It’s been a long day, and you still don’t know what you’re serving for dinner tonight. You slowly pull into the garage, careful to avoid running one of the side mirrors into the garage door frame (curse those eight-foot wide garage doors!).
Fortunately, your granddaughter’s asleep as you lift the carrier out of its car seat base. Bags in the other hand, you navigate around the shelves, then fumble with your elbow for the light switch in the mudroom. You nearly trip over your grandson’s tennis shoes. And yes, you can actually feel your blood pressure rising.
Deep breath. As the grocery bags begin to cut off circulation to your fingers, you wonder why the kitchen is so far away from the garage. Finally, you set the groceries on the kitchen floor, because there’s no room on top of the island. With a sigh, now you remember the family size cereal boxes don’t fit standing up in the pantry cabinet. Lack of storage…tiny closets…that’s the first thing you would change about this house.
Spencer, your grandson, is loading the dishwasher. “Well, at least we did something right, there,” you think to yourself. Of course, when that dishwasher door is open, you can’t get by. “Just like when the front door is open, resting against the first stair, blocking staircase access. What were they thinking when they designed this house?” And to the other side of the entryway, the home office – the definition of clutter – and there’s no way to hide it with those glass doors. You wince, just imagining your friends coming over and walking by that room.
With Abbie still asleep, you carry her up to the nursery bedroom, turning sideways to squeeze between the bed and the dresser. “If beds are 6 feet long and dressers are 2 feet deep, why would they make these bedrooms so tight?” you wonder. And it’s cold – these secondary bedrooms – “Why can’t all of the rooms be the same temperature?” you ask.
Getting into some comfortable clothes always helps, and you grab your favorite navy-blue sweatpants. But as you’re changing, you realize those are the snug, black sweatpants. A single naked light bulb in your closet – what a joke. And your bathroom isn’t much better. No windows. No natural light. Yes, there are more light bulbs, but they’re all on one switch. Off or on – dark or really bright. Note to self, ask Frank about a dimmer switch.
Time to get dinner thrown together. Back in the kitchen, you’re looking for the salad tongs, and they’re in that one drawer. The one that always sticks when you open it and just doesn’t close right. As you dig through the drawer, the ice cream scoop falls out. Great. A new gouge in those birch wood floors. Why didn’t someone tell us birch was so soft and wouldn’t hold up like some other hardwoods?
You bend over to retrieve the ice cream scoop and notice the cobwebs in the toe-kick area under the cabinets, realizing it must have been a month since the hard floors had a good cleaning. And dusting? “Maybe, if I put that on my to-do list for the weekend…” you think.
Abbie had fun playing with her food and some of it actually got swallowed. Your grandkids bring you such joy, you feel your body releasing some of the stress. After dinner, there are a few chores left. There was just enough room for Spencer to fit the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, while you get the laundry started. You can’t wait for Friday when Frank gets back from that business trip. He’s still struggling with being a single dad.
You turn the big TV on in the great room, but with the dishwasher running, you have to crank up the volume, and Spencer has homework tonight. So, you decide to watch the TV in your bedroom, but same problem. Next to your bedroom, that washer and dryer are too loud to enjoy the TV. It’s great they put the washer and dryer up with the bedrooms, but really – a little laundry closet in a home this size?
Ah-ha! A relaxing, hot shower would be perfect. You turn on the fan because the mirrors fog over from the steam. There it is again – noise. Frank always said that bathroom fan must have come from an army surplus store. And then, just for good measure, the toilet flushes…all by itself.
The next morning you wake up early. Finally, it’s quiet. No stress headache, like the one you had when you went to bed. Tablet in hand, you decide to take matters into your own hands and de-stress your home. Poor lighting? Frank can probably replace the bathroom switch with a dimmer, and maybe he could put a motion-sensor switch so lights automatically turn on when coming in from the garage. Another light bulb in your closet would be great, but that would probably mean hiring an electrician. And more windows? That sounds like a serious remodel.
Replacing the bathroom fan would help achieve serenity, and a new, quieter laundry pair and/or a quiet dishwasher would be heavenly. You make a note to talk with the heating contractor when they come out to inspect the furnace about the uneven temperatures. Maybe they can do something to remedy that problem.
You decide you’ll buy a couple deck boxes that could go under the deck, to stash garage items and free up some space in the garage. Saturday morning is going to be set aside for organizing the office. No exceptions. There was that ad you saw for a handyman service, maybe they could fix that kitchen drawer. You consider a little more seriously the kitchen remodel for improved storage and organization, but is the kitchen just too small in the first place?
You start to create a cleaning schedule and realize it’s doable – you could give up a bit of Facebook time, and Frank and Spencer could take on a little more of the household cleaning. Feeling better already, having a plan for things you can do to de-stress your environment, you also realize there’s no practical solution for some of the design flaws such as the door swings that block traffic; room sizes; the wasted space of that big landing at the top of the stairs; even the skinny door into the main floor powder bath that’s too small for your dad’s walker. Those things just aren’t correctable. If you do buy a brand-new home someday, these things are going to be non-negotiable.
If our homes are our havens, our retreats, our sanctuaries from all that life throws at us, how is it that our homes are actually adding to our stress? Stress’ negative impacts on our health are widely known, yet still we under-appreciate the stresses our homes contribute. When remodeling, or purchasing an existing or brand-new home, looking at the home through the lens of stress will help you see the home in an entirely different light – helping you identify areas that cause or add to your stress, and the ways you could improve on the design of those spaces.