And we continue…
Right out of the gate, I admit it feels hollow writing about decorating and home maintenance as hundreds of families mourn their dead in Paris. The world burns, and I’m writing about knickknacks.
And yet, I can’t do anything right now about the destruction in Paris or the rest of the world. I can give generously to good causes and good candidates. I can do my best to help the poor and the struggling close to me. I can pray. But really, my actions are limited. So, today, I’m doing laundry, cooking dinner, making plans for my annual Christmas tree decorating party… and writing about it all on the Internet.
This is how I operate. For me, when the world spins out of control, bringing order and beauty into my home helps me keep my sanity. Cleaning my cupboards or organizing my linen closet is like therapy. It distracts me and calms me.
This is the result of last week’s anxiety over writing an article about the Catholic home. 🙂
If you’re like me, great: hopefully this series provides you with a happy distraction. If you’re not and could care less about paint colors and tchotchkes, that’s great too: it’s a big, big Internet. Likewise, if you’re in a season where abstract musings on beauty and order in the home are going to leave you wracked with guilt because your current reality doesn’t allow for much order or beauty, I totally understand; there were entire years where I couldn’t read anything about marriage or family life because it inevitably left me in tears. In some seasons, avoidance really is the best policy.
That being said, for as “small” as the domestic arts may seem, they aren’t small in the least. They’re part of what goes into making a home, and home is the greatest thing of all. It’s where we retreat from a broken world and gain the wisdom and maturity to make the world better. It isn’t a little thing to build a grand cathedral and carve beauty into every nook and cranny, nor is it a little thing to build a domestic church and tend to the smallest details within it.
So, that’s my first thought. The second is a little clarification about what I mean when I say the Catholic home “should be” personal (today’s topic) or any of the other points.
To state the obvious, what makes a home Catholic isn’t how it looks; it’s the people who live there and the life that unfolds there. The more faithful, the more loving, the more generous and virtuous those people are (whether the number of people in question is 1 or 20), the more “Catholic” the home is.
Accordingly, when we talk about Catholic homes being loving, generous, and virtuous, we’re talking about moral necessities. If you’re not being loving, generous, and virtuous—if you’re abusing your children, cheating on your spouse, denying new life by contracepting, speaking ill of your neighbor, or refusing to help the poor—you need to get yourself to Confession post haste. Loving, faithful generosity and the pursuit of virtue are the essence of Catholic home life, and if they don’t exist in your home, all the clean countertops in the world are like straw.
Just, really pleasant straw.
On the other hand, when we talk about Catholic homes being well maintained (or maybe “well cared for” is a better way of putting it), as well as personal, full of beauty and sacramentals, but not completely overrun by clutter, it’s not a question of moral necessity; it’s a question of fittingness.
By that, I mean it’s fitting for people who see themselves as stewards of creation to care for their homes to the best of their ability. It’s fitting for people who believe that the physical reveals the spiritual to live in homes that reflect who they are. It’s even more fitting for people who worship in Churches filled with physical reminders of God’s love—statues of saints, burning candles, and sacred art—to want similar reminders in their homes. It’s also fitting for people who believe beauty is a window to God and a school for the soul to have beauty in their homes. And it is fitting for people who believe that the material can be a distraction from God, not just a help in following him, to live in homes not overtaken by unnecessary stuff.
Other things are fitting as well. My list isn’t exhaustive. I’m writing articles and blogs about this topic right now, not books. Lots more can be said on the issue. And none of us will do all these things perfectly, or even well. But that doesn’t make their fittingness any less true or the pursuit of them, all in good measure, any less valuable.
Which brings us, at last, to the topic at hand: The Catholic home should be personal.
What do I mean by “personal”?
As I explain in the OSV story that started it all:
Everything created by God reveals something about God. Oceans speak of his infinite love, mountains of his enduring faithfulness, and hummingbirds of his abiding concern for the smallest details of his handiwork. In those ways and a billion more, creation makes the Creator known.
Our homes should do the same for us — men and women made in the image of the Creator. They should incarnate who we are: what we love, do, and desire. They should tell the story of us, just as our parish churches tell the story of salvation history, and the cosmic temple — creation — tells the story of the Creator.
One of the things that annoys my boyfriend the most about the home improvement shows that he (heroically) agrees to watch with me, is that the homes always look too perfect and too impersonal. The end result is usually not an organic reflection of the family’s life and experiences, but rather of a designer’s taste and choices.
I think, in terms of explaining at least part of some people’s frustration and disappointment in their own homes, he’s on to something. There’s nothing wrong with getting help picking out paint colors or arranging furniture. But, if our standard of perfection is a generic home on television, of course we’ll feel like something is “off” in our home. If what we’re striving for is a picture-perfect photo spread, our houses can never measure up.
This is why letting go of the idea of the perfect home and embracing the idea of “my home” or “our home” is so liberating. It takes away the pressure of trying to recreate a Pottery Barn catalogue, and gives us the freedom to surround ourselves with items that have meaning to us and that make us—although not necessarily the neighbor across the street—happy.
The most pleasant and lovely homes I know don’t look like magazine homes; they look the homes’ owners. They’re filled with little incarnations of the people who live there. That includes photos, of course, but also art, books, centerpieces, and odd little knickknacks scattered about. You can’t recreate that look by running to Home Goods and filling up your shopping cart. It’s something that tends to evolve slowly, over time. It also is a look that costs a lot less than trips to Restoration Hardware…or even Target.
I’ve spent the past several days in Michigan, helping my friend Lindsay while she recuperates from her fourth c-section. I love being in Lindsay’s home, not only because she has four of the most charming little girls in the world, but because to be in Lindsay’s home is to get a glimpse inside her soul. And I love Lindsay’s soul; it’s orderly and generous, quirky and clever, full of life and full of color. Her home is the same.
Everywhere you look, you’ll find small reflections of her life, loves, and interests, from the seed package posters in her basement family room, which testify to her love of gardening…
…to the sailing ship pictures in her bedroom, there because of her and her husband’s devotion to Aubrey and Maturin.
Cows are everywhere. (Lindsay grew up on a dairy farm.)
And on the living room walls, hangs her own and her husband’s art. (Both studied art in college.)
Lindsay’s house doesn’t look like my house. She likes more color than I do and more tchotchkes. You’re not going to find cows in my kitchen. But that’s a good thing. Lindsay’s house shouldn’t look like my house. It should look like Lindsay. My house should look like me. And it does.
The colors are softer and more feminine in my home, because this house has been full up with women for a decade and no man yet has called it “home.”
My love for writing and words is evident in most every room, from the typewriter on the entry table…
…to the pages from beloved books, that I re-typed then displayed (in old junk store frames) on the mantle…
…and the Flannery O’Connor and Nathaniel Hawthorne quotes, perched on my office shelves, which inspire me anew each morning.
My affection for old books and old silver is likewise evident…
…as is my delight in the handmade gifts friends have blessed me with through the years…
The pictures in my room remind my of my childhood home on the Mississippi and my spiritual home in Rome.
And my kitchen is the kitchen of a woman who obviously cooks.
Again, this isn’t something I’m sharing to make you feel like you have to replicate it in your own home. You can’t replicate it…at least not all of it. My home is “me.” If I marry, my home will become “us.” And that will be an adventure too.
It’s so fun and so freeing (and so cheap) to take this approach to decorating. It helps you think about the things you love the most, then gives you the green light to surround yourself with those things. There are no (or few) limits to what can go on your walls and shelves. You can frame your children’s art or your own art. You can fill a room with plants and flowers or with vintage albums and sheet music. You can hang baby clothes from wooden hooks, cooking pots from iron racks, and cover your walls with old purses, old hats, old gloves, framed fabric, framed paper, vintage bicycle parts, personal sporting memorabilia—really whatever floats your boat.
(Get it? Boat? Sorry, I’ve been working too much with Scott Hahn this year.)
You can, of course, overdo it and put out too much stuff, but that’s a topic for a later post. Likewise, if there are littles about, the breakable stuff has to sit out of reach. My preference for sturdy found objects, like vintage typewriters and telephones, as well as old silver plate, partly reflects my love for those things and partly their proven indestructibility in the hands of toddlers.
But beyond that, the sky’s the limit when you strive to make a home personal. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There’s only your way.
How liberating is that?
Previous Posts in The Catholic Home series: