Our Book of the Month for September is Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, a personal experiment in making home a happier place in categories like marriage, parenthood, time and body. A follow-up to her bestselling The Happiness Project, Rubin’s thoughtful book is full of inspiration for making your own home life happier. Since we can never have too much happiness in our lives, BBL staffers will be test-driving Rubin’s ideas all month long. —BBL Editor
I didn’t get far into Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, before I knew what my first project needed to be. Her very first “resolution” in her seven-month quest to be happier at home was to “cultivate shrines,” which to her means charging areas of her home with identity and meaning. She freshens up family photo displays, finds a home for two bird figurines her two grandmothers had given her, and organizes her treasured children’s literature collection.
In the past six years, I’ve moved four times, and with each move I’ve become less and less motivated to put much effort into making my home my own. Nesting tasks I once loved–putting up pictures and artwork and finding places for silly things I’ve collected–started to seem like a waste of time and money when they might get packed up again in nine months. And forget about keeping family photos current and framed. I’m lucky if they make it off my camera and into my computer.
I’ve been living by the philosophy, like Rubin had been, that home is about the people in it, not the things in it. But in the book, Rubin comes to realize that possessions can also make an impact on happiness. “Many of the most precious possessions are valuable not because of their cost or prestige, but because of the meanings they contain,” she writes. “My possessions had a powerful influence over the atmosphere of my home, and they contributed to, and reflected, my sense of identity.”
In our most recent move my family and I are in a new city, far from the place we called home for more than a decade. As we adjust, I can see how reminders of our identities could help us be happier here. Now that my daughter is a curious-about-everything preschooler, I want her to grow up in a home that reflects her family and our experiences, as well as start new traditions we can grow with. So, with Rubin’s formula of making happiness “resolutions” in mind, I’ve chosen a theme of “identity,” and here are my resolutions.
1. Find an easy, secure system for storing and printing photos: This project had to start with a task that I’d been avoiding for years. My computer’s storage space is groaning from years of photos, and we’ve had no backup system in place. (Yes, I have nightmares about losing all of my daughter’s baby pictures.) I just found an online photo storage service called SmugMug where we can upload all our photos, order prints, and send links to family members so they can order what they want. They even have a handy app that lets me send photos directly to the site from my phone. I’ve opened my account and started downloading — and the nightmares have stopped.
2. Start a Halloween photo gallery: I’m stealing this idea directly from Rubin. Every October, she sets out photos of her daughters in their Halloween costumes over the years. With only three years worth of Halloweens pictures to print and almost two months to find frames, I’m sure I can accomplish this one. New tradition, check!
3. Display pictures of family and friends: With all of our moves, we’ve been so lax about pictures that we never even had any wedding photos printed. So my resolution is to frame a few pictures of our nuptials and then move on to pictures of our daughter, family and friends, and photos and mementos from our travels. (Our six-year anniversary is this month, so it’s the perfect time to dig out the photos and finally print some up!)
4. Find ways to decorate with special objects: Photos are going to go a long way in adding identity to my home, but Rubin also talks about the power of objects to evoke memories and add beauty. I’ve already started doing this: a jar of butter yellow snail shells I collected on our annual vacation to Maine this summer sits on our mantel. Now I need to dig into our moving boxes to find the jars of sea glass we’ve amassed on those special trips. And it’s finally time to frame some of those posters and postcards my husband and I bought during our pre-baby travels.
My happiness project is a work in progress, but it already feels good. Even though we have one more move ahead of us, our current house is starting to feel more like a home than just a stopover place. Yes, I may have a few extra things to pack up this time, but unpacking them again will make me happy.
For more about Gretchen Rubin and her books, visit happiness-project.com.