I have always been house proud and kept our home neat and tidy. Before kids, my husband worked away on a FiFo roster and I would race home from work on Friday afternoons, force myself to clean the house from top to bottom and then relax in the cleanliness of it all weekend. I was fun like that. When it’s just you, working full time, and a partner who is away 80% of the time, it’s pretty easy to keep your home tidy.
And then I fell pregnant. Nesting is no joke. Over the next nine months, I cleaned, scrubbed and painted every surface of our home. I even climbed a stepladder in my third trimester and, whilst precariously balanced, painted the cornice of the nursery with a tiny paintbrush, because, Type A personality!! Husband was not impressed!
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was put on bedrest. Baby’s growth had begun to slow so I had to finish up work a few weeks earlier than planned and rest. Every fibre of my being wanted to protect the life growing inside of me and yet the urge to clean had never been stronger. The solution – my husband and I created a tidy room. A space I could retreat to, rest, relax and not clean. And it worked.
I was able to rest in my tidy room and baby was born healthy and well a few weeks later. And all was well. Well as well as it can be during those sleep deprived days of a newborn. And then baby grew. She grew into a beautiful, happy, healthy and messy little girl. A curious child who collected rocks and sand and found sticky things enticing to touch (what is that about?) 20months later we added another beautiful girl to our happy little family and as the months passed, I felt my former self slipping away and I became lost in the mess life with two children brings. My anxiety grew and my urge to clean became stronger and more necessary. I dealt with things I couldn’t control by attempting to control my surroundings, my environment. Only I couldn’t control it. Because children are messy. Mess became a trigger for me and I would lose my temper when I began to feel my ability to keep the house clean spiralling out of my control.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with anxiety. The year didn’t start well – in the space of three months, I lost a close family member, we experienced a serious medical diagnosis and lost our family pet; I began having panic attacks. For weeks I lay on the couch at night with my heart literally pounding in my chest, unable to sleep and unable to escape the overwhelm. At one stage, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest, the pressure in my ribs was intense and my entire chest ached. Anxiety is our body’s physiological response to stress. My need to control my environment had spiralled and I needed help. I went to my GP who prescribed me with medication and I began speaking to a psychologist. And slowly, I started making positive changes.
I started with breathing. Literally breathing. I’ve learned first and for most to take deep breaths when I’m feeling anxious. I started talking to my husband about how I was feeling. I began exercising without the goal of losing weight. My sole reason for exercising was to get fitter and feel better. I now exercise on average 5 to 6 times a week. And slowly, slowly, I’ve let go of the need to clean. I’ve learnt to accept what I can keep clean and what I can’t. My children are beautiful, curious and wondrous human beings. They learn through play. Through doing, making and creating. And this often creates not only mess, but memories. I’m embracing the play. The house is still kept tidy, but I can honestly say I no longer clean every day. I clean one or two days a week. My house is probably messier than it has been in a long time but I am happier than I have been too. A messy house doesn’t always mean a messy mind. In my case it means a calmer more relaxed mind. A mind that is at peace. And that is always a good thing. I used to see houses in magazines and think that is what I needed mine to be like. As someone in the industry, I know that the houses we see in magazines, whilst beautiful, do not look this way on a day to day basis. How crazy that I was aiming for unattainable perfection.
I still have one or two spaces in my home that I try to keep tidy as a means of retreat when things do pile up and the mess becomes overwhelming. I’m not perfect. I’m human and because of that I have good days and bad days like everyone else. It’s important for my health and wellbeing that on the bad days, my home is designed to support my need for order and cleanliness. Just as it’s important for me to be able to talk to my friends and family about my mental health.
My work as an interior designer is to help you make your house look good. My work as a design psychology consultant is to help make your home feel good and as far as I’m concerned that is more important. A home that feels good is different for everyone. I want to help you create your feel good home. Through my journey dealing with anxiety, I’ve found balance. I know how to create homes that are inspired, relaxed, unpretentious and welcoming – everything a home should be. The homes I design tolerate mess making and celebrate memory making. After all life is messy and life should be enjoyed. Your home should be a means to support your enjoyment and happiness. I can help you create all that and more.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, please contact your GP or get in touch with Beyond Blue. If you’d like to know more about designing your home to support your individual needs please contact me so we can chat more about it.