It’s that time of year again: Resolutions Week #1. What are yours for 2024? Four of the most popular are eating healthier, exercising more, quitting smoking and enjoying more family time. If any of these are on your list, you have a silent ally you may not have considered. It’s your home. More specifically, it’s turning under-performing spaces – including those right outside your door – into wellness-enhancing flex rooms or zones.
What does “flex room,” “flex space” or “flex zone” mean? As I wrote in the new bonus chapter – Lessons for How We Live Now – to my 2020 Wellness by Design book, “Flex spaces, often called ‘bonus rooms’ by new home builders and real estate agents, have been popular for a very long time. They’ve become even more popular in the last few years, as more adults started working from home, more families adopted pets, and we all came to appreciate the value of our outdoor living areas.”
Builders would offer an area that could be turned into a playroom, home office, mud room or other purpose and homebuyers would choose how they wanted it configured. Some of these bonus areas were on their own floor. Others were near a home’s entry or at the top of a landing, but they could be anywhere, and rooms intended as bedrooms are often used as flex space in a home after a young adult moves out or a new business launches.
The pandemic forced our homes to multitask in ways their builders never intended, so we improvised with study areas, meditation centers, gardens and office closets. I added a flex fitness zone to my living room when my gym shut down and have been happily working out there ever since!
“Flexing” your home spaces for new purposes can support your resolutions in 2024 and beyond. Here’s what that can look like.
This is a resolution for which a flex zone in your kitchen can be extremely helpful. Set up an area near your refrigerator or sink where you can conveniently create and store salads or healthy stews. If you’re planning a remodel, an under-counter refrigerator would work well here for easy access to fresh produce. If you’re not, it can still work. Store all of your salad-making containers and tools here, using organizing accessories for more functionality. Set it up on a spot with good lighting, possibly a view to outside or the family room, add a stylish anti-fatigue mat for long prep sessions and a sound speaker for enjoying music or podcasts while you create healthy meals for yourself and your family.
You can also create a garden zone near your kitchen and/or an enhanced pantry next to it.
You don’t need to invest in a fancy machine for this flex space to work. A cushioned mat, stand or cabinet to hold the fitness gear recommended by your health team, a fan for hot days, a holder for your screen if you’re working out remotely with a trainer or friend, a place to set your water bottle where it won’t get knocked over, and clear floor space can come together for a successful workout area. (If your fitness area shares space with other purposes, consider getting furniture that rolls out of the way for easier workout starts.)
Don’t under-estimate the importance of clear floor space! You do not want to be injuring yourself by careening into a window or sharp furniture corner. The clearance you need will be determined by the workouts you plan to complete, but many bodywork routines can be performed in little more than the space covered by an oversized yoga mat. Involve your trainer if you have one in planning this space for maximum results.
This is one of the most impactful changes you can make to your health (and that of your housemates), but it is also one of the most challenging. “Virtually every person who has achieved long-term abstinence from smoking has tried multiple times to quit in the past,” shared J. Taylor Hays, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center in Rochester, Minnesota. “Most data suggest that people have tried to quit at least five times previously,” he revealed in a January 2020 Forbes.com article.
Environmental triggers make quitting harder, he noted, so keeping everything in place in your home from your smoking years can sabotage your chances of success. Reducing those is extremely important to accomplishing this resolution. Removing or reducing triggers can include doing a thorough cleaning of carpets, upholstery, draperies and any other items holding cigarette odors. If you can, get rid of all items that provide smoking cues, including your favorite smoking chair. Hays observed that some of his patients have moved their cigarette break recliners to the garage to help with this goal.
The Mayo Clinic doctor also recommended creating new, healthier environmental cues, which is where flex space comes in. “Surrounding oneself with reminders of a healthy life, plants, pictures of nature, etc. help remind someone who is going through the quitting process of healthy goals they’re trying to achieve,” he advised. You can create a flex corner or flex room to provide this positive reinforcement. If you use it for horticulture, art, music or other healthy hobbies, it can also keep your mind and hands busy.
Enjoying More Family Time
This is a resolution for which creating flex space can be particularly helpful – and it’s a very popular trend. So many formal dining rooms have been repurposed for family gatherings, with game tables or billiards replacing unused dining tables. So many basements have been finished for movie nights. So many outdoor areas have been enhanced with fire pits and sports courts.
When planning your family’s flex zones, consider what everyone enjoys doing and how you can enhance your relationships using the space you already have!
In the nearly four years since Covid drove the point home, millions more Americans have realized the powerful link between their environment and their well-being. That’s a positive trend that will only continue as we contemplate resilience, mental health and other factors impacting our lives.