A dear friend recently asked me for advice on organizing her home. Grace’s family of eight was already feeling squeezed in their modest-sized house when she decided to homeschool. Now, with notebooks and crafts, not to mention meals, constantly covering the kitchen table, she was seriously losing patience — a frustration common to many families, not just homeschoolers.
So I visited to share a few ‘tricks of the trade’ for handling academics in the kitchen — a skill I’ve honed with my seven sons for years as a homeschooler. What I didn’t expect was that Grace’s family would actually inspire me when it comes to what it takes to create a beautiful home in a limited space.
Here’s what I noticed about what Grace’s family does …
They focus on the people in front of them, rather than on their surroundings.
This Mother Teresa move comes naturally to Grace, who has always had a way of looking into a person’s face as if she’s beholding Christ. What’s even more profound is that she’s clearly passed on this attitude to her children, who greeted me at the door with exuberance. Little ones jumped up and down. I received lots of eye contact, smiles and plenty of hugs. Even Grace’s teenager and her adult son, who was home visiting for a few hours, chatted with me in the bright kitchen.
They display items that inspire and nurture their family.
Feeling genuinely welcomed, I perched on a stool in a lovely room filled with family photos, Bible verses decaled to the walls, and homemade artwork. I observed the gentle way Grace interacts with her kids — all regular children, I promise, who obviously test their mom’s patience at times and squabble among themselves.
I especially noticed the way Grace chatted with her oldest son, who is now a father himself. I reflected on the fact that this stellar young man visits often, and it’s obvious to see why. You can tell by the way he laughs with his mom that he genuinely enjoys her company.
I’d take this over more square footage anyday, I thought to myself. Sure, I noticed the tight space, the goldfish crackers mixed with broken crayons on the floor. But what I noticed even more was how tenderly everyone treated one another. And the surroundings … they seemed to fade away.
They get the kids involved.
Still, I was there for a reason. So I rallied the kids. “Everyone grab a backpack,” I said, “Fill it up with your own school work and put it beneath your own bed before each meal.” Grace then handed each kid a pre-moistened multi-purpose wipe and told them to “just clean anything.”
In short, we got the kids involved in a meaningful way — another important step in beautifying a home.
They practice habits that cultivate gratitude.
Grace squealed at the sight of a clean kitchen table. Meanwhile, my eyes fell on a copy of a favorite book that had dropped on the floor, Little House on the Prairie. Grace saw me hug it to my chest. Oh,” she said knowingly. “We just read about their long winter.” She then followed up with a remark typical of her: “It sure made me thankful for insulation and oil heat.”
Between that comment and so many others like it over the years, it’s clear to me that Grace purposefully engages in habits that breed gratitude, rather than discontentment.She’s an Olympian furniture repurposer, garage sale/ thrift store shopper. Her treasures fill her home, creating a culture of appreciation in a consumer-driven, throw-away world.
Grace noticed the way I was observing her and reflecting on the fact that while I could certainly offer countless tips like “save messy breakfasts for Saturdays; eat energy bars on school days instead” — she had me beat when it came to the big picture.
“Whatcha’ thinkin’?” she smiled as she swept up the room while simultaneously helping her kids find their hiking boots – a perfect illustration of her best trick. Because if Grace has a single homemaking mantra, it would be:
“Do what you can, then get outside.”
I’m pretty sure Grace gave up on the “honey-do” list a long time ago. I suspect she grew tired of the pressure it puts on a relationship, and so avoids it as much as possible. Instead, Grace focuses on what she can do – cooking and cleaning to excellence, while demanding a reasonable amount of help from her kids. She hangs curtains, paints walls, and sprinkles them with bird decals – then gets outside with a pair of binoculars to check some out in real life.
Because even though Grace wanted my advice managing school work in the kitchen, she was already a champion homemaker long before I stopped by. She understands that the abode she’s creating for her family is constructed mostly out of the intangible – patienceand compassion, meaningful shared experiences, faithfulnessand laughter.
I don’t want to diminish the peace a well-ordered, tastefully decorated living space brings to a person’s life, but much like the voice of Wisdom, personified often in the Bible as a humble woman, Grace has certainly built her house (Proverbs 9). It’s not fancy, but when beheld properly, it’s majestic.