Welcome to my new blog series! Introducing ‘Mental wellbeing, my home and me’, a series of thoughtful interviews with creatives about the connection between our interior spaces and how they make us feel.
I’ve always thought that interior design was so much more than just the final, finishing touches and decorative details. For me, it’s much more about the feeling of a space. I’m fascinated by the way our surroundings can impact our behaviour, influence our mood and define our identities.
Because I really believe that our homes have the power to make us feel better. It is my thinking that our homes are not just a shelter to keep us warm and dry, to help us purely function in our lives, they also have the power to act as a tonic to life’s stresses and support a feeling of contentment, comfort and ease if we let them. Our homes, when designed well, can help bring out the best in us. Because making a home is as much about reconnecting with our spaces as with ourselves.
All images: Noor Hasan @Bintabuheh
When I was experiencing anxiety and agoraphobia for the first time, my home became a shelter from all my worries and fears. At my worst, I couldn’t leave the house – my home literally became my whole world. The process of making a home and a space of my own became cathartic; the plain, neutral walls helped still my mind and the everyday moments spent at home helped me reconnect with myself. Now, my simple home helps restore a sense of balance with all that modern life throws at me.
I think many will be able to relate to my story. In the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve all been spending more time than ever before at home – everyone has had to find little ways to ease the worry and feel safe while confined to their own interior space. Our surroundings have taken on even more meaning than before; we’ve had the time now to reflect on the things we like and the things that aren’t working so well for us. Because when the outside becomes a scary place, our homes have to work even harder to support us.
In this blog series, I’ll be chatting to a variety of home-loving creatives who will be sharing how their own experiences have influenced the way they decorate and curate a home. You see beautiful interiors in home tours all the time, but I want to know the true story behind the space. What exactly is it about a space that impacts our mood, or even our values and identities? Is it the way a space is lit? Is it the natural materials that are used? Or is it something more emotional that connects to our sense of self? Can a space truly help us heal?
‘Mental wellbeing, my home and me’ offers a chance to have a deep, meaningful conversation about the spaces that shape us everyday. By opening up and talking about the connection between mental health and our homes, I hope it will help other people start to reconsider how their spaces could work better for them, and ultimately create their own therapy for the home.
First up today we’ve got Noor Hasan, otherwise known as @bintabuheh on Instagram. Noor is a psychology teacher and interior designer based in London with a passion for sustainable living and biophilic design. Here she talks about how her experience of ADHD has resulted in the creation of a calm, clutter-free home that combines a soothing neutral colour palette with nature-inspired details.
‘My mind and lifestyle are relentlessly busy, so my home needs to counter this,’ she explains. It’s a fascinating insight into the psychology of what makes a happy home, and she also has some great tips on the simple things you can do at home every day to help boost your wellbeing.
Hey Noor, how are you feeling today – really?
I’m feeling good, today is a good day! I’m a pretty positive person generally, but my mood has definitely fluctuated more than usual during lockdown. The last couple of days, for example, have been overwhelming – taking on exciting projects while still learning to be productive from home (which I’ve never been good at). I’ve learnt a couple of good habits over lockdown, and, more importantly, I’m learning to be more patient with myself.
For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I work full time as a psychology teacher at an inner London school, which I love! I’ve lived in London my entire life, and have slowly worked my way round the city, from SW to NE. My flat has been a labour of love – having spent all my money buying it, I initially did a lot of the DIY myself. Last summer all the work was undone when my building had a huge flood, and we had to gut out and rebuild the entire place. I’m a big believer in silver linings, and the flood turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My flat now looks way better and has since led to some exciting paid work as an interior designer.
So how has lockdown been for you – what has brought you comfort while you’ve been spending more time at home?
Surprisingly busy! As a key worker I’ve continued to work throughout lockdown, which I’m really grateful for. Work has provided structure and normality in otherwise very strange times. I usually have a really busy lifestyle and don’t always make time for myself. The slower pace has given me time to go for long walks, spring clean and Marie Kondo the whole flat (always a therapeutic process) as well as the space to think about what I want and set future goals. More than anything, my friends and family have always been a source of comfort, and are more so now than ever before.
When did you first become aware of the impact your surroundings can have on your mental health? Did your knowledge as a psychology teacher have an influence?
I feel like I’ve always been aware on some level. My family is Iraqi, and hosting is a huge part of our culture, so we regularly had friends and family round. From an early age, I associated home with happiness, love and security. I think my experiences exemplify Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow claimed that in order for us to reach self-actualisation (our full potential), certain basic needs must first be met. Only once our physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging and esteem (in that order) are all met can we ‘live our best lives’. I moved around a lot throughout my 20s and learnt that I need my home to be a calm, peaceful escape from my otherwise busy lifestyle. I found that I’m happiest and more productive when the space is bright, clean and organised, and when I lived on my own.
How did your experience with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) influence how you have decorated your home?
Having ADHD has definitely had a really big effect on how I decorate my home. My mind and lifestyle are relentlessly busy, so my home needs to counter this. I avoid unnecessary clutter by only keeping functional or sentimental items – as William Morris said: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ I keep all surfaces at eye level as clear possible, and use higher level shelves for storage. Everything has a home, so I always know where to find it – essential when I’m running late or short on time (which is always!). I’ve also found incorporating nature into my home really beneficial; I have loads of plants and all my furniture and soft furnishings are made from natural materials and colours.
What makes you feel most calm at home – is it a certain object or corner, or is it more an ambience or feeling you’ve created?
Clear surfaces. I’m heavily influenced by my environment and my mood mirrors my surroundings – clear surfaces = clear mind!
What little rituals help you feel uplifted and inspired in your home?
The first thing I do every morning is make my bed. Being productive as soon as I wake up sets me off on a great trajectory for the rest of the day. The second thing I do is open the blinds and windows. Natural light is essential for our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) and helps to regulate our hormones and mood. As we have limited sunlight in the UK, I maximise exposure by opening the blinds as soon as I wake up. The fresh air is also beneficial – Feng Shui suggests we should open our windows for 10 minutes a day to release stagnant energy and refresh the home, and I swear it works!
What’s the one thing (which isn’t a person or a pet!) that you couldn’t live without in your home?
My bed. I love sleeping, I always have. When I had to move out last summer for renovation work my friends and family were amazing. Everybody opened up their homes for house sitting and sleepovers. I always had somewhere to stay, which made a difficult time infinitely easier, but the downside was that I was sleeping in a different home/bed every week. I think in the 4.5 months I was displaced, I slept in approx. 20 different beds. The lack of consistency and routine was really hard and I longed to have my own bed to sleep in every night. Nearly 8 months since I moved back home and the joy of having my own bed every night has yet to fade.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to create a calm, comforting space at home?
Apply the principles of biophilic design; humans need to feel connected to nature, and this connection aids our physical and mental health. Research shows that by incorporating nature in our homes we can reduce stress and improve our cognitive function, creativity and overall well-being. To do this, consider having houseplants, maximising natural light, open windows for at least 10 mins a day, and use natural colours/materials/fabrics in home decor. So simple, but it makes a huge difference!
Thank you so much for chatting to me Noor! Where can people find you online?
I’m @Bintabuheh on Instagram and Pinterest.
Please do check out Noor’s nature-inspired, bohemian home – I love the warm, cosy feeling that every image exudes. It’s a beautiful example of how easy it is to bring nature inside and create a relaxed, stress-free space that uplifts your wellbeing. Like Noor suggests, sometimes all you need to do is go back to basics and consider if your home is supporting those simple, human needs that everyone has, whether it’s getting enough natural light or bringing in some fresh air. I don’t know about you, but she’s got me wanting to get organised and label all my kilner jars, and add a few new members to my plant gang!
If you have a story about the connection between your mental wellbeing and your home, please get in touch and email me if you would like to be featured in the series.
NHS – mental wellbeing while staying at home
Mind – the mental health charity
Anxiety UK – UK’s leading charity for those affected by anxiety disorders
ADHD Foundation – the neurodiversity charity
The Help Hub – free emotional support for those struggling due to coronavirus
Black Minds Matter – working to make therapy more accessible to black people in the UK
Calm – number one app for meditation and sleep