5 good reasons for waiting to decorate your home

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Last week, nearly two years after moving in, I finally started choosing paint colors for our house. It’s been so fun to be immersed in color, running back and forth to the paint store for sample pots, trying to envision our cabinets in this green or that one. And it made me wonder: WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG?

It’s ironic, right? Because if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you probably know that I’m a big proponent of NOT waiting to decorate. (There’s even a whole lesson on this in my home course.) Sometimes we wait to settle into our spaces because we’re afraid to make a decision or because we don’t want to invest money and time in a space that’s not our “forever” home. But the costs of waiting are profound.

Small frustrations — books falling off a rickety nightstand, or not having a light where you need one — start to pile up. You know the situation isn’t working, but you also aren’t exactly sure how to fix it, so you start to feel really stuck. Your home doesn’t feel cozy, so you can’t relax. You also might avoid having people over, because you’re embarrassed by your blank walls or clutter piles. For me, this leads to a kind of rootlessness — an unsettled feeling that buzzes in the background of my life.

If you haven’t ever made a space your own, it might be hard to relate to this. But once you’ve felt it, you can’t forget it. You walk in and it feels completely natural — like an extension of your body. You feel safe, comfortable, and proud. You feel like your true self.

I want this feeling, obviously. But if the two years have taught me anything, it’s that there are also some good reasons for waiting to decorate. So I wanted to share my story of “giving up” on home decor for awhile, what I learned from taking a break, and how I found my way back to it. If you’ve found yourself in a similar spot, I hope this helps you forgive yourself for not making it happen sooner, and inspires you to make your house feel like a home on a timeline that works for you.

With this in mind, here are five good reasons to take the pressure off and not rush to decorate.

It would create more stress than joy

There’s no perfect time to decorate. But some times are clearly better than others.

If you have a baby or a toddler in the house, if you just got a giant promotion with a ton more responsibility, if you have an ill family member who needs care — then maybe life is full enough without adding construction timelines, paint schedules, and furniture deliveries into the mix.

The moment this really hit home for me was when we decided to change out our brown granite kitchen counters for marble. We lined up a contractor from our previous renovations and booked a weekend in the city to get out of the house. Because we could only be out of the house for two days, the project needed to be coordinated like a precision military operation. For a month, it felt like every spare minute was devoted to logistics: rushing to the stone yard to pick a slab, sending drawings of our preferred layout back and forth, calling our vendors, and calling them again, and then calling one more time, to make sure that everyone would be on schedule. Then, the week of the install, our contractor got Covid, and we had to reschedule everything.

I have no regrets about doing the counters — they made a huge difference in our home. The kitchen is so much brighter and lighter now, and just that one change has made it feel more like ours. At the same time, managing even that teeny project on top of all our work and family obligations really stressed the system, and I realized we didn’t really have the energy for a bigger project at the time.

Before we had G, I could always find a little extra margin where I needed it. If a DIY project ran long, I could stay up till midnight working on it. No big deal. But when life is full, the margin goes away.

We could’ve pushed to do more in the last two years, but instead we prioritized family bike rides, weekend naps, and puttering in the garden. And while I wish I could’ve fixed up the house at the same time, looking back, I’m happy we prioritized joy.

You’re changing so fast, your taste can’t keep up

Last year, I described myself as being “in the chrysalis.” I just had been through a period of intense change. All in the span of a year I became a mother, endured a pandemic, and left New York City (after thinking I was a die-hard lifer). The life I had landed in was so different than what I had previously envisioned. In so many ways it was BETTER than anything I had dared dream about. But sometimes it felt like my body had taken the Concorde to this new life, while my sense of self was still on a Greyhound bus. I needed time to catch up.

We’re always changing, but sometimes our growth is more rapid. And when we go through a period of tectonic change, it can be hard to feel confident in our choices.

My home office is a perfect example. I was so excited to have my own workspace that I charged ahead with painting my trim a deep blue and putting up a blue-and-white seaweed print wallpaper. It took a year of slow effort to put up all that wallpaper. (Yep, a year!) And then, shortly after I had matched the seam of the very last panel, I told Albert, “I think I need to change it. It’s just not me anymore.” [Facepalm]

Perhaps on some level I knew this, which is why I dragged my feet on the wallpapering, and never finished painting the storage cabinet, and never managed to find the right desk to replace the old dining table I’ve been working on since we moved in. I pushed forward because I felt like I needed a finished office to be able to focus on my work. But the reality is that I wasn’t ready to design my space, because the self I was designing for was still mid-metamorphosis.

This one is a big gray area. How do you know if your indecision is because you’re in a time of transition, or because you just are afraid to commit to a direction? I think if you’re honest with yourself, you know. Do you feel that macro sense of flux that comes with a period of radical change? If not, then maybe your work is around getting more comfortable with decision-making. (Here’s a post that will definitely help with that.) But if so, then rather than force yourself to make decisions, just start noticing what kinds of art, colors, textures, and spaces you’re attracted to. Let your shifting aesthetic be a part of the process of discovering your new identity.

Your lifestyle is in transition

Sometimes it’s not your identity that’s changing, but your life. When we moved into this home, we were deep in the baby proofing stage, padding all hard corners to keep our wobbly new walker from getting a goose egg every time he pulled himself up to stand. We needed a diaper change station on every floor, and the toys were a mostly manageable set of stackers and stuffies that could easily be corralled in baskets.

Fast forward two years and we have a strong-willed toddler, a proliferation of Duplos and Brio trains, and a very different set of needs from our space. It’s not that life with a kid will ever be static, but the rate of change is different. By now he’s more independent, able to play by himself for small slices of time, and we have a better sense of our rhythm as a family. The favorite toys of the moment may change, but I know what kinds of activities we need to accommodate and create storage for.

Having an under-designed space can let you experiment in ways you might not otherwise. For example, if I’d designed the dining room earlier, I would’ve put an armchair in the corner to balance the space. But leaving it empty meant that there was a perfect opening to put G’s easel there. Now, he can draw while I cook dinner, and I can peek over from the kitchen to check on him easily. The intermingling of kid and adult spaces in our home is now one thing I cherish, and while I do want to tidy things up a little, I definitely want to keep a kid-focused element in each of our main rooms.

Similarly, the lack of a rug in our play area wasn’t ideal from a coziness perspective. But it allowed us to try out lots of different play setups. Last winter, we had a slide in the middle of the room. For several months, the bare floor served as a racetrack for G’s collection of toy cars. (I can’t count the number of hours we spent rolling those cars across the floor!) Now, I’m finally looking for a rug for that space, but I’m definitely going to choose a size that leaves some room for a racetrack!

You need time to get your bearings

It’s an unfortunate fact that living in your home for some time before renovating it often leads to better outcomes. I often hear from people about doors they would’ve made wider or walls they might not have knocked down if they’d been able to get to know their house beforehand.

In our house, I’ve found a lot of my initial instincts were just plain wrong. For example, when we first moved into our house in March, I thought a wallpaper with a white background would be best for my office. But when the trees greened in, I discovered that they cast green reflections on the walls, which make me feel a little like I’m in an aquarium! Or I initially thought that I’d want to replace our glass-front upper kitchen cabinets, but I now believe that they add a lightness which is necessary in the smaller room. In our dining room, I thought our oval table would fit perfectly. But when we brought our long dining table from the city, something clicked and we immediately started using the space so much more.

The truth is that you don’t know what it is really like to live in a home until you’re in it. What frustrates you, what delights you — these things are often the result of tiny design decisions that reveal themselves to you as you go through the motions of your daily life. Taking time to live with the space as is gives you a deep understanding of what you need that ultimately makes your design better.

You need to make peace with your constraints

And this is where I have to talk about how I got stuck.

It all started with our floors. When we first moved in, we didn’t have time to refinish them, but I assumed we’d get around to it eventually. They’re a nice wide plank oak, but the finish has yellowed with time, and it’s just not my favorite look. Then we moved in and wrapped our minds around what it would mean to actually redo the floors: moving every single piece of furniture out and being out of the house for several weeks (in addition to a pile of money we don’t really have to spend at the moment).

The thing is, there’s this spot in our bedroom where the floors were refinished (the previous owner had to remove a built-in, and that one corner is beautiful. So every time I look at it, I think about what we could have, and feel all the more frustrated by what I can’t change.

Look, unless you are a multi-millionaire or a DIY master, there are going to be things about your house you can’t change. Maybe you’d love your sink to be closer to your stove, but moving those pipes would cost the equivalent of a small car. Or maybe you’d like more natural light, but that building across the street is just not going anywhere. In my experience, it’s hardest to make peace with the things you almost can change. The things you could adjust if you just had a little more money or time.

But when you fixate on things that you think are “wrong” with your house, you lose sight of the things that are right. You get into a mode of obsessing over your home’s flaws and problems, and you start to feel down on your house. In that mindset, it’s hard to see possibilities.

I needed time to make peace with the fact that these floors were going to be a part of my design, whether I liked it or not. Instead of thinking about them as a flaw I needed to compensate for, I needed to embrace them, making them an integral part of the design.

One of the things that I think helped me get back into decorating was that after a period of feeling disenchanted with our house (including a period where we even contemplated moving), I fell back in love with it. I started focusing on what is special about this house, and practicing gratitude for it. Coming from this perspective, it was so much easier (and more fun) to think about what I wanted to do with the space.

If this resonates with you, look out for an upcoming post on falling in love with your house. Everything changes when you do this, and you can do it even if you’re in a home that is far from perfect. In that post, I’ll share concrete tips that will help you reframe your home’s challenges and start designing from a place of excitement instead.

Coming back to the process of designing our space happened quite suddenly. Albert and I were talking about our dreams for the coming year, of starting to host some of the new friends we’re making and having others visit, of the summer coming up, and the (still very remote) possibility of getting a dog. As I looked at this life we’re making, I could see our house as a character in that story, and could imagine a more colorful life in a more colorful home. Glimpsing that vision of the future lit a fire under me. And feeling that fire, I knew I was ready.

Looking back, my only regret is that I was so hard on myself along the way. Realizing that there are good reasons to move slowly helped me let go of a lot of the guilt I felt for not getting the house in order sooner. If I’d felt less pressure, I might’ve been able to spend that time dreaming and planning, instead of feeling a seesaw of urgency and reluctance. If you’re in the same boat, trust that there’s value in getting inspired, experimenting, and noticing life in your house as it is. When you’re ready to begin, the process will be so much better for it.

A quick note that if you’d like to follow along, I’ll be sharing a lot of my process over on Instagram, so follow me there to see the progress!

February 2nd, 2023


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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Amy on February 2, 2023

    I so appreciated this article😀 
    In 2019 I had all good intentions of decluttering and redecorating the entire house for our empty nest…  
    Then they came home😳🤷‍♀️   
    Now I am slowly making changes on a much more basic level.  Changing paint colors (with my own brush in hand!).  Repurposing furniture from other rooms.   I’m taking the process slow and appreciating each new change! 

  2. Marlene on February 2, 2023

    Ingrid, this is such excellent, and beautifully written, advice. Even at age 70 I still have aspirations to make changes to the cottage I’ve lived in for 16 years. 2 years ago I had my kitchen and bath totally renovated, and while I really enjoy the transformation, I rushed into it and regret some of the decisions I made.  And the floor issue — same here. I wanted to lighten the brown floor that appears only in the living room since I moved in ( wish I had before I moved 🤦🏻‍♀️)
    so your words remind me it is ok to live with imperfection….somethings are just not worth it, at least today.
    Thanks for your smart and honest share.

  3. Erica on February 3, 2023

    Hi Ingrid, thanks for another great post! I think there’s also an opportunity to find joy in the waiting stage, like if you can’t make a change because you’re saving up for what you really want. You’ve talked before about how planning ahead can sometimes create more room for joy because you kind of get to have the joy twice. The first round of joy happens when you’re dreaming and planning and building anticipation, and the second round happens when the thing occurs (like with a vacation). I’ve found home improvements can be the same way. I spent years daydreaming about changing my floors and countertops while I saved up to have the work done. In the meantime I made smaller, more affordable changes like painting and buying artwork I loved. When I could finally move forward with the big renovation projects, I feel like I enjoyed them even more because I had gone through that period of excitement and anticipation.

  4. Ruthie on February 5, 2023

    Ingrid, if you’d had those floors redone before moving in, you might gnash your teeth whenever they were used as a racetrack! In fact, you might do well to wait until there are fewer toys and ride-ons in use of the sort that can scratch wood floors.


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