Harmonious homemaking: find the calm among the chaos
Our homes play a vital role in our holistic wellbeing, but where we seek calm we often find chaos! Ellie Gwilliam shares some tips for harmonious homemaking.
As well as being one of my favourite places, ‘home’ is one of my favourite words. It conjures up feelings of calm, security, authenticity and relaxation, to name but a few of the related warm fuzzies. However, to anyone with a young family, these homely sentiments can feel a tad elusive, especially when the reality of one’s abode is more likely to involve kid-clutter, piles of laundry and smudges of Marmite. Authentic, absolutely. Relaxing, maybe not.
Home is where the heart is, as the clichés tell us, but all these heart-warming intentions come with a sizeable wave of pressure, subtle or otherwise, to style and maintain homes of a certain standard. Our homes should be nurturing spaces imbued with meaning and soul. They should be inspiring, welcoming, comforting. Oh, and a quick scroll through Instagram suggests our homes should also reflect the latest trends (but in a uniquely curated way that effortlessly reflects your personal style and interior design ability), while also being environmentally friendly and ethically AOK. That’s a lot of ‘shoulds’ and a big ask for dwellings that house young children and the parents preoccupied with raising them.
So where’s the balance? Apparently a home should be clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy. I read this somewhere during the foggy toddler years and found some encouragement. I’m naturally a neat and tidy kinda girl (read: slightly neat-freakish) but my husband and I had three children under the age of four, so priorities shifted as our energy was taken up raising babies. Even when our kids were tiny, I still wanted to enjoy our home – to look around and experience peace rather than be overwhelmed by chaos. In short, this required a lowering of standards and a lift in appreciation for what we had. Yes, you’re right – that all sounds very philosophical and idealistic. So let’s get practical! Here are some tips for enhancing the space you have, in the season you’re in.
WHO LIVES HERE?
Our homes say a lot about us. Toby Israel, author of Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places, describes a home as an “environmental autobiography”. Step inside someone’s home and you quickly gain a feeling for who they are and where they’ve come from. If you want to change the state of your nest, a good place to start is with the question: what do I want my home to reflect? And this need not be about what your home says to visitors popping over for a cuppa – it’s just as important, if not more so, that your home communicates positively to you, the occupant! The items that ‘spark joy’ in our home, and have thus earned their place, are the ones that speak of who we are as a family, the journey we have been on thus far and the hopes we have for the future.
Put simply, decorating and furnishing with items that are meaningful, rather than trendy, adds character and turns a house into a family home. So display what you love. Think Maria Von Trapp: ‘A few of my favourite things’ – key words being ‘a few’, not a whole lot. Which leads me to the topic of decluttering!
|A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING...
And everything in its place. It’s an adage that’s slightly irritating, but actually very helpful for maintaining a calm and organised home. Putting things away is an important habit for all family members to foster, but it’s really tricky if things don’t have somewhere to go! Mess is inevitable with a young family but the game changer is having functional (and attractive, so it complements your décor!) storage systems so mess can be tidied up quickly. Open toy baskets, for example, that kids can put their toys away in easily. A wooden crate by the front door that all the shoes encroaching on your living areas can be chucked into. A utility cupboard (or even just a shelf in a cupboard) with labelled containers for household essentials: string/sellotape/glue; batteries; light bulbs; chargers… without an allocated home, these sorts of items are notorious for cluttering up your calm!
CLEAR THE CLUTTER
Thanks largely to Marie Kondo’s influence, ridding our homes of excess belongings has become the thing to do, and with good reason – we all have way too much stuff. Decluttering the family home makes good practical sense because the more stuff in our houses, the harder it is to move around, the harder it is to find things and the harder it is to dust (because we all regularly dust, right?!). On a deeper level, there are also psychological benefits to organisation and decluttering. Which is reassuring for me as my go-to when feeling overwhelmed is tidying a cupboard. I thought that might have been odd, but now I know it’s just cheap therapy! Psychologist Alice Boyes, in an article in Psychology Today, says decluttering builds confidence and helps us feel competent because it uses important skills like decision-making and problem solving. Deciding what to keep and what to chuck, especially quickly, is energising. The ‘getting-stuff-done’ vibes are really motivating.
Boyes also points out that getting organised reduces anxiety, as order creates calm. Feeling overwhelmed is a very real tension for parents of young children. There is always a surplus of things to do, always a deficit of energy. While the task of getting organised may seem overwhelming in itself, making a start can help you feel more in control. Identify one small area of your home that feels disorganised – perhaps the linen cupboard or maybe the infamous kitchen junk drawer – and have a go at sorting it out. I’m always surprised at how jobs that appear dauntingly massive are actually quite manageable once I’ve made a start. The key is tackling organisation one task at a time, and spending no more than half an hour on the job so you stay focussed and make decisions quickly. Then pat yourself on the back and let the satisfaction motivate you towards the next project!
I could talk for hours about decluttering, but here are two simple strategies I embrace for reduced-clutter living.
Less is more. The best way to combat clutter is to stop bringing it into our homes in the first place. This is easier said than done, as kids are clutter magnets and us grown-ups are rather fond of abundance too. We’re tempted to collect stuff all the time. Truth is, we don’t really need any of it. If a shiny new thing catches your eye, write it down on a ‘not-shopping’ list and give some serious thought as to whether you actually need it or not, before committing to ownership. Seems a bit intense, I know, but being mindful about what we accumulate saves us money, saves us space, saves us time and saves the planet. And it sets a great example for our children.
Two things out for every one thing in. When I decide our home (including our wardrobes) really does need a new ‘thing’, two other things that we no longer need have to go. I have a box of items ready for the op shop most of the time because decluttering is a continual process – unless we can stop the incoming tide!
IN REAL LIFE
It’s important to remember, especially in the era of social media, that comparison is the thief of joy. Constantly comparing your home to the homes of others will rob you of appreciation for what you have. You may have noticed Marie Kondo encourages her clients to thank no-longer-wanted items before letting them go. While chatting to inanimate objects is not for everyone, I can see the merit in appreciating our belongings. Appreciation is closely related to satisfaction and contentment – when we appreciate what we have, we’re more likely to be satisfied with what we have. Feeling content can combat our anxious ‘need’ for more – this persuasive desire being exactly what advertisers capitalise on. So say a huge thanks to your battered-but-comfortable couch and charmingly mismatched dining chairs, and save yourself some cash!
That said, a beautifully presented home can be uplifting and pretty pictures can be motivating. Just keep a healthy perspective – most of the images we see of other people’s homes reflect edited and styled moments in time, not real everyday life! It’s great to take inspiration, but consider how you can apply the look/theme/colours you like to what you already have. Our homes are a great canvas for expressing our unique creativity – oh, and the creativity of our children! Which reminds me: one of the best investments I’ve made for our home was a floor-to-ceiling pin board that we mounted in the hallway for all the wonderful artwork our dear children create. Actually, not all of it – let’s be honest – but you get the idea: a centralised space to showcase all the cuteness that you otherwise don’t quite know what to do with…
Yes, our home in its entirety should technically be our sanctuary, but while we have the honour of sharing our space with our little people, there will be some areas that feel more sanctuary than others! And that’s okay. My advice: accept that the high-traffic areas (kitchen, dining, family room etc) are going to be rather dynamic during this season, but consider ways you can create the feeling of sanctuary in specific areas of your home. The master bedroom is the obvious place to start, but you may be lucky enough to also have a separate lounge area or a study nook that is more of a ‘grown-up’ space. All are welcome in these spaces but they are toy-free zones. Think minimalism – they are spaces to relax and enjoy some stillness, together or alone, and they are not filled with stuff. Scented candle, yes. Overflowing box of Lego and a pile of washing to be folded, no.
At the end of the day, the chaotic and cluttered lifestyle of a young family is but a fleeting season and I’ll be first to admit that a bit of mess is part of the privilege of parenting. A train set won’t always be under your feet, a cardboard box sculpture won’t always be your newest art installation. My encouragement is to pursue ways your home can serve the needs of your whole family – a sanctuary for children and parents. A little bit of chaos, a lot of creativity, and an underlying sense of calm.
Former OHbaby! editor Ellie Gwilliam now writes, studies and sorts through cupboards in her rural/coastal home in Northland. She’s quietly chuffed that her three daughters all enjoy tidying their own drawers.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 47 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW