I recently read a book slightly out of my character -- Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard. It was recommended years ago by a beloved blog, Brocante Home. I purchased it, but set it aside. After all, the cover was a bit outdated (think, light blues and pinks). I thought it would be a bit touchy-feely old-fashioned home advice.
But I found it to be full of practical tips. Anytime you close the last page of a book wanting to improve, live a better life, and look out for the people around you, you know it was a worthwhile read. I already have a couple dear people in my life I plan to give copies to.
So, needless to say, I was underlining up a storm in these pages. Get ready for a host of fantastic inpiration! So much, in fact, that I've decided to break it up by chapter, lest this entry become a book in and of itself.
To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour leads... - Samuel Johnson, the Rambler, November 10, 1750
"Rituals" is my term for patterns you creat in your everyday living that uplift the way you do ordinary things, so that a simple task rises to the level of something special, ceremonial, ritualistic.
I've observed in my communications with people all over the world the tendency so many of us have to concentrate our energies on things that are for special occasions rather than things we do, or use, every day. In design terms, this translates into working to get the living room just right, instead of concentrating on the rooms we spend the most time in, day after day -- the kitchn, bedroom, bathroom.... Such events comprise at the most 5 percent of our living time, and the remaining 95 percent is often merely walked through, in wistful anticipation of some later joy.... We want to enjoy all the days of our lives, and especially the time spent in the sanctuary of the home. Life is not a dress rehearsal. [Personal commentary: A dear roommate of mine looked beautiful every day. When I commented on my admiration for her taking care to do her makeup, hair, outfits beautifully everyday she replied, "Everyone always thinks something special happens to you -- an opportunity, meeting your spouse, anything -- on a special occasion, when you're dressed in a ballgown and have had your hair professionally set. But in reality, you're much more likely to meet your mate in class, or run into a lifelong friend, connect with a potential contact on a random Tuesday. You should look your best everyday."]
[In speaking of the author's mother:] I remember the fresh flowers on the table, the food attractively arranged on the plate and planned partly with color in mind.
Stimulating the senses through the details of daily acts makes work fun.
I have a friend who has made bill paying into a ritual. She puts Brahms on her stereo, she places an arrangement of flowers on her desk, she dresses in a fresh blouse and skirt so she is actually ready to mail her bills as soon as she's finished.
Taking time to make bathing a ritual -- using Chanel No. 5 or another delicious bathing gel, a terrycloth face mitt, a special almond soap, planning on allowing yourself to soak, read, sip a glass of orange juice, can give your whole evening a fresh beginning.
The same principle should apply to your dinner plates, glasses, a charming set of colorful napkins, placemats to cheer up breakfast. These special things become details of a breakfast ritual; kept on hand for constant use, they enrich each day.
When you think of a friend and actually sit down at a place you've designed as your writing table, with paper, pens and stamps all set up to dash off a note or card, this ritual can be effortless and pleasurable when you're all ready for it.
My husband keeps in touch with people from all over the world by sending clippings from newspapers and magazines. "Brown's Clip Service" is a sustaining daily ritual for Peter. If you rad something in the newspaper that triggers you to think of a friend, clip it and put it on your desk to send on with a note. [send mail, rather than email]
Another touch I appreciate is sealing a letter with wax. I keep several sticks of wax on my desk -- red, blue, green and purple.
Joyce Carol Oats, in her book Solstice, writes about the clock, pointing out that it runs in one direction only...
And making tasks into rituals actually saves time. It takes some effort in the beginning to think about and institute rituals, and to set up your home for them. But you also have the fun of creating them, and then they tend to sustain themselves and you. Rituals help you make the most of time and help you feel you have more of it because you are enjoying yourself more deeply as you flow through the day, adding touches that stimulate enthusiasm and give energy. Daily rituals help eliminate that enervating feeling of being constantly fragmented. A ritual is a mini-performance.
Daily rituals are personal statements.
All of us work. Whether paid of volunteer, at home or in an office, we should create our own little territory that we can personalize and make our own.
You can personalize your workspace through color -- colored folders, pencils and pens, desk accessories. Even the paper clips you use, whether they be gold-colored metal or in a variety of colors, can add just a little personal touch to your work.
I always have fresh flowers at my workspace, even if it's three daisies in a little vase. And I have a handful of my favorite books near me for inspiration and reference. A dictionary is always on my desk, covered with a print of still-life by Henri Fantin-Latour, my favorite flower artist.
If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; ... because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place.
[On rituals:] They reinforce the significance of the simple acts we perform repeatedly. [We have to do these things anyway, brush teeth, exercise, etc. Why not do them beautifully?]
People have always lived by ceremonies; the daily rituals you create allow you to make the most of what you have, and to stretch time by savoring moments.
Emily Dickinson lived most of her life in one house in Amherst; yet she wrote, "I dwell in possibility."
You can gain more control over your life by paying close attention to little things.
Values and rituals are intertwined; through rituals we can express our values, giving our lives dignity, vitality and joy.
Mark new seasons with childhood reminiscences: In spring, fly a kite, In summer, make a sand castle, In fall, rake leaves and go hiking, In winter, go for a walk in newly fallen snow.
Be three minutes early for your next appointment and wait calmly. While you'll show respect for someone else's time and life, you will also have time to compose your thoughts.
Have a friend bring you some pinon incense from Santa Fe to burn in your fireplace. Once you do, you'll be hooked.
Fast fixing up can be almost aerobic-like when you do it to jazzy music.
Buy a brightly colored exercise roll and do Yoga or sit-ups when you feel tense.
Take a few minutes to be alone several times each day.
Daydreaming can help the brain promote essential cross-circuiting of your creativity. Give your brain a nap; it will work smarter.
Walk to appointments. Program enough time to enjoy the sights along the way. Look up at the architectural detail, notice the window displays; browse.
Buy a set of thin water-soluble and long-lasting colored pencils. Fill a mug or glass with your favorites, and display them on your writing desk.
Make a personal source guide. When you discover a store that has products you like, make a note; order by phone or mail, if possible.
Have a special basket for the mail. It looks pretty, and it's fun to bring into the living room or library, to open at leisure.
For fans of: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
All quotes from Alexandra Stoddard and used here purely for personal review purposes.