If I ask you to think about your current home, how does it make you feel?

The majority of people, when asked this question, say they feel proud, peaceful and joyful. These are all positive feelings which suggest we’re generally quite content with our daily comings and goings at home.

Virgin unite, sustainability, ikea, life at home

But life at home is a mix of things which work well, and things which work less well. So, what if I asked you to tell me about the last time you fought with your flatmates about their mess? Or how you behaved when your kids were using the living room as a playground when you wanted to watch TV? Or how you felt when your partner got their phone out at the dinner table? Maybe you would have a few different words to share.

If the house is physical, then home is a state of mind, which makes it an integral part of our identity and wellbeing. So it’s important that we understand how we really feel when we go home, and not just what we do there, if we’re going to make life at home that little bit better.

At IKEA, we are endlessly curious about how to make life at home better for people. This is why we’ve just published our fourth Life at Home Report, bringing together a range of research methods including home visits and video diaries, which connected us to more than 22,000 people in 22 countries. We also collaborated with a small group of remarkable people who take living to the next level, that we call Home Pioneers.

Virgin unite, sustainability, ikea, life at home

Last year we found that home is made up of four elements – relationships, things, space and place – so this year we set out to explore what happens when those elements interact. It turns out that there are five common household battles that emerge, no matter where or how we live. These range from our perpetual struggle with clutter (49 per cent of people’s arguments are due to different interpretations of mess), to the anxiety we have about digital connectivity (33 per cent say they worry about getting the balance right at home), and all the other acute tensions which rise to the surface when the things we own, the spaces and places we occupy, and the people we live with, are all at odds.

Clearly, for some people, life at home can feel like a constant battle. But what does that mean on a larger scale? One of the lenses we used to reflect on our findings was around sustainability – we often talk about how we should act in order to live a more sustainable life (more recycling, less waste, more smart solutions for green energy, and so on) but how often do we talk about how sustainable living can make us feel? 

Virgin unite, sustainability, ikea, life at home

When we explored what we call “the myth of minimalism” (or, why we are far more likely to prioritise our belongings rather than throw them out) as one of the five common battles, we could see there was a rich discussion to be had about the emotional backdrop to circularity, particularly given that 27 per cent of people say society puts pressure on them to live more minimally. 

A shift towards a sharing economy, and the reuse and recycling of objects, is contingent on our preparedness to give our things up – and what our research shows is that whilst we stress about our things collectively, we have deep emotional connections to them individually. That guitar in the corner gathering dust represents the dreams we have about ourselves as a musician, long after any practical use we got out of it. This is so entrenched, that we are far more likely to put things into cupboards, basements, garages, storage facilities and even old childhood homes – where we can get them if we want them – than do a proper clear out. It’s like one of the Home Pioneers, Takashi, said: “Life is about expansion and contraction. It is this contrast that makes life rich and interesting.”

Virgin unite, sustainability, ikea, life at home

At IKEA, we want to inspire and enable the many people to live a more healthy and sustainable life at home. It stems from our vision to create a better everyday life – it’s why we have a target to produce more renewable energy than we consume, for example, and the fact that 100 per cent of the cotton we use in our products comes from sustainable sources. So how can our desire to live within the earth’s limits align with the meaningful process that many people have to go through, in order to happily let go of their things? 

What if we could help manage this process of expansion and contraction better? As the Sustainable Development Goals set out a stretching ambition for sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), we see an opportunity to create within them the spaces and places that enable us to feel, as well as do, our very best – all while reducing household tensions.

Because sustainable cities, made up of sustainable homes, are as much about our state of mind as they are about the renewable ways that we build them. 

To read more about IKEA’s Life at Home Report 2017: Beating the Battles, check out lifeathome.ikea.com and follow #LifeAtHome

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.