Let’s talk about Design Decision Paralysis. It is SO COMMON to get stuck when you’re designing a space, questioning everything you thought you liked, becoming filled with self-doubt, and feeling completely lost.
I’m an Interior Designer, and I always joke that it’s 1000x easier to design a space for other people than for myself. Why? Because with other people, I can be objective. I can see the problem as a mix of a Scientist and Artist. Find common threads. See outside the box.
Good news - that art + science approach is teachable! There is a way to get yourself unstuck and out of indecision.
How can you be confident that you’re making the right decision, whether you’re trying to do it on your own or working with an Interior Designer? When faced with a design decision that you just can't seem to make confidently, ask yourself these 8 questions to gain some clarity.
Is this right for me (or am I just recreating my Pinterest board)?
Dear one, you are the only you there is. And I know that room you saw from that blogger on Instagram is incredible, but don’t just carbon copy someone else’s space. Why? Because they are not you. You have unique tastes and needs. For sure, be inspired by them, use their shoppable links to pick up a favorite planter or check out their paint color, but be sure that your space has YOU in it.
If you know you love color, you’re not really going to enjoy living in a neutral space, pretty as it looks online. If you are drawn to moody spaces, no sense in creating light/bright/airy rooms. Make sure your uniqueness comes through in your space.
Is the reason that you're stuck because you know in your gut that while this might be right for someone else, it's not quite right for you?
Does this work for how I’ll actually use the space day to day?
That’s another rub with trying to replicate someone else’s space – it might not actually work for your family. Hell, it might not even work for their family. We’ve all seen those Instagram vs. reality posts, right? A beautiful vignette of an entryway and just offscreen are 14 pairs of shoes and backpacks on the floor (guilty).
If you routinely make homemade marinara sauce and chop your fruits and veggies right on the countertop, you aren’t going to want marble counters. A mudroom with beautiful open cabinetry might sound great, but if your kids are hooligans (like mine) they aren’t going to keep that space tidy, it will drive you crazy. You need doors. A giant laundry room sounds dreamy, but if you’re going to fold your clothes on the couch while watching reruns of The Office, could that space be put to better use elsewhere?
Ask yourself, does this support how you and your family will actually use your space?
Does it honor both who I am now and who I aspire to be?
AKA: know thyself, but don’t allow yourself to be stuck there.
Perfect example – I recently went fully bougie in my pantry and decked it out with matching bins and canisters, donating all the older collected mismatched bins that had accumulated over time. I know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to purchase ROYGBIV rainbow snacks to look great in clear bins just for the sake of it, but I will decant cereal into airtight bins so the kids can use them and I can see what we have. I also have an aspirational goal to have a beautiful, well kept pantry because ours is visible to the whole house.
You want to have a healthy measure of self-awareness to honor who you are right now and the life-stage that you are in (busy mom of school aged kids), and know what habits you might be willing to change for the sake of better function and beauty (willing to spend 5 extra minutes once a week decanting some stuff).
Ask yourself - does this feel like a decent combination of reality and what I'm capable of growing into?
Am I skimping on quality where it counts?
Who nelly, this is a big one. First of all, let’s just get this out there – budgets are real, and unless you are a Kardashian, you can’t always have everything you want. BUT you will end up wasting your money and robbing yourself of enjoyment if you skip out on the important things. When we were building our new house I had to balance our budget along with all of my Designer hopes and dreams. I was incredibly strategic on what we saved on to allow me to splurge on the things that would matter most in the long run and have the biggest impact.
Faced with a design decision, ask yourself if you’ll regret that you didn’t hold out for what you really wanted. It might be worth waiting and saving a bit more to get the thing that will truly be the right fit. Then again, it might be good enough and bring you joy, even if it isn’t the highest of quality, because it’s not the most important thing to you.
Am I spending wisely on the things that count? Am I skimping where I'll regret it later?
Am I stretching my budget too far? (aka don’t be house-poor)
Design can be a slippery slope. I like to call this phenomenon “if you give a mouse a cookie.” In design and renovations, one decision leads to another. You want to replace your floors, which will require new baseboards. Which begs the question, do I replace the trim around my doors that has definitely seen better days? And if I’m doing that, should I get rid of these 90’s hollow core doors and do new solid wood doors? Those will need to be painted, so do we go ahead and paint the whole house? Your $15K project is suddenly now $30K.
There are times where you really should do things together to get the best bang for your buck, but at some point, you have to know when to stop. It’s often better to do less, but of higher quality, than to spread your budget too thin. You always want to carry a contingency for unexpected issues and keep that factored into your bottom line.
Tip - head here for 5 tips on how avoid the most common project pitfalls!
Be really honest with yourself – will it be worth going beyond your budget in the long run, or will you be ticked off at yourself in 6 months when the newness wears off and you can’t afford that family vacation?
Am I pushing myself at least a little bit?
Not to toot our own horns here, but our favorite thing we hear from our clients is that something we designed is beyond their expectations. Let’s face it, simply meeting our own expectations isn’t all that exciting. You get home from work on time – okay I guess? But let’s say you randomly get Friday off. Now THAT’S something to get excited about! Hello, 3 day weekend!
Design should do the same thing. You want to push yourself out of your design comfort zone at least a little bit. Otherwise your space will be pulled together and nice, sure, but it won’t excite you. The end result of that – boredom. Carry that onto its next logical step – you’ll want to keep tweaking it, changing it, and spending more money until something finally clicks (if it ever does).
Don’t get me wrong here, design is a process and your home should evolve and change over time with you. But do try to introduce a little bit of the unexpected into your space. A great way to do that is to mix in a little bit of a different design style that isn’t your go-to. If you love mid century furniture, add in an ornate antique piece. Mixing different styles inherently creates a little contrast and interest and makes a space more exciting. Go past the expected and play a little!
Ask yourself - am I stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit?
Does it make my heart sing?
Getting a little touchy-feely on this one, but the most important question of all – does it make you happy? Can you not wait to get that design implemented in your home? Are you imagining life inside your new space, bubbling up and overflowing with excitement?
A great design will do just that. Almost like a tuning fork, it will hit the right note and just resonate with you.
On one of our current projects, we are doing an ALL BLACK PANTRY. Cabinets, walls, shelves, all black. It is totally non-traditional and not anything our client had expected. She told us about how she showed her friends our design plan and couldn’t give two cares whether they liked it or not, because she couldn’t stop thinking about how much she’s going to love that space.
THAT is the kind of excitement we’re talking about.
One word of caution here – every single element inside of your space cannot be your favorite. Imagine getting dressed for the day. If you put on your favorite pants, favorite shirt, favorite shoes, favorite jewelry – my guess is your outfit would look like a hot mess. An outfit doesn’t work if everything is the focal point, and the same is true for your space.
The goal isn’t for every item to make your heart skip a beat. Some things need to play a supporting role, so that the entire picture can be amazing.
Am I struggling to make this decision because it doesn't light me up?
Is this reversable?
The last question, and the one I often will leave our clients with when they're struggling, is this - if you make the wrong decision, is it fixable?
Some things just aren't, financially or feasibly. You probably can't afford to re-buy all of your kitchen appliances in 2 years if you hate them. But you might be okay with spending $500-1000 replacing a backsplash if in 5 years you grow tired of it.
I ask myself this question a lot when I'm purging as a part of my ongoing minimalism maintenance. If I can replace something for $20 or less, I just don't stress about it. I'll let it go and if I need to rebuy it, I can. I've never once had to go back and re-buy something that I've donated, but it feels nice to know that letting go of some old picture frames isn't going to wreck my life.
In the same way with a design decision, ask yourself, if the worst case happens and I wind up regretting this decision, would I be okay with using that as a learning experience and then fixing it? If so, that might be the permission you need to just go for it!
Next time you’re faced with a design decision, big or small, ask yourself these questions and get some clarity! You may learn what it was that's holding you back and gain a fresh perspective on how to move forward.