Mindy Kaling House Rules header

Mindy Kaling’s House Rules—Take Your Shoes Off and Stay a While

In Kaling’s colorful abode, there are family photos on the wall, a great movie soundtrack on the speakers, and plenty of snacks on the counter for noshing.

Growing up in Cambridge, MA with Indian-American parents came with a set of clear rules that imprinted on Mindy Kaling’s sense of what home life should be.

“We had a kind of classic rules family,” she says. Shoes were left at the door so they didn’t track dirt onto the floor. Kids pitched in to keep their rooms tidy. Dish duty was shared. Both of my parents worked and they were very candid about our house being a living organism that would not thrive unless we all helped out.” 

Now that she is a working parent herself, she understands the importance of keeping a welcoming and (semi) orderly home to return to after a chaotic day at work or school.

“My job is so social,” she says. “I work at a place where there’s 125 people, and I get to laugh and be with them all day. I get to go from the Universal lot to the Warner Brothers lot, or travel to India for work, and then I come [back] to my home which is a quiet cathedral for introspection.”

Of course, because she has two kids under 5, “quiet” is a relative term. In order to maintain the peace, most of their toys are now relegated to her former home office, an elegant room that’s now devoted to dolls and a “massive collection of toy cars and trucks.” And for sanity purposes the volume of their favorite TV shows is kept at a level that still allows for adult conversation.

Her rules for a happy home are proof that it’s possible for parents and their progeny to thrive together—with style and joy to spare. 

Making a House a Home

Sometimes it just takes a special photo, your most-loved coffee maker, or maybe an heirloom piece of furniture to make a space feel like home.

Q: What special touches make a house feel like a home to you?

I’m always so impressed by people who have cut flowers and a lit candle in their home. I love a peony or a hydrangea, a big, puffy colorful flower. Because of my work schedule, or my kids, or just my informal nature, I don’t have a candle lit all the time or perfectly arranged flowers. But I do have tons of family photos around the house, pictures of my late mother, and that makes me feel very centered. I am that person who is constantly taking photos and sending them off to a weird internet site to get prints and then framing them to hang on the wall.

I also love when I go to a house and their kitchen isn’t pristine. Maybe this is the Indian-American part of me, which feels like there’s nothing worse than having too little food out at a dinner. Just being able to see a bag of chips, or a box of Dunkin Donuts munchkins, or a box of little chocolate chip cookies from Entenmann’s out on the counter, so someone can come in and take a snack. I want to have a tacit policy in my house that you can help yourself. You don’t even need to get a napkin or a plate. Just get a snack. My dear friend BJ Novak will come over whenever he’s in town, and he never says he’ll stay for a meal, but he always eats a meal’s worth of snacks. I’m not going to pin this on him because I love snacks, too. But we always make sure we have little crunchy snacks out for him. It’s the same with my Dad. He picks up my daughter every single day and drops her off at the house. It’s such a luxury that we have, and a nice bonding thing for my kids and their grandfather. He’ll come in and get a handful of salted almonds, or a few squares of Tony’s Chocolonely that I left on the counter. My favorite gift to receive during the holidays is a popcorn trio! Those big tins of delicious popcorn. So, great snacks! That, to me, is what makes my house feel like a home. 

shoes at door for Mindy Kaling House Rules

Mindy's House Rules

The list is short and sweet and easy to stick to.

Q: If you were to hang a list of rules in your home, what would they be?

  1. Shoes off. That won’t be surprising because I’m Indian.
  2. TV volume should not drown out conversation. Octonauts and Peppa Pig can start to sound a little oppressive. Adults and kids need to be able to coexist, and I can’t think if the kids’ TV is too loud.
  3. Take your dish from the table to the sink. You don’t even need to rinse it, just put it in the sink. No one would ever be able to get anything done if we were always picking up after people.

Q: Are you a dish rinser or anti-rinse?

I rinse, fully. I don’t even know why that is. I think that has to do with how you were raised. Whatever you did in your childhood home feels like the way it should be done and the other way seems so insane. Dishwashers might be better now, but you still have to clean the gunk out of the bottom.

Q: What house rules did you grow up with?

We made our beds every morning. We had to fold our own laundry and put it away. Everyone pitched in and had different chores. We had some pretty standard family values. My mother couldn’t stand an unmade bed, and I have inherited that. I hope to instill that habit in my kids when they’re older.

Q: Do you play music when you have people over, and if so what’s your playlist?

I love music, and I’m also that person who never knows what to pick when I’m confronted by Spotify or Sonos. For me, I like to listen to Aaron Copeland when I’m cooking. I love his music because it’s so inherently cinematic. I love The Chicks and always have. I really love soundtracks when I’m cooking, too. If I’m cooking Italian food I’ll play “The Talented Mr. Ripley” soundtrack, or if I’m making an Indian meal I’ll play “Monsoon Wedding.” It’s very transportive and very fun. I’m very susceptible to the power of music making me feel like I’m in a different place. If I have people over for a dinner party, I panic for about 5 minutes before people arrive and search for “cool dinner party music.” I’m very basic that way.

Mindy Kaling holding drink tray House Rules

Andrew Eccles

Q: Do you have any hosting rules?

This isn’t a rule so much as just a comment. Cut flowers stress me out when someone gives them to me because I don’t know how to arrange them, and then I have to leave my party to go pretend I’m a florist. I don’t have a rule about it, but I’d prefer a jam, or a Christmas ornament.

Life as a Writer

She acts, produces, writes, and so much more, but here's an inside peek into her writing.

Q: Do you write at home?

I do. I write from bed. I did have an office that’s decked in all of my favorite colors, and I could see myself being so creatively fertile there. Now that I have kids, it’s become their playroom. That’s where all of their books and board games live. There are lots of dolls and a massive collection of toy cars and trucks. So I work lying on my stomach on my bed. Anytime I had a desk where I was supposed to write, I never did it there anywhere.

People who know me are surprised by how shy I am and how private I am. I’m the quintessential introvert that has my six friends and avoids making a lot of plans.

Q: What are some common misconceptions people have about what a TV writer is?

I think there are some misconceptions about what a comedy writer is like. I think when you’re in comedy, people expect you to be “on” all the time. And there certainly are people who are comedy writers and actors who are on a lot of the time, if not all of the time. People who know me are surprised by how shy I am and how private I am. I’m the quintessential introvert that has my six friends and avoids making a lot of plans. That’s insane, because I do love to entertain, but it’s a very controlled environment. I think I’m more serious than people expect me to be.

Mindy Kaling setting table for House Rules

Andrew Eccles

Other Areas of the Home

Beyond the rules of the house Mindy's got her own a decor style and a mantra to live by (sort of).

Q: How do you feel about your garden?

I’ve never had a garden that I haven’t killed. There are certain flowers I love, like hydrangea and gladiolus and peonies. Our hydrangea in our yard hasn’t died yet, which is good. My parents would have raised garden beds in our yard and it became a war with the rabbit and the deer. They gnawed on all of it. So I sort of have this idea that it’s a lot of trouble. I have a lot of LA friends who have chickens, and they love them and it’s a big part of their lifestyle. I can’t do it. I couldn’t tell my kids that the chicken died.

I like color but I want it to be elegant. I like tasteful and joyful.

Q: How do you incorporate your love of vibrant color and pattern when you entertain at home?

There’s a really fine line between colorful and well-matched and then kind of goofy, quirky, or kooky, none of which I like. And sometimes when you enjoy color, people think you like kooky, mismatched things, and I’m very far from that. I like color but I want it to be elegant. I like tasteful and joyful.

Q: Do you have a motto, or a family mantra, that you live by?

A big mantra in my family was “never complain, never explain.” And I love that, in theory. My parents were very successful at doing that. But my two joys in life are complaining and explaining! (laughs) I actually have it embroidered on a pillow. It’s a good thing to remember, even if I don’t always live by it.

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