This is the title of Gretchen Rubin’s new book which I received from my mother for my birthday. I read Gretchen’s blog for awhile but never read her actual book, The Happiness Project. Reading her new book, however, I frequently feel like Gretchen is in my head, walking around, opening doors, slamming some shut, ogling my junk drawer, tsking at my mental closet. We have many similarities (which I will note below) and huge differences. But if Gretchen lived in Ohio, I would definitely invite her over for coffee. Perhaps she would be my NBF?
The premise of this, her second book on the subject of happiness, is learning to be happy at home, during which she builds on the concepts in her first book. Creating an environment “at home”, in which to be happy, has been my quest for the past 17 years. Since “at home” has mostly been in someone else’s home, this has been my challenge. Now I am all about creating one in my own. Gretchen uses a lot of statistics and research to bolster her claims and here would be the perfect place to insert one on the statistics about how ownership makes one care more for one’s surroundings, possessions, and relationships but I don’t have the time to research what I know to be true. As my kitchen has been repurposed – we have literally recycled cabinets, tile, and granite – I have had much time to ponder the importance of happiness at home.
The first chapter of the book deals with possessions and our relationship to them. Now, it is no secret that I am a shopper. I do love shopping, but only some kinds. For example, I hate shopping in Carrefour, shopping for jeans, and shopping for guns (don’t ask). Half of my wardrobe comes from Target and is tried on at home. Half of that I end up returning. But I do love treasure hunting, whether is be in the Shanghai ghost market, the Parisian flea markets, or in the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. Closer to home, the Giant Eagle grocery store’s olive bar still gives me a thrill. Makeup, holiday accessories, and books are also chinks in my armor.
One of Ms. Rubin’s premises is to have nothing in your house that you don’t like. This is not my problem. I like everything in my house, 95% of which is associated with a memory. I don’t want to throw away that cute ceramic box with the pewter bunny lid because it contained my kids diaper wipes. Really!? But I must. The current challenge in front of me is to decide which memories to pass on to someone else. I am both blessed and cursed with a fabulous memory for acquired objects … but now there is no space, mentally and physically. It’s crowded in here.
My sister MCV and I have had many conversations on sentimentalism over the years. I am and she is not. I remember birthdays, decorate for holidays, and cherish items from my grandmothers. She does not. This, I believe, is just the way each of us is wired. Having said that, she would like to be more sentimental and I would like to be less. Here’s an example: even though I have a gold charm bracelet, I still hope my mother will give me hers (take note, Radish). It is not because I “need” it or “deserve” it. So why do I want it? Because I remember my grandmother, baldheaded from chemo, putting it on and telling me where each of the charms came from. This is a poignant memory for me for many different reasons.
I am way ahead of Gretchen in some areas: the kid memory box, “cultivating a shrine”, creating photo galleries, collecting kids books (I put all of the children’s Christmas books in a basket in early December and then we throw a reading party for the kids in the neighborhood). I also went through my closets with my mother in April and she actually told me to keep more than I would have; like Gretchen’s mother, however, she told me when to throw out the favorite t-shirts. (And here’s a hot tip: Target always makes MORE of my favorite t-shirts so not to worry.) A few weeks ago, we Facetimed with Thing 1 in her dorm room and went through 3 boxes of her stuff, culling it down to about a shoebox worth of stuff.
In other ways, Gretchen is way ahead of me. My desk is a mess (but I know where everything is, an inherited skill from my father). I am a slob. I am nowhere near as disciplined. I am not nearly as well read, and let me tell you, I think I am well read (but not, perhaps, cerebral). She makes her living as a writer. I do not.
My own contributions to Gretchen’s list of rules for being happier at home, gleaned from this major move.
Return It. If it doesn’t work out for you, return it. This is America, people! I shop almost exclusively at certain stores because of their generous return policies, key to the life of an expat (and if you don’t believe me, ask my sisters about the men’s underwear I asked them to return to Nordstrom). I bought a Cuisinart coffee maker at Macy’s and it was a disaster, making a huge mess, so I took it back and got a Keurig.
Ask Your Family. If everyone hates something, get rid of it. If some kid loves it, make a note. My mother gave away most of my childhood things (she is a rabid declutterer) and I resented it (both the way we were wired).
Can You Take a Photo of It Instead? Bea Long took a photo of my favorite pink Chinese vase that I eyed for two years, but DIDN’T buy, and put it in a photo collage. I still love looking at it but don’t have to store it.
Rotate. I get tired of seeing the same tchotchke on the shelves and so I rotate my crap. This takes a bit of time but I would rather have new old stuff to look at than a clean fridge, an idea which admittedly does not work for everyone.
My sister-in-law, Dr. Skin, added this one to the mix: You Don’t Need Eight Kinds of Pie at Thanksgiving. What about just pumpkin? Only apple? This is a concept that can be applied to many other areas of life, as it speaks to simplification.
Try it For a Year: Not sure if something is going to work out? Give it a trial period. Mr. Understanding lost this time and there is no TV in my bedroom. We are trying it for a year and I am liking it. As a news junkie, I am no longer riled up by the state of the world until each morning when I read about it and am better able to process.
Things Gretchen Rubin and I Have in Common:
*we are both lawyers. She clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I have never practiced, having become an Expat Princess instead.
*we both send Valentines instead of Christmas Cards. She does it to avoid the inevitable December panic, I do it to raise awareness of Marfan Syndrome.
*we both like St. Theresas. Her favorite is from Lisieux, France and mine is from Avila, Spain. Even though I do not understand “The Way of Perfection” by Theresa of Avila, she was an amazing woman.
*we both get sick of ourselves.
And on that note, I will end. The next chapter in Ms. Rubin’s book is on marriage. As you might guess, I have lots of thoughts on that one as well. Go buy or borrow Ms. Rubin’s books, try to be happier at home, and enjoy these waning days of October. The kitchen, and the book, are almost finished. Already I am happier at home.