When I found out she was writing a second book, Happier at Home, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I wasn’t sure to expect from this book. Gretchen wrote about her home some in The Happiness Project, so I wasn’t sure if she would be expounding on those ideas or bringing fresh ideas or some sort of combination there of.
While I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’d hope the book would provide concrete ways to feel, well, happier at home, in the brick and mortor box where my family spends approximately 20 hours a day.
Since Dan and I both work from home, we’re all home. Together. A lot. A lot, a lot. Like, probably more than the average person. This is good because as much as I like to be out and about and doing stuff, I’m a homebody. I love being surrounded by my own things (hence my somewhat aversion to traveling). I love the comfort that my home brings. It’s not a perfect home. Our house was built in 1958, so it’s old. Creaky. The walls aren’t straight, the storage space almost nonexistant. But it’s our home with the people I love snuggled in it.
So I hoped Gretchen would give me a new appreciation for my home. Especially since we spend so much time in our home, it feels like the walls close in around us each day between all Kate’s toys and the dog’s endless barking. But here is where we’re to stay for the next three years as part of our shrinking five year plan, so how can I make home happier?
Gretchen answers that question through chapters on Possessions, Marriage, Parenthood, Interior Design, Time, Body, Family, Neighborhood, and Now. Over the course of 9 months (September through May), she tackled one subject per month.
When she started with Possessions, I thought she’d say now is the time to get rid of all that stuff. I’m on board with a good clean out. Throwing stuff out/giving stuff away is one of my favorite things. But I’m not one of those people who can only live with one backpack full of stuff. I like using all my different colored Sharpie pens, I enjoy having lots of eyeshadow colors to choose from, and yes, I need that many pairs of shoes and white t-shirts. But, surprisingly, Gretchen didn’t advocate for tearing your house apart and living on bare bones. She did suggest that you rid yourself of items that don’t serve you. But rather than clearing out everything, she advocates thinking about possessions in a new way. Not as something to get rid of but rather to celebrate. If you love what you have, display it. Put it out. Use it. I love this idea because there’s so much out there about possessions being bad for us. But if we value our possessions, we’re showing gratitude and care for what we have.
The chapters on Marriage, Parenthood, and Family focused on how Gretchen interacts with her family at home. It’s easy to take people for granted who are in our living space for hours everyday. So Gretchen started making sure she gave her husband a proper kiss each morning and each night. And she also asked everyone in her family to give hearty greetings and farewells. I love this idea because it’s so easy to say “bye” without even looking up from the laptop screen while your loved ones walk out the door. It’s so much nicer to give eye contact, hugs and kisses, and send people on their way or welcome them back home. Gretchen also wrote about collaboring with her sister as part of her focus on family. I love the idea of collaborating with a family member to do something fun. In Gretchen’s case, she is working on a book with her equally talented and creative sister. I love doing things like that with my family, like helping Dan pick out the color scheme for his poker table, helping my mom create a website for her side business, or asking my mother in law to show me how to work a crochet stitch. These are smaller things than taking on a book together, but collaborating with my family makes me feel more connected to them.
In her chapter on Interior Design, Gretchen focused on her inner behavior and how that affected the atmosphere at home. One of her resolutions that month was to dig deep when it came to how she reponded to her family. Like Gretchen I can loose my temper quickly when everyone in my house seems to be working against me. But when her daughters dawdled instead of hurrying to get ready for school, Gretchen reminded herself to dig deep and respond carefully instead of yelling. This is something I think about daily when Kate is messing around and trying to wear three pairs of pants when we need to get out the door. Life’s not an emergency, I have time to dig deep and respond with kindness.
The Time chapter spoke to how Gretchen guards both her time and her family’s time, so they can all make time for what they love. I am a firm believer that we make time for the things we care about. I know what I say “I don’t have time,” I am really saying “that’s not a priority for me.” This chapter helped me decide what’s important and worthy of my time, and what I can let go.
In her chapter on Body, Gretchen sought to pay attention to the experiences she was experiencing, not just accepting what the research says or what other people say. One of her resolutions dealt with her new found fascination with smell. Smell brings about different feelings for different people, so Gretchen let herself go on a smell odyssey at a local fragrance store. While smell doesn’t do it for me, I see how filling your home with things that feel good to you makes good sense. I love tea, so I get that same sense of homemade comfort when I brew yummy smelling tea at home and drink it from my favorite mug.
The Neighborhood chapter inspired me to rethink about where I live. While I live in a safe, sweet, mostly convieniently located town outside Washington, D.C., I don’t have the ease of visiting as many cool places as Gretchen does in NYC. I found myself feeling jealous of her endless stream of parks and museums and shops all located within walking distance or a short train ride. Around these parts, it can take a solid thirty minutes to go five miles. So initially I felt frustrated because I can’t just go anywhere anytime I want. Around here, people are afraid to leave where they’re at after 3 p.m. lest they find themselves in a traffic jam for miles. And yet, I know there are plenty of local shops I’ve never been into, tons of hidden restaurants I’ve never heard of, and parks I’ve had yet to visit. I’ve made it a goal to explore these places and find a new favorite place.
Gretchen’s final chapter, Now, focused on remembering that now is now. I love this concept because I find myself saying: I’ll start working on this book I’ve got in my head once I finish all my blog posts for the week or I’ll make time to knit that scarf once I finish cleaning the house. Or I’ll debut my new blog site once everything is absolutely, perfectly perfected. The trouble with that is, there is no once. My house will always be a little bit messy, there is always something to clean. The issue with writing is, there is often no end. So I wait to do these things and then these things never come to fruition. Now is now. Now is as good of a time as any.
While not every situation or resolution or idea resonated with me, I found myself re-inspired to think about how I live in my home. If you are looking for a book about interior design or how to arrange objects on your shelves, this is not your book. This is not about how your home looks, really. It’s more about how your home, your things, your people in your home, are your treasures. As if your home is your big treasure box/hope chest of all the things you hold dear. And how you can use those treasures and think about those treasures in ways that increase your overall happiness.
One thing I wished Gretchen had addressed was how to feel happier about doing all those chore like things that, at least to me, are both a part of my happy at home equation. If my home is a disaster, I can’t think about being happy in it. Yet, actively cleaning my home is one of my most hated chores. To me, keeping my home clean is an important part of home life, which Gretchen didn’t address. I suppose the way to think about it is: chores stink while you’re doing them but a clean home brings about a renewed sense of happiness. But what about when you have to clean again the next day? That annoys me.
My home is not perfect or ideal. I’ve got crayon drawings on my walls, toilets that need cleaning, and endless chores. And while I have yet to find a pleasurable way to deal with chores (Seriously, my family wants clean clothes everyday. What’s up with that?). But I still found the book a joy to read, and I do feel inspired to think about what I can do to make my home a happier place. I’ve implemented a couple of Gretchen’s ideas (and created some of my own), I’d love to share. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’re interested in hearing about some of them.
If you’ve read Happier at Home, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you think reading it would help you get re-inspired about your home?