De Bois (pro tip, watch John Mayer’s hilarious Instagram story saved in his highlights about this candle), Four Seasons in Austin signature scent candle, and Byredo’s Woods. I’m also notoriously known for hoarding Nest’s seasonal Holiday candle and bringing it out in July just to get excited for the holiday season.

Hang bright, bold artwork.

Michelle Nash, our senior producer, says:

While I love the serene, neutral color palette that is the Camille Styles brand, I’m a sucker for anything bright and colorful that adds a funky twist to my space. I recently invested in some art for my bedroom from my favorite local artist and amazingly talented best friend Calhan Hale. Her work (seen on Clever and Man Repeller) explores Texas iconography in unexpected ways and gives off the same sense of aliveness and energy she imbues herself. She paints with a largely neon color palette and her pieces add a bright and bold statement to any room and always make me smile. Oh and candles, lots and lots of candles.

photo featuring Calhan Hale’s art was taken by Jasmine Archie – of her own incredible space here.

Surround yourself in sentimentality.

Sacha Strebe, our deputy editor, says:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through decorating (and re-decorating) our home it’s to make it personal and bring in sentimental objects that remind you of treasured moments and ultimately inspire joy. I love to surround myself with beauty—pieces that spark my imagination, cultivate emotion, and make me feel at home. So many pieces in our home we’ve collected on road trips, antique stores, or have been handed down from generations. Their story with ours weaves a new narrative of our home that is constantly evolving and that inspired energy makes me happy.

image by Sacha Strebe.

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