A healthy home environment is essential for us all, but especially for those in addiction recovery. Sobriety is fragile. It needs to be nurtured, especially in the early stages of recovery. It’s imperative that the home an addict returns to brings comfort and familiarity, but doesn’t enable old habits. Whether you’re an addict yourself or the loved one of someone in recovery, use this guide to create a soothing home environment that can reinforce the path to sobriety.
Step One: Eliminate triggers
Though the idea is sometimes stigmatized, having “triggers” is common in addiction recovery. Just because you’ve stopped using substances doesn’t mean they never cross your mind again, especially not once you’re out of the controlled environment of treatment. Depending on your using habits, home might be the place you used the most, or perhaps is more closely associated with the painful mornings-after. Whatever role home played in your past life, it’s bound to have a few reminders, and it’s important to get rid of those first and foremost.
If you’re preparing the house for an addicted partner before they return from treatment, start by throwing out any alcohol or other substances, as well as any associated paraphernalia. If you have any prescription medications, get a lockbox to store them in — keep the key on you at all times, and for numbered safes, use a combination your partner won’t be able to guess. Don’t forget to also secure cough medicine (even children’s), aspirin, and any other over-the-counter drugs. Once you’ve removed and secured these items, talk to your partner about what else needs to be addressed.
Go room-by-room and create a list of potential triggers. Go with your instincts — if something seems like it could act as a trigger and remind you of your substance abuse, find a new home for it. There may be sentimental items you’ll want to hold onto, and in that case, you should consider storing them outside the home. For instance, if you love the vase your mother gave you but once used it as a place to hide substances, maybe your sister can keep it at her house for a while so you don’t have to look at it every day. If there are a lot of items you want to hold onto, look into renting a storage unit or ask a friend if you can store a few boxes in their attic. It’s better that the items are completely out of the house so that you can’t rediscover them while looking for holiday lights or easily dig them out on a particularly rough day.
Keep in mind that even objects like clothes and photos can be triggers. If you remember how intoxicated you were when you took that photo on the mantle or flashback to drunken nights downtown when you see your navy blazer, find a new memory for the frame and donate the jacket. “Out of sight, out of mind” is incredibly effective when it comes to eliminating triggers, especially the items you see routinely in your home.
Be prepared to find new items that act as triggers throughout your recovery. Sometimes it isn’t until you see an object during a certain time of day or while a particular song is playing that you’ll recognize its potential detriment, but it’s important to act quickly and decisively. If you can’t bring yourself to get rid of the object yourself, ask your partner, a friend, or your sponsor for help. Though it’s easy to recognize that you’re ultimately doing the right thing, it’s emotional to eliminate triggers; make sure you have a support system in place, and ask for help throughout the process.
Step Two: Declutter
If you haven’t heard, a messy home is a stressful home, and addiction recovery already comes with plenty of stress. The more you can simplify and declutter your home, the more soothing the overall environment will be. Use the opportunity to really purge through your items — donate what you can and be prepared to recycle or throw out the rest.
The most important place to start is your bedroom. Your mind has a lot more trouble resting if it’s surrounded by clutter, which makes for rough mornings and even rougher days. Clear off as much as you can from shelves, bedside tables, and the tops of dressers. Limit décor as well; even just removing a few frames or pieces of art from the walls can make an impact. Any items that remain should be arranged neatly and be easily accessible to you when you need them. Remember: the idea is to reduce stress, so don’t inconvenience yourself!
Your entryway is especially important to declutter because it’s your constant reintroduction to the house; if you walk into a mess, it’s going to kill your mood no matter what kind of day you’ve had. If you don’t have a system for coats, shoes, keys, and bags already, make one. Devote the hallway closet or create space if you must, but make sure everything has a home and commit to putting items where they go. It can be adapted into a fun game for kids (Who can get their shoes off and put them away quickest? Who hung their coat up the nicest?) and is an easy, but important, adaptation for partners to adhere to.
Your living room is another important place to focus on decluttering since you probably spend the bulk of your time there. Clear away old magazines, use cabinets or other closed storage for books, DVDs, and board games, and make sure kids have toy storage nearby. Pick a designated spot for the remotes and phone chargers — ideally inside a drawer or somewhere out of sight. Get into the habit of tidying up each evening before you head to sleep; put away coasters, straighten up the photos on the end table, and pick up any large pieces of debris off of the floor. Daily maintenance like this can save all kinds of cleaning time later on, and it makes an even more important impact on your mood and sense of peace.
Step Three: Create a “happy” home
Your home shouldn’t just be the place you take care of yourself, it should truly make you feel nurtured. Make sure you have a space in the home you can always go to when you need to decompress; it can be anything from an office space to an upstairs bay window. There are going to be times that the challenges of recovery (not to mention the general obstacles of life) will feel overwhelming, and you must have an “escape” within your home. Pick somewhere as quiet and out-of-the-way as possible, and use some kind of a signal or note to for your family to let them know you’re using the space for reflection. Don’t ever be embarrassed or ashamed to use the space; it’s truly necessary for your sobriety.
A happy home is also one that inspires you to live a healthy life, so keep your kitchen stocked with healthy choices. You don’t have to radically change your diet overnight, but make an effort to start buying more nutritious foods. Snack on fruits, veggies, and nuts. Buy whole grain instead of white bread. Trade ground beef for ground turkey. You’re a lot more likely to eat healthier if the food is easily accessible to you, so keep it on-hand and make changes as you see the opportunity.
You could also benefit from keeping any exercise equipment you have easily accessible. Perhaps you can keep your weights in the entryway closet so you remember to bring them to work; then you can amp up your lunch break walk around the building. Remember: it’s all about little changes. Just make sure you don’t leave your exercise equipment lying around the house and end up creating clutter you’ll resent!
Finally, incorporate your own versions of “happy” throughout the house. If seeing a particular photo of you and your spouse always makes you smile, put it somewhere you’ll see it all the time. If your walls are bare and drab, splash your favorite soothing color of paint on them. Hang up that piece of art you bought ages ago. Add details that make your home feel like your home, especially if you had to remove a lot of trigger items that made it feel familiar. It’ll still be different and take some time to adjust, but anything you can do to really make it yours will be worth the effort.
A soothing home environment is an important part of addiction recovery, so don’t underestimate it. Follow these steps to refresh your home and start your new chapter.