Book Review: Happier At Home

With a title like “Happier At Home”, how could a professional organizer resist reading this book? Gretchen Rubin gained fame with her memoir The Happiness Project, in which she took on a project to discover how to be happier. In this book, she is focusing on home and family. Each month, she focuses on a different theme (Possessions, Parenthood, Interior Design) and sets resolutions to accomplish her goals.

Gretchen is certainly a fan of Samuel Johnson, who said “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and laborer tends.” She wanted to find out “What did I want from my home?”. Like many of my clients, she wanted to create an oasis of comfort and caring for herself and her husband/girls, and something she enjoyed coming home to. She was striving to become happier, not have “perfect happiness”. I know many of us struggle with perfection. How can we still be happy in the midst of imperfection? To celebrate progress instead, or to capture just a few moments of peace in the chaos of work and family?

One of Gretchen’s keys to happiness is having strong ties with other people, which is supported by ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists (p. 15). Some of my clients struggle with having people come over to visit because they are ashamed of their home, of their clutter. Living in disorganization can certainly be isolating. She felt that her possessions “blocked my view and weighed me down” (p.20). Yet “in most cultures, the interaction between people and their things is a central aspect of life”, according to hoarding researchers Gail Steketee and Randy Frost (p. 22).

Gretchen found that the more things that she possessed without using, the more beleaguered she felt. So when she focused on making mini-shrines instead, she noticed “when I consciously permitted myself to save a particular thing, I was able to get rid of more stuff.” We love this technique as professional organizers – curating our treasures, as it were.

One interesting but not surprising fact to me was that “some household places naturally become areas of super-engagement. Research suggests that no matter how big a house, people spend the most time near the kitchen, gathered around the closest flat surface – a kitchen table, an island, a nearby dining room table – or in rooms with televisions or computers.” (p. 31). This is why we often suggest that even though that lovely upstairs corner office that overlooks the backyard seems like it should be the perfect place to pay bills, we so often end up at our kitchen tables with our laptops and work. We want to be in the heartbeat of the home, and this especially applies to kids (how many don’t use their basement playrooms full of toys but rather play in the living room near mom?).

One of my own favorite techniques that she employed around resolutions is that the start of a new school year always gives me an energetic boost, even though my own children are adults. There’s something about the coolness in the air and the inevitable slide toward hibernation that kicks up enough fire to tackle some small goals. Overall the book was a good read, and I enjoyed her specific resolutions and how she carried (or didn’t) them out.

In the end, our inner attitude affects our external surroundings, and she decided that “To feel more at home at home, I must carry my home, my treasure, within me.” It’s true that no matter where we go, there we are!

About Melissa Belliard

Melissa is committed to helping her clients find the organizing system that works for them, with compassion and creativity. She has been helping her friends and family get organized for years, and loves decluttering closets and cabinets, especially for empty nesters and folks who are downsizing. Melissa brings her 16 years of experience as a Human Resources professional to her work, including compassionate listening, leadership, and creative problem-solving skills. Melissa is also a part-time massage therapist, and has raised two great kids. She loves being out in nature, listening to music and dancing, as well as bringing women together in community.

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