I never liked the question: “What are your new year resolutions? “. First, it can be too personal a question, depending on who is asking. Secondly, it’s not a nice word. It suggests a certain level of aggression and stringency – it’s either success or failure. Plus, everyone’s answers are all the same – not very original thinking!
I prefer setting a new year tone with goals such as re-fresh, re-new, re-invent, re-purpose, re-commit – much kinder goals that suggest a transformation, are more optimistic and, done right, less stressful for you and the environment. This year, instead of the usual “resolutions”, I recommend you put your home at the top of the list for “refresh.” We spend about 90% of our lives indoors, and half or more of that time in our homes. Certainly, recent years have taught us the importance of investing some effort to optimize the comfort, functionality, and beauty of our homes. Simple tweaks can enhance your home environment and increase happiness and comfort for you and your loved ones.
As you go from room to room making your lists, remember that your home should reflect you – what you like, how you live, your taste. In addition to noting the functional repairs that might be needed, consider re-arranging furniture to accommodate indoor family activities like playing board games, reading, or entertaining friends easily. The most impactful low-investment refresh will be in the choice of decorative accessories that truly reflect you and your priorities – Photos of loved ones, special events, or favorite places visited; good reading lamps; books; art that sparks joy; an informal arrangement of something from your garden; pillows that add comfort and beauty.
Here are some suggestions on how to achieve those refresh goals in the new year:
- Clear out the stuff
Without a lot of discipline, we all manage to acquire mountains of stuff every year! Too much clutter makes your home look dated and even dirty and takes away from the focus you want on what you do love. It sounds like a chore but believe me you will feel so much better and “lighter” when you can fill boxes and bags with the things that need to go. First consider if your items are worth repurposing, or upcycling for your home. If not, the circular economy is so strong that your unwanted items will likely find a home at a donation center like the Salvation Army or any cause-related collection center, or a good consignment store, like my personal favorite, The Velvet Shoestring. And of course, you can probably find a 30-something advocate of grandmillenial style who wants a piece or two of “brown” furniture (yes, it’s “in” again - if it’s good quality and in moderation). Whatever you do, don’t throw things in the trash that will end up in landfills!
- Function first, then form
Although the visual appeal of your home is certainly important, think about form first. After all, there’s no point in investing in reupholstering or slipcovering a worn chair or sofa that just isn’t comfortable anymore or decorating around something that no longer fits your needs. For your home to be relaxing and enjoyable it needs to feel as good as it looks. So, tackle function first. For example, many of us will need to carve out work or school spaces that are both functional as well as stylish and cheerful. Once the form is in place, the new year is the perfect time to get creativity flowing and perhaps step out of your comfort zone. You can limit your investment to smaller items, or items that can be easily changed if you don’t like the results. Consider just painting or papering a single accent wall, switching out a lampshade to something brighter and more interesting, painting a tired end table or chest, adding a colorful throw, or changing out decorative pillow covers to something with richer pattern or texture. Be a bit bold, try new things.
- Give vintage some love
If you find you need to fill some furniture and furnishing gaps, remember they needn’t be brand-spanking new. Even if your style does lean to modern or contemporary, adding an older piece, especially if it has some sentimental value, is a very chic design trend and it is a great solution to help protect our environment - where too much furniture, clothing and fabric is thrown away, ends up in landfills, or worse, is incinerated. Mixing in a vintage piece or two – gently used from any era - adds a lot of character and warmth, as long as you love it! Not to mention, many older pieces are much better made and built to last several lifetimes. There are so many places to score that special find; the hunt is half the fun! Consider “antique” markets and fairs like Brimfield, estate sales, auctions, fund-raising “bazaars,” consignment stores, etc. In our area, the towns of Hopewell and Lambertville have become great destinations with multiple vintage home décor solutions, like my favorites Hopewell Antiques and Umbrella. If you are travelling be sure to see if there is a local spot to browse. And of course, vintage collections from on-line dealers like Chairish, 1st Dibs and One Kings Lane often list local items and provide inspiration and “research” opportunities.
- Bring nature in
There is no better way to refresh than to bring nature into our homes, especially when the weather may prevent you from being outdoors as much as you would like. Plants bring energy and they help clean the air and are simple and low-cost investments that last a long time with care. Inquire at your local nursery about the best types for your light levels. While you’re there, investigate bulbs; it’s a great time to force bulbs of all kinds. I love the look of forcing them in water and pebbles in a glass jar – easy, very pretty and clean-looking and fun to watch grow!
Try also foraging in your own garden for anything you can bring in. An assortment of evergreen branches in a natural stone or painted container reflects the season and its natural textures. One of my favorite arrangements is dried hydrangeas and other stems foraged, dried, or collected, shown here in an upcycled antique silver water pitcher from a great uncle, with a fine bone handle, dented, missing its lid and rarely polished! But what texture, and a lovely memento too of his Francophile tastes! It’s also citrus season, so consider a blue and white bowl full of vivid yellow lemons or limes, even pears and apples - a strikingly beautiful and “natural” arrangement too! You can also stud the oranges with cloves for a lovely seasonal and warm natural scent.
Don’t forget to let the sunshine in! Position a chair and desk or a favorite reading chair in a sunny window. And for extra points, add pillows with natural themes like florals and botanicals. If you can, try to find one of the “great” iconic prints for your pillow like a Colefax and Fowler floral, or Elsie de Wolfe’s classic fern print.
- Pillows to the rescue
Decorative pillows can instantly refresh or change the feel of a room. They add color, texture and of course comfort; they are easy to change out; can be handmade or unique and one-of-a-kind stylish statements; use textiles that are often works of art in their own right; and require little investment. Seek out natural sustainable materials like cotton, linen, and raw silk. And don’t worry too much about what works together. The trend now is to layer pattern, so be fearless! You can always unite the pillows with a common color for example, but vary the texture, pattern, and size. You can never have too many on a sofa until the point when your guests are forced to (discreetly) remove one in order to sit down!
Best of all, pillows are logical candidates for upcycling beautiful textiles. This is how Rescued Textiles began: This time last year, in our room by room “audit” we discovered we needed to recover badly stained and worn seat cushions on a bench and a window seat and refresh several very tired life-less pillows. Rather than buying more fabric and searching for something that “fit,” we searched instead through our collection of project leftovers and discovered the perfect solution to our needs. We didn’t have enough of any one fabric to do both sides of any project, but by pairing fabrics that already fit our décor and style (they’d been used elsewhere), we were able to use the beautiful textiles we love in a highly creative and interesting way. We certainly didn’t want to throw those lovely textiles away - now we could upcycle them instead! Rescued Textiles was launched knowing others would appreciate beautiful, rescued textile remnants (rescued before they could be tossed and added to the landfill crisis), upcycled by hand into totally unique works of comfort and art for their home.
So, as you think about a home refresh in the new year, be kind to yourself, your personal home environment, and the outside world. Keep the projects small, attainable, and focused on reflecting you, your needs, and the environment you want to create. This is a very personal exercise – be creative, try something new and have some fun with it. And of course, upcycle and repurpose everywhere you can!