My Therapist Encouraged Me to Update My Childhood Bedroom — And It Was So Worth It

published Nov 3, 2022
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Messy teen bedroom
Credit: Pressmaster/

Growing up in the late ’90s and early aughts, I envied the bedrooms of my favorite film and television teens. The titular Clarissa Darling of “Clarissa Explains It All” showcased an eclectic amalgamation of patterns and colors — and a pet alligator named Elvis. On “Lizzie McGuire,” Lizzie’s similarly bright, clashing bedroom embodied the Y2K aesthetic. And in “Freaky Friday,” Lindsay Lohan’s character Anna (but also, by the power of a fortune cookie, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character?) tacks pop punk posters to the wall in a rebellious attempt to conceal the traditional feminine pink and floral decor. 

In 2001, when my family moved into the home where my parents still live today, I was in a similar transitional phase as Clarissa, Lizzie, and Anna. These characters embodied Britney Spears’ “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” energy. And our bedrooms mimicked that life stage, with boy band posters, magazine cutouts, CD players, groovy mood lighting, and bold colors slowly overtaking the ballet slipper hues and Barbie doll displays of our childhood.

Over time, as young girls tend to do, I grew up (mostly). After college, returning home for the holidays felt like being transported back in time. I’d leave behind my one-bedroom apartment in Chicago to spend a weekend in my time capsule of hot pink walls, leopard print carpet, and photos from bygone proms and homecoming dances still framed on the shelves. 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson
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By my mid-twenties, it was clear that I had fully outgrown this room. Don’t get me wrong — I am grateful my parents didn’t immediately turn my teen space into an office/craft room/home gym/sex dungeon (barfs forever). But it was no longer appropriate for me to prance up the stairs after a couple too many wines with the parents, only to be stared down by my high school boyfriends adorning the walls, as well as a bizarre framed watercolor of Colin Farrell (which, obviously, I kept. Art is art!)

The dichotomy confused and unsettled me. After every trip home, I’d bring this unease up with my therapist, explaining how foreign my childhood home felt, even though I’ve spent more time among those walls than anywhere else in the world. Home wasn’t home anymore, and I wasn’t seventeen anymore either. Despite being excited to visit home and see family, once I arrived I wanted out.

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

My therapist helped explain where this unease originated and reassured me that I wasn’t a Bad Daughter. I’d just entered a new phase of adulthood, and returning to that hot pink bedroom put me right back in the headspace of early aughts Sarah. While I was still technically living under my parents’ roof during those visits, I wasn’t necessarily under their watchful eye anymore. There was no need for a curfew. I passed the ACT exams. I paid taxes.

As summer turned to fall, back-to-back holiday visits loomed ahead. To prepare, my therapist encouraged me to take initiative and make some meaningful adjustments to that bedroom so it would reflect the current me. A mini-makeover would bring me a newfound sense of comfort back home, letting my bedroom really serve me as it should — a peaceful place for rest, privacy, and regrouping. 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson
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With my parents’ blessing, I made a small budget and gathered supplies to bring home for Thanksgiving. Over the course of that long weekend, I painted over the hot pink walls (this took forever and to be honest I did a terrible job). While my Behr Celtic Queen accent wall dried, I removed the magazine cutouts from my closet doors (remember when “Teen Vogue” was in print!?), and scoured the basement for new-to-me accent pieces. Gathering an antique vase, some toned-down art, and new picture frames (three cheers for breaking up with those boys again!), I assembled my new sanctuary.

The result? A cozy and sophisticated space fit for a 30-something adult woman. As the overstimulation of my teen room disappeared, what remains is a simple, streamlined bedroom perfect for visits home with my husband. I really do feel a sense of belonging in this new space, and the vibe is more true-to-me than ever before. Unlike in my teens, I know who I am now, and I’m no longer desperate to evolve beyond my past. I acknowledged it, honored it, and turned the page to a new chapter, one brush stroke at a time.