The Delightful Home

delightful-home

Amy and I love to chat about home.  We could go on and on about books, blogs, and tips we’ve heard from friends that can help us to make our homes more welcoming, more beautiful, and more efficient. Between us, we have nine children to feed, clothe, and love.  It takes a lot of work to keep our homes in order, and even more work when that order falls away!  We love it so much in fact, that a few years back we asked some of our friends if they wanted to meet to discuss our homes once a month.  To get breakfast as a group and have some time for what we considered to be professional development.  If we were going to be homemakers, we should allot some time to discuss it, learn about it, and do it well.  That group is still going strong and has been an enormous blessing to us, our families, and our homes.  We now want to bring many of those pages of notes, tips, tricks, and new ideas to you, our readers.

This is not about having a dream house, or a home that could be showcased in a catalog.  This is about creating a home that is delightful to you and your family because it is both functional and beautiful.  It is about making small changes that make a big difference in how you use your home and how well it serves the needs of your family.  It can be done in small spaces or large ones, a home you rent or a home your family has lived in for generations.  You spend most of your time at home, so let’s work toward making that time enjoyable.

Why does it matter to have a home that is delightful?  Isn’t it good enough to have a roof over your head and a place to cook meals – even if you can barely see your counters?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because we should be grateful for even the humblest of spaces and no, because we weren’t called to live in disorder.  As mothers and homemakers, we set the atmosphere of the homes we inhabit.  The atmosphere of a home with a calm mother, who is not stressed by the chores because there is a plan in place to complete them, and who has an orderly home ready for drop-in guests will naturally be different than one with a frazzled mother, constantly feeling behind and downtrodden by her workload.  We want your homes to be places of delight for your families, but also for you!

We were inspired by the Home Organization Challenge going on right now.  That is a great site for inspiration and tips!  We also knew that dedicating 14 straight weeks to overhauling our homes wasn’t going to work for either of us.  We wanted to stretch it out over the year and do a great job in each room of our homes.  Taking a full month to dedicate to decluttering, giving some thought to how the space it used and making adjustments, then adding in beauty to complement the improved function.  We welcome you to join us!  We can’t wait to see your photos and comments on Instagram and Facebook.

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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.

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?

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

The Atmosphere of our Home: Our Attitudes, Habits, and Tone

“That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as ‘inspirers’ to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long ‘appetency’ towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, pg. 37

The above quote, so eloquently written was once summed up for me as, “More is caught than taught.”  Rather pithy, I’d say.  It gives credence to Charlotte’s idea that atmosphere is a full third of education.  How many of us have found ourselves using phrases with our children that we distinctly remember our mothers saying to us?  This may be wonderful, or it may be less than ideal, but either way it shows that to some degree, each of us are indeed a product of the atmosphere we grew up in. How then can we think through the atmosphere we set our children in each day?

First, we need to assess the atmosphere we set in our homes.  While many of us can immediately point out where we struggle, let’s begin instead with what we do well.  Mothers are slow to recognize all the good that we bring to our homes – Often, because the best of what we bring to our homes are small, daily actions that bring a sense of order, direction, kindness, and love to those around us.  The way you put that bandage on a boo boo may be what your child remembers more than anything, because each time you do it with a smile and a kiss.  Or perhaps the voices you do when you read aloud will be what your kids strive to recreate for their own children.  It is time to consider all of the beautiful traditions, actions, or kindnesses that you routinely do and to give yourself a pat on the back for them.  It might even be a good exercise to ask your children about their favorite memory or their favorite tradition – it may bring something to light that you didn’t even realize was important to them.

Once you realize how you are doing so many things right,  pick one thing that you would like to improve on.  We could probably all think of a much longer list, but when working on a new habit it is best to focus on one at a time.  Prioritize what you’d like to see improved most and put a plan into action for only that one thing.  Pray about it, talk to other moms (especially if you see they seem to have a strength where you think you have a weak area – we learn so much from fellow moms!), and come up with a system that works for you and your family.

When you have chosen your one thing, consider the attitude with which you approach that thing.  Will is be one of resignation and duty or an attitude of positivity and hope?  The way we approach a challenge will also be a part of the atmosphere of our homes.  Share the new thing you are working on with your family and allow them to help you and to see you challenged.  Next time you see your child struggle with something difficult, you will have more sympathy for them and they will see you as a compatriot as well as a parent.  Your example in how to improve yourself is likely to be far more important than the actual improvement itself!

“This relation of habit to human life––as the rails on which it runs to a locomotive––is perhaps the most suggestive and helpful to the educator; for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines towards the unexplored country of the child’s future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent. It rests with him to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and, along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or no he chooses to go that way.”  – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, pg. 109

What to consider when thinking about what improvements we can make in the atmosphere of our home?  A good place to look is the list of habits Charlotte mentions in her books. It is a very long list.  Don’t let that intimidate you.  One at a time is the best pace. Forming these habits in ourselves is the easiest way to form them in our children, or at least set the example by which they can easily grasp the same habit later.  It is far more difficult to get a child trained to put their dirty clothes in a hamper when they see us dropping our own on the floor.  Something like 90% of our lives are habitual, the rest of our actions need decision from our minds.  If you set a habit well in yourself it will set your course for life, just as the rails of a train set its course.  What Charlotte told us years ago, modern books confirm.  This is the best place to start to avoid decision fatigue and unpleasant habits that form due to lack of consideration on our part.

Lastly, consider the tone of your home.  Consider the way that you speak to your children – both the words you use and the volume with which you use them.  We want to be careful as the words we use become part of the inner monologue of the child’s mind, as well as they way they speak to siblings, family members, and friends.  The tone we use is likely the one passed down to us from our own childhood and will likely be seen in the homes of our adult grandchildren.  If you sense that there is some improvement to be done in this area, it may be a good place to start.  Disrespectful language coming from us, the music we listen to, the shows and movies we watch all factor into the education of our children. Yelling, slamming of doors, stomping of feet, and other violations of a peaceful tone can create a restless undercurrent in the home.  Even if it seems a wildly uphill battle, this is a place where creating a new habit in yourself, and perhaps inviting your family to join you in this new endeavor, will improve the communication in your family and make every later improvement a more fruitful one.

 

The Atmosphere of the Home: An Introduction

“Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.”     Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. xxix

Let’s talk about atmosphere, shall we?  When we are limited to three educational instruments, it seems worth our while to think them through pretty thoroughly.  This topic is of especial interest to me as I am a really visual person.  I love to decorate, to make a house feel like a home, to set a table just so, or to find just the right piece of art for each spot in my home. When I first heard this was a full one-third of the formula for education, I probably thought something along the lines of, “Well, one out of three is a start…”  A deeper study of what Charlotte meant led me to find that what she meant by “atmosphere of environment” is about so much more than what your surroundings look like.  It is about the attitude I bring to our home, the amount of time we spend in nature, the sounds and smells that surround us, and how much I allow my children to spread their wings and do things on their own while giving them a strong sense of place in which to feel rooted.  The topic grew before me and I realized, I wasn’t anywhere near understanding this one-third of the equation!

“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.”  Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. 97

How much did I long that we should embody this goal set before us!  That even a “chance visitor” would be able to see “the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teacher and children alike” when they enter my home!  Because what is the good of a home perfectly arranged and full of beautiful things, when it gives the air of a gallery that children cannot touch and do not enjoy?  On the other side of the coin, when the children make the entire house into a play room, respecting no sense of order nor propriety, are we truly helping them to appreciate the true, and good, and beautiful?  Where does this happy balance land for each family in our quest for a glow on the faces of both teacher (mother) and student (child) alike?

“It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges.”  Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. 96

To love young and old, be gentle and loving with man and beast, learn from tumbles, give and take a teasing with ease, and to delight in his surroundings.  This is what atmosphere teaches us. This is why we must think through the atmosphere we present through the person we are, the parents we are, the tone we use and allow in our homes, the art and music we enjoy, the places we go, the meals we make… The list goes on and on!

This post is the beginning of a series wherein we will discuss Charlotte’s writings on the topic of Atmosphere.  I look forward to sharing my findings with you and reading your comments and emails.  First we will give some thought to the atmosphere of our attitude, then on to how we keep the inside of our home, ending with our outdoor life.  Links to each post will be below for easy reference.

 

List of posts in this series:

The Atmosphere in our Home: An Introduction (You are here)

The Atmosphere in our Home: Our Attitudes, Habits, and Tone

The Atmosphere in our Home: Decoration and Organization

The Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

The Atmosphere in our Home: Going Outdoors