Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Since March, a lot of us have been confined under various forms of house arrest, watching talking heads on television who are also in their homes. This state of affairs gives way to my new game, Fantasy Home: It’s fantasy football, only with window treatments. Currently on my team: the kitchen of Claire McCaskill, the den of Michael Beschloss, and the living room of the pineapple enthusiast Steve Schmidt, particularly if he throws in his Lab and his Bernese mountain dog.

So with all of this focus on the domestic, what better time to dive into books that help us create better homes, or a better life in our homes. Hey, move over. You’re hogging the bed.

“What does ‘home’ mean, really?” asks Kate Peers, the author of MINDFUL THOUGHTS AT HOME: Finding Heart in the Home (Leaping Hare Press, 160 pp., $9.99) and self-proclaimed social media guru. “While your home is a statement to all who visit, more importantly, it influences your mood and emotions. The vision of a beautiful house means something different to everyone, so it is important to be confident with your choices and content in what you have around you.” The idea of “Mindful Thoughts” is that by commenting on various aspects of the home — noticing, appreciating, living in the moment — we will figure out what makes us happy and what doesn’t. “Just take a look around your space now; don’t try to force any reactions, but see how you feel,” she says. “What do you appreciate? Maybe the smooth, green leaves on a house plant or the comfort of a pillow get your shoulders unknotting.” The idea here is to think not only how something looks, but how it feels, and how it makes you feel. This works really well for those with good taste. If you don’t have good taste, you may end up going to a store when you’re tipsy and buying a $2,000 swivel chair because it came in a fabric called Cuddle. And then you have a furry chair in your bedroom glaring at you, matching nothing, a symbol of all your bad decisions. That’s where mindfulness got me.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: RIGHT AT HOME: How to Buy, Decorate, Organize and Maintain Your Space (Black Dog & Leventhal, illustrated, 240 pp., $30), by Ronda Kaysen and Michelle Higgins, is a primer in everything home related, from deciding the question of buy vs. rent to how to hang art. (Pro tip: Don’t hang it near a dishwasher or radiator or, you know, a bathroom without really good ventilation. Though maybe that’s how Salvador Dalí got those watches to melt.)

The authors, veteran Times reporters, have collected practical words to live by. For example: “Let your lifestyle drive your décor, not the other way around.” This is a key concept, often lost on those of us who decided to feather our nests before having children, only to discover that with a toddler, the stunning octagonal glass coffee table is now your own personal Death Star.

The problem with general home books that rely on advice from different home experts, as this one does, is that experts often contradict one another. The guy who recommends a palette of materials that get better with age and “develop a patina” is followed by someone who acknowledges you may need to buy from Ikea. The decorator who advises you can always enhance modest furnishings with blankets and throw pillows is gazumped one page later by a decorator who says don’t blow your budget on pillows and blankets.

So for those of us who are unsure of ourselves, there’s a bit of whiplash. I prefer one benign dictator to tell me what to do. For those with more confidence, though, it’s fun to see how much is possible, and how you can mix the right with a little of the very wrong, and make it glorious. John Heilemann, the author and national affairs analyst, has the most chic, minimalist home imaginable … where recently an enormous yellow plastic squirrel has earned pride of place. You go, Heilemann.

Why would anyone need a book like Erin Zammett Ruddy’s THE LITTLE BOOK OF LIFE SKILLS: Deal With Dinner, Manage Your Email, Make a Graceful Exit, and 152 Other Expert Tricks (Grand Central, 272 pp., $20)? After all, if you want to know the easiest way to, say, put a duvet cover on a duvet, you’ve got Google, right? Sure, except that there are pages and pages of methods, you’re not sure which is best, and while you’re doing your research — oh look, there’s a camel and a warthog who are best friends! And off you go, until you’ve watched 40 adorable videos and forgotten what you were looking for.

In the firm belief that there is sometimes one great way to do something, Ruddy, a magazine journalist with a deep pool of experts on speed dial, has collected what she considers the best. She organizes chapters around challenges we may face in a typical day, many of them in the home — from how to get out of bed (no snooze button, and immediately drink a glass of water since you’ve lost a lot overnight) to setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep — which includes this brilliant if daunting piece of advice: Escort your phone out of the room. Each tip has a how-to, an expert source and an explanation.

PS. I won’t explain the best way to put on a duvet cover, but suffice it to say that is not the way I’ve been doing it my entire life, which involves throwing the duvet cover over my head while clutching the duvet, and then sort of shimmying out like a king cobra molting. Lesson learned.

If the phrase “paper-organizing retreat” makes you breathe a little heavier, boy, do I have the book for you. Lisa Woodruff, author of THE PAPER SOLUTION: What to Shred, What to Save, and How to Stop It From Taking Over Your Life (Putnam, 320 pp., $18), hosts these retreats and people drive across state lines, some of them in trucks weighted down with loads of paper destined for Woodruff’s industrial shredder, to learn everything there is to know about what to do with those piles that have accumulated.

Some of us have a complicated relationship with paper. “Hey, why don’t you just scan everything into your computer?” has an obvious reply: “Hey, why don’t you jump off this cliff?” But Woodruff understands that, say, getting rid of tax returns from 20 years ago can be extremely emotional. She’s been there. “Regret, grief, condemnation, judgment, stress, worry, hopelessness — these are all emotions I experienced in going through my own big purge.” She counsels improvement, not perfection. “Organizing is a form of giving ourselves grace,” she adds.

Woodruff is not wrong. I pay $50 a month to store all the paper I can’t throw out. But! Thanks to her, I bought enormous plastic bins for my letters — every holiday card, including the ones from P.R. companies and insurance brokers; every word of affection, including the racy notes from I can’t remember whom, maybe someone I dated, maybe someone I never met who answered an ad I put in The Village Voice in 1988.

Improvement not perfection, people.

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