'Happier at Home': Gretchen Rubin offers 10 tips to make home more comforting

Beginning in September – with the onset of what she calls the "mom Olympics" – writer Gretchen Rubin spent her children's school year experimenting with ways of making her house more of a home. Here are 10 tips from her journey.

1.Getting rid of stuff

John Nordell

Rubin admits that this can be easier said than done. Some people hate to throw things away, and different people are comfortable with different levels of possessions. Rubin said she pursued a strategy of only keeping things she engaged with. "Engagement came in two forms," she wrote. "First was the engagement that came with use. When I often used a possession – wore the purple coat, packed up the duffel bag, consulted the laminated subway map – I felt engaged with that object... Second was the engagement that came with response. Every time I walked by the shelf where we kept the handmade books my daughters made in nursery school, all swollen with glued bits of macaroni and cotton balls, I thought tenderly of those days... My goal, then, was to rid our home of things that didn't matter, to make more room for the things that did." The objects to get rid of, Rubin says, are the ones without meaning.

Making shrines

Having trouble deciding where to put the objects you want to save? Rubin suggests making shrines – areas devoted to a certain activity or subject you love. One of the shrines she created was one to children's books, where she put her beloved copies of books by Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Edward Eager, among others. "A possession was precious only if I made it precious, through my associations," Rubin wrote.

Abandon a project

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Rubin says it's important to learn when to let go of a project you've started but never completed. "One very effective way to complete a project is to abandon it," Rubin wrote. While going through her family's toy closet, she found a kit for building a model of a mountain that she and her daughter had bought, but then opened to find that the directions were difficult to understand. "There it had sat for months, opened but untouched, a reproach," Rubin wrote. "Now, I removed the useful materials, added them to our art supplies, and threw away the box."

Give gold stars

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When focusing on her marriage, Rubin resolved to "give gold stars" – or, in other words, ensure that her husband received appreciation and compliments. One way she tried to do so was making a fuss over achievements. "When something good happened to Jamie at work, or elsewhere, I made a big fuss, and I shared the news with Jamie's parents and my parents (he's very modest about touting his accomplishments)," Rubin wrote. "Studies show that celebrating good news, and showing the happiness you feel in your partner's accomplishments, small and large, strengthens a relationship."

Underreacting to problems

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When she focused on parenting, Rubin tried to adopt a policy of underreacting to situations. "I also found that underreacting to little household accidents made them less irritating, because after all, they were only as annoying as I allowed them to be," she wrote. "When [her daughter] Eliza raced into the kitchen to say, 'I didn't mean to, it was an accident... but, well, a bottle of purple nail polish spilled on my carpet. It fell off a shelf and the top was off,' I didn't leap to my feet to yell, 'Why was a bottle of nail polish sitting open on a shelf?' or 'You're eleven years old! Don't you know how careful you need to be with nail polish?' or 'Why do we even own purple nail polish?' Instead, I calmly went to her room, told her to look for stain removal suggestions on the Internet, looked at the stain, and then spent a few minutes scrubbing it.... She looked relieved that she wasn't in trouble, and I'd spared myself a session of pointless anger."

Sending a 'no' message to happiness leeches

Rubin advises avoiding "happiness leeches" – people who are negative all the time or who act maliciously and can affect your own happiness through their behavior. "I passed on the chance to collaborate with someone on a tempting project, solely because I'd detected strong evidence of happiness leechiness (my diagnosis: grouch with a touch of jerk)," she wrote. "The project would have been fun, short-lived, and not much work, but each short encounter with this person leeched away a small but noticeable measure of my happiness. I followed my resolution, and the minute I hit 'send' on my 'Thanks, but no thanks' email, I felt a big wave of relief."

Responding to the spirit of a gift

John Nordell

Rubin suggests responding to the spirit in which a gift is given rather than the gift itself if it doesn't immediately bowl you over. Rubin loves gardenias, so once, her husband brought her home a massive gardenia plant. "'Thanks,' I said weakly. 'It's so... big.' Inside, my thoughts were about my own limitations: 'Where will I put it to display it properly? Can I take care of it? I'm sure to kill it in just a few days, as I always do, and that will be so upsetting. What a waste.'... Jamie's gift set off a reaction of self-doubt, so I didn't respond with the enthusiasm that such a thoughtful gift should have provoked. My husband knew I loved gardenias, so he bought me the biggest one he could find!"

Shutting down the cubicle in your pocket

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Rubin notes that separating work from home life is harder now because smart phones, tablets and other devices mean you can work at any time. She vowed to turn off her devices at times when she should be paying undivided attention to her family or engaging in an important task like sleeping. "I don't check email at bedtime," she wrote of one decision she made. "I love ending the day with an emptier in-box, but the stimulation of reading emails wakes me right up, and as a consequence, I often have trouble falling asleep."

Might as well jump

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Rubin resolved to jump every day to increase her energy and overall happiness. "Every day, whenever the thought occurred to me, I gave some kind of jump," she wrote. "I jumped in a silly way to make my daughters laugh, I gave a little secret skip on my way to the drugstore, I hopped up and down in my office, I did jumping jacks after I woke up in the morning, I jumped down the last few stairs. The sheer goofiness of it always made me feel cheerier, and the energy of the gesture made me feel more energetic. Energy creates energy."

View your home like a tourist

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Rubin suggests trying to look at the place you live more closely, as if you were seeing it for the first time, so you can appreciate it all the more. "As I walked down the street, I tried to see the city as a tourist, reporter, or researcher would see it (and I noticed stores just a few blocks from my building that I'd never seen before)," she wrote. "I paid more attention to the rhythms of my New York – the daily procession of families walking up the long sidewalks to school; the people stopping at corner fruit stands before heading down to the subway."