Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy at Home: My Ten Essentials

I'm an affirmed and unapologetic homebody, but this has not always been the case. I've always longed to be home, but there was a season in my life when I ran away from home a lot--frankly, I didn't know *how* to be at home.  When I was at home I distracted myself, and I had a hard time putting forth the initiative to actually create the home I wanted to have.  I don't mean the physical act of decorating, exactly; I mean nuts-and-bolts--functional routines and ambiance. I never learned this when I was growing up, and I entered adulthood with a deep desire to create a home but no actual skills!  When we were first married I had no idea how to hardboil an egg, and I was bemused to the point of giving up when I thought about how to clean regularly.  The routines I eventually began to create and follow were deeply informed by Cheryl Mendelson, in whose debt I will always remain.

Unfortunately housekeeping gets a bad rep as drudge work; I grew up with the idea of a homemaker as an oppressed and pitiful soul who whiled her life away on the most mundane tasks--even though I loved the idea of cleaning and organizing.  Somewhere along the line my attitude was rehabilitated, probably because I began to want to create a home for my family that mimicked the love my own childhood home had...but with more order and passing-on of skills.  I began to see the inherent dignity and value in domestic work.

This past summer my thoughts centered somewhat on home routines and particularly how to stay happy while engaging in home-based learning.  I created a list of 'ten essentials' that I try to do each day: 

1. Cook good food and stay on top of the kitchen.  Every day we have to eat, so kitchen work is essential.  I make an effort to serve nutritious meals. The kitchen is clean before bed each night.

2. Stay on top of the laundry.  For me in this season of life this means doing laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--with any residual laundering done on the weekend.  When I had a baby I did laundry nearly every day, between the clothes and the diapers!  (Note that this is my ideal. The reality is not always aligned with the ideal.)

3. Figure out the daily tasks that make things pleasant and make me happy, and try to do them.  For me: getting dressed in clothes I like, making the beds, keeping the main rooms and our bedroom tidy (the main room often gets cluttered during the day, but my children do their tidying before bed and all is well), and keeping the main bathroom fresh are the essentials. When everyone is in bed, I want to sit down in the living room and rest in a tidy room. If I want a hot bath at night, I don't want to feel grossed-out by the bathroom!  

4. Learn with my children.  Don't just administer learning to them; partner with them.  Come alongside and figure out concepts or learn something new together.  It is more fun for everyone that way--and also more effective. I love to engage in wonder with my children. 

5. Play with and/or read to my children each day. 

6. Go outside, even if it's just to read a book or walk around the yard or to pull some weeds or check the garden.  Kick the soccer ball to a child, take a walk, eat a snack. Fresh air is a cure-all. 

7. Make something that lasts or engage in a soul-filling activity.  Sewing, writing, reading, praying, playing piano, and gardening are all on my list.

8. Stretching.  I have noticed that stretching (in the form of yoga or pilates--or just plain old stretching) helps me stay happy.  

9. Rest. The days when I feel the most strung-out are, not coincidentally, the days when I've not rested enough.  I like to stay very busy, and I'm amazed at how refreshing it is to have a cup of tea and a little reading for 20 minutes in the afternoon, or how much better I feel if I stretch out for a 10-minute catnap.  Carving out a couple of short rest periods every day, instead of racing to the bedtime finish-line and then collapsing, makes my day so much better.  Getting to sleep at a decent hour at night is so helpful, too.

10.  Pausing.  I try to pause frequently to just observe a child's smile or look out the window to see what the sunlight is doing or check in with myself to see how I'm feeling.  Pausing for a moment keeps me focused in the moment.  Mindfulness reaps many benefits.

Those are my own essentials during this season of life!  I don't always achieve them all every day, but if I can order my day around them, things are just much better. 


  1. Polly, I've been reading your archived posts and wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog! I feel calmed and encouraged when I come here; thank you! :)

    1. Hi Sarah! Thank you! You have a post I have read over and over again over the past few years ("stairway musings") because it was so encouraging to me. So I am glad that in some small way I returned the favor to you! It's a good thing a blog can't get worn out like a book or piece of fabric....b/c if it could, your stairway musings would be threadbare from all the times I've visited it. :)