How to Design Intentionally when You Don’t Have Control over Your Home

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am a big advocate for decorating your home and removing excess clutter from your life. But, what can you do if you don’t have full control over your home? What if you are living with your parents? What if you are renting a room in someone’s home? Or what if you share your home with a messy partner who refuses to be organized?

There are two things that are important to keep in mind in this situation. First, you always have some control over a bit of space, even if it is just your bed or a space in the closet. Secondly, it is important to be respectful with those you live. You can express your needs to others but also be mindful to not try and force another person to change. When we cannot accept others, I guarantee that it also means that you are not fully willing to accept yourself.

So, let’s first look at what you can control. I want you to take a moment to think about what is within your control and what areas in the home those you live with might be willing to let you take over in the organization and decoration department. For the areas over which you absolutely have control, what kind of state are these areas in? Do you have dried toothpaste stuck to the inside of your drawer in the bathroom? Is your closet or dresser stuffed with clothes that you no longer like or that no longer fit? Clean up these spaces. Make them work for you and be aligned with who you are today, not who you were ten years ago. This is about taking personal responsibility. Your life does not have to be on hold just because the circumstances of your life are not exactly where you want them to be.

Now, consider what spaces you can update over which you have full control. Maybe it is time to take down an old poster and put up a framed photo of a place or person you love. Maybe it is time to give yourself a nightstand rather than continuing on with a pile of stuff by your bed. Again, remember to live for now, not for some perfect day in the future when you can afford an exquisite piece of furniture. If you need to purchase something off of Craig’s List and spray paint it your favorite color then do that. Own your space and take care of yourself today. You are always deserving of your care and attention.

As you think about other common spaces within your home, consider if there are other areas in which you could make your mark. Perhaps other people in your home might even be grateful if someone took charge of organizing pots and pans, the pile of shoes by the front door, or the towering pile of DVDs in the living room. It may not sound so glamorous but this is part of taking responsibility for the state of your home and life. Ask before you take charge and be mindful of your tone. Let others know that this is what you would like to do for yourself and the benefit of the community, not because you are trying to control others or passively act out your aggression.

When it comes to actual decorations, you may or may not have much control. Perhaps you live with someone who couldn’t care less how the house is decorated and is fine with you stylistically changing things up. But perhaps you are living with someone who is intent on keeping their 1980’s decorations intact. Or perhaps you are living with someone who feels threatened by you changing things in the common areas. Working with these situations is a fine line and can also depend greatly on your living situation. If you are renting a room in someone’s home, that situation can look very different from sharing a home with your significant other. You always have a right to respectfully let someone know what you would like to do but it will take some discernment to decide whether or not to press an issue and when to let go.

Something that I would like to encourage you to keep in mind is if the person you are living with is being difficult about you changing the space, while they may undoubtedly be difficult, they are also being difficult because they are having an emotional struggle on some level. If this is your significant other, it could be appropriate to ask them what concerns them about changing the space. If it is your landlord, the conversation may or may not be appropriate.

Regardless of how far you are able to make progress on changing the common areas within your home, I encourage you to remain committed to updating what you can. And for the areas that you cannot change but wish you could, I encourage you to make peace with the situation. Not everything in our life is within our control and yet we can still have peace and joy in life. A messy common area does not have to define you and it does not have to be what steals your peace. The more that you take ownership for what you can control the more you will find joy with your space and subsequently joy in your life.

Have heart. Life is always a work in progress and we do the best that we can.