“We need new stuff,” I muttered to my husband one evening, watching an episode of The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes on Netflix. Our home is cozy and lovely, but is it extraordinary? Not really. Watching these shows, however, you can’t help but compare. After witnessing a sleek, modern villa built into the side of a cliff, how can you possibly look at your suburban tract home the same way? You can’t, and you’ll probably never have the villa — but hey, maybe you can spend some money on an upgrade.
I have an obsession with home improvement content, whether it’s the myriad shows on HGTV, home decor Instagram accounts, or the envious house tours on this YouTube channel. And I’m not alone. There’s an uptick in consumer interest in home improvement content, as the global home decor market is expected to grow by nearly 5% in the next five years. In 2016, HGTV became the third-most-watched cable network in the U.S., beating CNN. While its ranking has jumped around over the past few years, it remains among the top five. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have to admit: My own obsession with home lifestyle media borders on unhealthy.
My interest in this type of media is less about entertainment as it is about consumption. I watch because, perhaps unconsciously, I want to shop. It’s fascinating, and a bit unsettling, the way home lifestyle programming taps into this. You scroll Apartment Therapy’s Instagram feed then start searching for a knockoff Eames lounge of Amazon. Or, after a Property Brothers marathon, you download the Zillow app and look for fixer-uppers in your area. Home lifestyle content does an excellent job of provoking our aspirational spending — we see it, we like it, we want it, we find our nearest credit card and hit the buy button.
To be fair, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where I couldn’t spend hours on end drooling over beautiful, urban lofts and massive, spa-like bathrooms. Interior design also serves a meaningful purpose — there’s a strong relationship between our environment and our mental and physical health. The color of our walls can affect our mood. Lighting influences our energy levels and productivity. Architects and designers have created an entire set of standards for improving mental health and well-being through design. There’s a utility in home improvement media: It teaches us how to make our surroundings prettier, and pretty things make us happy.
On the other hand, it’s possible to take this too far. At The Globe and Mail, health reporter Adriana Barton argues that an obsession with home decor is a reflection of our own self-image. The home is an extension of the self, she says, arguing that this is especially true — and dangerous — for women. Barton writes, “Like body image, it has become a measuring stick for their successes and failings – and a full-blown obsession for North American women.” Like self-image issues, Barton argues that ultimately, you will never get to a place where you’re truly satisfied with your home decor.
Even if your home decor obsession isn’t linked to your self-worth, it becomes hazardous when it encourages you to buy stuff you can’t afford. In most cases, that means spending a little too much at HomeGoods. When you’re craving a whole new living room, It’s easy — and quick — to order a bunch of new household goods on Amazon and have them delivered the next day. In less than 24 hours, you can feel like you’re living an entirely different, Joanna Gaines-approved life. So how do you temper your inner consumer when browsing Pinterest, scrolling through Instagram, or binging the latest home design show on Netflix? I’ve found a few strategies can help.
Don’t default to spending.
Take, for instance, the Buyerarchy of Needs, a concept from designer Sarah Lazarovic. With the Buyerarchy of Needs, when you want something new, you start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up. If you can’t borrow, swap for, thrift, or make something you need, only then does it make sense to buy it outright.
For example, let’s say you want to create a new gallery wall — buying 15 frames at once can be pricey. Is there a way to use what you already have? Maybe you have some old frames or items collecting dust in another room that might work. Or, can you borrow what you want? Perhaps a friend or family member has a boatload of photo frames in storage, and you can try them out in your space for a bit. You get the idea: Work your way up the pyramid so that when you want something new, your default solution isn’t to spend money.
Keep a wish list.
I also keep a running wish list of all the stuff I want. For example, since I recently moved, this list is filled to the brim with all the shiny objects I want to buy to make my apartment feel more like home: floor lamps, rugs, a bar cart, a fuzzy ottoman — the list goes on. Chances are, the items on this list will start to shrink over time, as reality sets in and I realize I have to make concessions with my budget. The fuzzy ottoman? Cute, but not necessary.
On the other hand, the list also serves as a way to curate all the things you do want and can save up to buy. When you can afford a little upgrade or redecorating session, you have a go-to shopping list.
Some people use Pinterest in this same way. They’ll pin things that spark an idea or interest and come back to them later for shopping inspiration, and that can be effective, too. A wish list keeps your expectations in check, along with your budget.
Rearrange some stuff.
Rearranging is my favorite way to curb overspending when I get the home improvement itch.
I’ll move the couch to a new wall. Or rearrange some wall art. You could swap out your living room decor with your bedroom decor. Either way, you get an instant update without spending a dime. But if you really do want to upgrade, start with some low-cost options. It’s relatively affordable to swap out bathroom cabinet knobs, for example, and they can refresh the entire room. Lighting is also important. Warmer or cooler bulbs will create an entirely different vibe, and color-changing bulbs, like the Philips Hue lights are a slightly pricier but still fairly affordable lighting upgrade. Check out this lighting guide, which breaks down the right type of lighting to use in every room in your home.
It can’t hurt to learn some basic home decorating and design principles, too. For example, the rule of three creates visual harmony with your decor: Objects arranged in odd numbers are generally more visually appealing. Another basic design tip: Find a focal point in the room, whether it’s a big window or a fireplace, and use symmetry to highlight that area. Overall, the idea here is, instead of buying all new stuff in an attempt to completely overhaul your lifestyle, learn some tools of the trade and see how much you can improve with what you already have.
We consume this media for a reason. There’s something deliciously satisfying about drooling over the luxurious, open kitchens on Fixer Upper or the beautiful, botanical lofts on Apartment Therapy. And really, sometimes it just feels good to look at over-the-top architecture and dream about what your own home might look like someday. But ultimately, consuming this type of media in a healthy way comes down to balancing your aspirations with an appreciation for your current lifestyle — even if it sometimes feels ordinary.
Image via IMDB