Simple Ways to Make Your Home a Sanctuary
By LESLIE LUDY
For many of my early growing up years, our family lived in a small industrial town in Indiana. When I went back to visit the town years later as an adult, I was struck by how dreary and bleak it was. The weather was grey much of the time and the town was surrounded by ugly factories and hazy smog. Most of the houses were drab and run-down, with very little landscaping. The shops and stores were outdated by several decades with peeling paint on the outside and musty smells on the inside. There was hardly any charm or loveliness in the town. It was, in fact, a rather depressing place to live.
But as a child, I didn’t think of it that way at all. In fact, my years there were some of the happiest and most memorable of my life. This was not because the surroundings were any less dismal than they are today. Rather, it was because my mother had an amazing talent for making our home beautiful and our family life sparkle, even in dismal surroundings. No matter how dingy the town or how grey the weather, our home always sparkled with a special glow and warmth. I have vivid memories of cozy, candlelit Christmas Eves; sweet and special Valentine’s Day traditions; and fresh, beautiful Easter celebrations. I remember fun family traditions like picking strawberries in the summer and making homemade strawberry shortcake, and picking apples in the fall and making hot cider. I recall my mom having a special snack waiting for me every day after school, and birthday parties filled with laughter, love, and creativity.
Our house was quite small, but I can fondly recall the little bedroom that my mom set up for me—clean, organized, and decorated tastefully with fun touches of bright yellow and crisp white. I can envision the tiny alcove that served as our playroom and remember how fun and organized my mom kept it (except, of course, for the times we kids had a little too much fun and dumped everything out onto the floor—then had to spend an entire day undoing our damage). Our home was fresh, bright, organized, and beautifully decorated. Though my parents didn’t have a lot of money or space, there was light, warmth, and touches of loveliness in every room of our home.
Even in a dreary and grey industrial town (with no friends and family nearby), my mom rose to the occasion and made our home into a special sanctuary. It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated how challenging this task must have been. Yet her efforts impacted me in a major way from my childhood on.
Now that I’m a mom, I’ve been blessed with a far better setting in which to build our family’s sanctuary. We live in a charming town in bright, sunny Colorado, and enjoy a lovely view of the Rocky Mountains from the windows of our home. Even so, I’ve learned that building my home into a sanctuary requires focus, effort, and creativity. For one thing, having many young children does not make it easy to keep things fresh, clean, and organized. For another, the demands of ministry and the needs of my children greatly limit the time that I can spend on making our house into a home.
I know that I am not alone in this struggle. In fact, many young moms these days seem to have decided that it’s better to leave their homes in shambles than try to fight the battle of excellent homemaking. There even seems to be a campaign to promote the notion that a good mom is one who doesn’t concern herself with the condition of her home. As I was browsing for gifts online recently, I came across a framed picture with the following statement: “Good Moms have Messy Kitchens, Sticky Floors, Laundry Piles, and Happy Kids!”
The statement bothered me. While I am certainly not a proponent of fuss or perfectionism in the home (see my article Excellence vs. Perfectionism for more on this), I also don’t believe we should use our motherhood as an excuse for slobishness. Sure, raising kids will sometimes create messes, but I don’t believe that a perpetually messy house is the sign of a good mom or the recipe for happy kids. Rather, as I said in Set Apart Motherhood:
God has given us the opportunity of building our home into a sanctuary that caters to His priorities: intimacy with Christ, hospitality, and family closeness. None of these can be accomplished in a chaotic environment. By clearing away the clutter and distractions in our home, we make room and time for what is truly important.
It’s nearly impossible to have an effective quiet time with the television blaring. It’s difficult to build meaningful family memories in a room piled with dirty laundry. It’s challenging to be truly hospitable to others when your guests can’t walk across your floor without tripping over toys. And it’s hard to teach children the important life skills of discipline and responsibility when you never require them to clean up their messes. Not to mention that for most mothers, a disorderly home creates tension and stress, which can negatively impact the entire family atmosphere.
Now before I go any further in this article, I should state for the record that my home is not perfect, nor does it look like the cover of Martha Stewart Living. I do not stress and slave over creating an impeccable home. Laundry piles up, toys get disorganized, and the floor gets sticky on a fairly regular basis. The dog makes messes on the carpet and my toddlers have accidents on their bedding. For about six weeks over the holidays, our playroom and entryway smelled horribly because of a mouse that had crawled into the wall and died. With six children dropping food, spilling drinks, and leaving a trail of clutter in their wake, believe me when I say our home does not always look pristine.
Nonetheless, I have chosen to pursue an orderly home environment. I know that messes will be created, but my goal is that our house does not stay in a continually chaotic state. This is not so that I can impress other people with my homemaking skills, but so that our home can be a sanctuary in which our family can thrive. Helping our home stay clean, fresh, and orderly is a practical way that I can show love to my family. It’s not what makes me a “good mom” — rather, it is an outflow of the beauty and order that comes with a Christ-centered life.
In my book Set Apart Motherhood, I shared several practical ways in which to build your home into a sanctuary of peace for your family. But to bring even more inspiration and creativity to this topic, I’d like to share a few of the simple “sanctuary ideas” that have made the most impact upon our home:
The Daily De-Clutter
Clutter is one of the biggest hindrances to sanctuary. Yet most kids, mine included, are expert clutter collectors. At the end of the day, there is always a large collection of random, miscellaneous items strewn around the house. On the kitchen counter might be a Lego mini figure without a head, a pile of colored rubber bands, a stray stuffed animal or two, a lone toddler sock, a plastic dolphin, and half of a lollipop in a baggie that one of my kids wanted to save for later. In the livingroom and playroom it is more of the same. There are two statements I hear myself making quite often: “Where did this stuff come from?” and “What exactly is this, and why is it laying here?”
Then there are the kids’ bedrooms. They looked so cute and organized when I first decorated them. But on a regular basis, the cute decor becomes overshadowed by random and obscure “stuff.” For instance, today I found a pile of scraps from a ripped up cardboard box adorning Kip’s room; a huge pile of mismatched beach towels and blankets sprawled around Harper’s room (the leftovers of a homemade hideout); and a random collection of shoes, tutus, sparkly tights, and hair bows in Avy’s room as a result of her attempt to find her desired “look.”
With eight people in the family (six of them being certified clutter magnets), managing daily clutter is probably my biggest challenge in homemaking. One principle that has helped me tackle this problem is having a “daily declutter” time, right before or after dinner. As a family, we blitz through the house for about twenty minutes, and quickly put away anything that has a specific place to go. For those vague, miscellaneous items that don’t seem to have a clear resting spot (just where did they come from in the first place?!), we stash them in various catch-all baskets that I’ve placed in strategic locations around the house. On the weekends or whenever I have a little more time, I go through the baskets to find homes (or throw out) all the obscure, misplaced items we have collected throughout the week. (One of these days, I hope to officially solve the mystery of where it all came from…)
It’s amazing how music can change the atmosphere of a home. Our home environment may seem chaotic one minute and peaceful the next, simply by turning on some calming background music. Suddenly, my nerves aren’t quite so frayed, and a fresh sense of sparkle replaces my agitated perspective.
When Eric was growing up, he used to imagine background movie score music playing in the background as he went about his daily life. It seemed to give his life greater meaning purpose when he viewed it as part of a big, exciting, movie-like adventure. Raising kids is similar. When we see it as part of something “bigger” — like fulfilling the call God has placed on our lives to raise up world-changers for His glory — we have greater clarity, energy, and purpose behind what we are doing every day. That’s not to say that background music alone can provide us with this perspective. However, the right kind of background music can add sparkle, peace, and joy to our home environment. It can help get our minds off any stress we might be feeling in the moment, and subtly pull us out of the “survival mode” mentality.
It seems that in the early evening, right before dinner, all six of our kids go into hyperdrive. They are perfectly capable of playing calmly at other times during the day, but whenever I’m trying to get dinner on the table they much prefer to run wildly around the house or pester each other with a vengeance. So, in addition to instating mandatory “quiet reading time” during this portion of our day, I also like to play soft piano music to set the tone for a more peaceful evening.
In the mornings, I often like to play uplifting worship music to keep everyone’s focus in the right place as we start our day. And during special family times, I like to play fun, memorable music that keeps everyone in an upbeat mood and reminds us how blessed we are to be together. Background music is a simple, easy way to alter the aura of our homes from one of tension and frustration to one of peace and joy.
Young children absolutely love traditions. Whether it’s a special prayer-song that our family sings before meals, sharing daily “highs and lows” each night at dinner, or leaving a special treat and note under my kids’ pillows when Eric and I return from our weekly date night, simple traditions like these add sparkle to our family life. My kids, especially Hudson, love holiday traditions (such as his annual Valentine’s party in which he presents his friends and family members with a surprise Valentine’s plush toy, or waiting at the bottom of the stairs on Christmas morning and racing up once the music starts). In addition to keeping holiday traditions alive, I also try to incorporate simple traditions into everyday life. Special notes in my kids’ lunch boxes, snacks shaped like silly faces, and family worship around the piano several times a week are little ways that help us cultivate a sense of closeness and love at home.
Cultivating family traditions takes time and energy that I don’t often feel like I have. It’s easy for me to spend all my time on just getting through the daily logistics, rather than trying to make things extra special. But when I slow down enough to make daily life special for my family, it gives greater joy and purpose to my motherhood role and the impact it makes upon my children is a lasting one. (For more on this, see my article Purposeful Sparkle.)
Kids’ Organization Systems
Helping my kids stay organized is one of the ways I express my love to them. When their stuff is strewn around their rooms and they can’t find anything, they become irritable and frustrated. When their belongings are put into a system, they are far more peaceful and happy on a daily basis. Most kids aren’t born knowing how to organize their stuff. They depend upon their parents to help them learn the skill of living an orderly life. There are so many great resources, blogs, and products available to help kids stay organized, and I look at these often for ideas and inspiration. Using clear, fun, creative labeling is one of the best ways I’ve found for helping even young children remember where things go. When I’m organizing toys, for instance, I will often find a photo of that kind of toy online (say, wooden blocks) and print it out, laminate it, and attach it to the storage container for that item. This way, even kids who can’t read can instantly see where the item should go during clean-up time.
Of course, it’s not just a matter of organizing their things, but of teaching them how to maintain the systems on their own and be responsible with what they have. This is a skill that I have not fully mastered. It seems that my kids can keep their systems in place for a few months, but whenever there is a break from their normal routine, such as a holiday or vacation, the system quickly breaks down. No sooner do I get everything in its place when one of them has a birthday and then there comes a whole new batch of toys, games, and books without a designated “home.”
One thing that has helped me tackle this issue is simplifying and pairing down each of my children’s personal belongings. A few months ago, I went through their bedrooms and moved half of their things into storage. With far less clothes, toys, and books to keep track of, they were suddenly much better able to keep things clean and organized. “I LOVE my new room!” my six-year-old enthusiastically told me when I was done. He didn’t notice the fact that half of his toys were gone. Instead, he was thrilled that he could actually see, organize, and keep track of the toys that remained.
You don’t have to be a supermom to have an orderly home. Allow God to show you creative, simple ways to bring His light, peace, and order into your house each day. If you feel overwhelmed, start slowly — one small step at a time. And remember that when you submit this area of your life to Him, He will be faithful to gently lead you, give you wisdom, and help you build your home into a place that reflects who He is.