5 real-life design lessons I learned from The Sims

Updated Aug 29 2017
Guest post by Julie F.

WithcurtainsYears before I became a homeowner, way before I moved into my first apartment and took interest in decoration my living space, I played The Sims. My first design screw-ups, brilliant ideas, questionable color choices and architectural fantasies were all tested on my favorite video game, between a set of twins, a "missing" pool ladder, and alien abduction. All in all, I had tons of fun, testing, creating and learning. And isn't that what decoration should be about? Fun!

Here are the five things that playing The Sims³ taught me about decorating in real life…

1. Two major negative moodlets: "It's dark" and "Unfinished room"

Apparently, having sufficient lighting and painted walls is a bare minimum, even in Sims. However, for a girl who could live for a couple of years in a room on primer with single light bulb on the ceiling, it's not that clear. Sims explained to me that it affects your mood and when negative moodlets piles up, your ability to perform simple tasks and function properly is diminished. So I started to paint my real walls and add secondary lights to most of my rooms and, ta dah! Everything now feels much warmer and cosy. I'm now a relaxed Sim in my house.

2. Overload of textures and colors makes you lag

In Sims world, terrible computer crashes can happen when your not-so-up-to-date machine tries to save a house you customized with millions of colors and textures. (Those of you who played Sims know too well the anxiety of waiting to know if your game saved or not!) Well apparently, it can happen in real life, too.

Please, dear rainbow-color-addicted-junkies (yes, Ariel, I'm talking to you here) let me explain. It's not me who said it, it's science. Your eyes (and your brain) can only process a limited amount of information at a time, and for a limited period of time before getting tired. That's why we normally tell people to stop looking for an art piece after one hour of browsing a catalog or visiting a gallery. After that it's no use — you'll miss details anyway. Since each color and texture is a different piece information, looking at a multi-colored and textured room will demand more concentration from your brain (or power from your computer) than an all beige and plain one. In the end, the real art is to balance over-stimulating vs. boring decors. And like most things in life, everyone (and every computer) has its own equilibrium. Find it and you'll be a much happier Sim.

Before and after the curtains and rugs were added.
Before and after the curtains and rugs were added.

3. Everything is better with a rug and window treatment

It came to me like one of those things you've done by instinct for a certain time, then stop doing and realized something was missing, but couldn't pin-point exactly what was missing. Until you realize you missed the "rugs" and "curtains" tab in your decoration routine.

Since then, I've always tried to pay attention to window treatment and even recently purchased a rug which really made me feel like an adult. And it guaranties a positive "Nicely Decorated" moodlet!

4. There should be a maximum of one-to-three items per surface/table/counter top

Fellow Simmers, I feel ya. Nothing is quite as frustrating as the damn limit of items you can put on counter tops and the table in Sims. How many times have you thought: "I KNOW there is space for that lamp on the table, I can SEE it. Why would you not let me place the fracking lamp?" Well, as annoying as it is, the developers might be right: There SHOULD be a limit of items you can place on a given surface. Even in real life.

Tour your house and take away items on counter tops, tables, and other surfaces until there are one-to-three left. You'll probably end up minimizing the clutter and valorising the items on display. It's easy enough; think like you were playing Sims!

Before and after landscaping.
Before and after landscaping.

5. Don't overlook landscaping

It's often the thing you do last, with little-to-no budget. However it does not mean you should overlook the importance of landscaping or decorating the exterior of your house. Why? Because it is what greets you every single day. Before your cat or the kids or the partners, your front yard/door is the thing that says "Welcome home." You don't need much to make it work, and a couple of affordable hydrangeas can take you a long way.

Are there any design lessons coming from video games you'd like to share with us?

  1. I know exactly what you mean! Whenever I move into a new house, it always takes me a while to sort everything out and put up pictures and paintings, but as soon as I do it I feel so happy and accomplished. I tell all my friends: I put my paintings up today! I'm a happy Sim!

    • I've known some Sims players who could create amazing designs in the game, and when it came to their own house were just going for bare white walls and basic furniture. I was like: "What are you doing? Go play Sims in real life!"

      • i played a lot in college and when consignment stores became a thing (for the ambitions expansion pack) it hit me that i DID live in a similarly scaled community with a consignment store 5 min walking from my apartment as well as a local grocery/coffee shop, chinese restaurant and stadium.

        so i decided to spend my day like a sim. i got a chai, bought some acrylics for my painting class and scored sweet latte mugs at said consignment store.

        and i earned SO MANY lifetime rewards points that day!

    • Putting stuff on the walls really makes a difference. I didn't hang anything up in my current apartment for three years (I was scared I would jinx myself and have to move again). I finally did and it makes me and my home much happier. 🙂

  2. Haha, this is awesome! We just moved into our first house and I totally feel you on the rugs and window treatments. Too bad there aren't any cheat codes for $$ in real life!

    • Oh man, I totally need a rug tutorial. My whole apartment is carpeted in beige and I feel like I should have rugs but I have no clue where to start… Or why I should spend that much money when there's already carpet.

      • If you already have carpet, I'd say focus on things that look good and have a different texture from your carpet. Get a really soft small rug for where you put your feet by your bed–like fur. It'll feel really nice when you wake up. Put something easier to clean under your coffee table (or wherever you spend most of your time0–maybe a bamboo mat or something. Then you can get more color and texture without overdecorating.

  3. Ooh so many of my rooms and so many houses i have build, designed and reinvented using the Sims 😀 And nobody believes me! Now i can show them this 😀 Thanks! (oh and let's not forget the joy of making shops, restaurants, hotels, parks and hobbyclubs ) Oh i need to get this game back on my computer!

    • I love using Sims to test colors and style in decoration: It's easier to see what brillant idea ends up being terrible and what really works for you. I've never done "copies" of any room I owned because the the proportions are generally off but it's great to help you define your style!

  4. I really hate that I can't knock out walls and add on rooms in real life the way I can with my Sims. Reality is such a bummer. 😉

  5. I usually wait (IRL) for a year or two of living in a house before I go the major design/ renovate path. We are in that mode in the kitchen/ dining room at present. I dont play computer games but the advice is sound 😉

  6. I learned that if I alternate between flirting, telling jokes, and complimenting someone, I can WooHoo 'em in record time. Also that the only way to live a comfortable life is to cheat, because making an honest living will leave you exhausted, depressed, and broke.

    … actually that last part is a little true.

    Naw but seriously, as someone who spent her formative years building trippy Sims dreamhouses and digital doppelgangers of everyone she wanted to marry/bop/kill…I could not love this post more. I still sneak a few days of intense playing-god once or twice a year, for good measure.

    • Also is anyone else incapable of practicing piano without imagining a little blue bar slowly filling up over their heads? No? Just me? Alright then.

    • I have made Sims of my favorite book, tv, and video game characters so that I could keep the fun going. I have made Sims of the Buffy gang, Harry Potter, and many others. I've also made sims of myself, my now-husband, and my friends. And I've totally used the money and free real estate cheats before. If I can have a huge, old Victorian house with a hot tub in real life, I'll have it in the Sims dammit!

  7. I love this post! I do the same thing in the Sims all the time- I built a mock-up of our condo so that I can rearrange furniture, paint etc. to see how it looks before I do it in real life.

  8. I feel like this post was written for me. Most things I learned about life, I learned from the Sims!

    …especially the ol' deleted pool ladder trick 😉

  9. OBH is killing me this week! Now I'm saving up for dung beetles AND a copy of Sims 3! (Man, I miss micromanaging tiny people in tiny houses.)

  10. I love this article a lot! The Sims has been one of my game staples for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until I moved into my first apartment that I realized just how many décor lessons I learned from it! Sometimes I actually go so far as to create my new space inside of the game and decorate it there to work out the most functional/atheistically pleasing layouts. It's incredibly handy.

  11. I have been hooked on the sims since I was a kid playing the original version! I usually do the fashion version of this. It's seriously how I try out all sorts of new looks before paying for them! Mostly it's getting to see how certain color combos work, since layering and accessorizing is a bit limited in the game. Related: has anyone else ever been tempted to show a hairstylist your favorite sims haircut instead of picking one from a magazine?

  12. I love the Sims, haha. This cracks me up, but is so true. I have spent so much time decorating Sims houses. I LOVED when Sims3 came out and you could change ANYTHING to ANY COLOR OR PATTERN. Wish that happened in real life. I often think, "I like this, but I wish it wasn't this color…"

  13. I absolutely love this! I love love LOVE the Sims! I built a nearly exact Sims 3 replica of my parents house when I was in College and I have been known in the (recent*cough*) past to build rooms and decorate them, and then show future hubby my style ideas for our future house… When we DO finally purchase a house I think I will probably use the Sims to build a mock up and then decorate it in all sorts of ways just to see what might work for us.

    Anyone else download thousands of custom content files, to get that "just right" object/outfit/hairstyle? (Or to get around that pesky surface area maximum, and put as many dang things as you want on a table?) Just me? Ookay… 😛

    • I made a mock-up of the house we are currently living in, so we could test flooring and wall painting ideas. It didn't end up mattering because as soon as I finished it we decided to move instead of sticking around to renovate, but I had a nice fun day of making the house NOT ENTIRELY BLUE. (I will soon be enjoying burning the house down. Because SO MUCH BLUE.)

    • Yes! 'One More Slot Please' is my best. friend. ever. on the Sims. My boyfriend actually bought me new computer parts one year for my birthday (just what I wanted, btw) just so i could have more CC (annd maybe play WoW easier, too).

      Since real life renovations are rather pointless right now for various reasons, I use the Sims as my creative designing outlet. I love just building homes from scratch, as well. ^^

  14. This is so perfect! And yes to the counter/table top limit. Drives me NUTS – but it's also SO true. 🙂 My kitchen should have such a limit.

  15. A friend of mine was moving into a new place and wasn't sure how her things would fit in. So she recreated the place in The Sims and then furnished it with stuff that closely resembled her current belongings! It showed her how her things would fit, what would need to change and where she could add different things. Brilliant!

  16. I totally imagine the mood meter when I go into the basement of our house – it's dirty, dingy, I hate being down there and it DOES affect my mood, just like on The Sims 😀

  17. I love this! People always think I'm crazy when I talk about using Sims ideas in real life but it does work!

    It can come in useful before you move too. When I'm looking for somewhere to move to I gauge the size of rooms from photos by imagining them in Sims squares. A Sim square is about 2 feet across, but more importantly it's the space needed to stand comfortably without feeling crowded by things around you, and the space needed for a toilet, a small shower, a kitchen cupboard, a window etc. which means I can look at the objects in the room and estimate how big it is and how much of my junk it could hold before I even go and see it in person.

  18. Omgosh this is my favorite post ever!!!

    I love having unlimited funds in Sims 3 and just building and buying and deleting and recreating. I love using really non-traditional colors in my furniture because I can't use them in real life (right now). Where would I be without the Sims3?

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