Good morning and happy new year! Woohoo, we made it to 2019! I hope every manner of good experience sweeps through your small but delightful space in the upcoming year. And that this is the year you find a veritable fortune of support, strength, optimism and surprise within your walls and within your heart.
Let’s get right down to it. Six things. I want to talk about the six things, six catch-phrases, six concepts, six words to jot down as you roam about your place and check in with it in this dawn of a new, more plentiful, more intimate relationship with your home. The six words are intended to capture the spirit of what I”m talking about rather than point to a fact or any true. If this is true for you, yippee! Use this idea. If this is not helpful, then create your own list or riff off of this one until you find your six things, or five or two. or eleven.
I find this little list of sparky words helpful anytime I feel a little lost as to what a room needs. Thats when I use it as a checklist, like okay this is good, but this is a bit lacking. So you can use it to survey your space and see what comes up. So kindof diagnostically. You can also use it therapeutically, like, today Im going to work on X in the study, or Y in the entryway. It is nice to sometimes substitute these words for other words you might use on a todo list that feel more punishing. Like instead of saying, I’m going to hang curtains today (that sounds like drag doesn’t it), you might say I’m going to enhance my privacy.
So thats the first word, Privacy (You thought I was going to say color didn’t you? That’s coming up). Privacy is number one because it really encapsulates a main reason we live in our space. Why don’t we all just pull out our sleeping bags and sleep in the lobby? Why don’t we spill out into the streets and all just sleep and cook and read in the park? We could try that and it might be more social for a while, but we would soon long for a sense of privacy, security, dignity that having your own space —whether it is a studio apartment or a 2 bedroom penthouse—that we command and where we feel unbothered by others. We get to be kings and queens here.
So the apartment itself is a means for essential privacy. If you live alone you know this especially well. In your own space you can wear what you want, talk to yourself, do anything you want and no one knows. It’s like the opposite of the internet. Like everything, privacy is a double edged sword. In one sense we need it. The chance to let it all hang out, to be accountable to no one but our selves, to really hear and register our most personal thoughts and feelings. To run the whole show. On the other hand, privacy can precipitate a strain of laziness. No one knows or cares what we are doing in here all by ourselves, so we can eat chocolate coated breakfast cereal for 72 hours if we want. Never make the bed, and sleep till 1 pm. Stare at paint chips all day (Yes, I’m telling on my self a little.) But in the context of interior color and space, I’m going to talk about privacy as a good and desirable thing. You do with your privacy whatever you like. No judgement. No judgement in 2019, friends.
A sense of privacy, and some degree of control over that privacy, is essential to the feeling of wellbeing in a room. You may very well have your own apartment, your name on the lease or mortgage, and still feel that you are being invaded by your neighbors or elements from the outside. So when I talk about privacy in decorating, I am talking about the next level of privacy beyond a locked door. When you rent an apartment in NYC, or maybe anywhere I’m not sure, often when you move in, it is completely empty save for the blinds on the windows. That’s how essential privacy is. Even the landlords get how essential privacy is.
There are two levels and four types of privacy. The two levels are actual privacy (like your neighbor can’t actually walk into your apartment) and perceived privacy. Its important to recognize that the more sensitive you are to your environment, or maybe the more porous or merging-oriented you are (see last post) as a person, the more actual and perceived privacy co-mingle. And in truth, regardless, the body responds to perceptions over facts. So if it sounds like there is someone crawling through the window to get you, the body responds with an adrenaline surge as if there is someone uninvited entering your space. Best way to illustrate this is watching a TV show. If you are sitting on your sofa immersed in a tv show in which a meteor is hurling through space and coming straight toward you, and if it is filmed in a particularly realistic of 3D way, the fact that you are watching tv goes away in your perception; and on contact you totally brace sitting there on the couch as this huge rock threatens to take you out, as if it is coming straight for you in real life. What the body-mind is perceiving is activating various internal processes and it is not logical.
Once you see that no one is breaking in or that the meteor threat has dissipated, your body then relaxes. Unless it doesn’t. So in one sense it is no big deal. And the perception of danger and escape from danger in and of itself is not harmful. We are built for that up and down of life. So long as the the ups and downs are clear. But a sustained or repeated feeling of uncertainty regarding whether or not you are alone —being unable to say for sure because you are getting mixed signals from your environment —that in my view can challenge one’s health and wellbeing.
Okay, so the two levels are actual and perceived. Most of what room decor deals with is perceived obviously. But remember your body doesn’t know the difference when it comes to sounds and some visuals.
The four types of privacy relate to the three senses through which you can perceive events and stimuli outside of your apartment (sight, sound and smell) and a fourth type of privacy which is more subconscious, that relates to a felt sense of privacy and security. So 2 levels, 4 types, we will maybe go into more detail about these in upcoming blog posts. But for now, maybe just take in the notion that privacy is multifaceted, it is largely perceptual, and the experience of privacy is connected with your neuro-immuno-endocrine system as well as your ability to relax, enjoy, and thrive in the space.
So what in a room promotes a feeling of privacy or actual privacy? Some things that are obvious and others that are less so. First the obvious, everything that goes on the perimeter of your space - rugs on the floor and window treatments are what leap to mind. Lots more talk about rugs in upcoming posts too. Just had a highly fantastic rug experience when I swapped out a mishmash of old cheap area rugs in my living room for an incredible, appropriately large sized rug. And I feel so much better in my space. Remind me to tell you my rug-tale later. But that’s another story.
So yes, rugs, especially if another family or person lives below you. But, really rugs create a wonderful feeling of cocoon-y pleasure and security even if you are on the ground floor. Window treatments - blinds, shades, curtains, sheers, etc. Again more details later on ways to approach the myriad options for creating privacy with curtains.
The less obvious means for creating privacy have to do with furniture arrangement, flow, and coziness. When you create human-sized pockets of space for the various functions you perform in your home, you feel held by space, you feel secure, and there is sense of privacy and peace. So if you have the rugs and windows addressed and you still feel like somethings not quite right, there might be a way to rearrange the furniture or add bookcase or something to create more a nook-vibe.
Soundproofing, or noise-reducing. In some ways this is the biggest urban living challenge of all. I do feel like I’m constantly on the run from noises in the environment that range fro annoying to downright upsetting. And one to the reasons I’m not entirely on board with the minimalism movement—although I am in many regards—is that that stuff, especially large stuff, absorbs sound. So furniture, rugs, textiles are helpful in making a space livable not only for the immediate purposes but for sound absorption. Food for thought before you throw out that old couch or extra bed.
A word on smell. That might seems like a weird thing to categorize under privacy. But think about the experience of smelling your neighbors cooking through an open window, smelling indoor smoke that wafts under the front door. It can be pleasant or unpleasant. The point is it isn’t yours. Its a side effect of someone else’s endeavor. Invasive smells may not be a part of your apartment experience at all—they weren’t for me until my current one —or if you do experience environmental smells, you might be entirely unbothered by it. And that is great. But if you are bothered by apartment building smells, don’t let it be passive. You can do things about it. And if you are a little bothered by it, better to acknowledge that to yourself and address it (mind-body, physical barriers, fans, and counter smells are ways) than let it nibble at your body’s ability to relax.
So I’ve gone on quite enough for one post about Privacy - the first touchpoint for enjoying your small space. I’ll summarize - privacy - good. The feeling of privacy is just as important, perhaps more important, than actual privacy. Privacy can be invaded by the awareness that other people can (a) see in (e.g., no curtains), (b) unwanted environmental sounds (e.g., neighbor’s radio), and (c) unwanted environmental smells. Also (d) a feeling of privacy created by the way you arrange furniture in your space, the energy flow in your space, and how you inhabit your space.
Now before I sign off, I just want to mention that I’m not suggesting that you board up your windows, keep your curtains fully closed, and slide an armoire in front of your door, as if outside contact is universally harmful and evil. I’m not suggesting you shutter yourself in your space for a month. Quite the opposite. What I’m trying to say is that privacy is a thing your body wants - to varying degrees for various duration - and until you stop to think about it and feel into your experience of it, you might be missing out on an opportunity to enhance your experience of body, home and life. By embracing privacy, your body can be natural, easy, and unresponsive to the outside. It is healthy. It is also mostly subtle.
Ask your self right now as you read this, how private am I in this moment? Maybe on a scale from one to ten - one being I’m in a busy public space so not at all private, to ten I’m alone, no-one can see in, and there are no noises or smells that are pulling me out of my privacy. Then ask yourself, how private do I feel? You might be entirely private by the definition I’ve suggested here, but not feel private. Despite being in a private environment right now, you might feel somehow on display (hello my fellow extraverts), or that someone might at any moment barge into your space, even as you sit there alone, even knowing the door is locked and that is nearly impossible. So privacy is created in space and in the mind.
Now quickly, there is an existential/philosophical/spiritual if you will facet to privacy too. And that relates to aloneness. A deep sense of felt privacy is something you can drop into no matter where you are. It is a sense that you are autonomous, that you and you alone are piloting this ship. That you alone get to contain and ferment all the inputs into your body through the senses and into your mind through memories, thoughts, beliefs, ideas you have gathered from others near and far. You are unique. Absolutely astoundingly unequivocally unique in your being and experience and your interface with all of life. If for some reason you feel remote from the truth of your uniqueness, maybe investigate what is interfering with privacy in your life. Privacy of thought, feeling and will. And can you access greater privacy of being by tweaking your control and use of privacy in the home?
So, as a teaser, the other 5 things every room needs are: color; function; simplicity, cohesion, and life. All of these facets are achievable with design and decor. And they all promote harmony for the body mind of the experiencer. And we will talk about all of them, to come.