So we want our homes to be peaceful, to feel like safe havens from the outside world.
Where do we begin?
My impulse is usually to run straight for the how-to guides. I want someone to give me a step-by-step formula for creating the best morning routine, the best evening routine, the best cleaning routine. I want rules for how to choose a color scheme I love, how to make my living room feel cozier, how to make my bedroom more relaxing. I want someone to tell me what I should do, and I want to start doing it right now.
But let’s be honest: that approach hasn’t usually worked for me. I try to set up good routines, but I get overwhelmed, or distracted, or “something comes up”, and the routines and strategies and to-do lists fall by the wayside.
This time, though, I’m using Victorian-era resources. And the book I’ve chosen as the guide for my experiment doesn’t start with how-to’s and lists of things to do.
It starts with a manifesto. It starts with the reason why homemaking matters.
Why Home Matters
The American Woman’s Home was first published in 1869 by Catherine E. Beecher with the help of her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe (whom you might know as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The entire first chapter of the book is devoted to Miss Beecher’s worldview, the reason why she thought homemaking was so important. Like most Victorians, Beecher believed that people’s moral character was molded by the influences of their home and family. And like most descendants of the Puritan New-Englanders, she also believed that people’s moral character determined their eternal wellbeing.
In other words, the reason homemaking matters—according to Catherine Beecher—is because our homes shape who we become in ways that have eternal consequences.
Do I agree with this worldview? Not entirely. Beecher’s foundational premise—that being the best version of ourselves makes us fit for heaven—is the exact opposite of my own understanding of Scripture, which states that those who put their faith in Christ Jesus are saved by God’s grace, not of their own works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Fortunately, though, I’m not reading this book to follow its advice (or its worldview) verbatim; I’m reading it to discover how the people of this era thought about their homes and to consider how that thought process might influence or inform the way I think about my home. And even though I don’t agree with Beecher’s worldview, the reason she chose to open her book with this manifesto makes sense: if we don’t understand the purpose of our homes—the reason why they matter—then we won’t value the day-to-day work of homemaking.
Why Worldview Matters
Catherine Beecher knew that worldview matters. At the beginning of the second chapter of her book, she quotes a verse from the Bible: “The wise woman buildeth her house” (Proverbs 14:1). “To be ‘wise,'” Beecher explains, “is ‘to choose the best means for accomplishing the best end'” (p. 23). This means that, as homemakers, we want to plan and arrange our homes in such a way that they fulfill their ultimate purpose. And if we are to do that effectively, we need to know what that ultimate purpose is. We need to be aware of the worldview that is going to guide our actions.
The bigger truth here is that your worldview ultimately determines how you live your life. What you believe about the purpose of life and about what matters most governs your priorities, the activities you choose to devote yourself to, and the commitments you undertake. And what you believe about the purpose of your home and its importance (or lack thereof) will govern what you choose to prioritize in your home, or whether you prioritize it at all.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Catherine Beecher’s worldview, her reasoning here makes sense. Before I start creating cleaning routines, organizing my closets, or buying throw pillows, I need to know what purpose my home is supposed to serve for myself and for my family. I need to be able to articulate why my home matters in the greater scheme of things.
What Matters Most
So what’s the purpose of my life? And how does my home support that purpose?
Oof. These questions are enormous and daunting. They may even feel impossible to answer, especially if you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose of life. You don’t develop a worldview from one day to the next.
But here’s the thing: you already have a worldview, whether or not you’re aware of it. You already have a set of beliefs about what matters and what doesn’t. The opening chapter of Beecher’s book on homemaking is an invitation for you to recognize what your own beliefs are and to ask yourself if the way you live your life—and the way you tend to your home—match those core beliefs about what matters most.
So ask yourself: what matters about your home, especially during this season? And why is that thing so important?
In my last post, I said the reason I want to focus on my home during this season is so that my husband and I can have somewhere safe, a reprieve from the lack of safety in the outside world. In the bigger picture, I want my home to be a place of safety for others as well—for the children we will raise, for the guests we will (someday) be able to welcome.
Safety matters to me—not just in 2020, not just in 2021, but always. Why?
Because when we’re overwhelmed by stress, we’re unable to do anything but the bare minimum. When we’re consumed with the chaos going on in the world around us, we have very little energy and mental space left to pursue the things that really matter to us—things like connection and creativity and community.
We need to feel safe so we have the energy and strength to devote ourselves to the things that matter most.
In the end, that is the real purpose of my home. “Home” is the place that equips me and my family to live the kind of lives we want to lead, to be the kind of people we want to be. It’s the place where we get to reset, where we have the emotional space to refocus on what matters and reorient ourselves in the right direction. It’s the place where we come to be nourished and strengthened and refreshed so we can fulfill our purpose, so we can live our lives well.
When I view my home through that lens, it changes things. Clearing my kitchen counters no longer feels like drudgery; it’s creating space for my mind to rest from the distraction of things left undone. Making dinner every night is no longer time lost; it’s time invested in nourishing our bodies so we have the energy to pursue the things that matter most. The repetitive work of homemaking ceases to be something I need to rush through to move on to “more important things”; this is the most important thing, because this unseen, unacknowledged work is what makes everything else possible.
“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr Johnson said, ‘To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour.’ … We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.”C.S. Lewis, in a letter written to Mrs. Johnson on March 16, 1955
Here’s to the work for which all others exist: the work of creating homes that equip us for what matters most.
Tell me in the comments: what purpose do you want your home to serve these days?