11 Habits for a Totally Chill Home!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

Create a peaceful home with these best practices for eliminating stress.

Your home should be your refuge. It should clear away the day’s distractions and help you feel organized, focused, and calm. Ooooooommm.

So why does it feel less like a yoga studio and more like the middle of a five-lane intersection?

Maybe a different perspective on your habits and routines is all that’s needed to fix it.

That’s what a couple of psychologists — and anxiety experts, to boot — say. Here, they share some stress-nixing habits that can make your home a source of solace. Consider this your prescription for a totally chill home.

#1 Regularly Ditch What Annoys You:

A few times a year, look over everything sitting out in your home. If it doesn’t serve a present-day purpose or make you feel good, it’s got to go.

Keeping things around out of guilt — the Pilates mat you haven’t touched in months or the handmade quilt from grandma that isn’t quite your style — only crowds the eye and brings on stress, says Perri L. Zinberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles.

#2 Use a Drop Zone Every Time You Walk in the Door:

Avoid the distress of searching for your keys (OMG, again) by designating a bowl or cubby for items like sunglasses, your wallet, or your phone that you frequently need to grab on the way out the door. Oh, and use it. On the way in. Every single time.

#3 Delegate the Chores Everyone Hates:

No one has ever reached nirvana while being their household’s chore martyr. Distribute chores among family members, and rotate them weekly so no one feels stuck with the same task.

If it’s an option, schedule a housekeeper to stop by once a month. It could be way more therapeutic than you expect. “Having a house cleaner of some sort has saved a lot of marriages, because that’s one of the major things people fight over,” Zinberg says.

#4 Fill Your Home With the Sounds You Love:

Tune out the literal (and mental) noise of the day by turning on whatever music or sounds that make you happy or calm. A playlist that speaks to you can motivate you to sit back and enjoy your home’s peace or fire you up to do a deep clean, which satisfies both your body and soul.

#5 Enjoy the Silence, Too:

A TV or radio droning on in the background keeps your brain buzzing. “Make sure there are times when there’s no noise in the house,” says Amy Wood, Psy.D., a psychologist in Portland, Maine.

“It’s very soothing and healing and meditative.” Create a set time — during dinner prep or right before bed, perhaps — for pure, luxurious quiet. Ahhh …

#6 Put Out-of-Season Items Out of Sight:

Twice a year — or quarterly, if you’re a true clothes horse — put out-of-season clothing and bedding into storage. You won’t believe how luxurious it feels to effortlessly browse through your clothing options with more elbow room in the closet. If you’re short on storage space, get a few under-bed containers or inexpensive vacuum-seal bags.

#7 Make Your Bed:

Turns out your mom was right. Sorry. Research has found people who adopt this habit are happier overall. And it’s much more pleasant to slip into a neatly made bed at the end of a long day, Zinberg says.

#8 Take Tech Time-Outs Daily:

You can’t unwind if you never unplug. Find an outlet near the door and create a charging station where you can drop your phone, laptop, and tablet when you get home.

You can even set your phone to airplane mode for a set period of time every day, Zinberg suggests.

And while Google, Siri, and Alexa can be helpful tools, artificial intelligence can distract from relaxation, bonding, and learning time with family, Wood points out, so include them in the nightly blackout.

#9 Dim the Lights Every Night:

Turning down the lights sends a visual cue to your brain that it’s time to chillax. So install dimmers on your bedroom and family room outlets, and make sure your bulbs emit relaxing warm light (around 2,700K) rather than cool light, which tends to energize instead of chill.

Every night, perhaps after dinner, take a second to dim your home into evening mode. For the soothing glow of candlelight, Zinberg recommends dimmable Edison bulbs.

#10 Make Time and Space for Your Hobby:

Hobbies aren’t an indulgence: They’re a necessity for good mental health. “You must make room for the things that feed your soul,” Zinberg says.

This can be as simple as assigning a chair as your reading nook, Wood recommends, or outfitting the corner of a room for crafting. That makes it much easier to nestle into the thing that gives you respite.

#11 Pause Before You Purchase:

Get in the habit of pausing — for 24 hours — before you hit “buy” on a new home item. Consider how that new dresser or rug could affect your overall stress level.

Will you go mad trying to keep it clean? Is it so flimsy you’ll be buying a new one next year? Then it’s not worth the anxiety, no matter the low, low price. Zinberg recommends buying old, well-built furniture and having it refinished. “It costs about the same as the pressed-board stuff, which you have to put together yourself, and doesn’t last as well over time,” she says. And, it should be said, you deserve high-quality things.


Super-Busy People Reveal Their Habits for a Tranquil Home!

By: Amy Howell Hirt

Three young entrepreneurs give tips on staying organized and calm while living hectic lives.

Life is crazy. Cah-ray-zee. And while you wouldn’t have it any other way from 9 to 5 (OK, more like 8 to 7), the insanity should stop at your front door.

That’s why you bought your home, right? To have a place to rest, recharge, and come up with your next trailblazing idea. A few inspirational ideas for your home may be all you need to put it on the path to tranquility.

Three super-busy entrepreneurs — a brewery owner, website founder, and organic farmer — know exactly how important a tranquil home is to achieving personal success. Here, they share how they created Zen-like havens in their homes to foster stress-relieving routines.

A Nook to Bliss Out In:

When hanging out at the local brewpub loses its appeal because, well, brewing is your business, home becomes your place for a mini getaway.

Tim Bullock, who co-owns St. Elmo Brewing Company in Austin, Texas, and his wife, photographer Heather Gallagher, created a perfect spot to chill in their own home with a little wallpaper and a daybed.

In the morning before his young son wakes up, Bullock often lounges on the daybed, reading the news, sending a few emails, or just listening to piano music before the madness of the day ensues.

The brightly colored tropical wallpaper mural covers an entire wall next to the daybed. Compared to the crisp black-and-white color scheme in the rest of the house, the vibrant space “really feels like a vacation room,” Bullock says.

Your blissful nook doesn’t have to be indoors: HypeGirls.com founder Nichole Dawkins created a tropical escape on her balcony. More than 20 strategically placed potted plants — including aloe, vegetables, herbs, small palm trees, cacti, and orchids — block out the neighbors and frame a calming water view from her Miami home.

Given the space’s appeal, Dawkins doesn’t have to remind herself to take a break throughout the day. She meditates there every morning, soaks in the sun while enjoying an afternoon cup of tea, and often reads or colors while her son naps. Sign us up!

A No-Fail System for Organization:

With a young toddler running around, Dawkins is constantly battling toys that threaten to take over her living room. So the creative director and founder of the site for “millennial mamas,” invested in DIY shelving and deep decorative bins.

Because every bin houses one category of items — like puzzles, coloring books, games, and toys — she can easily clean up throughout the day, allowing her more time to enjoy that sense of adult orderliness every evening.

Instead of a mess facing her at the end of the work day, “I spend much more time relaxing in the space than I do cleaning it up,” she says.

A Drop Zone to Separate Work From Home:

Is it difficult to leave the literal “mess” of work at the front door? Andrea Davis-Cetina, an organic farmer and owner of Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, Calif., can relate.

A one-woman operation, she might spend the day planting and harvesting, and then return home after dark to post social media updates, order seeds, or book guests for her radio show. She needed a place to stow her dirty farm boots and jackets, but her home doesn’t have a foyer.

So she carved out a small foyer drop zone at the front door, with a wall-mounted coat rack above a simple, three-level shoe stand.

“It stops the mess at the door,” she says, and helps draw that elusive line between work and personal life — even if there’s more work to be done after a long shower and an episode of “Scandal.”

For homeowners with devices instead of dirty gear: A charging station is a must-have for a drop zone. Plug ‘em in, and leave ‘em there.

An Easy Way to Spend Time Outside:

Bullock says both his home’s location and his home’s yard help him de-stress simply by encouraging him to get outside.

Since his home is in a walkable neighborhood, Bullock says that encourages both him and his family to interact with nature, instead of watching it through car windows — either by walking to the local pizzeria or riding their bikes through the park. Their home’s locale makes it all possible.

But his favorite just might be the small herb garden in his front yard. He and his son routinely spend a few minutes most days watering or weeding it.

“That definitely is a big stress relief, and it’s right outside the front door,” he says.

Windows will get you a dose of nature, too: Dawkins says the abundance of windows in her home is a natural mood-booster — and a significant reason she chose her home. She leaves the windows uncovered during the day to get as much of the benefits of daylighting as she possibly can.

A Focal Point to Find Peace and Motivation:

“The power of visualization is very important when you’re trying to get focused, or relax,” Dawkins says, by way of explanation for the “inspiration board” in her home.

She gives her board a very personal touch. Every year, she takes a blank canvas and paints it with a new theme (this year, it’s reggae), then adds her visions and dreams to it.

It works as artwork in her home, but it also helps her to see her goals clearly — and let go of the day’s less consequential stressors.

You don’t have to be an artist to have an inspiration board: Davis-Cetina uses a simple bulletin board to hang her motivational messages and personal and professional mementos. In the evening, when she’s handling the office end of farm work from an extra bedroom, she likes to visit her board. “I like to hold onto things and look at them. It’s a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says.

Some tips to consider to help you buy smart!

By: Ari Taylor

Let’s face it: We all fall victim to pretty pictures and the right price when searching for a new home. But, how do you know if you really like the area? Buyer’s Remorse happens when you are stuck for two years and have made a substantial investment, and it goes without saying that it is a tough place to be stuck in. The right agent can help you to avoid this, but there are things you can do independently that will greatly improve your chances of loving what is on the inside of your home, as well as the outside. There are no guarantees, of course, but it is worth a shot!

Facebook — Most communities have their own Facebook group(s)/page(s). Ask the moderator of the group(s) to become a member. Once you are added, ask the group as a whole what they love and what they would like to change about the community.

Google — Do a Google search to see what comes up for news articles about the community, local events, the school system and other things of that nature.

Visit The Community — Once you have gathered your intel, get out and see it for yourself! Take a ride after work to check out what your new commute would be like and try doing your shopping there. One way to successfully scout out a new area is to see what it would be like to do your regular errands there. On a Sunday afternoon, do some driving around the neighbourhood and see what the locals are up to.

Local Events — Check to see if there is anything happening in the area and experience the community that way, or grab lunch and/or coffee at a local spot in the area.

Make A List — Make a list of the things that are most important to you such as: Can I walk to and from wherever I am shopping? Is there a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts nearby? Are kid-friendly activities available? What is the nightlife like? Will I be T-accessible?

A lot of times, we focus on just the house and not enough on the location. Being smart about both aspects will help you to be and stay happy in your new home!

Lighting tricks designers use for awesome curb appeal!

By: Dave Toht

Easy outdoor lighting ideas to bathe your home in a warm glow.

Think about it: most people you invite over, come in the evening, right?

So maybe they don’t see that lovely japanese maple, or that subtle pattern you just painted on your porch floor to hide the ugly gray concrete underneath.

Maybe it’s time to consider an outdoor lighting plan.

And come to think of it, that single porch light is a more of a bug attractor than a burgler deterrent.

But where to begin?

Hang around lighting designers long enough and you’ll hear a lot of talk about “moonlight effect.” That’s a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

Here’s how designers get that natural moonlight look:

7 Ways to Mimic Moonlighting in Your Yard:

  1. Highlight trees. Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.
  2. Use uplights. Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it’s a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.
  3. Have a focus. The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, “Welcome, this way in.”
  4. Combine beauty and function. For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the “runway” look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.
  5. Vary the fixtures. While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.
  6. Stick to warm light. A rainbow of colors is possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.
  7. Orchestrate. A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.

How Moonlighting Helps Security:

Soft, overall landscape lighting eliminates dark areas that might hide an intruder, exposing any movement on your property.

Overly bright lights actually have a negative effect, creating undesirable pockets of deep shadow.

The Best Outdoor Lights Designers Recommend:

Once disparaged for their high cost and cold, bluish glow, LEDs are now the light source of choice for lighting designers.

“They’ve come down in price and now have that warm light people love in incandescent bulbs,” says Paul Gosselin, owner of Night Scenes Landscape Lighting Professionals in Kingsland, Texas.

Although LED fixtures remain twice as expensive as incandescents, installation is simpler because they use low-voltage wiring.

Another advantage is long life. LEDs last at least 40,000 hours, or about 18 years of nighttime service. With that kind of longevity, “why should a fixture have only a two-year warranty?” asks Gosselin.

He advises buying only fixtures with a 15-year warranty — proof that the fixture’s housing is designed to live as long as the LED bulbs inside.

The Cost of Outdoor Lighting:

Total outdoor lighting costs will vary according to the size of your home and the complexity of your lighting scheme. Expect to pay about $325 for each installed LED fixture. LEDs also require a transformer to step the power down from 120 volts to 12 volts, running about $400 installed.

A motion detector security light costs about $150 installed. Porch lights and sconces range from $100-$250 installed, depending the fixture and whether running new cable is necessary.

Contractor-installed outdoor lighting for an average, two-story, 2,200 sq. ft. house might add up as follows:

  • 7 fixtures to cover 100 feet of LED pathway lighting: $2,275
  • Transformer: $400
  • 4 LED uplights to dramatize the front of the house: $1,300
  • 2 LED area lights for plantings: $650
  • 2 motion detector security lights: $300

Total cost: $4,925

5 Reasons You’ll Regret Painting Your Brick House!

By: Stacey Freed

The best paint for brick? No paint at all (in most cases). Here’s why.

Brick, brick, brick. All the homes in your neighborhood are brick. You’re itching to paint over that red-orange-brown color palette so your home’s personality can shine through.

Although painting brick is doable — and sometimes even necessary (more on that later) — it’s not an easy DIY paint project, and it can be a huge risk to your biggest financial asset.

In other words: Tread carefully, homeowner. Although painted brick might be aesthetically pleasing today, it could be a big, fat regret in just a few years.

Here are five reasons you shouldn’t paint brick (plus a few exceptions when it’s OK):

#1 You’ll Probably Destroy the Brick:

Brick “breathes.” Unless it can’t. Trapped moisture is the main issue in the relationship between brick and paint. “Once you put a membrane [like paint] over the brick, it can no longer breathe,” says Mike Palmer, a masonry contractor and president of the upstate New York chapter of Mason Contractors Association of America.

Brick is the ultimate “coat” for your home, protecting it from all the elements while letting it breathe, too. Much like your beloved four-legged family member, your home’s “brick coat” adjusts as needed to protect your home from rain, sleet, snow, heat, etc. (but without all the shedding, ha!).

Putting paint on it is like encasing it in plastic. It’ll breathe no more.

#2 It Can Cause Serious Structural Damage:

If you paint the exterior brick and there’s moisture trapped in it, “once you go through a freeze-and-thaw cycle, [the brick can] degrade as moisture freezes inside it,” Palmer says.

When exterior brick erodes — and if the mortar between the brick erodes — your home’s structural integrity is at risk.

#3 It Can Look Really Bad, Really Fast:

As the bricks begin to degrade, the paint starts to peel and flake away — making your house look neglected and nasty. That’s bad news. Really bad news. That means the damage mentioned above is well under way — and it’s showing up on your home’s face.

#4 You Might Be Destroying a Bit of History:

How old is your home’s brick? If your brick is considered historic, painting it could be considered a sin against history.

If you have an older home with decorative features, such as dog-toothing, you might have brick that should be preserved in its natural state.

“Old brick was handmade in a kiln, and some … has a harder surface. It weathers better, and was used on the face of buildings because it’s more impervious,” says architect Ashley Wilson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Since today’s bricks are machine-made, these handmade varieties are worth preserving. Paint will only destroy their historic value, and if done incorrectly could result in structural damage to your home.

#5 You Can’t Easily Go Back to Unpainted:

The time and money it takes (plus the risk to the brick’s integrity) to remove existing paint makes it a very challenging task. Power-washing or sandblasting can damage the brick, so it all has to be painstakingly stripped away using chemicals.

Technically, this is a chore you could do yourself, but do you really want to get to know every square inch of your entirehouse’s exterior? Even if it’s a little one?

As comedian Steven Wright used to joke, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

4 Exceptions That Make It OK to Paint Brick:

#1 If It’s Already Been Painted

Most painted brick needs regular repainting, and compared to removing the old paint, it’s typically the lesser evil. Just be sure to use the right paint.

The right paint to use for exterior brick:  Use a mineral-based paint or a silicate paint that’s designed to be breathable, and is recommended for brick, such as the brand KEIM.

Should you DIY it?The long and short of it is this: There is so much critical, tedious prep work required, like cleaning and repairing damage, you’re better off having it done by a professional. According to Homewyse, the average cost for a professional to paint your brick home is $1.70 to $3.27 per square foot. That adds up fast.

#2 If the Brick is Severely Damaged

Let’s say you’ve got an older home and the “the grout between the brick is old, and may have turned to sand,” says Chris Landis, partner/owner of Landis Architects/Builders, who sits on the board of Washington, D.C.’s, Historic Preservation Review Board. Painting could be the solution.

Sure, you could have the brick repointed (replacing/adding new mortar), but that can be costly — as much as $25 a square foot — depending on where you live and the degree of damage. (Cha-ching!)

If you try fixing it yourself, “You’ll likely get cement all over the brick, which is really messy. The best thing to do in that case is to actually paint it,” Landis says. Dried cement all over your brick isn’t a good look.

#3 If the Brick Was Meant to Be Painted

There’s a slim chance your home might have an old type of brick that actually needs to be painted to protect it. A few rules of thumb to help determine if that’s the case with your home’s brick:

  • It was built before 1870.
  • The brick was handmade, not machine-made.
  • It has traces of paint that looks faded or whitewashed.
  • The home lacks ornamental brick decoration.

The paint, however, for these bricks isn’t your typical latex paint. The paint must be all-natural, such as milk paint or lime-based whitewash. Modern paints will only damage the brick, potentially causing structural damage.

Because these bricks are more delicate, homes using them are less likely to have ornate brick architectural features such as dog-toothing. If you see features like those, then you have the more durable handmade bricks, which should never be painted.

#4 If the Brick is Inside

Indoor brick isn’t subject to harsh outdoor elements. If you were to paint your fireplace surround, for example, Palmer says you won’t have the issues of moisture and humidity. So have fun with it!