5 “French Women” Strategies for a Healthy Home

published Jul 23, 2014
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(Image credit: Kathryn Bacalis)

I’ve been reading French Women Don’t Get Fat and its sequel, A French Woman For All Seasons, as part of the research for a piece I’m writing. The lessons of the books are simple: take pleasure in what you eat; eat everything — in season and of the best quality you can find — in moderation; drink water; move a little every day; and, play to your unique strengths. A recent experience made me think that these same lessons could also apply to your home.

My neighbor was moving out. She offered me some wire shelving she wasn’t taking with her, and I stopped by to check it out. I’d never been in her apartment and I was curious. Although all of the apartments in my building were constructed on the same model, they’re all slightly different. True, her living room was smaller than mine, but her bathroom was bigger, and it had beautiful blue bathroom tile. The kitchen still had its original cabinets with their quirky amenities (like a bin for potatoes and onions and a bread drawer), and her front door didn’t open directly into the living room.

Since my neighbor is moving, I expected the mess of half-filed cardboard boxes on the floor. I also expected the donation pile. What I wasn’t expecting was how big her outbox was or how much maintenance her home needed. The beauty of the bones of her space — hardwood floors, original molding, an eat-in kitchen that looked out onto the building’s common courtyard, that blue tile in her bathroom — was hidden beneath too much stuff and the evidence of a home that wasn’t well taken care of. I’ll admit I’ve been writing for Apartment Therapy for a long time, so maybe I notice these things more than other people might, and maybe I’m not as overwhelmed by how to take care of them. But, while moving is a great incentive to get rid of stuff, in the same way that French Women Don’t Get Fat eschews crash diets and losing ten pounds in two days for making little tweaks that result in big changes, a beautiful home is the result of daily, small modifications.

Take pleasure in what you eat: You may not be living in the house of your dreams, but there is beauty in every space. Enjoy and use your home and decorate it to support your life. Surround yourself with things you love and that make you happy. If you hate that chair from Great Aunt Sophie, out it goes. Even if it’s worth a ton of money, living with something that doesn’t make you happy is a psychic drain on your soul.

Eat everything — in season and of the best quality you can find — in moderation: Seek out the best pieces you can find. Use the good silverware, the nice towels, the expensive soap. Instead of ten sets of sheets from IKEA, what about two sets of really good linen sheets that get better and better with each wash?

Drink water: Weekly fresh flowers, using your kitchen to cook, daily cleaning, regular decluttering, open windows, beautiful candles, music, having people over — these are all things that hydrate your home with life.

Move a little every day: Whether it’s changing up the pillows in the winter, replacing your old coffee table with a great find from the flea market or a new vase for those fresh flowers, your home needs movement. If you’ve changed nothing in your home in the past five years, it’s probably time to think about a little freshening up. What if you moved the couch? Maybe it’s time for a new rug?

Play to your strengths: True, my kitchen is dark, I don’t have enough closet space, and let’s not even talk about the challenges of not having a parking space, but my living room has a ginormous picture window and my bedroom gets the most amazing light. Even the smallest and most awkwardly shaped homes have a unique beauty about them. Instead of lamenting what it lacks, take the time to discover what’s great about your home (hint: what do visitors always remark on?) and celebrate it.

Re-edited from a post originally published 7.23.14-NT