My “Oxygen Mask” Method Is My Secret to Happier Renovations

published Feb 7, 2024
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A light-filled bedroom with gray walls and hardwood flooring.

You’ve probably been here before: You go to see a friend’s new home and they offer to give you a tour (obviously, you say yes). Things are going smoothly until you get to the bedroom — that’s when they profusely apologize, saying things like, “I’m so embarrassed, I haven’t even thought about the bedroom yet! My clothes are still in a box, and the mattress is on the floor.”

Maybe this was two months after they moved in — but sometimes (a lot of times) bedrooms can stay like this indefinitely. And I get it! When it comes to renovating, few have the money, bandwidth, or time to do everything at once, so priorities must be established. And when most people choose to put their efforts toward common spaces like kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms, the main bedroom is nearly always the last room anyone gets around to when they’ve moved, redecorated, or renovated. But I think that’s totally backwards: I believe the first room anyone decorates or renovates should be their bedroom.

Hear me out: Doing your bedroom first is a little like putting on your oxygen mask first. When you spend eight hours a night sleeping — plus the time for your evening and morning routine — surrounded by either chaos, drabness, or constant reminders that your home is undone, that’s going to affect your headspace day in and day out. How could it not?

If you’re still feeling weird about going against the grain of ordinary renovation order, here are a few reasons why it’s worth putting your bedroom first on your list.

Credit: Heather Bien

It’s an affordable first project.

Your bedroom is probably going to be the least expensive room you tackle. Besides the mattress (which, I can now confirm, is worth a splurge!), you can do most things in your bedroom on a budget. For one, you don’t have to worry about plumbing like you do in kitchens and bathrooms — an instant win! Besides that, there’s not a ton of furniture in most bedrooms: all you really need is a bed, nightstands, and a dresser (maybe two). Unless you’re one of the fortunate few to have major square footage, that’s probably it.

All of those items can be purchased secondhand for cheap. My own bedroom, which you can see a sneak peek of in the photo above, was the first room I tackled in my new home. Every single piece of furniture is secondhand — and all but one is solid wood. They’re way better quality than if I’d gone straight to the big-name retailers, yet I spent $145 total for both nightstands, one of which functions as a dresser.

It gives you a calm space to start your day.

How you start your morning sets the tone for the day. And when your bedroom feels done, it’s the calm before the chaos. You get a few minutes for yourself in a space that is relaxed and unhurried. If you’re frenzied in your room, trying to find which box your shoes are packed in, you’re not going to walk out the door feeling like you’ve got it together. Again, it doesn’t need to be fancy or decorated to the nines — it just needs to feel like your space.

It’s a safe place to experiment.

In my bedroom makeover I went off the rails with wallpaper to fully surround the space with pattern. But in my old place, my bedroom was super simple. I painted it white, got a black iron bed, and hung three DIY paintings (why, yes, I spent a semester as a studio art major). The result felt like an art gallery, and it was both low-budget and quick. 

Because bedrooms don’t have some of the permanent fixtures of other spaces (hello, bathrooms and kitchens), they are a lot easier to change up when you get tired of a particular style or trend. The stakes are low! Use your bedroom to experiment with cottagecore style, or dally with dopamine decor, or test out maximalism or minimalism. Your bedroom doesn’t have to “flow” with anything else, so do what makes you happy.

It creates a retreat from the world.

Even if the rest of the house is in a state of flux, even if my workday goes awry — at least I can go into my bedroom at the end of the day and feel like it’s a retreat from everything else. Going to bed in a space that’s undone or a reminder or projects that are TBD is no way to end the day.

It reminds you to prioritize yourself.

Your bedroom is one of those spaces you design exclusively for yourself. You don’t need to think about whether guests will be comfortable or if there’s a good background for your Zoom calls. Your bedroom is just for you. And taking the time to actually decorate that space is the ultimate reminder to prioritize yourself.