How to make a house a home: 14 expert tips for a happier home

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A family of four makes dinner in the kitchen of their second home, just one of the activities that make for a happier home.
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It’s important to emotionally connect with your living space. If you don’t, it can be a struggle to feel happy in your home, be it your primary residence or second home. Considering almost 60% of people see their home as a reflection of their personalities, moving into a new house can make anyone feel out of place. So, how do you make a house a home? Here, we’re combining expert guidance with the five elements of happiness to help you create a happier home.

Tying the 5 elements of happiness to homeownership

Reaching higher levels of happiness in your house sometimes requires thinking outside the box of conventional home design. The tenets of positive psychology, surprisingly enough, can help you answer the question: What makes a house a home?To do that, look to the five elements of happiness positive psychology has identified as keys to satisfaction: 
  • Positive emotions: Bring out feelings of optimism from your decor.
  • Engagement: Find activities you enjoy performing around your property.
  • Positive relationships: Spend time with people who bring out your best.
  • Meaning: Find purpose in home ownership. 
  • Accomplishments: Achieve something that makes you proud. 
Psychologists assert that the more these elements are present in your life, the happier you can be. On the flip side, if any of these elements are missing from your life, the more unhappy you might find yourself. By incorporating this philosophy into how you design and interact with your house, you will learn how to make a house a home. Instead of simply identifying it as a place to sleep and store your belongings, you can turn it into a home to grow in.     

Make your home elicit positive emotions

A husband and wife move a new couch into the living room so they can have a happier home.
It should come as no surprise that positive emotions are synonymous with happiness. It is why we surround ourselves with pictures of family and friends. Periodically triggering happy memories leads to happy emotions filling our day-to-day lives — and that’s how you make a house a home. But it is not only pictures that can bring about these feelings. The colors, furniture and smells that surround us are also important influences on our emotions. “The home is a reflection of the people who live there. Personality, style and taste are conveyed through the choice of furniture and decorative items,” says Zac Houghton, CEO of Loftera. “A piece of furniture can make a room look more modern or traditional; a collection of objects such as vases or books can make the room feel cozy or impersonal. Designing and decorating your home should not be a matter of just buying whatever furniture you like — it should be a process that enables you to infuse your home with what really matters to you.”

1. Re-paint the rooms

Color preference varies greatly from person to person. If your walls were painted by the previous homeowner, they may clash with your decor when you move in. If they were painted or wallpapered years ago, they may also be embarrassingly outdated. Updating room colors to match your favorite interior design trend is a great starting point to take ownership of your property. Choosing a color that flatters your taste can bring immediate feelings of positivity when you enter the room.  

2. Get new furniture

Moving into a new home or second home can be a great opportunity to replace articles of furniture you previously had a hard time emotionally disposing of. A hand-me-down chair can be a great frugal way to furnish a room, but an entire room of mismatched furniture can lead to everything feeling out of place, including yourself. By buying furniture to fill a specific place and purpose, the harmony of the space can be improved and elicit happier home feelings. This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank by completely replacing every item. Sometimes smaller accent pieces can transform a room and improve its flow.  

3. Make it smell like home

One of the simplest ways to make your house a home is to fill it with familiar smells. Are there certain flowers that remind you of your childhood home? Fill a vase with them in your living room. If they’re out of season, try to find a candle of that same scent. Is there a particular food dish your parents used to make you? Find the recipe and cook it yourself. Scents are strongly tied to memory, so bringing in smells that will bring out positive emotions can help you feel comfortable and safe. 

Engage with your property

A man and woman know how to make a house a home by stretching on their living room floor in preparation for their online fitness class.
How to make a home an active living space instead of a passive place in which you simply exist is a question many homeowners struggle with. Think about the activities that can be done on your property. Are there neglected spaces you could be making better use of? If you’re short on space, can you turn any rooms into multifunctional areas? Marco Bizzley, certified interior designer at House Grail, says: “Gardening is one of the best ways to engage with your yard. You can also create a relaxing space to read in your backyard or relax. In your home, you can create your own unique spaces to do your hobbies. If you love to paint, have a small area where all your paints and easel are kept. If you're an avid reader, create a nook for your books with a comfortable chair and lamp to read by.” 

4. Make space for your hobbies

Being able to enjoy the activities you love on your property is a strong factor in how to make a new house feel like a home. Fitness enthusiasts can clear a space on the floor for their yoga mat or set up a volleyball net in the yard. Artists can dedicate an area to be a studio. DIY experts can set up a workshop and display their projects. Regardless of your hobby, integrating it into your home or second home can add to the overall sense of comfort you receive from being there. 

5. Use your kitchen

Cooking in your house can do more than just fill it with great smells. Constantly ordering food can make you feel like a guest in your own home or second home. Fill your shelves with food and plates so that you subconsciously remind yourself this isn’t a hotel. Utilizing your kitchen to cook meals for yourself and your loved ones makes you actively engage with your belongings and overall leads to a happier home. 

6. Plant a garden

Whether it’s a vegetable or flower garden, growing something on your land can be one of the most fulfilling experiences a homeowner can have. If you have the space and the time for it, find out how green your thumb is by giving it a try. Look into what plants thrive best in your area to make it easier on yourself and the environment. If outdoor space is limited, bring potted plants indoors.  

Use your house to build relationships

A group of friends make a happier home as they laugh and eat a meal in their backyard.
Moving into a new home can sometimes lead to feelings of alienation. The same could be said for those spending time at a vacation property or second home. If you are a social person, it is important to stay stimulated with meaningful relationships. Entertaining friends with dinner parties and other events can fulfill this need.  “Hosting something as simple as a game night can help build a stronger bond with the relationships around you,” says Stefan Bucur, founder of Rhythm of the Home. “Opening your home to others symbolically shows that you are open to sharing experiences and building a relationship with others. Your home will soon become a safe place for others to turn to when in need.”

7. Meet your neighbors

Making new friendships can be a difficult task, but being surrounded by people you trust is important for feeling comfortable in your home or second home. Meeting your neighbors helps fill the void of the relationships you may have left behind or put on hold at your old home or primary residence. Taking the time to introduce yourself can also be a great way to learn about the area and improve security while you are away. 

8. Play games with your family

A necessary step in how to make a house a home is to start playing games with your family and friends. Creating new memories will prevent you from dwelling too much on the memories of your old, or primary, home. Play a board game, a videogame or put together a puzzle. Do something that can bring you all together in the same place. 

9. Host a cookout

Finding ways to make the most of your new property will help you feel more connected to it. Having old friends and new neighbors over for a cookout and yard games can help bridge the gap from dwelling on your old memories to making new ones. Taking charge of planning an event will reinforce the idea that you are indeed home.

Give your house — and property location — meaning

A woman walks with her dog on a scenic trail through the woods thinking of how to make a house a home.
Everyone has their reasons for choosing the house they own. Remembering those reasons and putting them into action will help in making a happy home. Ask yourself: What does the new location allow you to do? How do you make that happen?  “The best way to give your house meaning is by making memories in it with your loved ones,” says Benjamin Stenson, interior designer at Norsemen. “I don’t believe a house can ever have meaning unless you spend quality time in it with your friends and families. If you do that regularly, you will begin to associate your house with all the good moments you’ve had, and your bond with it will undoubtedly become stronger.”

10. Follow through on goals

Sometimes, people make lofty goals regarding everything they’ll do at their new home, but once they move in, they stick to their natural routine. Taking advantage of new opportunities makes these big life changes worth it. Your home’s location can make it easier to perform many activities, such as: 
  • Hiking in the nearby national parks or forest preserves. 
  • Swimming in your new pool. 
  • Boating in the local lake. 
  • Riding your bike around your new neighborhood or town.
  • Going skiing. 

11. Visit local businesses

Get to know your new town by visiting its shops and restaurants. Is there something they are known for or take pride in? Experiencing it for yourself will take you one step closer to feeling like a local.The perks of your location and home go hand in hand. Sometimes, simply wandering the streets and learning your way around can help you build that connection. 

12. Spend more time with family

Maybe it wasn’t the local attractions that drew you to this particular location — maybe it was the lack of distractions. Saying you’ll spend more time with your loved ones is one thing. Following through on it is another. Avoid falling into old cycles by incorporating new customs into your routine. Make it a point to have sit-down family meals, explore the town together and find hobbies that you can share. Proactively looking for ways to grow closer together can keep unwanted distractions at bay in your new home.  

Find something to accomplish

A group of friends laugh in conversation as they cook marshmallows at their newly installed fire pit, making a happier home.
Buying a dream home can be very different from buying your dream home. It is unlikely the previous owner built everything the way you would have done it. Taking the time to customize it to your tastes is what makes a house a home. Accomplishing home improvement projects can help you take pride in a new or second home being, well, yours. “Since more and more of us now spend time outdoors, a structured garden shade in your yard is a great improvement idea,” says Benjamin Stenson. “You can add a roof over the yard and fill it with chairs, sofas, and tables to give it a more homely feel. It will surely give you the best of all worlds — shelter, shade and privacy.”

13. Build a fire pit 

Building a fire pit can be a great starting point when looking for something to accomplish. Although the scope of the project can vary greatly, even a simple fire pit can satisfy that need without breaking the bank. When you are done, you will have a communal place to spend time with family and friends. 

14. Reorganize the closet

A well-organized closet is one thing every house should have. With a busy day-to-day life, organization can be hard to maintain. Closets can quickly become the default place to conveniently hide odd items. Reorganizing one can be a quick task that leaves you with a feeling of fulfillment.Moving to a new location can be a bittersweet experience, but applying these tips can make you feel at home wherever you are. And if the fear of added burdens is keeping you from moving into your dream home or dream second home, remember there are many options to simplify property ownership — and find happiness. 
An infographic identifies the 5 elements of happiness and provides suggestions for how to make a house a home.

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