You know all those tiny holes in the walls and the frustration that comes from a poorly-designed or outdated kitchen?

Having functional, finished spaces is the underlying goal of most homeowners — but getting there is the tricky part. After a while, all those projects you’ve put off or abandoned midway through can snowball into bigger issues that just don’t affect physical space anymore; they can begin to cause problems with your emotional state as well.

Half of Americans have repainting on their to-do list, but by the time we get to it we may find ourselves overwhelmed amidst a half-finished job.

It’s no secret how much interior color schemes can affect us, especially when it comes to personal preference, but the impacts of the process can be easily overlooked until we are well over our heads.

According to interior design site Freshome, red can energize you but also give you high blood pressure, while blue can be calming and relaxing. While choosing the right paint colors can help your home become your sanctuary, the calming effect of switching to neutral paint colors can only go so far when we are surrounded by ongoing chaos.

In fact, that ongoing chaos has been shown to increase cortisol levels in our bodies. In a 2009 study from UCLA’s Center on Lives of Everyday Families, researchers followed and documented how people spoke about their homes, noting the words they used to describe clutter, the frequency of mentioning unfinished projects, and other indicators of unease within the home.

They then checked cortisol levels three times for each interviewee, finding that people who used more negative words to describe their homes had higher cortisol levels over time.

Another 2016 study found that a cluttered kitchen can make you snack too much as a means of coping avoidance. Too much stress from our surroundings can cause our bodies and minds to be pushed into a perpetual state of fight-or-flight, even in what is supposed to be the most comfortable place in the world.

Cindy Glovinsky, a psychotherapist and professional organizer who has written multiple books about the effects of organization on your mental health, summarizes our innate human drive for order and simplicity: “Order feels good, in part, because it’s easier for our brains to deal with and not work so hard.” 

When it’s time to tackle that project, start with a plan.
  • Make a list of expectations, tasks, and a budget to help sort priorities and timelines. Be aware this is a best case scenario and things might need to shift around as work progresses.
  • Be open to flexibility during this stage, and don’t be afraid to tweak the timeline and readjust. According to Verellenhc, there are always stumbling blocks and unexpected finds when dealing with any home improvement project.
  • Proceed with caution and be honest with yourself when it comes to personal expertise. Sometimes what was envisioned as an afternoon project can devolve into a cycle of procrastination and perfectionism. It’s always ok to call in the professionals before you get in too far over your head.
  • Consider consulting with a professional, or better yet, more than one professional to compare quotes, project scope, and ensure your updates are done to your specifications.
  • Be realistic about your own limitations and don’t try to tackle too much at once.
  • Don’t forget to address your inner updates during this ongoing process,as well. When we decide what needs to go in our physical space, we are essentially letting go of the past; for some folks, this can be a painful change.
  • Celebrate the small achievements, be proud of a project well done, and keep the big picture in mind when things get a little messy.

Ready to take control of your space and make it work for you? It’s a difficult process, but understanding the psychology of space can help you tackle even the most challenging projects.