Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Home - Part Two - Function

Picture of my bowl - for Kelli

Do you live in your home? Do you really live there?

A trend I've seen in the past 10 years or so - as the real estate boom really began to take shape, was that people were not really living in their homes anymore. I knew a number of people who were purchasing houses with the plan of selling them in two years time - or less - in order to make a profit as the bubble continued to grow. I knew folks who didn't want to paint their walls or would only choose neutral colors - not because they liked them, but because neutral was easier to sell.

Deed restrictions and neighborhood associations are a newer thing too. They are everywhere where I live and this has been one of those bigger adjustments I've had to make. People talk about protecting property values and others nod their heads in agreement. In my opinion, though, that is placing the value of a thing over the value of a person/relationship.

The people I know who live in areas with strict deed restrictions usually have at least one unhappy story of how they were fined for one thing or another or how a neighbor reported a broken "covenant." These neighborhood "communities" are supposed to be "family friendly," yet in what way? Is it "family friendly" to report your neighbor for leaving children's toys out in the back yard? or that their garage door is open "too long"? or that there is mold on the roof or that the commercial vehicle was parked in the driveway and not the garage?

These kind of "covenants" pit people against one another and have put people with petty grievances in the drivers seat. Certainly, it would seem ridiculous to call a police officer to deal with any of these matters, but many don't think twice to report neighbors in much of the same manner to association "authorities." I realize that people supposedly know all about these covenants when they move into a neighborhood, but the simple fact that they exist to begin with is just sad to me.

And why and where did they first start do you suppose? I wonder how much a role decorating magazines and shows have to do with it? I have often said that it seems that people somehow want to appear to be living in a magazine cover photo instead of a home.

But living is messy stuff. Anyone who's ever witnessed a child come into the world can attest to this. I am not suggesting everyone just throw up their hands and begin to live in squalor. All of God's creatures take care of cleaning their bodies and their homes. Nests and dens are kept warm and dry and comfortable. But there is a reasonableness to it and that reasonableness does not come about by having every stick in place and making sure that every nest look exactly like the last one.

I love that God created us - and everything - with such a broad range of differences. I love to see the creativity that can abound in transforming a house into a home; a home with distinct qualities that reflect the nature of its inhabitants. It is disappointing - and boring - when all the houses in the neighborhood look exactly alike - down to the last bush and tree in the yard.

My husband and I receive great pleasure from caring for and decorating both inside and outside our home. What I find even more satisfying, though, is when a house really begins to function well for our family. That is when it seems to become more of a home.

The more self-sustaining a home becomes, the greater connection I find I feel for it. When gardens that produce food for my family are cultivated and harvested, a new connection to place and the land grows along with the food. When special spaces are created in the home to allow for dreams and ideas to come to fruition and manifest, they take on new meaning and value. "Here is where I draw." "Here is where I pray." "Every morning I journal there." "Some evenings I would just go and sit under that tree and talk to God." "Here is where we grew the flowers for the table for her wedding." "Here is where we planted so many tomatoes every year and in there is where Mom and her friends taught me to can them." "Here is where I write and where I play my music."

These phrases don't exist only in books or days gone by. No matter where you are you can consiously make your "residence" into a true home. Make it function for you and your personality and your passions. Don't continually think about resale value. Even in an apartment you can feel at home if you take the time to truly be and live there.

One might assume that those of us mothers who stay at home with our children have an easier go of making a house into a home. After all, one could argue, we are simply there more often. That is not always the case today, though. A favorite book of mine is Karey Swan's, Hearth and Home. In a section she calls "Homemaking Beyond Maintenance," she writes,

"I saw a stitchery years ago that said, 'If a mother's place is in the home, then why am I forever in the car?' Some mothers have responsibilities that take them away from home everyday, but for most of us, daily trips are really unnecessary and can become a serious distraction. I've learned to keep lists and consolidate our trips. I find that I need to remain home for long stretches of time in order to get beyond the maintenance part of homemaking (stuff like cleaning, laundry, and ironing). If I don't stay home, I miss the creative part of homemaking, which for me is needlework, crafting a dried flower wreath, training a young heart, or giving hospitality to a tired friend. Without these I'd go crazy and burnout would become a serious threat."

I love this quote and think of it often. It helps to remind me, some days, of the choices I really can make to slow down and just be. Staying put is often quite difficult to practice today. Similar to taking time to observe the Sabbath, choosing to stay home some days - perhaps especially when we are feeling a bit bored - may, in time open up new possibility, creativity, and pleasure - if allowed the time and space to simply be at home.
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