Monday, January 11, 2016

Create a Colorful Home

What is the first thing you notice when you enter a room?  Most will answer “color.”  Though we may not be conscious of it, color has a powerful effect on our well-being. It raises or lowers our breathing and heart rate, affects whether we perceive a room as large or small or warm or cool, evokes memories and associations, encourages us to reach out or withdraw, and induces anger or tranquility.
     The colors you wear and decorate with express your personality, your changing moods, and how you wish to appear to other people.  If your walls are white or beige, you may be unaware of how stark and depressing it is to live without color.  Get ready for your home to take on a rainbow of hues.  As you become more aware of your responses to color, you will choose those that strike a chord, and enhance your well-being.  Painting a room a color that entices you is the cheapest way to decorate one.  More importantly, it will energize your spirit and balance your emotions.  Not bad for a morning with a paint brush.
Choosing Color
      How do you know what are the best colors for a particular room in your house?  Here are suggestions.
Follow Your Gut
     Color is deeply expressive and wonderful therapy if used creatively:  your interior self is your best decorator.  Choose for each room that which resonates with you, even if it’s bold red or army green. 
Daylight & Orientation
     Look at the room’s natural daylight and orientation.  Is the room dark or light, small or large?  Use these attributes to modify the apparent shape and proportion of a room -- to make the ceiling seem lower, or a long, narrow passage or room, seem shorter. 
     Warm colors, like yellows and oranges seem to advance and will dominate the cool colors, like blues and purples, which appear to recede – orange curtains will pop out of blue colored walls.   Bold, dark tones tend to make a room look smaller but make a large room more intimate. 
     Light colors do the opposite; pastels make a small room feel less claustrophobic.  In sunless rooms, use warm colors to make the room more cheerful.  In sunny rooms, use cool colors to tone down the light and make the room more comfortable.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Utilize Natural Light Whenever Possible

With most of us spending almost all of our time indoors, and with the sun’s rays having received much bad press as a cause of skin cancer, few of us soak up the sun’s rays anymore.  In fact, not getting enough sunlight is a far greater overall health hazard than soaking in the rays. We now know that sunburn not sun exposure is what causes skin cancer. 

Sunlight is the purest healing force for life on this earth. It is fundamental to our endocrine systems, the timing of our biological clocks, immunologic responsiveness, sexual development, regulation of stress and fatigue, control of infections, absorption of nutrients, and the functioning of the nervous system.  For our body to thrive, we require the sun’s full spectrum of solar radiation, which we absorb through our eyes and skin:   the visible color spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet); the infrared (heat just beyond red that we feel when sunburned); and the ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths (just beyond violet). 

To function optimally, we all need a daily minimum of 30 minutes of exposure to natural daylight without sunscreens or glasses. Ideally, some experts believe we should be getting two hours of daylight, while avoiding direct sunlight between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. 

Few of us get it.  If you feel fatigued, drained, spacey, depressed, and prone to viral and bacterial infections, you are likely not getting your ration of the sun’s nutrients.  

In some people, insufficient light interferes with emotional regulation and they become clinically depressed, a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  When the days start to get short and the sky gray, lack of light causes winter doldrums.  The treatment is exposing the sufferer to light that equals the full-spectrum of the sun and that includes a small amount of ultra violet (UV) radiation.  Under full spectrum lighting symptoms reduce significantly within two to four days.

To maximize natural sunlight and rely less on artificial lighting:
  • Keep windows clean and open as much as possible, unobstructed by drawn curtains or blinds.
  • Use mirrors opposite windows in rooms with low light levels.
  • Use full-spectrum lights where possible – see the next page.
  • Install non-tinted skylights, and create atriums and sunrooms where you can.
  • Dress bedroom windows with sheer or semi-sheer curtains or blinds to let in early morning light.

Artificial Lighting

Since we spend so much time indoors, ideally we need to get more UV light. Yet it is virtually absent from older incandescent lighting (lightbulbs), shielded in standard fluorescent bulbs, and virtually blocked by normal window glass, including that on our automobiles and eyeglasses.  Even on a rainy morning, it is brighter outside than inside with the lights on. 

In other words, artificial lighting offers only a portion of the full spectrum of the sun's light. The now phased out incandescent bulbs, or ordinary household bulbs, gave off more red light than normal daylight and gave a yellow tone to objects:   blues looked green; reds looked orange. They actually produced more infrared heat than they do light.

Fluorescent bulbs give off ultraviolet and blue light that gives a cold, stark appearance to a room and creates glare.  These lights also send out pulsing vibrations and older lights often start to hum and flicker. People working under fluorescent lighting commonly report irritability, eyestrain, headaches, allergies, hyperactivity and fatigue.

Here are some suggestions on better lighting solutions:
  • Replace overhead fluorescent lights with full spectrum fluorescents or an Ott floor lamp. Full-spectrum lights more closely resemble the balance of spectral light in daylight and are available at most lighting stores in the form of incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes for general interior lighting.  They do emit slightly higher levels of UV than ordinary bulbs and tubes but the manufacturers deem them safe.
  • Replace all of the older incandescent bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs or LED lights as neither flicker. LED bulbs are available that work with dimmer switches and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, even replacing the commercial fluorescent bulbs we commonly see in stores and schools.
  • Use a bright Ott bulb for computer work, reading, artwork or drafting.  It emits an uplifting white light, without glare or heat that enables you to see the screen or objects more clearly and accurately, and provides the benefit of sunlight while working.  
  • Wear UV filter glasses if you have normal vision and must work under cool fluorescent light and suffer from late-day headache or eye strain. UV filter glasses filter out the harmful ultraviolet, violet and blue light waves emitted by the tubes overhead.  For indoor use most people prefer clear or light yellow glasses of the type made by NoIR, Corning or SolarShield.   
  • Replace bathroom lights with full spectrum bulbs as it will help wake you up in the morning, and your body will receive the same effect as natural sunlight.  And the whiteness of the light makes you look more natural, as you do in sunlight.

Several research studies show that children in classrooms with full spectrum lighting tend to have fewer colds, grow faster, have less cavities, better school attendance and achievement, and are calmer, including the hyperactive.
  • Use halogen lamps for spot lighting and accent. Powerful and good for general illumination, tungsten-halogen lamps emit a bright, white light close to daylight in quality.

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Healing Homes: How to create a unique, relaxing, natural, and healthy sensory haven, Loud,Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is and email

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Use Natural Cleaning Products Whenever Possible

If you’re like most, you spend as much as 80% of your time indoors, and more than half inside your own home.  This practice may be bad for your health.  From the paint on our walls, to the odorless fumes coming from our gas stove, to the cleanser we use to clean our bathtub, and the dry-cleaned clothes hanging in our closet, constant emission of insidious chemicals and synthetic materials permeate our air.  You can change this by making every effort to use natural products.
Here are some natural cleaning products.
Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate):  Use to deodorize the refrigerator, carpets, upholstery, and vinyl.  It will clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, and tin without scratching.  It also softens fabrics and removes certain stains.  For an all-purpose cleaner, dissolve 4 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart water.
Borax:  A water soluble naturally occurring mineral, it can deodorize, inhibit the growth of mildew and mold, boost the cleaning power of soap or detergent, remove stains, and be used with attractants such as sugar to kill cockroaches.  To kill fleas, disperse on your carpet and leave it there for several hours and then vacuum it up.
Cornstarch:  Used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs, and starch clothes.
Isopropyl alcohol:  An excellent disinfectant for objects and for human external use.
Lemon juice:  Containing citric acid, it is a deodorant and can be used to clean glass and remove stains from aluminum, clothes, and porcelain.  It is a mild lightener or bleach if used with sunlight.

Vinegar:  A mainstay of the old folks recipes for cleaning, vinegar kills 99 percent of bacteria, 80 percent of mold and 80 percent of germs (viruses).  It can dissolve mineral deposits and grease, remove traces of soap, remove mildew or wax buildup, polish some metals, clean glass, and deodorize.  Though normally mixed with water, vinegar can be used straight for tough cleaning jobs, like the toilet rim.  Keep a clean spray bottle filled with straight vinegar in your kitchen near your cutting table, and in your bathroom.

     Here are some other easy ways to replace toxic chemical cleaning agents.
  •  Instead of scented laundry products, add a few drops of essential oil, like lemon and eucalyptus, to the rinsing water during a wash to add a refreshing smell to the fabrics. 
  •  Control odors by cleaning or ventilation, rather than masking them with toxic chemicals sold as air fresheners.
  •  Never use aerosol sprays, which emit chlorinated fluorocarbons and break down the ozone layer around the earth.  Substitute a liquid or dry form of a product for an aerosol form and buy products with natural pump action sprays. 
  • Dishwashers and clothes dryers emit chlorinated fluorocarbons.  Leave a window open when drying clothes and avoid opening your dishwasher until several hours after the dishwashing cycle has completed. 
  • Avoid lye-based oven cleansers, drain openers and commercial toilet-bowl cleaners altogether.
  • Try to buy washable clothing materials.  Dry cleaning is full of toxic chemicals, the most common being perchloroethylene, or tetrachloroethylene, that stay on your clothes after cleaning and especially if they are kept in a plastic bag, which doesn’t permit these chemicals to off-gas very well.  Clothing manufacturers tend to err on the side of caution when recommending that you dry-clean your clothing; often a gentle hand-wash will do.

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Healing Homes: How to create a unique, relaxing, natural, and healthy sensory haven, Loud,Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in anoverstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensoryprocessing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is and email

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Your Home Should Reflect Your Unique Self

Do you ever watch HGTV?  I do.  It’s fun watching decorators on cable TV transform someone’s home from a hodge-podge into a stream-lined, harmonious and elegant space.  Yet a part of me cringes.  Whose house is it anyway?

Every aspect of our home should express self, reflecting and impacting well-being.  But in today’s consumer society, we are bombarded with advertising images of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and many of us buy this image for ourselves in mass-produced goods and luxuries. This robs us of the joy of creating homes that reflect the increased richness of our experience, our connection to family and friends, our loves and interests -- our unique self.

In truth, every inch of our home feel intimate and personal, and symbolize an aspect of self – our personality, needs, values; a stranger walking in the door should know immediately what kind of person we are. All objects and facets of our environment should be deeply meaningful, putting us at one with the entire surround, and reinforcing our individuality, versus using impersonal items that please others or fill a space but that alienates us from our essence.  The more comfortable and true our exterior home, the more comfortable and true our inner home.

To achieve this, ideally our home environment should:

Create a Sensory Haven: We experience our surroundings through all our senses.  For each of us, that sensory palette is different, based on our unique personality, experiences, and cultural background. The more our environment is a feast for your senses, the more we will feel interested in it and alive, calm and alert. 

Strengthen Identity: Colorful or dull, messy or tidy, light or dark, our home expresses self.  Make sure it’s organized, meaningful, and reflects your passion, whether it’s art, music, writing, or doll collecting.

Take Responsibility:    We all need to feel accomplished and in control of our destiny. Taking responsibility for our home will combat feelings of helplessness and help us develop self-efficacy – the feeling that we can determine our fate. Self-efficacy happens from merely opening and closing a window to suit yourself, or discarding magazines you know you’ll never read to refurnishing your entire home.  Any act of caring for your environment is an act of caring for yourself – of self-love. 

Balance Change and Stability:  To feel comfortable within our home, we need the familiar and the constant, like the pillow we sleep on, and we need change or the environment begins to feel stale.