How design-porn can destroy your happiness

I recently devoted an evening to reading and recycling the stack of magazines on my coffee table (because even for a declutter queen like myself, the piles can grow quickly). The pile included glossy editions of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, Gray Magazine, Sunset Magazine, HGTV Magazine, and others.

I spent about two hours flipping through the magazines, pouring over design details and drooling over gilded furniture. I loved the content, but by the end of those couple of hours I felt completely unhappy with my home. What?!

magazine clutter

Now, I literally wrote the book on being happy at home, so this was pretty silly. I love my home. When my hubby and I sit in our living room one of us always pipes up about how nice it feels. And yet, somehow, after looking at all that design-porn, I realized I felt like my own space didn’t measure up.

What’s the lesson here? My PERSPECTIVE, not my space, had changed. I had put myself in a grass-is-greener situation. In that moment, instead of practicing gratitude for what I *did* have, I was practicing envy and desire for what I did not have. It had nothing at all to do with how good or bad either space was, but simply where I was placing my focus.

We fall down this rabbit hole not only in print but also online with sites like Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Are these bad sites? Absolutely not! I use Houzz with my clients all the time before we embark on a design project – it’s a great tool for getting us all on the same visual page. My cover designer used Pinterest in the same way to get on the same page about my book’s cover.

But when we let ourselves be dragged into the spin cycle of lust, envy, and desire, it  builds habits we may not want in our lives. It develops our discontentment instead of our contentment.

self-image media fashion magazines

And this isn’t just true with home design. Looking at too many photoshopped models in the fashion magazines takes a toll on our self-image. Recounting all the annoying things your husband does instead of counting all the good things he brings to the table does a number on the marriage. How and where we focus our attention colors and guides our lives.  That is why practicing gratitude matters. It brings in more good stuff. And why practicing whining just makes your life seem worse than it is (and can make you unpleasant to be around.)

Is all design-porn created equally? No. For me, flipping through Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset Magazine, and HGTV Magazine actually improved my mood because the articles were about accessible design ideas that are aligned with my lifestyle. The tips in these magazines are practical, the tone is light-hearted. That works for me.

The key is to evaluate, for *yourself*, what is helpful and adding to your day/life, and what is hurtful, either because of the content, or the quantity.

As a design professional I will stay subscribed to the higher-end design magazines because I have a responsibility to have my finger on the pulse of my industry. For myself, however, and in fact for my clients, the focus, mood, and content of the “regular-people” magazines is just a better fit and will help me see my home for the jewel that it is, despite its lack of ten-thousand-dollar rugs and sofas. 

You home should work for you. If it isn’t then yes, you should make some changes. But if it’s doing its job helping you sleep well, host parties, snuggle with your cat, and raise your kids, then don’t worry about it so much. Keep it alive with fresh paint, regular cleaning, and a bouquet of flowers, and go live your life.

If you’re looking for more on this topic, check out my book Happy Starts at Home. It’s full of exercises meant to help you see your home with new eyes, seeing what is good there, and what could use attention – not because a design magazine says so, but because it would work better for you. Because in the end our houses aren’t meant to be showpieces to impress others. They are simply meant to be the nest from which we live our lives and raise our families.

May your home always be happy! Rebecca

Hi! I’m Rebecca West.

I’m not your classic interior designer because, frankly, I don’t care if you buy a new sofa. I do care if your home supports your goals and feels like “you.” Remember, happy starts at home!


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