I started teaching my course, “Change One Room, Change Your Life” last week. That title promises a lot, I know.
As I stood in front of this group of people that had decided it was worth their time and money to be with me over the next four weeks, I felt an immense pressure to justify why they had made the right decision. Who was I to promise their life would change if they followed my simple steps to design a room? Who was I to say that by clearly focusing on how they want to feel in a room, the design elements would fall into place and, in turn, their life would follow. That I would even help to make the process fun!
Of course, I told them a story from my own life. A recent story, as I am constantly learning and relearning this lesson I am teaching.
Last fall, while teaching this class to a different group, I developed a plan for my living room. Several years back, I had moved from a house with a living room, a formal dining room, a kitchen with an eat-up bar and an office nook. In my home now, significantly smaller, my 300 square foot living room serves all of these purposes (minus the kitchen). Obviously, it’s a challenge. But I had come up with a plan to make my living room the one I really wanted—a place to socialize, have groups over for sit-down dinners and informal gatherings. In creating this plan, I had laid out a floorplan, identified all the pieces I needed to purchase, selected paint colors and fabrics. The plan was in place, I just had to actualize it.
Meanwhile, my motivation to work on my business was becoming waning. And, while having this plan for my living room was exciting, I wasn’t currently in a financial position to execute the plan and create this room. It took me some time to realize that looking and thinking about my plan actually made me feel crappy. This was certainly not the goal.
So I stepped back. My goal was to create an inviting room where I could easily host friends for dinner, or wine and Downton Abbey, and to feel connected. But I had more immediate needs. Right now, I really needed to feel inspired to work on my own business (it’s so easy to prioritize all the other stuff). I needed to feel worthy of bringing in more work, and work that was easy and fun, to grow my business. And I needed to feel passionate about my business, and put myself out there so more people knew of the fantastic resources I was offering.
I needed a study.
I have very fond memories of my dad’s study in our house when I was in high school. It was in a sunroom addition off of the formal living room. A small room, it was all paned windows with sheer curtains—rather feminine for a study. But my dad’s rather imposing dark desk sat facing the door. Across from it was the sofa, just big enough to curl up on, and tall dark bookshelves lined the interior wall. My dad spent a lot of time in that room (or else he was in the basement, where the tools and supplies were meticulously organized—a gene I somehow did not inherit). When I wanted to hang out with my dad, I always checked the office first. Whether trees were blooming, or snow was packed two feet on the ground, this room was cozy and safe. I’d bring a book, crash on his sofa, and sing along to Bruce Springsteen or ABBA or whomever my dad was rocking to that day (why, yes, he does have great taste in music!).
My friend, Stephanie, and me in my dad’s office. How awesome is my hair!?!
I realized that’s what I needed. So, the plans for the super social living room were put on hold. For now, I would create a study.
I mentioned this to a friend, and she declared “Mad Men!” Yes, I was going to channel the confidence and capability and devotion to style of the offices on Mad Men. I’d skip the cigarettes.
All great decisions come with a loss. By choosing something, we are not choosing something else, even in designing our rooms. Not being able to create the social living room I want right now is hard. It means I will need to find other ways to feel connected. Deciding to make my living room a study comes with it’s own baggage, too. I have a hard time turning off my “work” mind. If my room is designed for work to be the focus, this might prove even harder. Which meant I needed to go into this with a clear sense of the challenges.
I got to it. I laid out a floorplan that worked on paper, and moved everything around. It did not work in real life. Sometimes that happens. I knew I found the perfect place for my desk, but my sofa felt awkward—blame it on the four doors and the need for traffic flow in two different directions in this small room. So I moved the sofa again. And again. When I thought I had found a place that might work, I left it for a night or two. Often, walking into the room with fresh eyes in the morning was all I needed to know this wasn’t right. After two weekends of trying to figure out where to put the sofa, I found a spot. It’s not necessarily a floorplan I would recommend, but it actually feels good. And that’s the overriding decision maker—it feels good.
I had my study. And, wouldn’t you know it, a couple of days later, an email appeared in my inbox promising me the solution to be more productive. Okay, I’ll bite. The theory was simple, but brilliant. Spend your first two hours, before email or phone calls or facebook, working on work that is important. Get to the “urgent” stuff later, when you have already done the work that builds your business. I thought about this, decided I wanted to do it, and realized I had to get up much earlier to make that happen. Those that know me know I have a rule about getting up before 7am: Don’t! This new plan meant getting up at 6am. And, you know what, I was excited to try. Alarms set, lamp timers ready (I hate getting up in the dark!), my list of important work placed front and center on my desk, I was ready.
That first week, I got 10 hours of work done! Honestly, that’s about 10 hours more than I had the entire two month previous. And I was excited to get up, inspired to work on things, and happy to discover I am both creative and brilliant from 6-8am.
And then a great gig showed up.
I’m not saying any of this is magic. It’s not. That email would have shown up in my inbox regardless of where my desk was in my living room. But, honestly, I doubt I would have been open to receiving the suggestion. I would have thought it was a great idea, but getting up early was for other people. And, if I had given it a shot, and sat down to my desk where it previously was, I would have starred at a wall 24” from my face for inspiration. Not motivating. I’m guessing that would have killed my get-up-and-go gumption pretty quickly.
As it is now, my desk sits by my window. As I write or plan or create, I look out at the sky slowly transition from dark to blue to light. And I get a little giddy as it happens a bit earlier today than yesterday. I watch the neighborhood wake up, getting to where they are going this morning. I think about the layers I’ll need to wear when I walk the dog to my favorite spot to check out Mt Rainier, another addition to my morning routine.
Mt. Rainier sunrise
My life changed because I changed my room. I have found a new focus, inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose. The first two hours of my day, I spend declaring, “damn, I’m good!” And you better believe that changes how I go about the world the rest of the day. And I’m better for it. I like to think the world might be, too.
We have the power to change our lives, to create what we want. We have the power to feel how we want to feel, right now. In the words of Connie Forrest, a design psychologist, “Space, colors, the placement of objects, light–these things actually matter. An environment can be counterproductive in terms of your growth toward who you want to be, or it can be catalytic.” Let your room be a catalysis for changing your life…for the better!