Life could be extremely busy sometimes, given we all are already busy, aren’t we? Moving house is such a time. Yet, we have control over how our days could look like, how we want to feel on a daily basis, and how we can tell a different narrative other than “I am very busy”, one where we feel authentically happy and blissful.
When my family moved from a rented apartment in Jersey City to a house in New York, we passed out when the movers left at 11.30pm, with a thicket of dust and piles of boxes behind. Waking up the next day, I decided to make this a Happier Home project so it was not a burden but something I experimented and had fun with, and could feel happier along the way, in our very dream home. Here are a few things that helped me:
1. However chaotic the world outside is, bringing order and calmness to our mind will help create our outer peace: I brought my daughter with me to sink into a beautiful summer afternoon right in front of the Hudson River while my husband and son dropped off a few things at a friend’s place. There, she played with the rocks and the water and I breathed in the fresh air, enjoying the view of New York City and the sounds of life around us. My home was still a mess, but organizing the mess in my head helped me organize my new nest with delight.
2. Apart from the must-have, prioritize what makes us feel good first so we have the mental energy to move on with our to-do list that never gets shorter: Organizing the kitchen so I could cook, the bathrooms so we could shower, and the bed so we could sleep were what I focused on most. Then came my bookshelf and some fresh flowers. They could wait but to me, the bookshelf is the soul of my home and brings me endless inspiration and joy. And flowers always fill my heart with love. So well, with them filling up the space, I felt motivated to tend to the rest of the house. The boxes got unpacked finally, and most importantly, I did it without feeling burned out.
3. Involving the whole family: I am one of the lucky women who has an equal partner who is truly involved in house chores (I am forever grateful to my mother-in-law). Yet, I have to confess that sometimes, I still have the tendency of shouldering the chores by thinking my husband is busy with work and I am a solorepreneur with flexibility so I shouldn’t burden him further. The house move meant unpacking and organizing and cleaning. But well, apart from the few days focusing on the critical areas, I stuck to my office hours. And as a result, all of us involved in settling ourselves down in the afternoon or over the weekend. We spent the Labor Day cleaning up the attic together, my daughter telling me she was coloring while mopping the floor. I could have done everything by myself and let resentment brew inside me, but I was glad I was able to rewire my brain and hold that impulse so the kids could learn an important life skill and we strengthened our bond as a family. Fighting against my ow pattern was harder than the work itself but it was doable and all worth it four long-term benefits.
4. To enjoy authentically happy home, we have to talk through things that make us unhappy: My husband and I had a few misalignments when it came to planning for the move and renovating the kitchen. These led to things that he resented about me but never spoke about (he is a 9 on the Enneagram). I proposed to have a walk and a talk, which we did. We talked for three hours, unpacking layers of events and stories and walking home with more mutual understanding and solutions that helped us move towards our vision of a happy family. It was not easy and even uncomfortable, but it was necessary for a solid relationship. “Hi, the person you love more and hate less has been back home!” I hollered to my husband after dropping off my daughter at her school, and he smiled.
5. A family’s Summer Happiness Party, why not? With the move came a number of changes. My 5-year-old daughter was moving onto primary school and my 11-year-old son would become a secondary school student. So I came up with the idea of organizing a family’s Summer Happiness Party. As we had our Happiness Summit in December each year for two years, my husband didn’t object and even supported the idea. Often, it is not about the ideas that we lack. It’s more about having our family, particularly our spouses say yes instead of mumbling in disagreement. If you are curious how I got my husband participate in the first party, write back to me and let me know! Anyway, it turned out to be a wonderful time. I bought fresh flowers and ordered a butter cream cake from a very well-known shop near our house, the kids made juice, my husband made tea, and I spontaneously created some prizes — from one hour of massage to no chores for three days to a picnic at the beach with your loved ones — by writing them on 12 pieces of craft paper. The 1.5 hours spent together was filled with nice surprises and laughters as we wrote down the ten things we loved about each other but didn’t talk about, how we wanted our summer to look like, and what we wished for in each other so our family could be happier. “Sharing about his feelings and needs more,” was what I wrote in my wish list for my husband. Reading it later, his face was a bit blank but he finally nodded, his body relaxed.
6. We always have time for what we love: Way before the renovation project, I had had this idea of hiring an interior designer so I could save time and more importantly, some potential conflicts between me and my husband. And I chanced upon one when I had a historic house tour in Brooklyn, so I signed the contract. Three months into the project with back and forth communication, I realized I did most of the research, the leg work, and the selection of the style I wanted. This was not because the designer was not capable but because I was very particular about what I truly wanted to see in my house. Then I felt more in love with the work. Although I was aware I had some flare for design, I didn’t want to spend time as I had had too many on my plates. It turned out it cost me more time when I outsourced this work and I realized having a passion project, for my very dream home, indeed helped me feel happier and therefore, perform even better in my work. I paced myself more and outsourced the other projects so I could be my own interior designer. There is a season for everything, isn’t it? And the best part was my husband felt happy about it too. “I told you so,” he said.
7. Brew it: We fantasized that we would have everything fixed and renewed before we moved in, and when we walked into our new house, the kitchen and bathroom would be sparkling like in a HGTV show. Yet, everything wanted to take its own speed, given the length of time it took to source for the mill work and a general contractor, and particularly the delay of supplies due to the pandemic. We learnt to accept that general contractors were extremely busy, that it was normal for them to not show up on time many times, that it would take a lot longer for the cabinetry to arrive, and that it was okay to use our current kitchen and bathrooms as long as they still functioned. When I let go of things we couldn’t control and accept reality as it’s, I had the mental space to enjoy this whole process and brew my ideas for my new home which loves us so much to choose us to be its new owners in the first place.
With this project, I now feel happier. But please don’t tell me to move house again any time soon!
*Amy Nguyen is working on a book about her journey of training her mom’s brain to have her all from more peaceful parenting to more solid relationships to successful career pivot and entrepreneurship. Subscribe to her weekly Happier YOU Letter for weekly happiness-fuelled stories and brain-based tips to uplevel your happiness in both work and life.