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  • Writer's pictureKatie McCrory

The Importance of Home: An Exploration of the Emotional Impact of Domestic Spaces

Our homes play a crucial role in our lives. Life at home is changing, and our homes are now increasingly multi-tasking, working overtime as family space, office, nursery, entertainment center, indoor gym, and more. But is our home-space supporting our headspace? Learn all about it from an industry leader.

By Katie McCrory, IKEA'S Life at Home Communications Leader, after being featured on It’s July TALKS on the topic of How Our Homes Impact Our Lives.

When I joined IKEA, back in 2016, I was inspired by the vision to create a better everyday life for the many people. It’s a humbling experience to work for a brand that’s been in people’s homes for 80 years. I like to think of all the lives our flatpack furniture has touched, like a reliable friend helping people through births and marriages, break-ups and make-ups, happy celebrations and sad goodbyes. From where I’m standing, it’s clear that a better everyday life starts at home.

For the last six years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading the annual IKEA Life at Home Report. It’s one of the largest and most distinctive research projects of its kind, involving qualitative and quantitative research into the needs and dreams of thousands of people around the world. I guess that’s a fancy way of saying that we like to meet people at home and online, and ask lots of curious questions.

As the years have passed, I’ve had a front-row view of life at home around the world. Last year we conducted our research in 37 countries, from Sweden to Singapore, and whilst many things about our homes may feel different on the surface – such as how big they are or what the interior design is like – we are all connected by a desire to feel at home where we live. In fact, feeling at home is really the foundation for a better life overall, because the way we feel about our home is deeply connected to how we feel about ourselves.

This emotional aspect to life at home is where my interest lies. It’s become the signature aspect to our Life at Home research for the last five years, ever since we decided to try and work out what, exactly, creates the feeling of home. I’ve been on a mission to share our knowledge ever since.

happy family eating breakfast in the kitchen

Exploring Seven Emotional Needs

So, what exactly does home feel like? Well, when someone talks about the ‘feeling of home’, they’re talking about a handful of quite specific emotions. At IKEA we have identified seven emotional needs which are fundamental to the human experience; we can see that when these emotional needs are met it makes us feel ‘at home’. And when we feel at home, we’re in an environment which is nurturing, positive and meaningful. In short, feeling at home is very good for us in body and mind. At IKEA, we define these emotional needs as:

  • Comfort – Feeling content and at ease with your surroundings.

  • Security – Feeling safe and secure wherever you are.

  • Belonging – Feeling a sense of belonging where you are accepted for who you are, and in places that reflect you.

  • Ownership – Having a sense of control over the space and place in which you live.

  • Privacy – Feeling a mental or emotional sense of privacy in places where you can reflect or just be yourself.

  • Enjoyment – Feeling that there is a mental and physical space for fun activities, entertainment, and personal hobbies.

  • Accomplishment – Feeling productive and effective, whether that's from work, studying or personal hobbies.

Some of these definitions might surprise you. Take ‘ownership’, for example – we don’t believe this is about whether you own the property you live in or the furniture you use. Rather, ownership is about having a sense of control, or agency, in the place where you live so that you are empowered to make a change.

happy family at home having fun

The Reality Gap

What we’ve seen from our research is that there is a gap between the expectation for our home to meet these emotional needs and the reality of whether it does. In fact, there isn’t a single emotional need in any given year, for any kind of household, age or living situation, where reality meets expectation. For example, this year we discovered that over 9 in 10 people globally want to feel enjoyment at home, but only 5 in 10 people actually get it there. I call this the ‘Reality Gap’.

I believe that this Reality Gap explains why 1 in 3 people say they feel more at home in places other than where they live. I also believe it explains why 14% of people say their home doesn’t meet their wellbeing needs, and as many as 40% of people who feel more positive about their home also report better mental health outcomes. Quite simply, if life at home feels good, then so do we!

You might feel that there are better spaces and places to get some of these needs met than home, and in some instances I would agree. Depending on where you are in your life, you might find that your sense of enjoyment comes from spending time with friends in a favorite café, for example; or you feel a deep sense of comfort and security when you go back to stay at the old family home after a long time away. For parents with young kids, we know that many struggle with the feeling of belonging, and that home is not typically where they get this need met the best. As a mother to a spirited toddler, I can empathize – sometimes we need to be on our own or with other people outside of the home to feel connected. But what I have learned, from years of research, is that home is ideally placed to deliver to all these needs most effectively. It means that we can, and must, do more to ensure that life at home actually feels like home for as many people as possible.

father and kids playing together at home

Making a Change in Your Own Life at Home

As I mentioned in my talk, I think there are three simple steps you can take today if you feel like your life at home could feel better.

  1. Keep a journal every day for a week. Make a note of all the times at home where you felt your emotional needs were met or challenged. Where were you in your home? Who were you with? What were you doing? What triggered the feeling? Looking back over the week, try and establish some patterns and gaps. This will help you understand what your home does well, and where it could improve; it will highlight the experiences that make you feel good, and which leave you frustrated.

  2. Have a discussion with the people you live with. Talk about what you learned from your journal. If the people you live with are willing and able, ask them to keep a journal too so you can compare. You may be surprised to learn that people have different emotional reactions to the same experience, or that some family members have more needs. From here, you can discuss what kind of changes you want to make, whether that’s making space for certain activities, giving someone more privacy, or dialing up the cozy vibes in the living room.

  3. Head to places that inspire good feelings. Check out different homes – we know as many as 1 in 4 people say they are most inspired to make an interior design change after seeing their friend’s homes! If you live near an IKEA store, you could go and sit in some of the room sets and see how they make you feel too.

By using these simple tools, you can start to connect the dots between how you feel about your life at home and how you feel within yourself.

As the world around us continues to change and challenge us, having a place to feel at home has never been more important. So, take this opportunity to make a change, starting from today… A better home creates a better life!

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