Creating a “Cozy” Home and Life By Changing Your Thoughts

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Lately I’ve felt very unsettled.

It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it’s this feeling where I’m not content with the things I used to be content with: projects have lost their luster… I find myself perusing social media more hours than I care to count… and I’m constantly checking my phone, looking for distractions to pull me away from that (i.e. work and chores) which I know I need to get done.

Yet, if someone were to have asked me to name what was causing that unsettled feeling, I couldn’t tell them. 

I just knew it felt like going to bed without brushing your teeth and all night that little nettling feeling picking at your brain, “Hey! Pssst! You didn’t brush your teeth! Don’t get too comfortable! You stiiiill need to go brush your teeth!” (I don’t know about you, but I cannot get comfortable for the night if I forget to complete any part of my evening routine of self-care! Are you like that, too??)

It’s a very unsettling feeling when you know there is something you need to do, but you just don’t feel like doing it, for whatever reason; your motivation has stalled. 

Essentially, you feel stuck. But you’re not sure what is causing you to be stuck.

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You know, mental health is a very real thing and not something to be taken lightly. But I’m not talking about depression, the kind of mental health challenge where you feel like you don’t even want to get out of bed. Thankfully, I have never had depression and I hope I never have to experience that kind of debilitating condition.

What I’m referring to could almost be described as a general mental malaise; just not feeling 100% emotionally. If you feel like this, too, sometimes, it could be caused by any number of reasons, sometimes ones that you’re not quite sure of: family issues, marital issues, worries about finances, job stress, indecisiveness, lack of focus, etc.

Anyhow, the other day I was feeling an intense urge to go to the library. Reading does something to restore me. Falling into a good book and stealing moments from your day to catch up on a few more pages gives me something to look forward to. The library has always been my #1 “happy place,” only a slight edge over my second favorite place, the thrift store (of course!).

I padded to the library with my library card in hand and an empty tote bag, ready to fill the bag with books of every kind: fiction romance novels, non-fiction beauty books, and more. Not that I can read all of those within the 3 weeks allotted for check-outs, but there’s nothing like walking out of a library with an armful of knowledge and adventures and getting to pick and choose what you devote your attention to for a few weeks of your life.

One of the books I found was called Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World by Isabel Gillies.

The title instantly grabbed my attention. “Cozy” is a buzzword we have used to describe everything from warm, soft sweaters…to quaint neighborhoods that look too expensive to move to… to a fresh, new comforter for a bedroom makeover…to Christmas lights on a cold winter night.

But as I thumbed through this book, the author was writing about how cozy pencils were.

Yes….pencils. 

She describes them as “familiar, sturdy, dependable tools that live with most of us. The humble pencil is put to good use while making lists, doodles, solving math problems, note-taking in margins of books, scoring games….” etc. She goes on to describe them physically, and how to carry them, sharpen them, the types of lead we use in them, and even shares that there is something called the Pencil Appreciation Society where you actually have to apply to become a member. (I’m not kidding you).

As ludicrous as it sounds, how she described the most mundane item we all have in our household, felt like poetry to me. It was soothing. It was mindful. It was therapeutic. And it showed how we are all connected by, yes, even pencils.

It actually seemed like the kind of book that put into words the type of thoughts I had about life all around me, although, not quite to that extent….

But I wanted to hear more about how ordinary things are really quite extraordinary (and how they’re considered “cozy”). Perhaps I, too, could begin to see even more things in my world as full of wonder, usefulness, and purpose.

I realized during my quick scan to make a split decision if the book was worthy of tossing into my tote bag is that this book goes beyond what you know and believe to be “cozy,” and explains that “cozy” is something you can learn to be, no matter what situation you’re facing in life (including general malaise…).

THIS……This was the book I knew that I needed. 

I brought it home and delved into each chapter, snuggled under the covers in my bed, even more acutely aware of creating a “cozy” environment for myself to read about how to be cozy in all parts of your life, no matter what situation you may find yourself in.

The author builds the case that cozy is about connectedness and looking inward into who you are. In the example of the pencil, it was this universal tool that we all use, which cuts across customs, traditions, backgrounds, and more. There was a “coziness” about pencils, she was trying to teach us.

Cozy is about feeling grounded and sound, and “tuning in–connecting to what’s going on around you.” That is how you get cozy.

It’s about connecting intimately to humanity.  

It’s about how someone took care of you when you were young.

Cozy is about filling your life and your home with the things and experiences that connect you to your roots, to other humans, to your authentic self, and to the things that make you feel safe and secure and loved.

In reading this book, I finally understood that the reason I haven’t been feeling 100% emotionally is because my life has been lacking coziness. More pointedly, my life has been lacking the connection to my authentic self. And the connections that are there, I wasn’t observing them.

My authentic self’s purpose in life, (and the point of Thrift Diving), is to create, inspire, and teach. And I sure as heck don’t feel like I have been doing any of those things lately. While I am working on projects (I’m almost done with the vinyl plank flooring in my “she shed” and just finishing up the baseboards!), the speed at which I move is that of a turtle drudging through a pool of molasses. I felt like I moved slowly because I’m unmotivated, unfocused, wasteful with my time, wondering if anything I am doing is really that important to anyone but me, or even creative enough.

But I wonder….as I consider my lack of speed…if I move slow because I am simply enjoying the coziness of working on a project at leisure, with The Golden Girls streaming in my ears, soothing me while I create the light-filled, delicious creative space my heart has always desired. 

Instead of being in the spotlight, I’ve retreated to the shadows, lurking on social media but not really wanting to be front and center for anyone.

The time between YouTube videos is so far that people forget they even subscribed, or they wonder if I dropped off the face of the earth.

I rarely send emails to subscribers because, well, if there is no new content, there is no new email. When new emails are sent, people have forgotten they even subscribed. And you know what happens at that point–they’ll either delete it or unsubscribe.

….And a blog post….? What is that?? I can’t remember the last time when I wrote a proper tutorial with tons of useful information for the everyday DIYer. (Although, I have to admit, writing this blog post feels like a proper solute to my authentic journaling that began when I was 15 years old, and it feels divine).

Being a content creator wasn’t feeling “cozy” anymore. It felt like a chore–one that I shied away from and continued to work on my projects begrudgingly pulling out the camera because I had to.

You have to understand that I have never wanted another career than to be a blogger and YouTuber–even before this career even existed. I knew that I wanted to be “creative,” and that I absolutely flourished in front of the camera. But I didn’t know until I was nearly 40 years old that being a content creator was a real career. I simply enjoyed creating something unique, sharing with people how I achieved it (or what went wrong and how I fixed it!), and eagerly moving on to the next project in between my demanding 9-to-5, mother-to-3 busy lifestyle.

But the gleam had worn off, and I couldn’t put my finger on why, and why I couldn’t verbalize what felt off and why my life felt “off.” 

Until I had this book, Cozy.

What happened is that I had stopped feeling cozy and started focusing more on earning a living. In fact, when you earn a living from your passion, it does often start to feel like “work.” You don’t have time to feel “cozy” anymore because it’s not a hobby; your family’s well-being is dependent on your churning a profit. 

Writing blog posts used to feel absolutely cozy: I’d have my big cup of tea and a whole uninterrupted afternoon to write up in detail how I turned this into that (check out my Project Gallery, by the way). The pride of the project was evident, especially if it was something that I wasn’t sure would turn out because of a few bad decisions. But somehow, I figured out how to pull it through to the end, with a final reveal that left readers exclaiming, “You did it! It looks great!”

There was a pride and connectedness in those posts, in the whole experience from slathering on the first coat of paint or cutting the first piece of wood, to the final signature of my name at the end of a blog post. 

But over time, it was replaced by renaming hundreds of blog post pictures with proper keywords in the title so that Google can index them for search. And of course, the post had to be formatted for readability by bots so that the post might get the chance to be the featured snippet in search.

The cozy, connected feeling I had to my “why” of my work, and my authentic self, started to feel disconnected. The more that Google mattered, the more brand deals with tight deadlines that came in, the more my “why” had a dollar sign attached to it. It wouldn’t change the quality of the content, but the “cozy” behind it slowly started to seep out of the projects, hidden behind a check-list of everything that must be done to be an effective post that I’d hope would go viral.

The coziness wasn’t lost overnight. It was so gradual that it was barely noticeable. But I started to feel it, a long time ago, in fact. And it’s only been recently that I have significantly felt it. In fact, what I think the unsettled feeling came from was the desire for cozy competing with the desire for growth and domination.

Just listen to any productivity audiobook, or listen to business guru and motivator, Gary V, and it’s drilled into your head in 15 second sound bites that you’ve got to be producing 10X what you think you can produce, you’ve got out perform your competition, you’ve got to hit 1 million this and 1 million that; that if you’re not on TikTok uploading a video every day, you’re failing. If you’re not doing YouTube shorts, you’re irrelevant.

There are so many messages in your feed and face telling you that you’re not good enough, you’re not doing enough, that you begin to feel the friction inside of yourself between wanting to be cozy and move at a pace that feels comfortable for you, and feeling like you’re a failure because you’re not moving fast enough. 

For some, that message of “Do more!” resonates and those folks answer the Call to Action.

For me, it left me with much dissonance because I didn’t want to do more. I still don’t want to do more. I don’t care if I reach 1 million subscribers on YouTube. I don’t care if my email list is 100K. I only care that each day I get to create the cozy work-life atmosphere that makes me feel like I made the difference in someone’s life.

But it took reading this book, Cozy, and writing this blog post, for me to see that.

Like a rising sun on morning fog, I feel the uneasiness dissipating as I write.

In reading this book, Cozy, thinking about the connectedness we feel to others, I started thinking about my content differently, too. I started to imagine you, dear listener, dear viewer, dear reader, sitting with a hot cup of tea, after a long, hard day at work, opening up your email to see that there is a new project from me. It might have been 2 weeks, but finally, it’s arrived. You’re excited to see what new things I’ve been up to, because although you don’t have much time for DIY, you enjoy living vicariously through my projects and getting inspired and motivated.

You open the email and see that I made something that you’ve been wanting to try, or have thought about for years, but never had the time to do, or honestly…didn’t even think you could do. But here I am, giving it a try, sharing with you how to do it.

You click to read the blog post, to watch the YouTube video, with the lights turned low in your bedroom while sipping your cup of tea, ready to click and get comfortable to watch the video.

You’ve had a hard day of work, you’re physically and mentally tired, and my voice, which you’ve always found soothing, appears on the screen, with a smile that feels like it’s just for you. I’m walking you through how I did the project. After watching for a while, you decide that it’s something you want to do later down the road, not right now, but you just enjoy watching me, hearing my voice keeping you company, helping you to unwind at the end of the day. You’ve invited me into your home, to spend time with you that evening, like old friends. You feel less alone, less anxious after your long day. You leave a comment and find that I just responded to tell you I appreciate the time you took to watch and to comment, and to wish you luck on your own projects!

While you’re still tired, you’re in less of a foul mood, and less lonely, because of our connection.

That scenario is what this book Cozy taught me to envision: the connectedness between us, the cozy feeling that went into creating the video that would soothe you, make you laugh, bring joy to the evening of something who may have really needed that bright spot on a dark night. 

When I think of that scenario, it inspires me to pull out my camera to share with you what’s in my heart, the projects I am excited to do, the pride I feel at completing them, knowing that you’re on the other end to receive it, creating a cozy connection between us.

You are my “why.” 

That coziness is what has been missing from my work, from my life, causing my anxiety and hesitation. And now that I have identified it, I am mindful of it and will allow myself to give in to it, despite the pressures to over-perform for no reason than to “keep up with the Jones” (aka: other content creators!).  

I think it’s the reason I love doing my podcast so much because my podcast feels very cozy: just you and me connecting via a microphone. I’m able to share my thoughts, feelings, ideas, advice, tutorials with you, and I imagine my words soothing you, going along with you in your day, whether you’re driving, gardening, doing laundry….Me talking to you, one on one, is about as close of a connection that we can have. And that is cozy.

The author says, “In learning how to be cozy, you are responsible for taking what happens to you, learning from it, then connecting it to your innermost self.”

And my innermost self is about creating, inspiring, and teaching.

Cozy isn’t just about work, though, it’s also about home. And it’s more than soft pillows and new comforters when doing a room makeover.

The book talks about some tips on how to create a cozy home. I’ve been calling it, “loving your home,” but I like the idea of it being about creating a cozy home.

A cozy home is about the things that connect to your authentic self: your traditions, your heritage, the meaningful things in your life, the nostalgia you feel for a certain time in your life that felt really good, memories that bring a smile to your face…being intentional about what you bring into your home…

The reason I love hanging Christmas lights at Christmas (despite not being Christian) is to conjure up the feeling of coziness when we were younger and my mom putting up lights on what we called a “Charlie Brown” tree. It sure was an “ugly” tree, by comparison to the gorgeous Pinterest-worthy trees saved in Decorating folders on millions of devices. But it was our tree, filled with mismatched ornaments we had passed down for years. There was comfort in the familiarity. And knowing that family would gather together and sip hot cocoa, followed by eagerly opening presents the following morning.

Those are traditions that I am passing down to my own children (much to my husband’s disagreement; he thinks it’s a useless and meaningless practice). 

So in the book, the author asks a few decorators to share what they find cozy. They answered things such as:

  • The colors used in a home. One designer, Nathan Turner, said the color blue was cozy because it reminded him of a deep navy blue that you see in Northern CA and Maine, and it’s similar to the color he saw when he looked out of his childhood home. He recommended that if you don’t know what color you like the most, see what color is most dominant in your home and try that, or even paint the ceiling that color if you don’t want to do the walls.
  • Nathan Turner’s partner, Eric Hughes, also a designer, said that “handmade” things are cozy, such as things found on Etsy and eBay.
  • Miles Redd, another designer, says that straw is cozy: straw baskets, straw rugs, straw wastebaskets, etc. Also, trays! I love this idea. Organize the clutter and everything looks clean and intentional!
  • Dimmers on your lights! I definitely love a cozy room with low lighting! Go for 30-watt bulbs.
  • Make your living space warm and inviting with a bar! Try repurposing  a tv stand into a bar cart.
  • Cozy blanks!

I think that literally anything can make a house feel cozy, but it’s about what you feel is most cozy to you, not just what a designer says.

For me, what makes my home feel cozy is lots of sunlight. When my home feels light, bright, and airy, and spacious (which is rare!), it makes me feel most connected to my home. It makes me feel light-hearted. I think this is why I love my 16’x26′ “she shed” so much because I designed it for light to pour in, even on the cloudiest day.

My mom also loves light, and I think I may have gotten this from her. Our homes were always full of sunlight, and I connect that with my childhood homes.

So what about you–what kind of cozy things and traditions and meaningful nostalgia do you fill your home with?

What makes your home feel safe, secure, and comforting, even if it’s not “on trend”?

And have you ever thought about what makes your life, in general, feel cozy?

I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World by Isabel Gillies. Even her style of writing will leave you feeling cozy and thinking about the most mundane things in a more illustrious way.

Now….excuse me while I excuse myself for a cozy Sunday dinner with my family… πŸ™‚

 

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29 Comments

  1. I saw this post a few days ago and started reading it but I knew right away that I wanted to “save” it until a day I could “savor” it. Today was the day.

    I keep trying to figure out how to express how much I loved reading everything you wrote. I guess it just helps me know other people struggle with the same feeling of getting caught up in things without really realizing they don’t have to keep pushing themselves. That it should be more important to enjoy what we do, than to just do more, or do it in a way that makes other people happy without taking into consideration what makes us happy..

    I enjoyed spending a little cozy time with you today.

  2. Luz Eneida Cruz says:

    Hola Serena,
    Your channel was probably the first YouTube channel I subscribed to when I retired about three years ago. I was so proud of your presence on TV doing your projects and sharing them with others. Please know that you inspire me to craft and see beyond an object’s use to what it can become with paint and glue. My cozy is going out to work on my garden as soon as the sun is up, and engaging in little diy projects for my home that make me happy and grateful to be here.
    Thank You

    1. Hi Luz! Wow, your daily ritual of gardening sounds really relaxing! Retirement is supposed to be exactly how you describe it: doing the things that bring you joy. It makes me smile to think that my channel was the first you subscribed to when you retired! If there are any projects that you’d love to see more of, please let me know and I’ll be sure to do those. I love knowing that something I have done has inspired you to be creative, too. πŸ™‚ Awww, thank you!!

  3. Serena,
    Thank you for this post. It feels like you were speaking to me because you described my current thoughts EXACTLY. I needed this post and it helped me by knowing that I am not the only one who sometimes feels this way. I’m renovating a house in a town where I’ve only lived for a year and a few months so it still doesn’t feel like home yet. But, it is getting better. I couldn’t get going this afternoon and I looked at my bed that suddenly had sun rays being cast from a nearby window across the blanket. It looked cozy! I turned on youtube, laid down on the bed to listen to a program, and was asleep in a few minutes. I had a dream that I came back to the house at night and I couldn’t get the door to lock. The lock wouldn’t line up and after a few minutes, the door would pop open again. I kept installing different locking mechanisms and none of them fit. I was scared and it was dark in the dream. I woke up and what do you think had come on youtube while I was sleeping? A documentary about an infamous serial killer. This is not the recipe for cozy. But, you got me back on track when I read your post. You never know who you will touch in a positive way. You’ve inspired me quite a bit, especially your post about wiring the she-shed. I think you are fabulous!

    1. Girrrrrl, Ginene, you had me literally LOL imaging you waking up and there are serial killers on your screen! LOL! It’s so funny how the outside world influences our sleep and dreams even when we’re not conscious! The brain is amazing. LOL. On to your house–congrats!! It does take a while for a house to feel like a home, especially when you’ve got renovating to do. You’re so focused on the details of the transformation that you can’t just enjoy coming home, kicking off your shoes, and feeling like it’s the warm and cozy place you bought and decorating a year ago. But there is an intimacy to transforming a house, especially when you see how far it has come. As much as this house of mine ISN’T my dream home, I have enjoyed every project (well….most!) and it has made me become who I am now because of it! The same will be true for you. Remember to take LOTS of pictures and videos, because one day it will look how you want it to look and you won’t remember how it looked before you got started! πŸ™‚ Anyhow, glad to get your back on track and I’m thankful for you!

  4. Hi! I’ve missed you. I don’t listen to podcasts. I have MS and have some auditory issues, but I love reading a great blog post and this was great. Off to the library to borrow what sounds like a good book. Already have my tea bag picked out. Have a great day!

    1. Hi Toni! So happy to hear that you’re going to get the book from your library! πŸ™‚ Woohoo. Let me know what you think of it. I’m glad, too, that I was able to write a blog post that you enjoyed! I really enjoyed writing it. It was therapeutic to write.

  5. You describe ALL the reasons I’m dragging my feet getting rolling in the online world at all. I work full time at a great job but my Passion is collecting and sometimes painting antique furniture. (I always find it Truly amazing what people will throw out- lol). I am renovating my barn to make a wonderful work shop– I have Plenty of inventory and all these ideas about finishing a piece- photographing- pricing and posting. I also have owned my own website address for 3 years and not used it yet! Still waiting until I have enough pieces to properly launch a site–ugh.. BUT BUT BUT I’m soooo afraid of what you are describing!! The whole Response from the online Public–what if I don’t get “likes” what if I get the horrible comments from those that say painting furniture-especially antique-is a Travesty? Writing so bots understand-using the right hashtags, etc., etc. I’m 64 years old and have been in the public eye all my life–I Know how to not care what they say, etc.–but I think its Different when you are exposing a personal part of Yourself thru Your own product.. I mean, I can handle rejection but do I Really want to get Negative feedback at this point in my life regarding my own pieces? Ugh…That’s a tough one! I will Def read that Cozy book looking for further understanding of where I’m going wrong. Thank you for discussing this! I’m sure a LOT of online artists feel this but none are willing to talk about it like you!!!..so Thank you..

    1. Hi Joy! Let me just say that I am proud of you for getting set to step into the online world to show off your painted pieces! I can’t tell you how many people over 60 (my mom included) that are not computer savvy just because that wasn’t what they grew up on. But it sounds like you know what to do, you’re comfortable doing it, but you just have to get over the hump of “what will people say?” I am telling you to GO FOR IT, girlfriend! You will definitely have people who will say, “Why did you ruin that piece of furniture?!” But you know what? Those are the posts that do so well and can actually go viral because of the positive AND negative comments, so don’t sweat that part. Mostly, you will build a community of people who will love what you do and can’t wait to see your next project. And those are the people that you will paint for, not the ones who want to say negative things but likely haven’t ever done their own furniture makeovers! You can do this! And I would also say to make it about the furniture first–the money will come later. πŸ™‚ Keep me posted on how it goes and send me your URL so I can follow you! πŸ™‚

  6. Serena, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. You have put a name to what most of us are feeling right now. So much has occurred during the past few years and for many of us ” cozy” means to slow down…waaaay down! Thanks for all your DIY projects, you do a fabulous job explaining each step in a project. All the best!

    1. I love this, Marie–yessss, being cozy is about slowing down and being mindful of all the rich experiences and connectedness around us. You know, the other day I took myself out to lunch and while waiting at the corner to walk back to my car after lunch, there was a woman yarning next to me. I looked over and she kind of giggled, embarrassed to be caught in a yarn at 4 p.m. on a Saturday waiting for a stop light. LOL. I took that as a moment to make a connection with her and I joked, “Don’t start yawning yet! It’s too early to sleep!” She laughed and then we struck up a 20-second conversation. It left me feeling connected to my environment, happy to smile and talk to someone for a brief moment. It was a cozy moment. We could have more of those if we just observe, acknowledge, and then allow ourselves to be vulnerable for a few moments. πŸ™‚ Thank you for commenting!

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