Create a Shrine to Something You Love

I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project,” and her follow-up book, “Happier at Home,” really speaks to me as a residential designer.  In both books, the author emphasizes the importance of making time for, paying attention to, and appreciating the many life-enhancing moments we are blessed with everyday.   Whether it’s enjoying the view during a pretty commute to work (something anyone on our train line can embrace), finding time to catch up with a good friend, or creating a well-organized, clutter-free desk at which to tackle our work each morning, Rubin espouses that most of us can create more joy in our lives by making relatively small tweaks as we go about our days.

Photo: This “shrine” is devoted to one of the author’s favorite vacation spots and includes water colors of local landmarks, shells and coral collected on the beach, and tropical fronds reminiscent of the locale.

I must confess that I’ve never mustered the energy or time to undertake all of Rubin’s suggestions, but one in particular really resonates with me:  to “Cultivate a Shrine” at home honoring something that brings you joy.  It’s one project I’ve happily completed in my own home and one that I usually find comes up, however unconsciously, when I’m working in clients’ homes.

In this context, “shrine” is not meant as a place of religious worship or solemnity; it simply means a space in which to display and appreciate things that evoke a happy memory.  This may be very specific, like a favorite vacation destination or an annual family reunion you look forward to each year.  It could also be much more general in nature; perhaps you relish the opera or the ballet, or you’ve attended dozens of a favorite band’s concerts.  Any place or memory that makes you giddy fits the bill.

To children, dedicating a space to these passions comes naturally.  Enter any young child’s room and you’re sure to see a shelf of ponies or Barbies or Legos arranged just so, while teenagers may devote an entire wall to posters of their favorite band and a whole bookcase to baseball trophies, signed balls, and framed trading cards.  But as we grow, and our display space extends beyond a single bedroom, our treasures become spread out so that they no longer correlate to one another.  Or we begin to consider them as just clutter or “unsophisticated” and resign them to a box in the basement.

I encourage you to follow Rubin’s advice and pick a small space in which to gather, display, and enjoy those possessions!  When artfully arranged together on a tray, shelf, or small table, collections can take on a sense of importance and have greater visual impact than when dispersed around a room.  Bring in various elements to round out your shrine – artwork, photos, plants, books or travel guides, as well as mementos from the occasion can all be curated into a lovely vignette.   Try framing ticket stubs; a wide matte around small objects adds gravitas to whatever you’re displaying.  Place a shell or rock collection in a pretty bowl or give an otherwise seemingly insignificant token a sense of importance by placing it under a glass cloche or in a display case.   I also like including a scented candle or oil diffuser that evokes the scent of your favorite place.   For me, a woodsy pine scent always makes me think of my family’s cottage in Michigan, while the musky, sweet scent of honeysuckle instantly transports me back to my undergrad days in New Orleans’ Garden District.

In my own home, I created a little shrine to one of my favorite places – a coastal island in southern Georgia where my in-laws now live.  My husband proposed during one of our first trips there, and I have many memories of walking the beach with him and imagining how much our children would one day love digging in the same sand.  I feel so lucky to now watch our daughter frolic on this beach, lick ice cream cones on the local pier, and ride her bike under the ancient oaks dripping in Spanish moss.   My personal shrine includes watercolors of local landmarks by a resident artist, a conch shell and piece of coral found on one of our many beach walks, a photo of my daughter at the beach club, and some tropical fronds that remind me of warm, humid afternoons spent by the water, sipping sweet tea.  I incorporated colors I associate with the area – the aqua of the water and the subtle pinks and golds of sunsets on the marsh.   It’s in my bedroom on a bookshelf on my side of the bed, so I get to enjoy it and relive all the joyful memories we’ve had there – and look forward to happy days ahead – at the start and end of each day.

Set aside an afternoon to “Cultivate a Shrine” in your own home, and see what joy it can spark for you.

Kitty Burruss is a decorator, writer, wife, and mother to a very busy four-year-old. Follow her at www.

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss