Unhappy at Home?

Tom Hanks’ dreams for his fixer upper fall apart in The Money Pit.

Arecent survey asked people how they feel about their homes, and I was surprised by some of the results. For instance, only 20% said that they actually like how their houses look and the way they’re decorated. So the majority of us aren’t happy with them? Here’s another finding that’s kind of sad:

14% of them said that the way their houses are furnished makes them feel downright “gloomy and stressed.”

I wonder why so many people are unhappy with their houses when there’s more inspiration and decorating advice–not to mention affordable options–than ever before?

Unless that’s part of the problem. Are we feeling dissatisfied in our own houses because we’re comparing them to ones we see on Pinterest, design blogs, and shelter mags? I can relate to that. I often wish my own rooms looked as perfect and put together as every other blogger’s seems to be! 

What about you? Are you happy with the way your house looks? Or are you feeling gloomy and stressed about it right now?

Other survey results I found interesting:

  • 47% haven’t updated their houses in at least 5 years.
  • 44% say they like traditional style in their home.
  • 22% prefer contemporary.
  • 13% go for country.
  • 72% are DIYing things at home.
  • 46% of women secretly wish they could make some of their spouse’s things disappear. (Only 46%? Ha.)

The infographic with all the survey results and more details is at Instyle Modern.

P.S. To see how Tom’s fixer-upper turned out in the end (and how it looks today):

The Money Pit

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  1. Alie B says

    Interesting post, Julia! I think you hit the nail on the head with your theory about all the design information that’s out there today. We are fascinated with design TV shows, blogs, magazine’s etc. This information is intended to provide people with ideas and how-to’s. Unfortunately, a lot first time home owners seem to look for the “after” rather than the more realistic “before”. They want it all and they want it for less. When they realize they can’t afford it all, the disappointment sets in.

  2. Amanda says

    … and if you are feeling gloomy and stressed watch The Money Pit and laugh at that couple’s misery! That is one funny movie!

  3. says

    yep, I would agree that looking at all the glossy shelter mags and glorious designer blogs has me feeling a bit inadequate about my house. I also get frustrated because I just don’t have the money to do things to my house that I want to do. *sigh*
    I have a love-hate relationship with my house. Love it because it’s a cool old house; hate it because it is indeed a never-ending money pit. :(

  4. says

    There are certain rooms in my house that, when they’re clean, I’m pretty happy with them. There are rooms that I can’t stand (looking at you, kitchen) and there are some in between. Personally I like having all those inspiration images, but I know that about 90% won’t work in my house because of my kids so I’m not terribly bothered by how many there are. That said, I do get jealous that those people have finished projects and things just the way they want them.

    • Connie McGhee says

      You’ll have all the rooms of your dreams in the future. Right now, enjoy those kids. I’m alone in a big beautiful empty house and I think back longingly to my family time.

  5. Dean says

    I think you’re on target with your theory. Too much comparing, as well as too many options. I personally like the way most of my place is arranged and decorated, but it always seems like there’s something on the list to change, to paint, to fix, to update, etc. I’m kind of amazed by 14% “gloomy and stressed.” Were any of the respondents in prison? :-)

  6. says

    With somewhere between 28 and 50 percent of US home mortgages underwater, I’m not surprised at all. The timing is important: 47% have updated their houses in 5 years, guess how long ago housing values were peaking? With 23 million USians underemployed or unemployed, and with real wages declining for the 39th straight year, I would think that the contrast between what we think our homes should be like and what they are hasn’t been greater since the Gilded Age. Of those lucky enough to be fully employed in the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.

    Of those 80% who aren’t happy with their homes I’d guess that most have neither the time nor the money to improve, and none have both. It’s the economy.

      • says

        I agree with the point about people being in hock on their houses, therefore they aren’t happy with them. I think the correlate. Honestly, I always find something to fix or change in our house, and I am disappointed with my lack of taste 15 years ago that will cause me to redo what I have already redone, but actually I am pretty happy. I enjoy the quest. It is like the perfect purse. No such thing exists but I am still looking.

  7. smee says

    I think for myself and the majority of the people *I* know, the angst is a matter of affording not what you’d like– but what you need. Unless a family has a certain amount of disposable income that can be used for decorating or remodeling, they must make do with what they can *afford*. Unless your style is shabby chic, you’ll have a home that is “o.k.” but certainly not what you would choose.

    For us it had nothing to do with unrealistic ideals, but the idea of good schools, close (and that meant a 2 hour commute each day) to work, living within our means, and facing 5 college educations…that kept escalating in cost, even with scholarships! We lived, albeit a tad cozy, with 3 kids in one room and 2 kids in another -and all five teens had to get along and share the living space and bathroom. Square footage and furnishings were not what we *wanted*, but based on what we *needed* at the time.

    We live in the desert, a pool would have been realllllly nice on those triple digit days!

  8. Aimee says

    “46% of women secretly wish they could make some of their spouse’s things disappear. (Only 46%? Ha.)”
    Only 46% SECRETLY wish. The rest are more direct.

  9. Rebecca C. says

    I live in a house right now that is a Money Pit! We keep buying houses that need everything done. We do a little at a time. Since I work at home, I get to see the messes all day long. The husband just doesn’t get that. I think that’s part of it. There’s always one spouse who is home more than the other. They see the mess or the potential of decorating, painting, etc. There just never seems to be enough time to complete all those projects that you want. Or enough money.

  10. Laura says

    We are a consumer culture and everyone wants, wants, wants. Hence the mortgages people couldn’t afford, rampant credit card debt, etc. I also blame TV and shows like House Hunters which encourage unimaginative people to think they NEED and deserve granite counters, stainless steel appliances, huge “great rooms”, and master suites. My husband and I have a 100 year old, one bathroom house, filled with thrift store furniture and ebay finds, most of which has been in place for 15 years, and I love it!!

      • Connie says

        Caroline & Laura, let’s start a club! We can be the Shabby ‘Chic’sters.

        • Laura says

          Ha ha! Sounds good. I do love looking at home magazines, blogs, and Pinterest as much as the next person, but I’m always drawn to the vintage, flea market, collected-over-time look. I think one advantage with decorating slowly and waiting to buy pieces you really love is you don’t get sick of your decor and it doesn’t go out of style.

          • Connie says

            And it is so YOU. A friend once told me, “Your house is so you.” I take that as a compliment.

  11. Jenn D. says

    I love my house.
    I loved it as a child, when we would visit a few times during the year, driving there was exciting and seemed to take forever. In truth, it was about a 30 minute drive (then, when traffic was much less on Long Island than now) that ended with a slow-down, signal, and measured approach down a long driveway to the house. Where, every time, the hosts would be standing on the front porch waving us welcome. “We’re here! We’re here!”

    Three years ago the remaining host died. A long-time family friend with no children, and a husband who crossed over 15 years before, left me this house. The one with the driveway and the porch to welcome my own visitors.

    And, three years later, having now lived with my one and only child in this same gifted house, I cannot say I love it or just like it. But it is our home. It leaks, it stands up to hurricanes, one bath has mold, the other bath has a tub I’m afraid to use. It has two ghosts in the basement (one of whom smokes – or did). It needs work and love and time and money to make it better. And, it sits on two acres – mostly wooded – in which woodchuck, fox, rabbit and hawks dwell.

    In these three years, almost four, I have shifted from shock and sadness (at the gift that came from a friend’s death) to a place of waffling between We’ll Stay and I Think I Should Sell. Periodically, I browse “other” houses like a dissatisfied girlfriend might browse for a new significant “other” online. Sure, there are cute, updated, beautifully staged houses that catch my eye but they are never exactly what I like or might want. And I have no idea what that actually is – what I would want in a different house – and so we stay, my 14 year old and I, in this big old house that is subtly becoming our home. The bittersweet beginning is warming into something we can savor and embrace.

    • Christina from Dallas says

      Jenn you must write a book to tell your story. I can tell it is an interesting one with you getting the gift of a house and ghosts in the basement. If not a book, then a blog so you can expand on your story.

      • Jenn D. says

        What an incredible compliment, thank you, both.
        I have been toying with the idea (funny, it seems to coincide with those times I find myself browsing “other” homes…). Your encouragement has put me closer to beginning. Thank you. :)

        • Melanie says

          Please let us know when you start! You wove me right into a story!

      • Sandy says

        Oh yes I would love to hear this story. Sounds like you would be wonderful and being the welcoming hostess and the house may really need to be shared with more children who would think it was fairy tale perfect. Sometimes it helps to see your house through an outsider’s eyes.

        • Jenn D. says

          Indeed, when I get rolling, I will let you know. And I owe it all to this lovely group! 😀

  12. Suzi says

    Oops – I hit “enter” and posted a reply before I finished typing it! Lemme start over… Oh, pishaw! That we live in homes with hot and cold running water, have appliances that make our chores easier, have furnishings to make our sweet selves comfier, have cable TV and internet access to entertain us, have food in the fridge (and even pizza or other goodies delivered to our doorstep on occasion), have pictures or artwork to make our walls prettier, etc. are blessings beyond measure and should be enough to make ALL of us pretty darned happy with our abode, no matter how grand or humble they may be. :)

    • says

      I agree totally! Sure, I love looking at design mags/blogs etc. and dreaming about fun things to do but I LOVE my home (temporary as it may be) and am sincerely grateful for every last little nail. I am lucky and I know it.

  13. says

    For sure, Pinterest, design shows and design blogs have made most of us feel like we wish our houses were as “perfect” as what we see everyday online and on T.V.
    It does get frustrating when we don’t have the resources, or the time, to do even small projects that would make a big difference in how we feel about our homes.
    But, I agree with Laura, we are being brain-washed to believe that we need “more, more, more!!”. What we really need is to appreciate what we have and make do with what we’ve got!

    • Caroline says

      Agreed. In realty we need very little. When I watch House Hunters, it never ceases to amaze me how many people walk into these enormous rooms and complain that they feel “cramped”.

      • shelley says

        This boggles my mind too. And the reality is the bigger your home, the more work is involved in maintaining it. Do they stop to think about THAT?

        • Caroline says

          I know what you mean. I look at those houses and I see work, work, and more work!

  14. snaggy says

    Pinterest, doesn’t help !
    I would love to do my kitchen up.. and my bathroom still has an avocado sink and loo *sigh* lack of money for both :(

  15. says

    What timing! I’m totally linking to your post tomorrow. I am writing about how to revamp your home without remodeling. Thanks for the great numbers to share Julia!!!

  16. says

    I am one of those who really doesn’t like her house. I like how it is decorated, but it is far too small! Coming it at under 1000 feet, decorating and organizing can be a challenge while still making it seems uncluttered and neat. But I know that I am blessed to have a roof over my head and that trumps those days when I just can’t make peace with the space!

  17. Teneatha Jackson says

    Not surprising but sad. I just read an article on Apartment Living about living the life we have and not the life we want. Yes I drool over decor sites and check for updates on my favorite blogs daily (yours of course being one I check every day) and was kind of down on myself because I had not made my space showroom wow yet (budget and time restraints mostly $$$) After reading that article I realize it might never be cover shot ready but I like every piece in it. And like me it’s a work in process
    Thanks for the amazing updates

  18. says

    I’m pretty happy with my decorating and design choices. As for the house, we have plenty of space for everyone, and if it wasn’t my dream to end up in a builder-grade house in a newer community, well…things could still be a lot worse! My kids love our house, and that’s what matters: that it’s our Home, capital H.

  19. says

    Most of Julia’s readers are fortunate enough to “live in homes with hot and cold running water, have appliances that make our chores easier, have furnishings to make our sweet selves comfier, have cable TV and internet access to entertain us, have food in the fridge (and even pizza or other goodies delivered to our doorstep on occasion), have pictures or artwork to make our walls prettier, etc.” Which is great. But not everyone does.

    40% of USians do not own a home
    1% of the US population is homeless
    2 million people don’t have running water in their homes
    32% of USians have a net worth of zero, or less
    20.2 million people spend half of their income, or more on housing
    The median household income in 2011 was $50,054 for a family of four
    One in five US children don’t have food of any kind every day

    This holiday season, when we’re counting our blessings, I hope we can all be more charitable, in spirit if not in time or cash, to the many who do without.

    • Alie B says

      Kaethe, you make some very valid points. It’s good sometimes, especially during the holiday season, to have some perspective on need versus want.

    • says

      The trouble with stats is they just don’t give me useful information. 40% may not own a home, but is that 40% of the population including children, elderly no longer living alone, etc?
      I am 56, and lived close to people who still had pumps and outhouses. There are large parts of Alaska where there is no running water.
      We frequently have spent half our income on housing, and $50,054 could put us in the poverty level here in Anchorage, or we would live really well in MO where I went to high school.

      I ended up hating our last home. Great house, but a corner lot where people could look in every window. The kitchen never got any direct light. Things I didn’t think about when we bought the house, but really made a difference as they years went by.

      I painted, decorated, try fung shui, remodeled the kitchen. Nothing worked. That house was just a very hard house for us to live in and it nothing to do with size, updating, etc.


  20. says

    I’m thankful that lots of people like my house, but since we’ve moved around a bit for my husband’s work in the past few years (this is our third house in five years), I’ve kind of lost the desire to personalize any house, or even invest much in any type of decor, really. (You’d be amazed how things that work “perfectly” in one house just don’t work at all in another). It’s exhausting. So, while many people come to my house and “love” it, I just want a place to stay put and call home (it won’t be this one…probably moving again in a year or two). When we can finally stay put, you can bet I’ll be happy to embrace my own style. Until then, even buying furniture for one room (a dining room, for instance) may just be a waste in another year or two, because the next house may not even have a dining room. Until we’re finally settled, we just try to make our space as comfortable as we can for us, spending money only on things that make sense for our situation. It doesn’t usually make the house as “warm” as I would like, but it doesn’t make it “movable” which is pretty important for us!

  21. Shabby Chick says

    I didn’t have a lot of say in the design of our home, it’s a parsonage that we moved into when my husband became pastor. It’s a relatively new home (2009) and was mostly furnished when we moved in. I’ve been able to put my stamp on it and for the most part, I’m happy with it. It isn’t exactly as I would have designed and decorated had it been up to me, but we make the best of it. I have a somewhat country/collected-over-time style, I get a lot of ideas from Pinterest that are easy to do if you’re a bit crafty and have time. It’s not about constantly changing your decor to keep up with the latest trends, just work with what you have and surround yourself with the things you love. That’s what makes a house a home. 😉

  22. says

    Oh, boy. The comparison bug. It bites hard and often, doesn’t it?

    Actually, if it’s not taking the metaphor too far, I think maybe the comparison “bug” is like a mosquito or tick, sucking the life source right out of us. Now if we could all learn to be inspired by one another rather than comparing ourselves to one another!

      • lucy says

        agreed… how much more satisfying is it to see something on Pinterest or in a magazine and be inspired to think… “I saw something somewhat similar to that in a thrift shop “…or what we call here in Australia “hard garbage” (a collection service run by the local council where you leave your unwanted stuff out on your front lawn)
        and pick it up for a song or for free and turn it into something with your own stamp on it !

  23. shelley says

    I adore my NEW house. My house & all my possessions burned in a firestorm in 2007. Luckily with good insurance & a good architect & a good builder we were able to re-build our somewhat different & much better dream home.

      • shelley says

        YES indeed it really makes me appreciate having a home – like I never ever did before. I mean I loved my home that burned but I am much more of a homebody now that I was before. It’s been 5 years since the fire – and a little over 3 since we moved into our new home. It feels great to have another chance at being a homeowner. We never imagined losing our home. People–be sure you have good homeowners insurance! You never know when you might need it.

  24. Miss Emily says

    I think a lot of pinterest pictures and house magazines are simply too unrealistic, and “staging” has ruined people’s expectations of what a lived in house looks like. And kitschy little knick knacks that follow a decorating theme can often make one think, “Oh, I have to have that bookend that looks like a boat. My house is nautical!” Yet real waterside homes don’t rely on knick knacks to convey the atmosphere.

    I’ve learned to live with what I love. And I realize that my kitchen is a working kitchen with family, clubs I have over for meetings, and my husband’s catering on the side. That uncluttered, professionally staged kitchen I see on pinterest just isn’t realistic for a house that is lived in.

  25. says

    Hmmm. We’re about to take on a large scale renovation of a house we got suspiciously cheaply too. I’m not sure whether I should watch The Money Pit right now…

  26. says

    I loved that movie! This past weekend, we stayed in a hotel that I’ve never been to before in Branson. I turned on the bath water and it was brown at first. I immediately thought of the movie Money Pit! I googled it and found it was just a wrong thing on the faucet and that all is fine, so I went ahead with the showers.

  27. E. george says

    Hi Julia well the first 16 years we lived in this house we were so busy I went to work in the morning came back at 6 and hubby left for night shift never changed paint coloures no pictures on the walls…etc. Then I stopped work and everything I looked at in the house depressed me. My husband could not understand why I felt like this … My answer honey I’m a woman and we women we like nesting …our only problem is we want everything yesterday. We have spent a lot on the house only necessary things. I still love home magazines and blogs they give great decor ideas and dreams. Lets face it, it would be a boring world without them. Till next time Regards Esther from Sydney. PS love Pottery Barn they are opening here next year in an expensive suburb.

    • lucy says

      Really …how exciting!…I hope they come to Melbourne
      too !

  28. says

    As a decorator who specializes in Redesign, I concur with many of these statistics. People just plain get tired of “their look”. They think they’re stuck with it because they think it’s going to be an astronomical cost to make simple and inexpensive changes. But that’s where I come in :-) My clients are pleased to see most of their old things used in new ways, with some additional small/inexpensive purchases, and suddenly they’ve got a new look! That’s why my motto for my business is “LOVE THE HOME YOU’RE … AGAIN!” Redecorating doesn’t have to be a start-from-scratch option :-) Most of us can’t afford that. So use what ya got and make it look great!

    And yes, I do love the way our home looks :-) It’s a sort of blend of traditional with cottage. Not fancy by any means,and certainly not precious or expensive….lots of thrift store finds. It’s “us” and we love it!

  29. kathy says

    If almost half of the respondents like traditional homes how come all the TV shows are all about modern/contemporary? I wish they would show more traditional, real life homes. Everything you see is all so cookie cutter to me and I don’t like it. I want to see personality. I really dislike what HGTV is doing to the minds of the population also, telling them we NEED granite and huge rooms, etc., all cookie cutter. How did our ancestors every survive?:) Bring on the realistic. All you who have responded rock!

    • says

      Kathy I agree! HGTV is doing some really “odd” designs these days. But remember this, the personality of a home has to be “added” by the homeowner. I do pretty basic designs and then expect the home owner to add in more personality as they move/live in their homes. Real life living in those rooms will make them look far different than the photo shoots 😉

      But I would LOVE to see small homes/rooms resigned on those shows and NO granite! I’ve never really been a big fan of it and hopefully somewhere, someone will decide it’s a trend who’s time has come.

  30. Wendy says

    My theory about why people are dissatisfied with their homes (lives, etc.), indeed even gloomy and depressed, is that we are a culture of observers. The internet has only compounded that. We troll websites, blogs, pinterest or watch TV, looking for that rush of joy from a beautiful room or project. Or we shop for supplies for projects and buy stuff. And we spend HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS doing that. Consequently, we don’t actually DO anything with our own lives, like changing our rooms or doing a DIY craft project we admired on the internet. We crave change and creativity but we sit on our tushies and watch others do it (and think that looks so easy!) but we don’t actually do much. If we did, whatever it was, we’d be satisfied and happy. Because doing things and being creative makes you satisfied and happy and watching other people do it only makes you depressed. That’s probably why the DIY folks and the bloggers love their houses…because they actually did something creative with them! So I’m going to sign off and go do something to my house right now.

  31. says

    There’s no reason why you can’t have beautiful things AND children. I never ‘baby proofed’ our house. We taught the children to respect our things and what they could and couldn’t touch. It worked out fine.

    I adore our house! It’s a work of love constantly in progress. I’ll never get finished as there’s always something to add or change. It’s my magnum opus.

  32. Screendoorgirl 3 says

    Thanks for the laugh! I love watching “The Money Pit. ” I have fallen in love with my house-it only took 26 years! I agree with your comment about the comparing, Julia. It takes some effort , but over the years I have come to a peaceful place of gratitude and appreciation for the walls that have protected my family of five, had the pitter patter of three babies (now 23, 19 and 16). Every creak in the floor reminds me that I am home. Money could never buy what we have built here. Granite, schmanite! Oh, and by the way, I hope I haven’t missed our Christmas peek into your house . Maybe the sunroom this year?………….hmmm

  33. chrissie says

    My Father was a Biritish naval officer so my home changed every 2 years. At 60 I am still searching for that feeling of security a home brings, but I have been conditioned to have a Gypsy mentality of never being able to settle and always hoping the perfect home which will afford me peace of mind is out there. I constantly re – decorate and move things around, not for anyone else bar me.

  34. says

    What an interesting article. I absolutely adore my little-bitty house. (1,000 sq.feet, 2B, 1 Bath.) When I remodeled in last year, I didn’t add any footprint – just upgraded with the details I love in expensive homes. Crown molding, 6-panel doors, that sort of thing.

    I love it when people come in for the first time – they always look so surprised. (I guess that’s a good thing??)

    • chrissie says

      How I agree with you Joan, one feels lesser if no utility room, as we say here in the UK. Just the kitchen for all the white goods then ?.. You can imagine the voice trailing off at this point. Er em, yes just the one toilet, I am sorry…Head hung low. It affords the same feelings I had in the eighties, of having not come up to scratch with my peers as quelle horreur no microwave ? No tumble drier ? When I used to teach special needs children another teacher dropped me home to my ex local authority house ( social housing ) Oh my she said I never imagined you living here you are far from the lower order your Dad is a Head teacher.. again voice trailing off ….. I heard myself say Oh I had a big house on three storeys but when he left me I could only afford this. How shameful to myself !! Conditioning ?
      Merry Christmas !

      • says

        Oh, the horror :) That really did make me laugh, Chrissie. (You live in my favorite place in the world, btw.) I get the same shocked reaction to “no dishwasher.” Over here, in these older, smaller homes, the laundry room is down the basement. Not as dreadful as it sounds….

        Merry Christmas to you, as well!

        • chrissie says

          Born in Devon and yes lovely I live in the lee of Dartmoor. Moved a lot though ! Several homes but always back here. Must be many worse places to live.
          Here you rarely find a home with a basment. Could talk houses all day !!
          All the Best,
          Chrissie X.