How Nesting Reduced My Anxiety

A fixer-upper fixed my worries

Photo via HBO

If you're ever feeling uneasy about your past choices but want to feel hopeful for your future, watch HGTV. Over the last few months, I’ve been fed by an endless stream of French doors, exposed beams, demolition montages, and my favorite reality TV couple of all time: Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper. There’s something so satisfying about watching other people refresh their spaces, and after watching 16 satisfying kitchen makeovers, it was hard not to make the connection between having a well-functioning personal space and being a well-functioning person.

This type of connection had suddenly become really necessary for me to make. After moving into my first real apartment in New York City, I finally felt like I had a space that was mine (admittedly, shared with a roommate—this is ultra-expensive New York City, after all). I brought in bed linens that I loved, installed a shelf into my wall on a rainy Saturday, and cleaned the entire bathroom. My roommate and I had always enthused over our similar sense of style, and now we got to show it off. Our apartment felt like us.

But a few months after my move, I started having bad flare-ups of anxiety. Middle-of-the-night panic attacks were suddenly welcomed back into my life, the kind that meant I would not be sleeping through the night for weeks on end. For those who’ve never experienced it, anxiety is something that makes you feel like nowhere is safe, that everything is temporary and bound to disappear at any moment, and that your life is at constant risk of being destroyed. It's the opposite of feeling at home.

My anxiety was partly due to being in a new city and missing my childhood home in Georgia—missing it badly. I wanted to feel safe, but New York was suddenly feeling scary because it just wasn't home. I’ve always been a big nester; if I don’t feel at home somewhere or know my space isn’t permanent, I get uncomfortable. I need to know my space belongs to me. The way I've generally done this is by filling my space up with things, but in a confined apartment, filling up the little available space with random crap was not the best choice.

Here’s where Fixer Upper came in. On a rainy Tuesday, looking for something to watch, I happened upon the show. At first, I thought, Okay, it’s just going to be another HGTV show where the couples are annoying and make bad choices and pick the second best house in the end just because it has a pool even though the other house had a sunken living room and great natural light! Or whatever. But, wow, was I wrong. Rather, Fixer Upper is about a couple who help families find homes that could fairly be described as diamonds in the rough. After finding a home that has flaws but potential, they work on fixing it up, employing an army of construction workers, specialists, and an expert sense of design in the process. The diamond in the rough gets polished, and the new homeowners experience the kind of genuine joy and relief that comes with finding a place of their own. Fixer Upper is about taking people who feel rootless and giving them the security of having a home. It was exactly what I needed, only I wouldn't have Chip and Joanna to help.

Inspired by my newfound love for design, renovation, demolition, construction, house hunting, equity, and decor, I decided it was time to make a change in my home. I equipped myself with HGTV goggles and searched for the potential in my apartment. I tried to focus in on the negative space, looking for holes I could fill. I hung art, fluffed up new pillows, bought a back-of-the-door organizer. I put clothes I no longer wore into a big trash bag for Goodwill. I organized my socks! I felt my energy whirling around the room as I dusted, cleaned, and vacuumed away the disjointed soot of my anxiety. I poured myself into each crack in the hardwood, each corner of my closet. And after all my hard work, I felt the way I feel when Chip and Joanna pull back the curtain on what once was a moldy manor to reveal a sparkling home nestled among newly planted oaks. I felt peaceful. I felt calm. I felt settled. When it was all complete, I slept through the night for the first time in weeks.

This isn't to say that Fixer Upper completely cured all traces of my anxiety. (And, as always, anyone having problems with anxiety or depression should seek medical help.) But refreshing my space did help relieve the pressure I was feeling. Recharging the energy in my room brought it into focus for me. It was no longer a waiting area. It was a room for now.