Know Thyself

I redecorated my bedroom before the holidays. I changed the paint color from gold to soft blue, strung blue twinkle-lights around the canopy bed frame, got a soft white bulb for the lamp, bought a pretty pink and blue coverlet, and framed a watercolor print of Audrey Hepburn on the wall. I loved it so much, I put my white Christmas tree up in the corner and spent most December nights in there.

Things changed. I took down the tree and decided to paint my nightstand, which meant taking everything out of it. The paint I’m using requires two coats, plus two coats of wax—and around my propane heater, the wax stinks. It requires ten days of drying time before I can put anything on top of it. Since it’s been so cold, I haven’t been able to do more than one coat of wax, which means my nightstand is on a tarp in the corner, the clutter from the nightstand is all over the rest of the room, and I can’t use my lamp since it’s too short when sitting on the floor.

Before I decided to paint the nightstand, I kept the room spotless. I was proud of it. I made the bed each morning, voluntarily, because it looked so nice. The first thing I did when coming in at night was turn on the twinkle-lights. I haven’t done that in the week and a half since clutter blitzed all over the space. I enter the room and feel downcast, since it’s not pretty at the moment—there’s stuff everywhere, with things out of place. Making the bed in the morning is a chore. I haven’t bothered picking up the wax tools. My cat isn’t as happy, either.

My mood went from flying high to bummed in the time it took to apply a single coat of paint. I’m a doer. I want to get things done quickly and put it all back in order. My painting projects take two days, tops. This time, I can’t. This made me realize: my environment impacts my mood, in negative and positive ways. How I look also impacts my mood. How clean my house is influences my attitude. Unless I feel good about my environment, I have no incentive to keep it tidy. I do want to be in a room I like that makes me feel happy, and encourages my inner-peace; I don’t want to be in a room I hate.

How much does our environment affect mood, sense of self, and confidence?

I suspect: a lot. Consider how you feel when you have a cold sore on your lip, or a pimple… do you become self-conscious in public? Now, think about how the inside of your car might have the same subconscious effect—if you’d feel embarrassed to have someone ride in it with you unexpectedly. If it’s too dirty for them, why do you put up with it? Aren’t you worth a clean car? Think about how your house looks and feels to you. The more I love something, the more pride I take in its appearance, the more effort I put into tidiness.


Apathy indicates something is wrong, that I’ve lost confidence in the object (or myself, if my appearance is what I neglect). In each instance, I must ask myself why.

Am I never home because I love being out and about or because I hate my house? Does it feel good to me or make me sad or depressed? Why? Is it poor planning? Cluttered? Does it make me feel claustrophobic? Is the color stimulating, depressing, or calming? Is there a room in my home I dislike? Why? What about it shouts, “Neglect me”? Do I have furniture I dislike but don’t know what to do with?

Maybe I have so many plants in the window, it obstructs the view and makes it feel dark inside the house. Maybe I need brighter lights, or a different bedspread, or a good couch cover (since I think those colors are ugly, or stripes make me crazy, or the fabric makes me itch), or to paint the dresser, or curtains to make me feel safer, or a filing system, or to go through my drawers one at a time and get rid of “junk.”

Maybe I hate that closet and the door sticks, so I shove everything I don’t know what to do with or dislike into it, but it lurks in the back of my mind every time I’m home. Maybe the basement makes me feel unsafe. Why? Is it too dark? Could I put up some lights? Throw out all the “stuff” and turn it into a family gaming room? Is my office a source of clutter and confusion? Could it be I don’t like the storage bins, so everything stays on the desk?

Life is a journey and I only get one. There’s always a reason… for my mood, my depressive days, my anxieties. It can be tied to food (do I feel good after eating that?), friends (do they leave me feeling better or worse, having spent time with them?), appearance (if I had a haircut I liked, would I fix my hair more often?), and environment. Instead of making a “list” of ways to self-improve this year, and beating myself up for not doing them after the first week, I could just make one: to know myself.

PS: I wrote / published this two weeks ago; in that amount of time, I bought sealant to finish off the nightstand (instead of using wax), painted the dresser the same color, moved book shelves from one end of the house to the other, and cleaned out my office so it breathes better. And the cat is much happier.

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