How to actually use your Pinterest boards

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
How to actually use your Pinterest boards

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re scrolling around on Pinterest, or maybe Instagram, and you see an image of a space that just grabs you. The colors are harmonious. The furnishings complement each other. You can picture yourself living in it. In fact, if someone dropped you into that room right now, you might never leave. It just feels… right.

You put down your phone but that image is living rent-free in your head. You start thinking about how to make your space more like the one in the photo. You start googling “best light blue paint colors” to see if you can find something similar. You wonder: could I buy those light fixtures, or are they vintage? You check to see if the magazine named a source for the rug, crossing fingers and toes that it’s in your budget.

The design industry is going to make this easy for you. Blogs and magazines will compile lists of products you can buy to “get the look.” Pinterest’s algorithm will feed you links to similar products should the ones in the photo be unavailable. Marketers, who may have paid for their products to be featured in the photo, will take advantage of Instagram’s shop feature to make it easy for you to buy them with just one tap.

I’ve done this before, and let me tell you, it never ends well.

How to Actually Use Your Pinterest Boards

For starters, your home is unique. There will inevitably be differences in lighting, architecture, and proportion that make it impossible to copy-paste an idea exactly from one space to another. As you start to navigate the tradeoffs, it starts to feel like you’re playing a game of telephone. The result feels so jumbled that the idea you originally loved gets lost in translation.

More importantly, YOU are unique. When you try to take an image and apply it wholesale to your home, your home becomes a collection of other people’s ideas. You lose the chance to see yourself reflected in your home. It’s harder to maintain. The photo is stuck in time, but your home is going to change as you live in it. When something breaks or wears out, what do you replace it with? And you’re more likely to get sick of your decor when the trends change, because it was never your own to begin with.

But what else do we do with those images that grab us by the heart and won’t let go? How do we use imagery to inspire, without just copying it?

I have a process for this that I want to share with you. I use this process not just for home projects, but for all my creative work. When I fall in love with a piece of writing and feel like all I want to do is make something like that, this is the toolset I rely on. When I used to paint more and my paintings were feeling hopelessly derivative, this is the workflow I come back to. It’s a tried-and-true method for accessing your creativity when you feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the amazing things that have already been created. It sets you free.

If this process resonates with you, I really want you to join me for next week’s workshop on the 5 secrets to creating a feelgood home.

It’s free! It’s fun! And I only do it once a year.

In the session, I’ll walk you through some key exercises that can help you apply this to your own space and creative process. There is no fluff in this workshop — I pack the hour full of practical tools for you to take and apply right away in your home. RSVP for your preferred session time here.

The road to originality leads through joy

So let’s talk about what happens when you see an image of a space you love. Our default response is to start breaking it down into its components — paint colors, textiles, furnishings — and sleuth out the various parts. That’s our go-to move because we’ve been conditioned by the design industry to see our homes as a collection of stuff.

But what if instead of analyzing the photo’s components, you start instead with the feeling? Something about that image is pulling at your emotions. It’s stirring something within you: a memory, a desire, a dream. Where does this image take you? What longing does it animate inside of you?

Try this:

Allow yourself to go inside the image. What is happening? Who is there? How do you feel, living in this place? What does your life have in there that it doesn’t have out here?

Come back to your body. What happens in your body when you look at this image? Is it a flutter or a rush? Where do you feel it? Does your body relax or does it want to move toward something?

Capture what comes up when you do this. Note down the feelings and desires. These are clues to how you really want to feel in your space.

Now: What makes you feel this way?

Let’s say the image makes you feel light, carefree. You realize it reminds you of a time in your childhood, when you were obligation-free. Now, with bills to pay and lots of people counting on you, that feeling is elusive. But what if your home could give you a little glimmer of this?

What places, objects, or sensations are associated with that feeling for you? Did you spend summers at the seashore, pulling splinters out of your bare feet on the boardwalk and chewing saltwater taffy? Did you picnic in the park and catch fireflies in the dusk? Does your family now take road trips in an electric blue camper van?

These are colors, textures, and shapes that will bring that feeling to life in your own space. Long after that original photo has gone out of style, a house with these sensations will feel like home to you.

Here is what I know:

The road to originality leads through joy. When we copy something, we become like the AI bots that have suddenly sprouted up everywhere: analyzing, listing, replicating. Creating something new requires a different mode of thinking that is softer and more intuitive. It means listening to our desires, homing in on what brings us joy, and using that as the raw material for our design.

Joy is the emotion we feel when we are at our most alive. So when we tune into what brings us joy, we are listening to a deep source of truth within ourselves. This is the wellhead of the creative impulse — the one that we cannot deny. We create to bring more joy into the world. With this as your intention, what you create is undeniably, authentically your own.

Why this works

From a technical perspective, creativity is a process of moving from concrete to abstract and back to concrete. Creativity begins with inspiration — things you see, hear, and feel with your senses. This might be images, places, artwork, songs. This layer is concrete: it exists in the real world.

Then you draw out some essence from that inspiration, some kernel of truth or meaning. A question or a feeling. This is abstract. It doesn’t have a form or body yet. This is the swirling thing inside of you that wants to come out.

To get it out, you have to make it concrete again. Except it’s nothing that has existed before. It’s a totally new idea. You give it color and shape, texture and story. You paint it, arrange it, tell it. You bring it into the world of the senses.

If you are stuck on a creative problem, chances are you may be inadvertently skipping this abstract layer, trying to take a shortcut directly from one concrete thing to another. Is this faster? Sure. But it never leads to something unique, personal, or new.

Why this is easier than it sounds

If you don’t think of yourself as creative, then this might sound hard. But the reality is that you’re doing this naturally all the time. Your emotions respond to the space around you, the places you go, the things you see. You’re doing this when you flop onto the bed in a hotel room and think “Ahhhhh.” You’re doing it when you get outside after being cooped up and immediately want to run around. You’re doing it when you see a photo and something in you shouts “Yes!”

All that’s required is that you start to get curious about that voice within you that is shouting yes, and listen for what that voice is craving.

Let’s get concrete

Here’s an image that I pinned to Pinterest a long time ago. Gosh, I love it. It’s a little snippet of a space by the Australian designer Anna Spiro, whose work has this playful, vibrant sense of color that just makes something inside of me dance.

How to actually use your Pinterest boards

Now, what I could’ve done is find a door to paint yellow, with some bluey-greeny trim. I could’ve sourced this wallpaper, and scoured vintage markets for some old, oil-painted still lifes. And I would’ve had a corner that kind of approximated this one.

But even my best interpretation of this would never live up to the photo. This space is the best example of this design that can possibly exist, because it’s the original.

Instead, I listened for the feeling.

What is it that speaks to me about this photo? This photo feels like a place of sunshine and ease. If this were my house, I think I’d feel confident, unafraid. I’d be someone who makes bold unapologetic decisions, and I’d like to be that person. It feels fun, but like a grown up version of fun. Like being on vacation all the time.

This last phrase clicked for me, because one of the reasons why we chose to leave the city for a seasonal community was to get to live more like we’re on vacation. Instead of swimming in the ocean just a couple weeks a year, I wanted to be able to do that after a Zoom meeting or a on a random Tuesday. So clearly something about this image feels like summer vacation to me, and that’s a feeling I want in my home.

What’s summer for me? The ocean, yes, but even more so, the garden. One of my earliest memories is of trailing my Nana around her garden, asking the name of every beautiful flower. The garden at our last house is where I discovered my own green thumb. Between meetings, Albert and I sometimes meet to putter in the garden.

Our Kitchen

So here’s how this showed up when we recently redid our kitchen. If you look at the two photos, you can see some similarities — bright painted woodwork, a busy patterned wallpaper — but you wouldn’t look at them and think they’re related. And personally, I’m so much happier living in a kitchen that tells our own story, rather than a knockoff of someone else’s.

Garden wallpaper in kitchen

Your home is your place in the world. You deserve a home that is as bright and unique as you are.

Unfortunately, a lot of us believe this is out of reach because we’ve let the world tell us we’re not creative. We’re just consumers, and the only way we can influence our space is by buying things for it.

But the truth is that you’re inherently creative, and given the right tools, you can create a beautiful space you’re proud to call home. All you need to do is tap into your own joy.

Come practice this with me next week in my free workshop, The 5 Secrets to Creating a Feelgood Home. This hour-long live session is our students’ favorite (some of them take it every year!) for good reason. By the end of the session, you’ll have a fresh perspective on your home and a list of ideas that you can apply right now — no new house, big budget, or interior design degree required. Check the schedule and RSVP right here.

March 15th, 2023


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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Lisa Wilson on March 16, 2023

    Yours is one of the few newsletters that I open with regularity, which led me to this post. As always, I find myself feeling uplifted inside after reading what you have to offer. This one in particular “hit home” 🙂, and has led to me starting both the inspiration for an actions of my day in such a joyous way. (Just thinking about how I want to feel in my home and how I can use all of those Pinterest images to tie into that gets me excited) Thank you!

  2. lynn on March 16, 2023

    I love your newsletter and all the happy suggestions!
    I would love to attend the your workshops on creating a fun and happy home (next week)

    Unfortunately, I am traveling-
    is there any way to get a recording of what you present?
    Many thanks!

    1. Ingrid Fetell Lee on March 16, 2023

      Hi Lynn – yes, all registrants will receive a limited-time replay of the session after.

  3. Franne on March 18, 2023

    Your joy really is contagious! Just what the world needs more of. Had to laugh when I read the post, then saw the picture of your kitchen and immediately thought, “I must have that wallpaper!” Extra funny because I don’t even have a kitchen of my own. For now I’ll trust that, when eventually I purchase a home, I’ll develop a decorating scheme that will be just right for my space. There will be flowers involved–that is certain!


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