I Tried the “Secret Room” Rule, and It Totally Changed How I Decorate

published May 14, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Colorful art print on eclectic work desk.
Credit: Daniela Araya

Ask the internet how to design a room, and you’ll be met with straightforward answers that range from sourcing inspiration on Pinterest to deciding on a color palette and everything in between. It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with these suggestions (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t started most of my design projects this way), but they often overlook one key thing that I’d never even thought of before.

As a design lover, I’ve heard just about every tip and trick you should use when decorating your home. But it wasn’t until I took an online workshop by Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer and founder of the School of Joy movement, that I learned about the “secret room” rule, which has completely changed how I approach my design process. The rule is more of an exercise, but it’s simple and involves considering this scenario when you’re ready to start: “Imagine that you have a secret room in your home that nobody else will ever see. What does that space look like?”

As I instantly drifted off into an imaginary headspace when faced with this question — thinking of how magical an adult-size rainbow ball pit would be or what a room filled with floating confetti might feel like — I started to wonder, “Why is this exercise deeply resonating with me?” And then it came to me. 

The secret to why this “secret room” rule works is that you’re allowing yourself to tap into your intuition and listen to what you actually want in a space. No input from the outside world. No influences from internet trends. Nobody else swaying your design decisions. It’s essentially a gateway to discovering your innermost joy-inducing style preferences in a judgment-free zone, which is a sense of peace that’s hard to find these days IMHO.

Credit: Daniela Araya

Lee also mentioned something else during the workshop that resonated with me: “We don’t let ourselves explore the breaths of our own desires because we’re trying to protect ourselves from other people’s judgment.” I’m currently trying to unlearn this habit, and I’ll admit I instantly felt lighter after hearing those words. Creating a joyful home isn’t about what anyone else thinks — it’s truly all about you. It might not always be picture-perfect, but if the essence of what’s there makes you happy, that’s all that matters.

So will I be adding confetti and an adult-size ball pit to my own home now? Maybe not (although never say never). But will I incorporate those playful “secret room” daydreams in some capacity? Absolutely. I plan to start with a dedicated area, pictured above, for creative activities — painting, writing, coloring, or whatever else tickles my fancy that day. Play is so important to our well-being, and this was the reminder I needed to create space for that. 

I left Lee’s workshop with a fresh perspective on how I wanted my home to feel and how to decorate moving forward (read: staying true to what I love and politely saying no to outside chatter). If you’ve been in a rut over a certain area or just want to channel more happiness at home, try the “secret room” exercise to see what your brain conjures up — ball pits and all!