Color Psychology – Organizing Your Home


color psychology organizing home

Color has a profound impact on us psychologically, and while people generally have some awareness of that when choosing wall colors or window treatments, using color as an organizing principle is not so apparent. Color psychology is an interesting thing to explore when creating organizational systems in your home, office and play areas.

Color Psychology – History

The psychology of color, not surprisingly, has always been of interest to artists. In the late 1800s, Russian painter Wasilly Kandinsky wrote about the impact of color in Concerning the Spiritual in Art – exploring how colors and art awaken emotional and spiritual qualities in the beholder. Here are some of his observations about the spiritual and inherent emotional properties of color:

  • Gray: “Immobility and rest.”
  • Orange: “Like a man convinced of his powers. Its note is that of the angelus, or of an old violin.”
  • Yellow: female principle – “Cheerful and sensual.”
  • Blue: male principle – “Sharp and spiritual.”
  • Red: physical and the “Material and heavy color.”
  • Violet: “Sad and ailing.”

He also speaks of the spiritual vibration of color, which has its roots in ancient Indian Yogic principles. Of course, assigning genders to color, and even the way we experience them is highly subjective. Even color interpretations of chakras (from Indian traditions) vary from region to region and are subject to idiosyncratic interpretations by individuals. Chakras are energy centers throughout the body with seven (or more) major centers aligned along the spine. The basic energy chakra system looks something like this (in descending order from head to toe):

  • Violet: crown – highest spiritual attainment.
  • Indigo: third eye – spiritual awakening, intuition.
  • Light Blue: throat – communications, self-expression, truth telling.
  • Green: heart – love, god, healing.
  • Yellow: solar plexus – life center, satisfaction, contentment.
  • Orange: sacral region – creativity, joy, empathy, sexuality.
  • Red: root – survival, early childhood, physical vitality.

Along with the more positive attributes of the energy centers, there are corresponding negative ones that may occur when there are energetic imbalances. There’s no need for more detail here, but you can certainly investigate on your own if this should interest you. It is interesting to note that rudimentary forms of color psychology existed centuries ago, and continues to be a popular area of interest to scientists, psychologists, artists and decorators.

Cultural differences also impact both our perception and responses to color. Consider blue and pink in American culture and the way we “sex” them. Researchers have long claimed that pink has a pacifying effect and it was used in prisons for that purpose. I personally find it nauseating and it makes me feel hostile. Slap some black diagonals on it and wrap it around a 60s Barbie and I’m a happy camper, however. Colors combine to hit different notes in us and pink and black apparently strike a nostalgic chord with me.

color-samplesGreen, which is found in nature, is felt by many to be a healing, rejuvenating color – especially when it’s a high to medium intensity pigment. A darker, kelly green might induce a more sedative effect. Black may be associated with grief by some, but others might find it empowering or dignified. White tends to open up a space, reflect light, and also connotes purification and goodness. Clearly though, we may all experience color in distinct and personal ways. What multiple psychological studies have shown is that testing and results are contradictory and that people emotionally respond to and visually process color in ways that are highly individual and subjective. What’s important for us then, is how we personally experience and use color, whether it induces calm, creativity, joyfulness or some other desirable emotion. For our home and work environments, we need to pay attention to how colors affect us and plan and organize our spaces deliberately and thoughtfully to induce desirable emotions.

Applying Color to Home Organizing

Book Organizing

So how does all of this pan out when organizing? Clutter can induce anxiety or uneasiness and, unfortunately, hidden storage or organization isn’t always a possibility. Take books for example, large arrays of colors and disordered stacks can be visually chaotic. While color coding your book collection may seem like a strange alternative to more traditional methods like alphabetical or subject categorizing, it works really well for certain people, and most will agree it reduces discord in a room.

In lieu of ordering your books by color, colored magazine organizers are a way of consolidating books and adding a visual ground to your book storage area – a place for the eye to rest. Gray or neutral colors can calm the visual chaos and induce a sense of peace or even invitation. Staggering or alternating colors can provide some quiet visual interest as well, especially when kept in a similar tonal range. Keep in mind your own color psychology, as well as that of your housemates as you plan your organizational and decorative scheme.

Organizing with Baskets

Colored baskets and folding fabric containers are a great way to corral toys, crafts items, or odds-and-ends while providing a colored accent to a neutral-colored bookshelf or other storage arrangement. Placing odds and ends in baskets reduces the visual clutter, which most people will find more relaxing. This is also an effective way to organize pantries, while reducing the chaos.

Color Backdrops and Paint

Everyone has heard the advice about neutral paints for reselling homes, but committing to gray or white walls also allows for periodic inexpensive color accenting (upgrading), with less expense and work. Fabric-covered storage ottomans (which you can do yourself), are easy updates for a living room, and allow you whimsical color indulgences that you can change next season or next month if you like. You can add color to shelving units too as a way of complementing other colors in your room. Foam core or inexpensive fabric additions are easy and impermanent upgrades that invite creativity into your decorating.

Kids’ Color Palette

Brightly-colored, green, red and blue bins are festive and fun for organizing kids toys and likely to impart some joy in young and old alike. For bedroom organizing and decor, one might consider more calming color options to encourage rest at night. Read about more child’s play room organizing in this post.

Office Organizing

In your home or work office, color coding files provides a quick visual index of your file system, while adding a splash of happy color to brighten your day while performing the more tedious tasks of life. Colored magazine bins and fabric boxes may be placed on a hutch or desk to add colorful or grounding visual elements while reducing clutter.

Kitchen Organizing

organize dishesIn kitchens, when short on cabinet space, try displaying your herbs or spices in the open. Glass jars, attractively arranged, add an eye-pleasing color accent to your open-storage shelf or counter. Red kitchen organizers and accessories, while not for everyone, can spark up a neutral kitchen and combine well with grays (trendy right now) or contrast with muted greens for a nice vintage vibe. Color-coding your dishes and tumblers is an obvious choice for beautifying your cabinets.

Color and Wardrobe Organization

underwear organizationMore practical color organization uses are sock or underwear drawer organization, which will save you time when getting dressed in the morning, with the added benefit of making your drawers look more appealing. Likewise, color-coded closets make it easy to find your favorite outfits, reduce your morning stress, and leave time for more enjoyable wakeup and leisure activities. Please read our drawer organization blog post for more tips on dresser organizing.
Exposed shoe and handbag storage looks a lot more compelling when organized using color. This is especially useful in dorm rooms or small apartments – or even homes without a lot of built-in closet storage. If you must display your belongings, organize them and even make them part of the decor if possible. As you will see, implementing a little color psychology – even to the most mundane household tasks – can impact your life in small, yet meaningful ways.

Creative Color Choices Are For You

There are resources and color charts for combining colors and harmonizing your surroundings. However, it’s really important to listen to your own responses to color and use the colors that please you. Color trends are seasonal, just like any fashion but you are the one who has to live with your choices. We all have an internal palette, just waiting for expression in the clothing and decorative decisions we make. You have to live in your environment, so be sure to make your creative choices with you in mind, and your housemates too, of course. You spend more than half of your time at home and another half at work, so it’s important to do everything you can coloristically to create a desirable ambiance.

Years ago in school, my roommate took my red metal tool box, set it on top of a white-painted radiator, and placed a white vase and red rose on top. At the other end of the room was a red-framed tiny painting and a small display of randomly-matched red ceramic pottery pieces ordered into a single row on the mantel. We had little in the way of belongings, and it probably sounds silly, but it actually looked pretty fabulous in a poor art student kind of way. You can make anything into a decoration with a little creativity – even your clutter. My sister cleverly displays white pottery for a spare calming effect on her natural wood Ikea shelves. Color is visually and emotionally powerful – a springboard for creative organizing solutions, limited only by your imagination. Got clutter? Try introducing some color therapy into your organization and your life.

by Laurie Halbritter

*Photos courtesy of Kelly Halbritter and Organized Living.