"You have a polar bear in your freezer!" my friend exclaimed as she searched for the ice cream. "Why would you put a polar bear in the freezer?"
Well, it's a long story, but the basic point is this: Out of all the possible homes for that stuffed Coca-Cola polar bear in our house, the freezer is where he feels happiest and most himself. Which is exactly what home is supposed to be.
So even though we have a very small freezer and there never seems to be enough room for all our stuff, that polar bear has lived there for about fifteen years. Three different states, three different freezers, but always the same cheerful, self-actualized polar bear.
I've been thinking about this recently as I listen to Gretchen Rubin's new book Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Daily Life. Rubin, who also wrote the bestseller The Happiness Project, makes the point repeatedly that being happy at home is about simply being who you are. Sounds pretty basic, right? "Be Gretchen," she tells herself.
Be Gretchen. Be Jana. Be yourself.
It's a fine book, and a smart one. (Anyone who is tempted to dismiss Rubin as a superficial "year-in-the-life" writer should give her a chance. Her writing is thoughtful and well-researched. She enjoys literature and philosophy; it's not for nothing that "read Samuel Johnson" is one of the subtitular employments that she discovers will contribute to her happiness at home.)
Right now as I write this in my south-facing office, the sunlight is pouring through my window and spilling on to my desk (which sounds romantic, and it is, but the glare is almost painful). My dog is on the couch behind me, contendedly licking his paws; much of the wall space is covered with books.
This is a Jana room. Nothing fancy, but the furniture is comfortable for reading and writing, even if the blanketed couch is covered with dog fur. (I really need to take care of that.) This room is my freezer, the place uniquely suited to my needs and temperament. Since I don't have to share it with anyone of the human species, I got to decide on the color, the furniture placement, and whether it would be messy or neat.
According to Rubin, most of us know that our homes should be places where we feel most at ease, but we get a little too caught up in what others will think of them. Magazines tell us that "Your home should reflect who you are," while what they really mean is, "Your home should reflect the much cooler person you want to project to the world rather than the boring sweatpant-clad person you actually are."
Reading the book has caused me to catalog the many things I love about our home: the wood floors, the fireplace, the built-in bookshelves my husband made, the radiant floor heating he installed in our bathroom. I love the 87-year-old front door that you have to know just the trick of unlocking. I love the postage-stamp sized urban yard that can be mowed in ten minutes. It's a house with some history, an unpretentious but solid sanctuary. It feels like an old friend.
I hope you have your polar-bear places, and that your home is where you can feel completely, liberatingly yourself.