25 September 2012

Review and giveaway: Gretchen Rubin's "Happier At Home"

At Amazon: Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life
At Amazon: Happier at Home
by Gretchen Rubin

I often wonder at the relative insulation of the blog world. The folks whose blogs I (and everyone else) read are rarely familiar to my neighborhood friends. Two notable exceptions: Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman), whose cookbook sends my neighbor into fits of ecstasy, and Gretchen Rubin.

Gretchen's first book about happiness, The Happiness Project, is unanimously loved by a shocking number of my friends, most of whom are barely aware that I have a blog, let alone Gretchen (her blog is also called The Happiness Project).

There's a reason for their enthusiam (and that Happier At Home now joins The Happiness Project as a New York Times bestseller): Gretchen's unique blend of storytelling, memoir, and self-help. This book can be classified as self-help only because, when you follow along with Gretchen as she attempts to inject more happiness into her home life, you feel quietly inspired to do it yourself.

Reading Happier At Home is fun. Gretchen is a masterful storyteller. She's direct without being blunt. She's truthful without being grandiose. She's philosophical without being vague. And she's upfront about her failures and successes without being coy (which, after the popularity of The Happiness Project, would sound odd).

More than that, Happier At Home is an illustration of the unique path we all follow to find happiness. We all have our own joys and Achilles heels. Gretchen shares hers, choosing monthly challenges to address them. She devotes a school year to tasks pertaining to possessions, marriage, parenthood, self-care, time, body, family, community, all the while documenting her successes and failures and weaving in her findings from happiness writing and research across the ages.

Her tasks are delightfully specific to her life, for example, "take driving lessons" and "embrace good smells." Yet she deftly connects them to universal principles with which we can all identify (most of us, at least).

Gretchen comes to some surprising conclusions. One habit often touted as a Happiness Enhancer is to simplify. Gretchen agrees, but discovers she has a tendency to oversimplify, skipping experiences that seem complicated but, on closer inspection, would add richness to her family's life. (I do the same, so I can identify.)

In the end, we feel close to Gretchen, her husband Jamie, and her daughters Eliza and Eleanor. We're accustomed to the intimate glimpse into family life many blogs afford. But it's rare to feel such kinship after reading a book, let alone the inspiration to change one's life. Happier At Home leaves us feeling satisfied, connected, entertained, and ready to approach life with open eyes.

At Amazon: Happier At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (Hardcover) by Gretchen Rubin, $16.94

* * *

Win it! I have five copies of Happier At Home to give away! (Exciting! I haven't done a giveaway in a long time.) To enter, answer the following question in the comments of this post.

What's one small change that would make your home life happier?

(Believe it or not, mine would be to get a better handle on household paper management...mail, bills, records and filing. I haven't found a lasting routine that works for me and it causes me some amount of irritation every single day.)

I'll randomly choose five winners Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 2:30pm PST. Good luck!

Thank you to all who entered! I'll be in touch with the winners via email. LOVED reading your comments.

UPDATE: It's only 10am PST on Tuesday, and reading your comments has me nodding my head in solidarity. Such simple changes, on the face of it, but what a big difference those changes could make!

One entry per person, please. Giveaway open to US residents only. Winners will be notified by email.

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Together with my 9- and 13-year-old daughters, I may have hit on a "fun" and rewarding way to get the dusting and vacuuming done regularly, which (if the plan works) will make me very happy!

To get out of it more! I'm currently staying at home with my toddler and the days are feeling long. I need to find some outlets to get out and be around other people more.

Consistently folding and putting away the clean laundry! We would be happier with one less source of stress and aggravation while getting ready and out the door.

Meal planning on the weekends! It takes little time (compared to how much it saves during the week) yet I almost never manage to do it -- thanks for the motivation to try again!

We need to find a meal plan that works for us and stick to it. My kids are both so picky, my husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and I want to eat healthy to loose weight. That is one of our biggest struggles.

Our household would run smoother if I took care of our toy clutter situation. We live in a small house that's livable but definitely can't handle excess. My husband and I have very generous families who give a lot to our kids. We know we need to weed out toys but its amazing how our own emotions and nostalgia come into play whenever we try to pare down our kids' toys. Looking forward to reading this book!

Being intentional about fun outings and doing them more frequently. Free outings would be even better!

If my 2 year was asleep every night by 8pm (as opposed to most nights, 9pm). That extra hour in the evening affords me the luxury to relax and slow down before my own bedtime. When she's up until 9pm, I'm a frazzled mess as I race to get everything done for the day.
Sigh.

maybe getting everything ready to go before bed, that would make the morning less hectic

Be more intentional about doing more fun things as a family and spend less time worrying about all the things that "need to get done."

I think setting up some sort of cleaning schedule, so I do a little something every day rather than trying to cram everything into the weekend.

I love to cook but I hate to meal plan! If I could get better at routine and easy meal planning, I think that would save me scores of frustration in the evenings.

To learn to "let go" of items that are no longer useful or even beautiful, but carry precious memories. I do donate to Good Will, but some things just need to be thrown away though they pull at my heartstrings. I know about taking pictures of items, rather than keeping them, but that just reminds me that they're gone.

I, too, struggle with paper management. Especially the mail! Would love to find a way to consistently keep it under control.

I would love to have a few minutes to myself each morning - that's always been my time of day, and now with my daughter also being an early bird, I rarely get those moments to myself to just sit and plan out the day...

I need to come up with a better plan for dinner prep/timing, as well as meal plans. I know I'm not alone in this but every week, I find that I've done nothing to improve the situation and it causes me a great deal of stress most evenings when I don't know what's for dinner and by the time we get dinner on the table it is oh-so-late.

I need to rush my kids less. I'm always telling them to hurry, but I think we'd be happier if we just took our time.

I need to come up with a better way of getting laundry done and sorting and putting away clothes. Right now, my younger son's room looks like a cyclone dumped handmedowns all over his room.

Funny to see a lot of similar issues. Pretty much the same with me & my family. I'd add to that the massive amount of paper that comes home with my three kids from school every day. I really want to save every test with an A and post it on the fridge. But the fridge is only so big & I only have so many magnets. I hate to toss everything away once it's looked at, but it's so hard to decide what to keep & what to toss. What I've really been meaning to do is put a system in place to scan a lot of this stuff. Digital storage is cheap & takes up no room.

I genuinely feel we need to disconnect more from our respective devices (her go to is TV and mine is online gaming) and spend more time connecting with each other or even simply reading on the couch/in bed together. It's so easy to flip the computer or TV on but the activities actually draw us away from each other and lead to disengagement...

Less stuff (especially paper).

To organize and declutter art supplies. My 5 year old being an art and craft enthusiast, we have a clutter of art supplies. And we are constantly digging and hunting for that one particular supply she needs at any given point:)

If we had a scullery maid who did the dishes . . . or, back in reality-land, a commitment by both adults and all kids to consistently rinse and put dirty stuff in the dishwasher. Not the sink/counter/table.

Be better at meal planning and grocery shopping. I need to pay attention to the sales flyer and coupons and plan meals accordingly to maximize our grocery budget, instead of rushing to the grocery store after work upon realizing that I have nothing to make for dinner that night!

Clearing the counters. Gah, every horizontal surface in the house is covered.

I wish I could focus more on a "let it be" attitude. The dishes, laundry, paper, sweeping, whatever, can all wait. All too often, my husband and two small children are playing together after dinner while I am tending the "should get done today" list that exists only in my head.

Meals! Breakfast, packed lunch (better for the kiddo, horrid still for me) AND dinner. I am trying, but this still defeats me at least a couple times a week.

Getting some help for household chores would be immensely helpful at this stage I'm in right now!

Asha, have you checked out Mind Organization for Moms? I think there's a good paper management system in their program. Good luck!

I would love to get a handle on a daily "cleaning/cooking: schedule that we (my husband: witha full time job and some side jobs, my almost 5 yr old boy: with a full preschool,swim lesson,soccer practice socil life and myself: with a full time job,2 part time jobs along with all the mother/wife things)all can stick with to get everyday and weekly stuff done through out the week so we don't have to cram it all in one weekend day.

We need to turn off the TV in the evenings before the kids go to sleep and banish our iPhones to the charger base for that same stretch of time.

keeping up with my meal planning! It saves SO much time, frustration, and money at the grocery store. Also, my kids have input and are more likely to gobble down dinner :)

Teaching the kids to clean up their toys (As much fun as stepping in a pile of legos is, I'd rather not :) ).

Definitely paper management. I moved into a new house right when my twins were born (they're 3 now) and I still haven't figured out all of my systems!

I think we would all be happier at my house if I stopped chasing perfection.

This isn't necessarily small...but if I could get a handle on worrying so much about what other people think, worry about whether they like me or not,not only would I be happier, I know I would have a happier home.

Decluttering all the toys...and folding/putting away laundry as soon as its done.

Putting the laundry away each night instead of dumping it on the catchall chair.

It would be great if the dishes put themselves in and out of the dishwasher.

Someone else to clean the floors and bathrooms - everyday! Ugh, how I hate to do those tasks.

Going to bed earlier. Easy to say, hard to do when adult time is already limited on weekday evenings!

A bigger bed, now that the kid's so long and lanky, and still shows up in the middle of the night.

I made this decision just this week, when I had to let something go at work. It was a small change, but so far, it has given me more time with my family, more sleep, and much less stress. I'm happier!

Right now, I made the decision to wear yoga pants and a warm robe on my day off. Usually, I get dressed in "normal" clothes, but I'm tired and worn out, and the robe is delicious. It's working!

I think our day would run more smoothly if I could get up before the kids. I think my son has a Mommy's Awake sensor, though, so I haven't been able to make that happen!

To figure out a way to contain the art supplies, paper clutter, and work supplies that have all taken over the office and dining room. I want the art supplies to be somewhat accessible to the kids (but not all the art supplies, some are supervision-only things). Right now the kids aren't even allowed in the office because it's so out of control.

Declutter and then actually getting the unwanted items out of the house.

Hiring a housekeeper would make me so much happier. I just don't want to mop or vacuum, so why should I?

Two words: Toy Purge

Better time management for me to make our home more peaceful and enjoyable. Right now I feel like I do only what needs-to-get-done-right-now, leaving lots of projects looming. That ends up being an energy and time suck.

To have one of those playrooms featured in pintrest is my fantasy. The reality is a room strewn with so much clutter it is like walking over hot coals.

Installing some door locks so the toddler can't destroy while I'm nursing the newborn.

Get rid of much of the excess clothing, household items, and other belongings that I really don't use or need.

To 'hold' more; hold my tongue when the kids accidently spill/drop/break things and to hold our pet chickens more (my youngest's favorite pastime)

Cleaning. Anything. It all needs cleaning, all the time.

To give myself permission to take care of things right away. So often, I feel like I only have time to sort things into piles for the next step, but then they build up. If I just ran the credit card offer through the shredder right away instead of putting it into the (ridiculously huge) "to shred" pile, my life would feel a lot more peaceful. Same with making short to-do lists instead of just doing 2-3 things in a row.

Less mindless TV watching, more adventure!

I could get up a half hour earlier to get a jump on the day sans kids. Maybe even a little yoga.

Letting some of the to-do list slide.

If I could just keep the kitchen counters clear! My mom always insisted the counters and table be kept clear, and it makes such a difference.

Today, no more mice would make me very happy. That I can accomplish, possibly cookies or getting all the dishes clean.

Consistent, non-alarm-clock-smashing wakeup times for me.

An earlier bed time for me and doing more freezer cooking would probably make a world of difference!

More often following up on my recent intent to take even 10-15 minute walks to the nearby park,usually on weekday mornings when it's quiet.And to then look outward at whatever's there (trees or people, etc), while taking time to reflect inward gently.

Making up and sticking to a schedule of "chores" for us as a family: Monday night is laundry night, for example, etc, etc. We put off the un-lovely activities until they are unbearable, then all hell breaks loose!

I think letting go if control would help.

doing what needs to be done immediately, instead of putting it off!

Planning and actually cooking luches and dinners for the week so I wouldn't have to worry so much about what's in the fridge.

I'm working a 12-week temporary job -- quite a departure from being a full-time mom -- and right now it would simplify my life if I could just be done with it already! But a permanent thing I could do to make my home life happier is to get a table and chairs for the living room. It's no fun to set up Monopoly on the dining room table (have to clear it out all the time!) or on the floor. But it IS a lot of fun to play Monopoly, so just finding a table and chairs we could set up in the living room for games or homework or puzzles would be quite fulfilling. Which I never thought I'd say about a table and chairs!

I'd like to come up with one special thing to do for my wife and for my daughter every day. Something that doesn't get repeated, except for when the repetition might be a surprise in itself. It shouldn't be that hard, but I often go through my days doing merely what's expected, and just one little thing I think could raise everyone's spirits around here.

I'd like to figure out why my son no longer wants to go to day care and then come up with a solution to that. Our mornings are so stressful now.

Someone to help me get the chaos of my home in order!!

I think that a creative outlet for myself...instead of only reading about other people's creativity through blogs!! Is a must for me this year.

I would get out of my head more and be present for the opportunities of spontaneity!

I need to go to bed and get up earlier. Also, it would help to spend less time on the computer!

One, just one little extra hour a night, i.e. 25 hours a day, but just for me. =)

We're in desperate need of some paper management here as well. We try to de-clutter our papers every night or so, but by the next evening, there seems to be a whole new pile!

Hmmmm....one thing. Mine is to get my kids to bed (or at least IN their bedrooms, even if they're reading quietly) earlier. I feel like my husband and I aren't "done" with parenting until 10, and then I have to get up at 6:15. There's no time for us!

I'd love to get my husband more involved in finances instead of relying on me for everything. It means I'm making the decisions and dealing with all the paperwork.

Planning breakfasts to get our mornings off to a smooth start would make our house happier.

Oh my...top of the list has to be getting the kids more engaged in helping out around the house. Especially when we get really busy we let it slip, but of course, that's when we really need their help the most!

More playing less planning

Have snacks ready to go in the car after picking up from school (would save a lot of screaming time) and creating busy bags or sensory bins for meal prep time.

Finding a way for all of us, myself most definitely included, to stop constantly/compulsively adding to our clutter.

Clutter control! We need a better system for all of the paper that comes into our house...

As much as I try to simplify our lives at home, fall messes that all up! We need some good routines and habits around homework, projects and busy nights where class assignments colide with work and soccer.

Either a dishwasher or a second car. I've lived for four years without a dishwasher and I feel like I'm missing out doing fun things just due to the constant-ness of the task. The second car would be a big help with getting the hubby to work and balancing school and errands and life. Too much time is spend in the car!

Oh man I feel like a bad mom admitting this... But... Enjoying my children more than I feel as though they are just another thing on my to do list.

Help with housework! There are four of us and lots of dishes. I feel like I'm the only one that can apparently get them into and out of the dishwasher successfully. Not that my family members couldn't do it - they just don't see the overflowing sink and think '"I should do something about that". They wait for the dish fairy, who frankly is ready to go on strike...

I think if I could just think of the big picture when I'm about to lose it because of the huge to do list looming over me, that would help tons. I mean, when I'm on my deathbed, am I going to care about the loads of laundry that I didn't do, the piles of who-knows-what in the corner, or that my pantry is a hot mess?! No, I'll remember cuddling up on the couch, seeing my son have that aha moment as I help him with homework, and us all hanging out in the living room relaxing. Do I want my family to remember that every day I nagged them about cleaning up? I mean, yes, it's important, there has to be some sort of daily maintenance, and there is truth to a non-cluttered and clean environment is soothing and calming, but I need to find a good balance and not take things so seriously sometimes!

One small thing that has made my life easier is online bill pay! No rushing around town or digging for stamps in my car!
Next on the list: simplifying dinner. Everynight!

Getting a housekeeper would make my home happier. A messy home stresses me out between a busy job and single parenting two kids with lots of activities, something has got to give. There is only so much time in a day.

My husband's cancer is gone, and we can't think of anything to make us happier. :D We do agree that a few more chairs for visitors would be nice, though.

Having some electronic free time that is focused on family fun would be great. Everyone seems to sleep better when this happens, which in turns makes the next day go better.

finding better "to go" breakfast options so we aren't always convincing the kids that cereal in a bag is the cool breakfast. They only bought that the first week of school...

Having more sex.

Waking up 10 minutes earlier every morning and having a cuddle session with each child. I think it would make the mornings have less drama since each child has been acknowledged. Now just need to do it!

A place that's just as easy to store shoes as the place they land when you kick them off. That would really make me happier at home. We're a shoes-off house, and the hallway by the door is totally cluttered. Realistically, though the place for the shoes has to be just as easy as dropping them where they land, or it won't work.

My home life would be happier if I could wash a dish when I dirty a dish. I get lazy and let them pile up. But I also hate the clutter. Constantly working on this. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book. I read her other book the Happiness Project for book club and really enjoyed it.

If everyone worked with me to keep kitchen and bathroom counters clear, then *I* would be happier; and I think that would mean our small household would be happier too, because I wouldn't get so grumpy about it.

Unfortunately I can't convince anyone that it's worth the effort; and yes, of course, I've tried. I haven't yet completely given up.

If I could figure out a way to organize all the toys in my kids' bedroom, I would be so happy. We clean it daily but when it is messy it looks like a tornado went through there. I need better storage.

Cook less. I love cooking, and love making homemade meals with fresh ingredients... but no one else in the family cares nearly as much about it as I do. When we're juggling activity and work and school schedules, crying uncle and having takeout or something from the freezer gives us some time to relax and enjoy each other's company. Yet I rarely let myself do it. A less-than-ideal convenience meal on occasion isn't going to make me a bad mom. But valuing fresh, home-cooked meals above stealing a precious few minutes to enjoy my family might. Relaxing my standards — a little bit — would make me happier.

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