I dove into “Martha Stewart’s Very Good Things: Clever Tips & Genius Ideas for an Easier, More Enjoyable Life” for this month’s column with no small amount of enthusiasm. I was primed to enjoy this book—my mother reveres Martha, whose tips and tricks have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And I get it! “Very Good Things” is a delight to page through; every detail of the book has clearly been thought out, from the way it opens flat so you don’t have to worry about trying to hold it open, to the bright, cheerful photography and thick, satisfying pages.
Martha’s tone is perfect throughout, it’s warm and just a little condescending—not because she’s trying to be mean, but because she truly cannot imagine why a person wouldn’t set up a hospitality station outfitted with spare keys, maps, and reference binders for visiting guests.
Martha’s real gift, though, is how convincing she is. Maybe I do need to line the glass fronted cabinets in my house with linen, I think to myself, flipping through the book as I eat lunch one afternoon. Suddenly, it seems ludicrous that I have lived this long without doing just that. “It’s instantly more stylish,” Martha coos seductively. “The best part? The easy project calls for adhesives and no hemming or hammering—meaning you can swap out the fabric on a whim.” The paired image is even more convincing, a taupe cabinet lounging against a spotless white wall, tasteful knick-knacks along the top. Yes, I think to myself, that can be me too, thank you for opening my eyes.
Then I remember that I live in a house that friends have described as “an after school hangout for queer teens”—we don’t have things like glass fronted cabinets, much less spotless white walls and tasteful knick-knacks.
That is the draw here —Martha knows you want to be a person whose home is perfectly streamlined and filled with charming touches like a basket of slippers in the entryway for guests. It’s why the word “lifehack” exists—we all want a shortcut to our perfect, effortless life. Martha has known that for years, and indeed the back cover text refers to her “Good Things,” released in January, as “the original life hacks for the home.” And it is, it is a gorgeous book brimming with them, so tantalizing that it’s hard not to start thinking you need raised garden beds despite...not having a lawn.
But is it self help? Well, that’s a thornier question, I think. We’ve approached this column (Meredith Goldstein and I are taking turns writing it once a month) with a wide, all-encompassing definition of what self help is, and yes, a part of me thinks that anything that makes your day to day just a little easier should be thought of as self help. Here are the best ways to store your greens. This is the best way to clean mushrooms. Keep your dish soap in a pretty glass bottle. There. Isn’t that better?
Martha does not want you to dig any deeper than the few inches you’ll need to plant a charming wildflower patch in your lawn. This book is not about working on anything messy or challenging within yourself, this is not about taking the time to confront your problems. At first, I thought, well, then I suppose it can’t be self help? Isn’t self help all about tackling the hard stuff, don’t we have to be fighting through a slog of emotions so we can come out the other side having learned something about ourselves?
Here’s where I finally landed, after prepping a bunch of herbs for maximum freshness and removing a stubborn coffee stain with lemon juice. I think it’s okay to focus on the surface, sometimes. After this year, who isn’t deeply, keenly aware of the ways your home could function a little better? There is something to be said for the joy of learning a tip or a trick that you will use again and again, or finding a recipe for a perfect roast chicken and realizing that, yes, you can make that for dinner. Sometimes it’s just as rewarding to take a surface win as it is to confront your problems.
And when you are done doing that hard, messy work, won’t it be nice to reach into your perfectly organized linen closet and grab a washcloth to wipe your tears?
Who This Book is For: Let me put it this way. My friend was immediately engrossed by this book and has taken many of its tips and tricks to heart. This is a woman who is roughly equal parts glitter, clementine peels and a selection of mismatched plates she found in a box marked “FREE” on the street. This is a woman who can create clutter in a room just by entering it. This is a woman who manages to dirty almost every utensil in our kitchen when all she’s doing is heating up soup for lunch. If she loves this book and found something useful in it, I can guarantee you will too.
“Martha Stewart’s Very Good Things: Clever Tips & Genius Ideas for an Easier, More Enjoyable Life,” by Martha Stewart, Houghton Mifflin, $30.
Christina Tucker lives in Philadelphia and writes for Autostraddle, Elle, Vogue, Teen Vogue and NBC’s Think.com. She podcasts as a fourth chair on NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”