Happier at Home: Parenthood

I’m a few months behind on my “Happier at Home” reading and blog posts (read more here) — November’s theme was parenthood.

I’ve only been a parent a little over a year (or, I guess more accurately, a year and nine months), so I wasn’t sure how I would relate to this chapter. The author, Gretchen Rubin, has two daughters who are somewhere around 6 and 11 years old, so of course her parenting challenges are different than mine, but her words on the subject still really resonated with me.

Here are Gretchen’s four resolutions for parenthood, and my timeless takeaways that I think would benefit anyone, parent or not.

Underreact to a problem. In Gretchen’s words, “Although we think we act because of the way we feel, we often feel because of the way we act. Accordingly, one of my personal commandments was to ‘Act the way I want to feel,’ and I’d found this ‘fake it until you feel it’ strategy to be almost eerily effective.” She touched on a similar theme in the marriage chapter, and again, I think she’s right to a certain extent. I also think this is really hard to practice! I’m pretty even-keeled with Corban (he’s still a sweet, happy baby, and since I work full time I am committed to being “on” and loving during my time with him), but this resolution can be easily applied to other relationships — spouse, co-workers, family, etc. And I guess, in regards to parenting, right now I could work on underreacting when working with Peter on raising our son. Underreact when we disagree. Underreact when he does something I wouldn’t do (this actually rarely  happens).

Enter into the interests of others. Again, I don’t have much of a problem immersing myself in the world of baby books and Little People, but this resolution is highly applicable to any relationship you value. Ask questions. Listen thoughtfully. Agree to see a movie you’re not interested in for date night. Truly attempt to understand your husband’s explanation of something related to sports/politics/childhood memories (at least if you’re me). More often than not, I end up enjoying someone’s interest right along side them when I do this — or at least appreciating their interest in it a little more. This is definitely something that I hope to keep in mind as Corban grows. I would love to be able to connect with him over a common interest, but even if I find all his hobbies and interests silly, entering into them even a little will help me be a better parent.

Go on Wednesday adventures. Gretchen decides that in order to ensure she regularly spends one-on-one time with her older daughter, she will take her out each Wednesday after school for a couple hours. They take turns choosing their activity — museums, sights, etc. (they live in NYC so there are lots of options). I LOVE THIS IDEA! It’s not really practical or necessary to implement right now, but when our kids (God-willing there will be more) are a little older I would love to try something like this. What a great way to have fun together, try new things, maintain your individual relationship and stay connected during the years when you may feel like you’re living on different planets.

Give warm greetings and farewells. This, I know, can be challenging when you’re wrapped up in a project or just not paying attention, but I agree with Gretchen that intentional affection adds much joy to life. You don’t need to remind me to kiss Corban about 100 times before I part with him, and I can’t walk in the door after work without picking him up or he’ll burst into tears. It’d be hard not to at this age, but I know there will be a day when I have to work at this. This one can also be applied to any situation — even with strangers. A warm, “hello!” makes everyone’s day a little brighter.

Gretchen ends the chapter with a little bit of wistful musing about how it’s important to appreciate your current stage of life now. I couldn’t agree more. I try to savor every nursing session, morning snuggle and baby belly laugh because I know how fast these things will be gone. But it’s tempting to spend more time looking ahead (when he’s weaned…. when he’s talking… when we have more kids, THEN…) or looking back (remember when he was this small…) I guess that’s just life, and there’s nothing wrong with anticipating or reminiscing. But the now is precious and wonderful, even if it’s not easy or happy or going the way you’d like.

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Easy closet makeover

Inspired by the first month’s “Happier at Home” challenge to cultivate “shrines” (places you spend a lot of time) and by my mom’s and sister’s recent closet makeovers, I decided to tackle my own closet. The goal: make it easier and more pleasant to get ready each morning. I made a few simple changes to accomplish that goal.

Here’s a look at my closet before. Apologies for the cringe-inducing photo quality.

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(Yes, I own four Snuggies. One is Peter’s actually. But apparently I look like a person who enjoys a good blanket with sleeves, because I’ve received more than one as a gift.)

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Pretty stuffed with clothes, and haphazardly storing towels, purses and miscellaneous junk.

Here’a a look at the closet after my little makeover:

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Not just less cluttered, but smarter! I thought about my daily routine and considered what I could change about my closet to make it assist me in that routine.

First up: the shelves. Here are my top two shelves before — storing bath towels, hand towels and washcloths (along with old journals).

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The towels had to go. I moved them into our bathroom, where I just stacked them next to the jacuzzi tub. It was space unused by anyone except Basil, who liked to chase her tail in that corner. I think she’s moved on, though, and I’ve cleared out a shelf!

I moved sweaters up to that shelf, leaving a few select towels and pillow cases on the top shelf with the journals.

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Here is what my middle two shelves looked like before:

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The upper of those two shelves was cleared when I moved some sweaters up, so I then had a free shelf to work with.

I decided to move all my jewelry into the closet. I had been keeping it on my bathroom counter, but it made more sense to keep accessories in the space that I use to get dressed, rather than on valuable bathroom counter space.

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I used this jewelry organizer my mom was getting rid of to keep my earrings in view for easy access.

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And to complete the jewelry transition and organization, I hung 3M Command hooks on the opposite (previously blank) wall for my necklaces.

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I hung a $5 mirror from Michael’s above it. It was a little small, so I found a larger one at the dollar store that has since replaced it. Wonderful $1 upgrade!

I absolutely love having my necklaces hung like that. It makes getting ready so much easier, and it encourages me to wear more of my jewelry since I can easily see it all.

Moving on… here are the bottom two shelves before:

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Qué disastre!

I moved those colorful towels into the basement linen closet. I only really use them for hot yoga, which I haven’t been to in about two years. They’re good as extra guest towels though.

My next breakthrough move was to store my underwear and bras in the closet. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I had been keeping them in my dresser out in the bedroom, which is out of the way when showering and getting dressed. Two brown bins from Target did the trick.

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And that bottom shelf got a good cleaning out and straightening up. I must admit, however, that Corban crawls in every morning and takes each purse out one by one, so it usually doesn’t look that neat. Whatever keeps him entertained though…

I don’t have a good before photo of this part of the closet, but it was pretty unruly with scarves, skirts and jackets protruding into my personal space every time I stood in there. Here it is now:

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I took the hangers that I was using for scarves and moved belts onto them.

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That took the belts off their previously overflowing hanger and gave them some better visibility for me. The scarves moved to a hanger outfitted with shower hooks and hung nicely on a hook on the wall behind the closet door.

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They key here is to use a velvety/textured hanger. I tried it on a regular plastic hanger and the shower curtain hooks all slid to one corner.

This floor space got some straightening up, too. I got rid of some bags I never use and took the area from this:

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To this:

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It’s amazing how much more functional my closet is now, thanks to these few simple upgrades. The total cost was probably about $25, for hooks, a mirror and cloth bins. Everything else was made possible by just reorganizing or repurposing things.

Before and after:

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If you have any closet-related organization tips, please share!

 

Happier at Home: Marriage

Recall that last month I started reading “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin, the sequel to her bestseller, “The Happiness Project.” Here’s where you can read my initial thoughts on the book and the overall concept.

October was focused on marriage. Gretchen’s mini resolutions to help intentionally bring some extra happiness to her marriage were to kiss in the morning and at night, give gold stars, make the positive argument and take driving lessons. Kind of an odd assortment, and I can’t really remember what the driving lessons had to do with marriage, but instead of rehashing the chapter let’s just skip to my thoughts.

Marriage is hard.

It’s also wonderful, beautiful, fun and absolutely worthwhile. But it’s not easy.

To be honest, I read this chapter quickly at the beginning of the month, and then promptly forgot about it until the end. I wish I hadn’t. I actually think October started off as a particularly challenging month for our marriage, not for any specific reasons, but just because. It probably would have been made easier had I put into action some of the things Gretchen did during her October. But instead, I took the easier-in-the-short-term route and didn’t hold back any of my complaints, criticisms or sarcasm from Peter whenever the mood struck. That never brings happiness.

Kiss in the morning, kiss at night

Gretchen suggests that routines and rituals are important to adults as well as children, and kissing can be a simple, yet effective, ritual to add intimacy and joy to your day. Since day one (or night one) of our marriage, I’ve made sure that I get a goodnight kiss from Peter. Even if we’re both half asleep, I still lean over for a peck. It’s one daily ritual we never, ever skip – a small gesture, but it ensures we end our days on a good note. Any ritual that involves affection is bound to bring an extra bit of happiness into your life.

Give gold stars

In short, giving gold stars can be anything you do to serve your spouse – texting a cute picture of the kids while he’s at work, being accommodating, focusing your attention on him when he’s speaking, thanking him, etc. This can, at times, go against everything I’m naturally inclined to do. It can be painful. But it’s right and good, and because it doesn’t always come naturally, I know I need to work on it. To have a loving, happy relationship, you need to take the first steps to be loving. Even harder than giving gold stars is holding back “black marks,” as Gretchen calls them. Sarcastic comments. Eye rolling. So difficult to refrain from at times! I don’t think I did my best at being intentional about giving gold stars or holding back black marks this month, and that’s probably why the beginning of the month wasn’t the greatest our relationship has ever been.

Make the positive argument

Toward the end of the month, I think I subconsciously started to put “make the positive argument” into effect. The idea is that you can find evidence to support both sides of opposing claims, depending on which you choose to embrace. Whenever Gretchen heard a voice in her head making a negative claim about her husband, she would reverse it and look for evidence of the opposite (“Jamie isn’t very thoughtful” became “Jamie is very thoughtful,” and – surprise – she was able to come up with thoughtful behavior to support it instead of dwelling on the negative). When I intentionally think about the things I love about Peter instead of dwelling on the things that bug me about him, it makes me happy. It also makes it easier to be kind and cheerful when we’re together. Pretty simple, but it’s amazing how I can fall in love all over again just by dwelling on the positive.

Take driving lessons

Gretchen got over her intense fear of driving in this chapter, and somehow it related to marriage. Doesn’t entirely connect with me, but I did willingly drive almost the entire way back from St. Louis in mid-October, while using every ounce of strength to stay awake at the wheel. That probably fits more in the gold star category though.

As I grow older, I’ve become more and more aware of my innate inability to be a “good” person. This is good in the sense that I realize just how much grace I need. But sometimes it causes me to want to just give up. Looking back on this chapter reminded me that although I will never be perfect, my efforts are not futile. Putting forth work can still reap benefits and work is necessary to have a happy marriage.

November’s theme is parenthood. Should be interesting to see how much applies to parenting a baby!

Happier at Home: Possessions

I picked up a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Happier at Home,” from work last month (our books editor gets sent lots of books to review, and some of the rejects end up on the “up-for-grabs” counter, as I like to call it). I haven’t read her book that skyrocketed her onto the New York Times bestseller list, “The Happiness Project,” but I was vaguely familiar with the concept behind it – intentionally making small changes in your life that overall add up to more happiness. It sure sounds like an interesting experiment, right?

So I opened up “Happier at Home” and started reading. It’s the same concept as “The Happiness Project,” only focused on home life rather than life in general, I suppose. The book is divided into chapters by month – each month Gretchen focuses on a different aspect of the home and sets several goals or changes to make to see if they result in more happiness. Lest you write this off as navel-gazing, I should note that Rubin does an excellent job of incorporating research in with her anecdotes and personal feelings, so it reads as more than a diary. At least so far – I’m only one chapter in, ha.

Conveniently, the book starts with September, the beginning of the school year – oh yeah, and the month the book was released. Before this starts to sound like a book review of a book I’m only one chapter into, I’m sure you can see where this is headed. Seeing as it was September, and I love a good personal challenge, I decided to maybe, kind of, sort of go along for the ride with Gretchen and partake in some of her goals each month.

Now, before I continue, let me get one thing out of the way: I’m not entirely comfortable with her use of the word “happiness.” From what I’ve gathered so far, her philosophy is that happiness is a thing to be pursued daily, and that pursuit is, a lot of the time, in the small details of everyday life. I totally agree that it’s the little things each day that determine a lot of my mood and enjoyment of life. But I believe that true happiness is something that comes from above. No matter how hard I try to achieve happiness on my own, I’m still broken and in desperate need of a savior. I can have all the little details of my life nailed down and be miserable without God’s mercy. On the other hand, I can live in chaos and physical despair, but have peace in my heart because of His love. (Side note: what a comfort that my hope is found in something much greater than this world!)

So essentially, I think if Rubin is searching for true happiness, or even a mere glimpse of it, she’s looking in the wrong places. But if we’re just talking about improving quality of life, as long as the activities of this pursuit don’t become idols – that is, essential to your happiness – then I think this project can be useful.

That’s the tough part though. It’s a fine line. John Calvin wrote: “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” We’re so naturally inclined to put anything and everything before God that I struggle with whether any sort of “happiness project” that doesn’t involve God is right. There’s no black and white answer.

That being said (wow, this post got a lot deeper than I originally intended! Funny how that happens when you stop to really think about what you’re thinking about), I’m going to treat this book as good motivation to focus a little more on some things that can help make my life easier and more pleasant, and be aware that in and of itself, this project will not lead to true happiness.

OK, so back to September…

Rubin’s first month’s topic is possessions. An interesting place to start, right? Possessions can bring much joy, but they also can weigh you down. I’m not going to go into too much detail on the chapter, but the three resolutions Gretchen set were cultivate a shrine, go shelf by shelf and read the manual.

Cultivate a shrine: Rubin said her goal was to “transform areas of my apartment into places of super-engagement.” She did this through tasks like swapping out photos in frames, displaying meaningful mementos and reorganizing her workspace.

My take: I am just awful at printing and displaying photos. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve gone years at times with frames displaying the generic black and white photos they came with. In fact, I’m staring at a giant, empty collage frame I bought for like $10 on Black Friday, um… three years ago? Maybe four. Oops. So, while the collage frame escaped my newfound motivation to just put some darn photos in the frames (I guess it’s just become a natural part of the scenery in here, so I didn’t even notice it. Pathetic.), I was inspired to make use of some empty frames on my desk and fill them with a few nice, recent-ish photos. Now I can gaze up at friends and family while I’m browsing the Internet. How lovely, and long overdue. I still have some progress to make in other rooms, but this little photo frame task has made a worthy impact on the pleasantness of sitting at my desk at home.

One source of stress I’ve noticed in my life surrounds my morning routine. When my closet and bathroom are messy and disorganized, I get frustrated while trying to get ready for the day. So this month I “cultivated a shrine” in my closet and bathroom (that just doesn’t sound right!) This move was actually inspired by my mom and sister, who both recently created very shrine-like closets for themselves, but it fits right in with this chapter of the book. I’ll save the details for a separate post, but I made a few simple changes that dramatically impact the overall agreeability of my morning routine.

In thinking about this idea of making your favorite areas in your home really comfortable, I also came up with a plan for our sunroom, which is a lovely space that doesn’t get used to its full potential. It’s the perfect spot to relax with a book (something I wish I did more of) so why don’t we keep our books in there and turn it into a mini library? I’ll keep you posted on how this plays out.

Go shelf by shelf: Gretchen had some useful tips for clearing out and reorganizing her house. Things like: clean as you go, abandon a project that you know you won’t finish, buy what you need and clear surfaces. I liked her recognition of the difference between something that wasn’t used and something that was useless. It’s OK to keep something for purely sentimental reasons. Just don’t keep everything!

My take: Gretchen has way more time than I do to actually go shelf by shelf, but I did make a tiny bit of progress. I purged our shoe closet of flip flops I hadn’t worn in years. I cleared several piles of junk off my desk (you can see the surface again!) Throughout the month I continuously added clothes and objects to half a dozen bags I plan to donate (now to just take them to Goodwill…) I recycled old boxes I had been saving and got rid of or filed a bunch of papers. These were all small steps, but any little dent helps in keeping your possessions from overtaking your home, and even a little bit of clutter-clearing gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Read the manual: Funny how just taking a few minutes to properly learn how something works can make life so much easier. I can’t think of any specific examples of how I put this to work last month, but it’s a good piece of advice to bear in mind.

I feel like I could stay quite busy concentrating on these September goals for the rest of year, but alas, it is October, and this month’s topic is marriage. Yikes. I’ll write another recap at the end of the month. Care to join me? Grab a copy of the book and let me know your thoughts!