After a long, hard day, there's nothing like coming home to unwind – unless the kitchen counters are buried under last night's dishes, the children are quarrelling in the den, and a stack of unpaid bills is the first thing you see when you stumble through the door.
It's possible, however, to bring serenity to even the most chaotic of living quarters. We asked experts for advice on how to maintain a harmonious home, and here's what they said:
CUSTOMIZE YOUR SPACE
Gather ideas: Start by seeking inspiration in places you love, whether it's a blissful vacation destination, a magazine or your favourite café, says Laura Stein, founder of the Toronto-based design firm Laura Stein Interiors, Inc. "Think of the feeling you get in that place, and try to emulate that in your home," Ms. Stein says.
Above all else, make sure it suits you, she says – your home will only make you feel comfortable and happy if it reflects your personality and is filled with things that are meaningful to you. In other words, don't buy the entire Ikea showroom.
Add warmth: Even if your prefer a sleek, contemporary style, soft fabrics, an area rug, some throw pillows or a wallpapered accent wall will add warmth and comfort, Ms. Stein says. Varying the texture in your space is important, not just from a design standpoint, but to also create a cozy atmosphere.
Set the mood: Dim lighting may be great for creating a spa-like, Zen atmosphere, but not so great for reading, Ms. Stein says. Makes sure you have different levels of lighting, which can be adjusted according to the occasion – put pot lights on dimmers, bring in floor lamps and add table lamps.
Consider scale: Ever buy a piece of furniture that fits in your home but overpowers the space? It's a common problem, Ms. Stein says. That sectional sofa may look great in the store, but it makes your living room feel horribly cramped. Consider the scale of your furnishings, and incorporate a mix of heavy and light pieces to create a sense of balance.
And if something doesn't work, get rid of it, Ms. Stein advises. "Don't try to make it better by buying more things you don't like," she says.
Eliminate clutter: That may sound easier said than done. "You often hear, 'There's no place to put it,'" Ms. Stein says. But if you create designated places for all your stuff, you and your family will be able to tidy up faster.
Treat yourself: Indulge in one extra-special item, whether it's a piece of artwork or an exquisite light fixture, Ms. Stein says. "Every time you look at that one thing, it will make you happy."
CREATE A MEDITATION SPOT
Keep it simple: Meditation isn't for everyone. But if you want a spot for quiet contemplation, you needn't be picky about where it is or how it's put together, says Geneviève Samson, a yoga and meditation instructor based in Montreal. "It has to be simple, it has to be your own, and it has to make sense to you," she says.
Depending on your practice, add a comfy cushion or chair, and maybe a little shelf for books, incense or intention cards, and you're set. The most important thing is to make it functional and comfortable and a place you know you will use, Ms. Samson says. "Unless you have that, it's not going to work. It's going to gather dust and you're going to be resentful you have to dust the thing."
Make it private: "The idea in yoga is that you're trying to make sure that it stays relatively undisturbed by other people and by daily activity," Ms. Samson says, noting that some of her students set up a spot in a large closet, or meditate while in the bath. That way, even when you've had a particularly stressful day, you can find serenity in the stability of your space.
Establish a focal point: Whether it's a photograph or a spiritual icon, having something meaningful and uplifting in front of you will help you mediate, Ms. Samson says.
"The whole idea … is you [establish]a point where the mind can rest, like a bird on a wire," she says. "Of course, the mind is going to wander. … It's going to flee all over the place. But if you leave a little concentration point in front of you, your mind will more easily go back [to]resting."
INCORPORATE FENG SHUI
Consider qi: Classical feng shui, the Chinese practice of creating harmonious spaces, relies on compasses and calculations to determine balances in energy, or qi, says Marlyna Los, a classical feng shui consultant in Vancouver. But generally, qishould not be stagnant, blocked or squeezed.
When designing a space, think of qi like a gas, she says. It needs to settle and relax before it's distributed to the rest of the house. Long, straight corridors, for instance, are not good for qi, as it moves too quickly. Conversely, a cluttered entrance blocks qi and doesn't allow it to move.
Appeal to all the senses: How you feel in a space doesn't depend only on the decor or where things are arranged. Make your home fragrant, using aromatherapy oils or fresh flowers, and put on some calming music to create a relaxing atmosphere, Ms. Los says. Cleanliness – both of your surroundings and yourself – is one of the best ways to feel good in your home. If you shower and change your clothes as soon as you come home from work, she says, "that alone can calm you."