June 25, 2013

On An Aristocrat's Bookshelf: Alexandra Stoddard

The lady, herself
If there is one author or lifestyle philosopher with whom I had to identify, I think I would choose Alexandra Stoddard. Mrs. Stoddard started her life as an interior decorator but has expanded into a series of books explaining how to live your life more joyously, to how to decorate your house, to how to have deeper and better relationships with the people in your life.

Her books are especially precious to me because the two that I own were owned previously by my mother and inspired her to decorate the beautiful house that I grew up in. I learned many skills of how to be a gracious entertainer, decent interior designer and generally elegant from my mother. And as I read through Mrs. Stoddard's books I am reminded again and again of aspects from my childhood.

Now, Mrs. Stoddard is a wealthy, white Interior designer in New York from the 80's. From what I can tell, her life was a privileged one and her idea of saving money during college was to skip a lunch on the town so she could by a fresh flower for her dorm room. If only these belt tightening techniques applied to all of us...

Some of her interior decorating advice is dated, some of her lifestyle advice is laughably naive to the complexities of the less affluent world (I'm never going to import notebooks from England, no matter how pretty they might be), but over all her books are full of inspirational advice about making the little things in our life beautiful- even if it requires a little more effort.

She also highlights the importance of putting yourself first in situations. You can't give to others (the end goal) if you do not have any energy or love to give. You must build up your inner resources before you can help others. Must make sure that you are happy and at peace before spreading the happiness and peace to the rest of the world.

Finally, she embraces the small details (the setting of a table, the arranging of fresh flowers, of writing thank yous) as the ultimate goal of humanity. It is through the small acts that the larger ideals are realized. This is a satisfying and unusual sentiment in today's world.

So while Mrs. Stoddard's books and advice do lack some of the raw passion which underlies our world and are occasional impractical even laughable, over all they  give a philosophy of the world that, if not improving the world, certainly does make it a better place. When I read her books I am encouraged to pick up my room, take special effort with my note cards, and be kinder to people. Perhaps I finally found a devotional for myself.

Who acts as your inspiration? Where do you look for strength to go through each day?

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