Friends, I must say that I had some high hopes about writing a post based on the readings for the past two weeks, but I find I am so mentally tired today that I can’t bring myself to do it!
Thus, I have given myself a break today and am thinking about other things.
A friend recommended a book a few months ago called The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, which I bought recently and have been picking it up here and there for some pleasure reading.
The title is a bit misleading: it might conjure up stuffy, overly orderly women who never leave their homes. But the subtitle, “Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life,” gives a fuller sense of the intent and message of the book. Edith Schaeffer, the wife of the 20th century Protestant philosopher Francis Schaeffer, addresses the book to both men and women, single or married, who want to develop a rich home life for themselves and their families and friends. She encourages everyone to cultivate “hidden arts,” those talents or interests that are very fulfilling to you but not necessarily for your career or for public show.
The main goal is to enrich your own leisure and your home with wonderful, creative activity. I think activity is key here, because the process is more important in some ways than the finished product. She has chapters on music, painting, sketching, interior decoration, gardening, food, writing, drama, etc. Her writing is playful and warm, and though it is often very Christian in its themes, I think one need not be a Christian to find some refreshing and motivating ideas in it.
It reminds me of another book that some friends (perhaps Stefan and Monica or Audrey and David??) discovered and shared several years ago, around the time that Tom and I were getting married: Home Comforts: the Art and Science of Keeping House. The author, Cheryl Mendelson, is a law and philosophy professor and novelist, and as she says “homemaker by choice” in New York City.
The book is a thick manual of tips for cleaning and caring for homes, which is incredibly useful. The true highlight of the book, however, is the introduction. I am pretty sure that is what first drew the attention of our friends, and after I first read it, I also eagerly sent it around and recommended it to several people. Yet, I haven’t returned to it in a long time, and I have lived in multiple homes since then and have recently become an owner of one for the first time (though we won’t move in til May!).
This afternoon I have taken that book back off of the shelf and am re-reading the introduction. Her message is complimentary to Schaeffer’s as she argues that a home is much more than a place to sleep and watch TV: home should be restorative in an emotional and intellectual as well as physical sense, it should fill you with “a conviction of security” and familiarity. However, unlike Schaeffer, Mendelson emphasizes that the very acts of maintaining the house in good order and cleanliness are the ones that make your house feel alive and comfortable.
People can spend a lot of money on beautiful furniture and decoration, but their house is cold and dull, or too “stage-set” as she says. The beauty and vitality of your home, both for yourself or for visitors, will come from the care that you give it.
I am by nature and habit much more inclined to Schaeffer’s vision of creative leisure and love for the artistic details of life. Mendelson’s approach is always more difficult for me because she emphasizes clear rhythms and habits of cleanliness as the essential ingredient for a true feeling of “home”…I am much more of a “clean here and there except when things start to get bad” sort of person, and so is Tom. A friend once told me that I have “horizontal surface disease”–that is, my stuff spreads over every available surface.
We are working on it, though. I think having children has made us much more aware of the need for order, even just for our own sense of peacefulness in the house. Also, in a few months we will have much more house to actually take care of, and believe me, it’s a bit intimidating, though something very worth aspiring to, when I think of how much work it will take to make it feel like “home” in Mendelson’s sense of the word.