In the second chapter of Happier at Home—the one dedicated to possessions—Gretchen Rubin talks about how she created “shrines” around her home as way to put the things that mattered to her and to her family front and center: personal collections that would make her apartment feel like home.
Gretchen explains that the purpose of a shrine (a term that she admits is “a little grandiose”) isn’t to fill a niche with candles, flowers, and a statue, but to cultivate “an area that enshrined my passions, interests, and values.”
In the book, she describes how she created a Shrine to Family, full of family photos and keepsakes. She turned her entire office into a Shrine to Work, transforming the previously spartan room into a beautiful and inviting place to write.
But my favorite example was her Shrine to Children’s Literature, which she describes in loving detail. I’ve read Happier at Home a half dozen times by now: every time I come to this passage book lust overwhelms me, and I wish I could see this shrine for myself.
It turns out that’s not so hard after all: I emailed Gretchen … and she sent pictures.
Gretchen says: note the Nutshell Library by Sendak and my Gryffindor banner
Gretchen says: note my old Cricket magazines and the miniature scene of a mermaid bringing up treasure
my own shelves: 80% kid lit as of right now
I loved poring over these photos … and while I did it dawned on me that I’ve been cultivating my own shrine to children’s literature without even meaning to. Or without consciously meaning to, because I just told you I’ve read Happier at Home six times, so make of that what you will.
I do know that I’ve never been much of a collector, but just last year I started consciously adding beautiful books to my collection just because they make me happy. It’s been wonderful to see them on the shelf every time I walk through the living room, to catch my kids browsing for something to read, and to arrange and re-arrange just for the fun of it.
Gretchen’s fascinating new book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives hits shelves today. I finally got my hands on an early copy last week, read it in two days, and wanted to immediately start again from the beginning. I highly recommend it if you’ve enjoyed her previous work, although if you’ve never read her books, this would be a great place to start. I’m glad I’m getting this one in hardback, because it will get plenty of use around here.
Thanks so much to Gretchen for letting us see her Shrine to Children’s Literature.
I’d love to hear about your own shrines and collections—especially bookish ones—in comments.
Books mentioned in this post:
In the spirit of her blockbuster #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin embarks on a new project to make home a happier place.
One Sunday afternoon, as she unloaded the dishwasher, Gretchen Rubin felt hit by a wave of homesickness. Homesick—why? She was standing right in her own kitchen. She felt homesick, she realized, with love for home itself. “Of all the elements of a happy life,” she thought, “my home is the most important.” In a flash, she decided to undertake a new happiness project, and this time, to focus on home.
And what did she want from her home? A place that calmed her, and energized her. A place that, by making her feel safe, would free her to take risks. Also, while Rubin wanted to be happier at home, she wanted to appreciate how much happiness was there already.
So, starting in September (the new January), Rubin dedicated a school year—September through May—to making her home a place of greater simplicity, comfort, and love.
In The Happiness Project, she worked out general theories of happiness. Here she goes deeper on factors that matter for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, and parenthood. How can she control the cubicle in her pocket? How might she spotlight her family’s treasured possessions? And it really was time to replace that dud toaster.
Each month, Rubin tackles a different theme as she experiments with concrete, manageable resolutions—and this time, she coaxes her family to try some resolutions, as well.
With her signature blend of memoir, science, philosophy, and experimentation, Rubin’s passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire readers to find more happiness in their own lives.
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