Mother Culture: What we are Reading

WWR

This month, Amy has been fighting the flu and Camille has spent September moving to another state and then unpacking and packing up again for a wedding 11 hours away.  It has been a month where reading has been much more sparse than usual, however there has been some.

Camille:

First and foremost, I picked up this adorable little poetry book by T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  It is charming and funny, quite British and quirky, and sums up the antics and attitudes of cats rather perfectly.  The kids were laughing at the first poem especially hard.

 

Image of MORNINGS Content Bundle

I’ve also been enjoying the monthly bundles of information and encouragement over at Wild + Free.  This month’s collection of goodness is entitles Mornings and has got me thinking about how to structure our time in our new place.

 

While this one I’ve been listening to rather than sitting down to read it, I’m still counting it here.  It is getting me through some of our unpacking and I’ve never read it before.  I’m not sure how I’ve managed to make it to my mid-thirties and being rather bookish without reading Pride and Prejudice, but I’m now remedying that.

I also got this in the mail and could have read it in a sitting.  I slowed myself down on purpose because her points are worth mulling over slowly, so now I am 75% finished and really enjoying this book immensely.

Atmosphere in Our Home: Going Outdoors

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43

Our home extends outdoors each time we look out a window or step out our door and so the atmosphere of outdoor spaces is worth considering.  This is an area that can feel somewhat daunting, but needn’t be so.

Consider first, what words you would like to use to describe your outdoor space.  Would you like a calm, restful space to read and wander?  An adventurous space for romping, muddy play, and climbing trees?  A natural wonderland alive with bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and pond life?

Next, think about the your outdoor spaces – do you have a few window boxes or a small deck space or acreage?  Is is usually hot and dry? Humid and temperate? Cool, with hard freezes?  Unlike our indoor spaces, where you can fill a room with a seashell motif even if you live nowhere near the coast, the outdoors demand our obedience to the realities of our climate.  Learn a bit about what is native to your area, so it is easier to grow and you are more likely to have success in your endeavors.

Then, start with something small and delightful.  Do you want birds singing at the window?

Image result for mary poppins birds
This is pretty much why I got bird feeders.

Then get some feeders and start welcoming in some native bird species.  I’ve had great luck with finches, chickadees, cardinals, and hummingbirds!  What lives near you?

Do you want a place to gather for meals out of doors?  It can be as simple as finding a favorite quilt to use for afternoon snacks in the yard or as elaborate as finding just the right table and chairs for your deck space. Do what makes sense for your family and budget, but make sure you find it a delight to spend time there.

Is having a cozy spot to knit, have a glass of wine, or tell stories around a fire your first priority for your outdoor space?  It can be as easy as digging a hole and surrounding it with rocks, or as complicated as going to the local hardware store and finding just the right thing.  Just make sure to not to start fires near dry grasses or too close to home!

What about the winter time?  Many of us assume we should be outside less in winter because it is colder, but in some areas of the country it is the most beautiful time of the year.  In areas with snowstorms, it might be fun to arrange for building a mountain of snow in the yard somewhere as a personal sledding hill.  Better yet, do it in the front yard and entice the neighbor kids out of their homes!  Putting out suet bricks for cold weather birds is also a lovely way to have a flash of red (cardinals) amongst the white scenery.  Or, maybe maple sugaring is up your alley?  I’ve even had my eye on the idea of a backyard ice rink… but it isn’t cold enough where I live.

The idea of spreading the atmosphere of your home outdoors can be as simple as washing your windows to see the outdoors better, or as complicated as calling a landscape architect to make a master plan for your property.  I encourage you to do something this fall that will make next spring more pleasant for your space and that will cause you to desire to step outdoors more often.

Mother Culture: Ten Minutes

“Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.'” Parents’ Review, Vol. 2, No. 2

I’m going to make this quick today in order to give you a bit more time to think about spending ten minutes today reading, creating, or in prayer.  Right now, if you are a bullet journal or Happy Planner or whatever other type of planning system type of gal, write down a plan for when you can spend those ten minutes alone and what you will do.  That plan may not work out, but knowing it is there in the plan means that if you find ten minutes in the carpool line or the parking lot after grocery shopping or wherever else, you’ll have it front of mind to use those minutes for some Mother Culture time.

Once the time is allotted into your planning system, prepare the things you need.  Get your book uploaded into your Kindle or throw your book into your purse.  Get your knitting stuff together now, and make sure your pattern is printed.  Locate a rosary or a journal or your gardening gloves now, so when that ten minutes comes around, you’re ready to spend it well.

Lastly, do it.  When you’re tempted to check your email instead or facebook or Instagram… don’t.  Put your phone down instead.  If the planned time comes and the baby is crying, that’s ok.  Perhaps your ten minutes will come later than expected and you’ll be more tired than expected and all you’ll want to do is lay down on the couch and zone out.  Fight the urge and just take ten minutes to dedicate to prayer or your gratitude journal if reading a book is too much.  Or, just read that book anyway and maybe you’ll feel more revived afterward.

When you’ve taken your ten minutes, assess if that time worked well or if perhaps it could be at a different time of day.  Either way, plan to do it again tomorrow.  Look at your day and pencil it in.  Then, schedule it in for each day.  Make this your new habit for one month and then see how it is working for you.  Perhaps then you’ll be ready to add in another ten minutes? Or ten for prayer and ten for reading and ten for creativity?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… start with ten today!

Mother Culture: A Change of Pace

“‘Oh, mother, may we go blackberrying this afternoon, instead of lessons?’ The masterly and the abject ‘yes’ are quite different notes. The first makes the holiday doubly a delight; the second produces a restless desire to gain some other easy victory.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 29

We’ve all been there – the kids are starting the day full of energy and you just don’t feel up to the challenge. Perhaps there is some pressing issue that is a stressor, or you are feeling woefully behind, or you just moved to a new town and have so many boxes surrounding you and no wifi or coffee maker… Maybe that last one is just me. When Mother Culture time alone isn’t an option, but white knuckling it through the day seems like a recipe for frustration, it’s good to know yourself well enough to know when to take a break. Sometimes a change of pace is just what you need and sometimes it is what your kids need. Don’t despairingly give in to your feelings as if the day is a failure – quite the opposite! Make the day enriching to your soul and enjoy it. Come back refreshed and ready to take on the challenges ahead. The key is to know what refreshes you that you can do with children in tow and what exhausts you, and to choose appropriately. 

Often, this is as simple as bringing our school work to the park. When you find just that right park for your family, it gives you to ability to let the little ones burn energy, gives the big kids some time to hang from monkey bars while they narrate, and a picnic bench for the laptop users who can get their math done with a warm breeze in their hair. It can be lovely. Often, we don’t get every single thing done. We don’t want to bring everything for the science experiment or all the art supplies for that painting assignment. Fine. That’s part of the change of pace and it is ok every once in a while. 

Other times, you may find that your go-to place is something else. A garden of some sort or a museum that your whole family loves. Today, for us, it was homeschool day at Carillon Historical Park. Our family loves history and a day filled with making corn brooms, seeing old trains, and hearing the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright was just what we needed to feel more at home in our new locale. It also fed my own sense of awe at how daily life has changed since Ohio was the wild west of our young nation. The kids loves seeing the blacksmith create iron hooks for the barn, and truthfully, so did I.  I came home a better mom than I was when we left the house.

When the weather is crummy, have an indoor location that suits your family.  During long, hot summers some theatres offer older family movies for cheap or free during the morning hours. In the doldrums of January and February, a science museum or local  history spot might be a great place to explore.  The key is still what refreshes YOU and is also enjoyable for most of your family (because no one is refreshed by listening to complaints).  In seasons with infants and toddlers, that will look different than seasons with school-aged and teenage kids, so assess what season you’re in and have some ideas lined up for when you need them. 


Lastly, it isn’t really Mother Culture if you feel like you’re just escaping your house to then feel frustrated and irritated elsewhere. Don’t just assume changing location will do the trick on frustrating days. Perhaps staying home and changing the pace is more effective for you – announce a baking day or a family bike ride or whatever it is that would reinvigorate your spirit and then truly aim to enjoy yourself and your family.  The kids will remember the days mom laughed and played! It will shape their ideas about what it means to be a mom and it will shape their relationship with you. Go out (or stay home!) and have a bit of fun!

SPACES TO THINK NO. 6

Habit a Delight in itself.

…the forming of habits in the children is no laborious task, for the reward goes hand in hand with the labour; so much so, that it is like the laying out of a penny with the certainty of the immediate return of a pound. For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and, therefore, the formation of a habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable. This is one of the rocks that mothers sometimes split upon: they lose sight of the fact that a habit, even a good habit, becomes a real pleasure; and when the child has really formed the habit of doing a certain thing, his mother imagines that the effort is as great to him as at first, that it is virtue in him to go on making this effort, and that he deserves, by way of reward, a little relaxation––she will let him break through the new habit a few times, and then go on again. But it is not going on; it is beginning again, and beginning in the face of obstacles. The ‘little relaxation’ she allowed her child meant the forming of another contrary habit, which must be overcome before the child gets back to where he was before.” Volume 1 page 121.

Fruit from our Farm Pick-up, Amazon Fresh and Wegmans in a big mess.
Tidied into bowls
Keeping clean, empty counters has been a new habit for me for the last year or so. It brings me peace and happiness (and fortitude to prepare yet another meal!)
Putting away small appliances and dishes washed-by-hand takes only an extra moment or so.

What are some of the good habits you have in your life? How do they bring you delight and pleasure, even in the very doing of them, not just in their result?

Now that the new school year has started, with fresh eyes think through one habit you most need to develop? What bumps in your day could be helped by a good habit put in its place?

What is the contrary habit to your good habit that you need to overcome? What reward do you get from your contrary habit that you need to let go of to really establish your new habit?

What reward will you get from your new good habit? Think through the delights that your habit holds, in doing them and in the result.

What “penny” will you need to give to create your new habit and what will be the “pound” (dollar) you will receive in return?

This summer I read The Power of Habit and found much that confirmed Mason’s theories on the power of habit in our lives. It was inspiring and worth checking out of the library. I hope to blog more about it when my Charlotte Mason reading group gets to the habit section in Volume 1.

 

 

 

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

 

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Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

When we discuss mother culture, it seems we focus on our minds and souls, but I’m finding that here, when we discuss the home, I am appealing to your physical senses.  In our homes, whether we do so with intention or haphazardly, we are in the midst of using all of our senses.  From the type of flooring that your feet touch first thing in the morning, to the smell of dinner cooking in the oven, the music you play, the breeze coming in the open window, to the sound of the birds at the feeder outside – each of these has a small, but steady effect on your day and your daily satisfaction.  Now, this is far from saying that we need picture perfect homes in order to be satisfied!  Quite the contrary – your home doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  (I love that book.  Freeing to the spirit of any perfectionist!)

“[Smell] might be the means of giving Mansoul a great deal of pleasure, because there are many faint, delightful odours in the world, like the odour of a box-hedge, of lime-trees in flower, of bog-myrtle, which he might carry, and thus add to the pleasure of life..” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 26

Smells, delightful or disgusting, and everything in between give our home a certain atmosphere.  So often, a certain smell will bring on a surge of memory in a person and we are transported back to a moment back in time.  Give a moment this week to what smells you would like associated with your home – it could be as simple as baking each Saturday afternoon, winter stews that cook all afternoon, dried lavender kept in the linen closet or planted outside a window, hiking in the pine forest, the list goes on and on… Think about how you can use natural and delightful smells in your home to enhance the surroundings.

“Those persons whose senses are the most keen and delicate are the most alive and get most interest out of life; so it is worth while to practise our senses; to shut our eyes, for example, and learn the feel of different sorts of material, different sorts of wood, metal, leaves of trees, different sorts of hair and fur––in fact, whatever one comes across.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 27

Textures too are so key, yet so often so taken for granted.  In Charlotte’s time, synthetic fibers were not yet invented, and so she waxes poetic about the beauty of wool and its delightful properties as well as the uses of cotton and flax.  While I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge us a light and effective raincoat rather than a wool one for our drizzly nature walks, it did make me think a bit more about the clothing and fabrics that I use in my home.  There is little more delightful than cool cotton sheets in summertime, or brushed cotton flannel ones for those long winter nights!  The feeling of linen breezing over the skin in hot weather makes it clear why it is so popular in equatorial countries, and the delight of a warm, woolen sweater is unsurpassed when out in cool weather.  Textures then, of course, go beyond the fabrics that touch our skin. Consider textures in your food – while white breads are easy to pick up on the store shelf, I would encourage you to find a bakery (or attempt one yourself!) that offers a delightful bread with seeds and grains in a chewy, flavorful, crusty loaf.  It needs no sugary topping or layers of filling – that bread is simply perfect with a smear of butter and cup of tea.  Extend this line of thought to your other meals – which meal is the one you are most likely to reach for a processed food rather than the more natural one out of ease or convenience?  Perhaps this is a place to partner with an older child and teach them how to help you and how to experience the textures of simple, but wholesome food preparation.

“Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how you could have been there without hearing them. That just shows you how Hearing may sleep at his post. Keep him awake and alive; make him try to hear and know some new sound every day without any help from sight. It is rather a good plan to listen with shut eyes.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 30

Lastly, let’s take a minute to think about the sounds of your home.  Perhaps it is best to take a minute to sit and simply listen to what the actual sounds are, and then assess which we like and which we could do without.  I personally wish I were better at identifying birds by ear, so I attempt to lure them close to my windows with multiple bird feeders and to have open windows whenever I can.  I also will say that the loud purring of my cat is a sound I dearly love and makes a family read aloud or movie night that much more cozy.  On the flip side, I dislike my phone alarms and so when I try to keep to fifteen minute lessons, I found it difficult to keep time while managing a 1- and 3-year-old and trying to watch the clock.  I found silent sand timers to be our solution.  They are beautiful and don’t add to the unpleasant noises in our home.  For this same reason, I don’t keep beeping, honking, or loud toys in our home.  I would simply go crazy and I am assuming that when my children are adults they will not miss that honking car, but will appreciate a sane mother.  I am working on Charlotte’s advice to keep my skill at listening “awake and alive” when we head into nature as well.  All too often, there is talking going on, but I am trying to encounter and enjoy the silence of the hikers so we can hear the concerto of the birds, trees, streams, and insects.  What sounds do you love or could do without?

Mother Culture: Spiritual Life

“Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept, ‘feed my lambs’––feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 246

We’ve already started talking about how we must take care of not only the physical parts of ourselves that we can see, but also those parts of ourselves that, while invisible, are of greater importance than our physical selves – our minds and our souls.  We talked about the importance of wide reading to feed our minds on their proper diet of knowledge.  Now let’s talk about feeding our souls on the knowledge of God.

I’m going to write this article based on the assumption that most of the people reading this come from some variety of a Christian faith, as I do. Charlotte herself was a devout Christian and the crux of her method was that all knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit.

“But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 95

So how do we apply this as mothers and teachers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and cousins?  We realize that the Holy Spirit is consistently reaching out to us and trying to give us this gift of knowledge, but we must respond to Him in kind.  Through prayer and reading of the bible, we show our openness to receiving those gifts the Holy Spirit wants to generously bestow.

When you take this time to pray, to contemplate God’s Word, and to find time to quiet your thoughts and listen, you are setting an example to every soul in your household.  When I took the vows of marriage, I agreed to the idea that my vocation as wife was predominantly to help my husband get to heaven. His vow meant he accepted the job of helping me to get to heaven (he has the much harder job!) and together, each child we bring into the world is one we will raise with the goal of heaven for that soul.  Taking time to pray for each person in your home is fulfilling that role of wife and mother and letting your husband and children see you or simply knowing that mom has time in the day set aside for prayer creates an atmosphere where prayer is valued.  Herein lies a beautiful paradox – that time “for yourself” benefits every soul around you!

Further, to not only read, but to study and understand the Bible key to your spiritual life.  As Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  He should know, he translated the entire bible into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew.  No matter what your denomination or non-denomination, there is certainly resources out there for you both online and in your local church. If you don’t have a group, start one.  If you don’t feel you need a group, perhaps a good study bible would be right up your alley or a copy of your catechism.  Find a way to connect to the Lord through a deep study of His Word and a whole new world will open up for you and all those around you.

I would also suggest that as a family, you look at what it means to keep Holy the Sabbath day.  We mothers too often can make excuse after excuse as to why we remain busy all week long and cannot find time to read, take a walk, or enjoy quiet time.  On Sundays, we are actually commanded to do so.  It’s one of the ten.  Consult with your spouse as to what you discern to be appropriate ways to spend your Sunday and stick to it.  Come into your Monday ready for the week ahead and refreshed, rather than harried and exhausted.

SPACES TO THINK NO. 5

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

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Playing in Rome. Not a every-day kind of “Mother-Culture”!

Camille wrote on this quote in her post on Mother Culture and Creativity. If you missed it, go back and read it now!

Play is so important in all of our lives that I thought it was worth posting this quote again for our “Spaces to Think” series.

Here are some things to ponder:

What is the difference between real play and escapism?

Have you been seeking to escape your work and life or finding life-giving ways to enrich it through play and leisure?

Why is play not self-indulgent?

What do you do if you have a few extra minutes in your schedule? Is this life-giving to you?

How can you have more courage to set aside time for your “Mother-Culture”? It is often heroic, isn’t it– The lining up of babysitters or planning quiet activities for your children, so you can have the chance to “play”?

What activities does Mason mention for the mother to do when things have become too tense? How are they different from the normal recommendations for women to go shopping or to the spa? Or might even these be a good option?

Look back at your past week. Did you get enough rest? Enough Mother-Culture? Then, look ahead, and plan a pocket or two of time! We can’t hop on plane to Rome, but what can we do?

 

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about the quote below!

Atmosphere in the Home: We all Require Beauty

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…for we all require beauty…

-Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 14.

Camille asked me to share my thoughts on “The Atmosphere of the Home.”  With our busy lives, we can so often live day to day and don’t take time to consider the art of creating bright and cheerful homes. And the idea of Beauty?! When we have piles of laundry, hungry children and a deadline, beauty seems a frivolity.

We are all very different families and in different seasons of life, but we all were made for beauty and as beings created in the image of God, we have a capacity and role to foster and bestow beauty… or as the poet-priest GM Hopkins says, (Listen to a fabulous recitation of this poem here. It is a favorite!)

 

“Give Beauty Back, Beauty, Beauty, Beauty, Back to God, Beauty’s self and Beauty’s giver…”

 

Isn’t that lovely…God as beauty’s self and beauty’s giver…Give Beauty Back.

The Ancients asked the question and attempted to work out Who or What is God? What are the Transcendentals of God, or the Properties of his Being. This question was taken up by Aquinas and other Church Fathers time and again and ultimately they answered with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Yes, Truth. Yes, Goodness. But in our modern age…beauty? Let us not fail to recognize that beauty. Pope Benedict 16th in an address to artists said God is “the first and last source of beauty.” There is Beauty in His holiness, perfection, infinitude, and in His gift of redemption.

When we contemplate and experience the beauty of God we know Him more.

When we create beauty we are participating in His very nature.

Beauty thought of on this higher plane, is what lifts the mundane or ordinary into a gift, into what is lovely. Beauty reveals and highlights the true and the good. Beauty makes Truth and Goodness desirable.

I remember when I was very sick last year and a friend made our family a meal. What a gift, a sacrifice and time. I was so humbled that she would do it. And it was delicious, but what I remember is how simply, yet beautifully, it was presented. A nice basket, pretty linen, a bottle of wine, a lovely note…It touched something more than the just the physical.

We can feed our children the fuel they need for their bodies to run or we can create the beautiful experience of togetherness around the family table with a nourishing meal.

At night, we can put our children to bed or we can tuck our children into clean sheets of a nicely made bed filling them with a sense of home and safety and coziness.

Bestowing beauty is a way to do these small ordinary acts with love. And I have found that trying to do the work of the home in a beautiful way, rather than in an efficient, or orderly, has helped me to enjoy it more. The work is elevated.

Sadly, in our modern world, beauty is pushed aside for what is efficient or merely useful. We allow ourselves to be satisfied by the cheap and easy. Even worse in a world of air-brushing, we’ve become jaded to think that beauty is superficial and lacks meaning. And oftentimes many of us sorely lack an interior life able to take in beauty.

And so, just as I spend time considering curriculum and extracurricular activities, planning grocery lists and menus, do I work on building a bright and cheerful home? One of beauty and peace and love.

How do I teach my children to recognize, love, and will what is True, Good, and Beautiful? Are there ways I can incorporate more beauty in my children’s lives?

Mason has many answers to these questions in her six volumes on education, but I believe the place to begin as parents and educators is with one of the three educational tools that we can validly use in raising children: atmosphere.

When we are surrounded by the beautiful, our perspective changes. Roger Scruton, says in his documentary (a must watch!), Why Beauty Matters? that the great artists were “aware that human life is full of chaos and suffering and they had a remedy for this and the name of that remedy is beauty.”

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This is what the beauty does; it draws us out of ourselves…to what is real…and that reality is infinite. As parents and educators one of our main goals is to help our children to grow into maturity and adulthood. Sadly, an option many young people are not choosing! In the book, Family Virtues, edited by Jose Martin, “Initially a child is focused on his or her own private world; children mature when they begin to understand that they are not the center of the universe, when they begin to become open to the world and others around them” (page 5). When we expose children to beauty, we call them out of themselves…to what is real…and they mature, they open themselves to the world and to others.

“As for that aesthetic ‘appetency’ (to use Coleridge’s word) upon which so many of the gentle pleasures of life depend, it is open to many disasters: it dies of inanition when beauty is not duly presented to it, beauty in words, in pictures and music, in tree and flower and sky. The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.” Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 56

Would you like follow-up posts on how we attempt to work this out in our homes? Subscribe in the side bar to receive our posts via email so you don’t miss a single one!

Atmosphere of the Home: Organization and Decoration

“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