Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #31, Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
“If I didn’t have my mother to coach me along, I’d be living in a studio with bare walls, crooked blinds, and a futon on the floor, forever.” -Gretchen Rubin
Of all the books in the world, there are only two genres that I genuinely dislike: biographies, and self help books. So it is with great smugness and self-satisfaction that I have managed to avoid the latest in the Western self-help zeitgeist, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. For those of you just tuning in, Rubin went on a yearlong journey to improve her own happiness on her blog, which culminated in a book called The Happiness Project. It is now a #1 New York Times bestseller. The book was described by many reviewers as a self-help books for people who aren’t that into self-help books, but even still, I wasn’t interested. The principle reason for that is because I’m not that interested in my own happiness. Not, to be clear, for any sort of ascetic, self-denying reasons; it’s just that I’m Irish, and as such am at my most content when I am either sad or angry at something. Happiness would only bore me.
For all the time I spend thinking about my own happiness, I spend even less thinking about my home. See, in addition to being Irish, I’m also a military brat. I’ve had 23 homes, not including temporary living, and they’ve all been pretty much the same to me. I moved into my most recent apartment over a year ago, and I have yet to hang pictures. Making a home has never been high on my priority list. Nevertheless, I picked up Rubin’s latest effort, Happier at Home, while waiting for a friend at Anthropologie. And it occurred to me, while sitting in the wealthy hipster decorating emporium, flipping through a book about the comforts of home, that maybe I should reconsider the limited role my home plays in my list of priorities. I’ve lived in the same city for almost four years now, a first for me. I have a dog, I know my neighbors. Despite my best intentions, I seemed to have stumbled upon a home and I thought maybe it was time to stop taking it for granted.
So, I bought a self-help book.
Rubin’s book is divided into nine chapters, one for each month of the school year – the time she had budgeted to get her home life together. Each chapter had a different focus, and not all of them applied to me – I flipped straight through Parenthood – but they all had something interesting to say about the role home plays in each of our lives, and the ways in which we can make our home lives better. Rubin, like me, is an anti-hoarder, so I found her tips for keeping your house free of clutter in order to spend less of your precious time on earth looking for things like scissors (“keep a pair of scissors, a notepad, and a pen in each room”) very helpful. We also share the same propensity for what she calls “underbuying” – I very rarely upgrade my wardrobe, and though I will on occasion impulse buy weird stuff from thrift store – like, for instance, an Atatürk toothbrush holder – I will delay or talk myself out of normal household amenities like a laundry hamper, or an ironing board (it took me about two years to purchase a laundry hamper for our apartment, and I still don’t have even have an iron, much less a board on which to use it).
Happier at Home isn’t all about one’s physical home. Rubin’s observations on her marriage and family life, her physical and mental well-being, and how she guards her time are all well worth reading – the sections on home were the ones that stood out to me the most, because my home is where I invest the least of my time. But as in most of Rubin’s happiness observations, noticing that fact is half the battle. Though she never says so, Rubin is clearly a devotee of mindfulness – constantly noticing where you are, how you feel, and how you might improve those things. I am more of the tunnel-vision, don’t-notice-a-cut-until-it’s-infected sort of person, so reading the book was an interesting exercise for me. It caused me to sit up and notice things like the constant state of disarray my house is usually in, and how much time that adds to my day when I have to run around looking for things. And more to the point, it gave me some solid ideas for how to fix it.
All in all, it was a helpful read that inspired me to invest a little more in my own home. I spent a weekend cleaning out closets and drawers, organizing my bookshelves, replacing some things, throwing out others, and making all of it easier to find. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to clean up my house at night instead of stumbling into bed after falling asleep on the couch. I threw away all my cardboard boxes, and I’m planning on actually hanging all of the pictures that are currently leaning against walls. I bought a candle.
Even so, Happier at Home is not likely to convert me to the cult of self-help. Though it is far more sensible and pragmatic than most books of its kinds, many of the common self-help tropes are still alive and well – the gratingly over-used mantras (“my own splendid truth” is not a phrase I want to hear ever), the implicit assumption of privilege (Rubin admits that many of her advice is easier for her because she works from home, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow), and above all, the inherent perkiness of anyone who would have the balls to write a self-help book about happiness. But if you happen to be as socially stunted as I am in the ways of being an adult, or if you feel like you take your home for granted (as most of us do) and want to invest in making it more of a sanctuary from the outside world, this book is well worth a read.
Recommended For: People who don’t own an ironing board.
Read When: Your house is in a complete state of disarray. It will allow you to procrastinate, while still feeling like you’re addressing the problem by reading about it.
Listen With: The Smiths. They’ll help to cut through all that perk.