All spaces speak. And all who enter them are changed by them in some way, whether we want them to change us or not.
And the home — that safest of spaces where we spend most of our lives — is the space that speaks most often and most forcefully, though it may speak quietly and slowly. The home is one of the most significant voices in our daily lives.
And it makes no difference whether your home is traditional or modern, large or small, rich or poor, new or old, each who enters it leaves as a different person. They are either better or worse than before they came in. For you and your children, this happens over and over every day of your lives.
What kind of people is your home turning you and your family into?
Of course, the people themselves within your home make the biggest difference. But beyond that, where your home is located, its relationship to what’s around it, its architecture, how you arrange it, and the way it functions on a daily basis, also speak powerfully. What are they saying?
One effective way to influence how your home speaks is the use of consecrated (set apart, set aside, dedicated) spaces. These are an especially powerful way to shape our affections and get into our bones what is important — by having a set aside space/object/time for doing something.
Think of the set aside spaces in your home. A media room communicates something very different than a proper study, for example. Think also of your set aside times. Sunday revolving around prayer vs watching a football game says very different things. And finally, think of set aside, or consecrated, objects. A great reading chair in your home will produce a different kind of person than a fancy gaming chair.
Every space, time, and object in your home shapes you and your children and every person who enters. And they powerfully, though often subtly, communicate what we should be doing or becoming at every moment we experience them.
Here are 15 things that really helped our family be more intentional about how our home was shaping us. Your list may be totally different, but the key is to make them intentional and centered around what is important to you and unique to your particular space.
1. Keep the formal dining room (and use it!). Doing so says, “gathering people — especially family, friends, and neighbors — around table for meals is important.” Special glasses, dishes, etc. also go along with this.
2. Move the TV (or get rid of it). Most homes are designed now to put a giant glowing screen at the center of the main room. And then we arrange all the furniture around and toward it as if it were an altar we are worshipping. So we shouldn’t be surprised when our lives (and our children’s lives) end up centered around watching a glowing screen…if our home has been telling them precisely that their entire lives! The solution we have loved in our own home is to instead put a flatscreen TV on a mobile, rolling stand. It rolls perfectly into our hall closet, works wirelessly, and can be easily moved to any location in the house when it’s needed. It takes about 1 minute to set up, which is short enough time not to be a huge pain but just long enough you won’t accidentally start watching it and the kids don’t constantly beg for it.
3. Turn the living/sitting room chairs to face each other (now that the TV is gone). This says, “when you sit down, look at people…and talk to them.”
4. Put something better where the TV was. That empty space where the TV used to be, at the center of the main living area, is where we put things that are most important to us. We use it as a family altar at some points of the liturgical year, other times we have beautiful art, scripture, family photos, or our favorite books there.
5. Next to comfy chairs, instead of remote controls, put great books. This says, “when you sit down and need to reach for something, pick up a book.” You end up reading a lot more instead of watching shows.
6. Arrange for good distractions. Put things you want to learn and enrich your life — like a piano, guitars, instruments, poetry you want to memorize, art you want to stare at, whatever — on the way to other places in your home, like between your kitchen and your bedroom (rather than in a back room). Then you’re more likely to get distracted by the things you are trying to do more of anyway. That next walk from the kitchen to your bedroom might take 45 minutes, but you’ll have gotten your piano practice in or learned a new poem.
7. Have a set-aside space for prayer. We figure food is essential for our bodies (so we have an entire kitchen filled with appliances and accommodations for eating in multiple rooms), but prayer is essential for our souls. Our homes should shout this, too. Of course we want to make each room so that it lifts the soul to prayer and inspires one to make all activity a living prayer. But a set aside space is important too. This could be an entire room if you are able, or even just a kneeler or chair in the corner of a room. It says, “prayer is essential to living.”
8. Put two (or more) chairs on the front porch. It says, “sit a spell and wave at a neighbor.” They might even join you for a chat.
9. Care for your house well. A well-kept and clean house produces well-kept people. A sloppy house produces sloppy people.
10. Keep a quiet house (at least some of the time!). If it is always noisy, with constant entertainment and advertisements and ringing and dinging and vibrating, it turns us into neurotic, distracted busy-bodies who don’t know how to sit still and listen. Beautiful music or a quiet home inspires listening, contemplating, reflecting and helps us find peace. It raises our minds up instead of vegging them out. We instituted “Quiet Time” every afternoon for a couple hours after lunch.
11. Get rid of twaddle. Twaddle is junk food for the mind (and takes many forms). A little junk food every once in awhile is no big deal, but if it is too readily available you’ll choose it too often over the healthy stuff. This could be TV shows, social media, video games, anything you can refresh or get a notification from on your phone about, etc. Basically anything where you frequently get to the end of it and say, “Uhg, how did I get sucked into that again and what a waste of my life.” These things rarely provide more good than bad, and always replace something that would have been much better for you or your children. Life is too short to live with Twaddle.
12. Keep it simple. It is very easy to accumulate too much stuff. Cultivate a healthy detachment from stuff and build the habit of regularly giving things away. Even having too many beautiful things will limit your ability to appreciate them. It’s better to have fewer things which you appreciate more deeply.
13. Leave room for “boredom.” Too many things to do, even good things, will keep you too busy. Leave space in your home and your schedule to encounter the beginning of boredom. It’s that moment where your brain has to work a little bit and get creative about what to do next. It’s a muscle that needs working. Most children have so many ready distractions that they never exercise that muscle, and instead continually reinforce the habit of mindlessly turning to busy-ness or distraction every time life slows down for a moment. The paradox is that by leaving some room to encounter the beginning of boredom you actually equip the person to never get stuck being bored (making them more substantive and interesting people).
14. Have a place to set devices (phones, remote controls, other beeping devices that yell at us). If a small electronic device is never more than an arm’s reach and we respond to its every beep with urgency, that communicates to our children what is important in life. And it disrupts the peace, quiet, and focus of what we were hoping to do. Your home is sacred and your time with your family is sacred. Just like allowing commercials in your house is letting salesmen and corporations continually into your front door, keeping your notifications on and phone next to you at all times is giving anyone permission to interrupt you and your family at any given moment of your life. No thank you. You don’t have to accept those terms.
15. Curate beauty. For most of my life I hung things on the wall that I thought were cool. After getting married, my wife made many improvements. Even still, starting out, we realized that much of what was on our walls, while it was beautiful and matching, had so much more potential. Look at what hangs on the walls of your home. Every day you see these things and they change you into a slightly different person. What an opportunity! So for years now we’ve been gradually replacing our existing decor with more beautiful art and meaningful things. It takes time. But that’s part of what makes it so special. A home with beautiful, meaningful objects and art (doesn’t have to be expensive) probably provides a better education all by itself than what the average child gets today in any classroom.
These examples are only scratching the surface. But hopefully they give you some diverse examples of how you can be more intentional about making sure your home is shaping your family the way you’d like to be shaped.
Further, it begins to demonstrate why “Homemaker” is one of the most important jobs on the planet. It is a job not to be taken lightly, can not be done properly in only our “free time” nor merely as a hobby, but rather is a primary responsibility of all adults. And when engaged with the seriousness it deserves, is also some of the most rewarding work we can do.