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headshot of Jamie Martin

Last summer, after months of unsuccessfully trying to make a few aesthetic changes in my home, I sat down with my neighbor, who is a talented interior designer. It had been almost 10 years since my husband and I had bought and remodeled his grandparents’ home, and I was ready to switch things up. I had tried moving furniture, tchotchkes, and photos, but nothing felt quite right. I needed a fresh perspective on what the potential might be.

As my neighbor and I talked through the possibilities, I offered a couple of guidelines: 1) I wanted to keep the vast majority of our furniture and decor — with the exception of a few things, I really like the pieces we’ve either purchased or been gifted over the years; and 2) I wanted us to be able to make the majority of the updates ourselves. I like looking around our home and knowing we put it together with our own hands. And since that wasn’t really possible in our original remodeling project, I wanted us to leave our mark this time.

A few weeks later, she came back with a plan for us that included painting, reorganizing some key pieces of furniture, and accessorizing. We got to work — gradually.

Over the course of the next month or so, we moved furniture, hung a gallery wall of photos, added a few lamps, and ordered a new recliner, the one piece of furniture we agreed we wanted. When fall drew to a close, I transplanted my lavender and rosemary plants in containers to bring some greenery indoors, which was a central element of the design.

And in mid-January, we busted out paintbrushes and rollers and started tackling the walls, the biggest and most overwhelming part of the whole project. There’s blue painter’s tape in my entryway and kitchen as I write this.

At eight months and counting, the effort is ongoing. Yet my satisfaction with how far we’ve come is so much greater than I ever expected. The gratitude I feel for what I’ve been able to accomplish with my own two hands has shifted how I’m living in this space.

The day I hung the photo gallery, you’d have thought I’d knocked out a wall, considering how proud I felt. I’m still excited about the change every time I see it. I feel the same way about the hooks we put up to collect our girls’ gear and the not-quite-done paint job.

In the grand scheme of things, these surface-level changes may not seem like that big of a deal, but they do contribute to a sense of happiness and empowerment every day. This process has reminded me that our choices and actions don’t have to be earth-shaking to make a difference — it’s often the little unexpected things that move the needle.

It’s a walk in the fresh spring air after a long winter that can brighten a mood. It’s a compliment that makes someone’s day. It’s seeing the first seedling sprout in the garden, promising homegrown meals in the weeks and months ahead. (For some great plant-based meal ideas, see “4 Plant-Powered Meals.”)

The notion of small steps con­tributing to big results is central to this issue of Experience Life — from how we approach our own health and well-being (see “How to Exercise When You’re Pregnant”) to how we take care of our planet (see “10 Steps to Climate-Friendly Eating”). There are small things we can each do to make a difference, and that can feel pretty darn good — throughout the process and when we get where we’re aiming to go. Now, back to painting . . .

Photo by: Sara Rubinstein

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