Some furniture rearrangements are born of necessity—a new piano, for example, that gives you the sense the rest of the room is out of tune. Other new arrangements spring from curiosity: What would it be like to sit on this sofa and gaze out over the garden instead of looking into the kitchen? Like a game of dominoes, the answer triggers another question: Would the bookshelf fit between the wall and the fireplace?
Before you know it, you’re knee-deep in stacks of books, maneuvering around propped-up paintings that may (or may not) hang where the mirror was only moments before.
To some, this scenario sounds like a nightmare. But most people who get up off the couch and push that bookshelf into its new location can attest to the supreme satisfaction that comes from trying something new.
“There’s a wonderful quote, ‘Show me a project, and I’ll show you a happy person,’ that speaks to the dopamine boost of getting into the flow with a five-sense or tactile process,” says Dr. Carrie Barron, author of The Creativity Cure and director of Creativity for Resilience at Dell Medical School.
In other words, maybe it doesn’t even matter which view is better from the couch. What matters is the process. “It’s the universal question: process versus outcome,” Barron says. “We think we want the end point, but what gives us satisfaction is the journey.”Here, Barron explains how rearranging our furniture can actually help improve our mental health and overall well-being.
Environmental editing makes our homes feel more personalized.
In practice, rearranging a room isn’t as straightforward as taking what’s there and moving it to a new space. Along the way, we tend to add and subtract. Maybe we bought a coffee table years ago because we liked the way it looked in a friend’s home but it never felt quite right in ours.
As you lift your belongings, one by one, and evaluate their meaning, it’s hard not to feel fully present. The process of asking yourself whether you want to keep each item—and where you want to move it—can feel meditative. It’s easy to achieve flow, a state of mind that comes from being fully immersed in an activity.
“Discovering what you love—and feeling free to love what you love—is liberating,” Barron says. “Your tastes are linked to your identity, and when you edit your belongings, you feel more like yourself.”
Don’t worry whether someone else will approve of your aesthetic or if it’s fashionable, Barron advises. Be curious, take risks, explore a little bit,” advises Barron, who believes that crafting your environment is a form of adult play. “Have fun with it! Play is important for mental health.”
It increases feelings of connection.
As we embark on the environmental editing journey, we feel a sense of agency over our lives. “That’s because we like to feel connected to our environments,” Barron says. As an example, she points to a book by the neuroscientist Kelly Lambert: “In her book’s introduction, Lambert writes about the satisfaction she feels from vacuuming her children’s rooms—it makes her feel like she is with her children, tending to them, helping them. There’s an emotional charge that comes from completing mundane tasks.”
From the comfort of our homes, we’re surrounded by connections with loved ones. When we arrange our spaces, we interact with the belongings that bring us joy and make us who we are. “Treasured objects can be triggers for positive memories and good feelings,” Barron says. “You’re thinking about your friends and family, but you also may move on to deeper, secret, delightful parts of yourself.”
It switches up your routine.
It’s great to ask yourself how a furniture arrangement best fits your needs or the room’s function, but don’t forget to consider the other people who share your space. Just because a new arrangement brings you energy doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on your spouse or roommates.
For some people, “sameness is freeing,” Barron notes. “In a funny way, the monotony of leaving a space alone can be liberating. If you’re someone who tends to be uncomfortably stimulated by your environment, you may want a living space that’s predictable because it makes you feel safe and grounded. Then, your mind can take off into other imaginings and creative processes.”
And sometimes, the positive mental health benefits from rearranging furniture just come down to timing. The same person may embrace change at one stage in their life and long for it in another.
Before you spend an entire morning upending your living room, ask yourself what’s driving the shift, Barron suggests. “Moving a chair from one side of the room to the next is not going to cure your mental health issues. Maybe your desire to move things around in your environment reflects that you’re attempting to shift something internally. It can be interesting to think, ‘why am I doing this now? Why is it suddenly important to change things in my environment?’ Be sure you’re ready.”
If you’re ready, grab those furniture sliders. While your sofa’s new placement—and the view it affords—may be just a few feet away, the steps you take to get there can lend an entirely unexpected perspective.