Summer vacation ended today and my sweet children returned to school after a long, lazy break. It’s odd…you don’t realize how quiet this big, old farmhouse is until the kids are gone and there’s no one fighting over the remote or wrestling the dogs. With the return to school comes a return to homework, projects, flute practice, recitals and a flurry of other events that leave us breathless long before our winter vacation begins. Throw in Mom and Dad’s busy schedules, commitments to church and community and “bonus” activities like birthdays and holidays and our lives feel more harried than ever.
It wasn’t til I returned to work after 12 years of being a stay-at-home-mom that I learned the importance of warming the home; not literally of course, but in spirit. After a frantic day at school, the only place I wanted to be was home, with my people, gathered in around the fireplace. The thick, plaster walls of this home that’s seen 2 centuries of life serve as a shield from the noise and desperation of the world outside. A warm home is a refuge; a place to nurture the senses, restore the spirit, rest the body and calm the mind. A place to drop all pretense and immerse yourself in the warmth of family. Home is not just a house, but a haven, a place of respite. So how do we go about creating a soothing environment that will comfort our family after a long day in the world? Let’s use the five senses to map out a warm home.
The #1 thing that makes a room visually uncomfortable is clutter. There’s something I find incredibly calming about clear countertops and tables. Our eyes need a place to “rest” and surfaces that are covered in papers, junk, knickknacks and personal items create a frantic space that doesn’t allow that rest. It took me many years to figure out that simply clearing off the kitchen counters, supper table, desks and side tables reduced my anxiety. Isn’t that crazy?! So clutter is enemy #1! Color and lighting in your home also serve to enhance or detract from the mood. Of course, this is all subjective and everyone’s preferences will be different, but there’s a coldness to overhead, task lighting. It creates harsh shadows and feels sterile and busy to me, for lack of a better word. Unless we’re actually working on a task that requires bright, overhead lights, I prefer the soft glow of table lamps and electric lanterns. When it’s cold and dark outside, I feel especially comforted and drawn to those small, cozy areas of light. Not sure that lighting really affects the mood of the house? Imagine a home that’s dark except for the glow of the Christmas tree and it’s hundreds of twinkling lights. Home, in the most literal aspect, should be a light in dark places.
Fragrance is also vitally important. Of course we don’t want our homes to smell bad, but how much thought do we give to the impact that a pleasant fragrance has on the mood of our home? There are certain scents that are indelibly etched in my mind, in connection with particular people. I cannot smell the aroma of cinnamon Redhots without thinking of my grandmother’s kitchen and a particular dessert she was fond of baking. Fresh, wild honeysuckle reminds me of my mother-in-law. Buttercream, of my mother and her favorite candles. Scent is a powerful, powerful force in creating mood and memories, so why not use it to further enhance the comfort of your home? In fall and winter, I keep a simmering pot of water on the back of the wood stove, full of cinnamon sticks, apple peels, whole cloves, used vanilla beans and whatever else I happen to have laying around the kitchen. In spring and summer, lighter fragrances like hyacinth, lilacs and citrus are favorites. A favorite trick of mine is to crack the front door when it’s time for the children to arrive home from school….so they can smell the aroma of dinner or dessert as they’re walking up our long driveway. Typically, you can see when they catch that first scent of home as they quicken their pace toward the door!
Inarguably, taste is my son’s favorite sense and the one he enjoys practicing most at this moment lol. My children know when they come home from school each day there will be a small, delicious treat on the kitchen counter, along with a glass of iced tea, local milk or a mug of cocoa. We don’t do a lot of processed or fast foods, so their snacks and meals are simple, hearty fare that reflect my Appalachian/Tidewater upbringing. We enjoy seasonal homegrown veggies and carefully preserved fruits all year ’round and my little food-snob children are pretty quick to point out when restaurant food doesn’t taste as good as home cooked. Love that! They closely associate homemade food with celebrations and will happily tell you their favorite meals and what Mom does that makes them so special.
Aside from visual, touch is my most important sense when creating a comforting home for my husband and children to come home to. Our home is 3100 sf, with 14 rooms and 10′ ceilings, but it feels cozy to me. The carpet in the living room is soft and plush. The fires in the wood stove and fireplace are warm and beckon you closer. The old down throws invite you to cuddle with someone, even if it’s just our Pointer, Molly! There are comfy feather pillows to rest weary heads and thick mattress toppers to rest tired bodies. The tactile comforts of a cozy rocking chair pulled close to the fire and a blanket pulled up to my chin…oh that’s bliss.
And finally, the last sense is sound. What is the soundtrack of your home? Yelling? Noisy TVs and electronics? Conflict? Rattle-y appliances? Slamming doors? Oh Mercy, sound is so influential to the mood of your home and it’s the sensory area I’ve had to work on hardest. After a long, hard day, no one wants to be greeted with harsh words, so I practice putting extra care into greeting my husband and children with kind words each afternoon. The TV is shut off and the first words they hear are how much I missed them and I hope they had a great day. No quarreling about messy rooms or chores that need to be finished. No loud appliances. No yelling at the dogs for digging in the flower beds. I want the soundtrack of our home to be loving words in a gentle voice. And laughter, so much laughter!
Our lives are more stressful than they’ve ever been before and so it’s absolutely vital that we make our homes a soft place to fall. Our spouses and children need to know that at the end of the day, no matter what school or work held for them, home is where their peace lies. When they cross that threshold and close the door, the world has been left behind and what lies inside is comfort, coziness and acceptance above all. Our grandmother’s practiced this skill—that’s why we have such wonderful memories of time we spent there! While we can’t necessarily rush out and buy new plush carpeting, expensive artwork for the walls or eider-down quilts for the beds, we can use what we have at our disposal and invest ourselves into our houses to create an atmosphere worth coming home to.
Til next time—–