“The whole atmosphere of the house was so extraordinarily good–nothing ignoble seemed natural within its doors, and moreover the actual surroundings, the books, the pictures (reproductions of old masters) the simple furniture and the wildflowers for decoration everywhere were a revelation in themselves in those days when the world either lived in a crowd of ancestral treasures or in the unutterable hideousness of the Victorian Age when prosperity had to be apparent.” – In Memoriam, p. 74
Whenever I read Charlotte’s work, what stands out to me is the sense of beautiful simplicity. In the way she can distill educational ideas into a fully formed philosophy and in the way she makes suggestions about things as simple as what the proper clothing for children is (woolens, if you were wondering. See volume one, p. 36). When it comes to the decoration of the home, her ideas also convey a beautiful simplicity. This is where we can take our inspiration.
I’m sure most of you have at least heard of, if not read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While I have reservations about her rituals of talking to inanimate objects, there is so much good in the book that I can’t help but just overlook the stranger aspects. The main part that helped me? Don’t attempt to organize clutter. Just don’t do it. Rather than looking for a system to organize all of your things, it is better to simply assess whether or not those things actually bring you any level of joy in the first place. Here in lies the core of simplicity.
Let’s consider an example. The last time I moved, we cleared one room first and packed it up so that all the items and furniture would be near the door in another space. Cleaning up that room was suddenly very easy. I checked the walls, dusted the mantle, and vacuumed. It took all of 3 minutes. It then occurred to me that each item in that room added to my total cleaning time. For certain items, this seemed like a worthwhile use of time. I want to sit. I really like sitting. If it takes an extra 2 minutes to dust an armchair or to move it in order to vacuum underneath, that is fine with me. Even if that is 2 minutes every week for the rest of my life and now I have invested 52 hours of my life over the next thirty years in the maintenance of that armchair, it is worth it in order to be able to comfortably sit. Now, what are the items that I own that I don’t have strong feelings about? Am I willing to dedicate the time to maintain that item for its (or my) entire lifetime? How much does it cost in cleaning products or professional maintenance? How many things are you keeping that take an emotional toll – that you keep out of guilt or some obligation? Each item you own has a cost far beyond the price you paid at the register.
Home should also represent the atmosphere you want to create – what words do you use when considering the ideal atmosphere? Some ideas I think of for my home would be calm, joyful, faith-filled, warm, orderly, and hospitable. It took a long while to realize that my home did not match those words. My home followed trends and was filled with stuff that didn’t carry much meaning at all, but that I really liked when I saw it at the store and bought rather impulsively. When you consider your list of words that describe your ideal home atmosphere, does your home match that description? If not, start the process of having a home that matches your vision and not the store shelves (and it doesn’t matter if that store is Goodwill or Restoration Hardware).
Lastly, your home should carry your personal touch and reflect your family culture. In a world where sites like Pinterest or shiny catalogs in the mail try to tell you what your home “should” look like based on the latest trends or a desire to create a sense of status, it is easy to feel like our homes must look a certain way. Instead, consider who your home serves and how it can serve them best. Does each person have a place to sit and read or paint or simply think? Is the kitchen laid out to make cooking efficient and enjoyable, while leaving room for those who need a glass of water and a snack to not have to bump into the cook? Does every item have a home, making cleaning easy for you or any member of the family? Is your love of camping clear when people walk in the door? Your love of books? Your love of watercolors? Whatever it is, your home shouldn’t look identical to any catalog, it should be where your family feels represented, respected, and loved.
If you have any doubts about whether or not something is worth your time or effort, or if it adds beauty or distracts from it, put it away for a few weeks and see if you miss it. If not, give it away to a charity or someone who would be blessed by it. You will enjoy the simplicity and the beauty found within that simplicity.
Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci