You buy a house, but you make a home. The house is the structure, and the home is the soul.
Making a house a home is both a physical process and an emotional-psychological one. You could have all the rugs and comfy blankets in the world and still have a cold, disconnected home atmosphere because ultimately people and relationships make the home – not throw pillows and live plants. The physical environment does matter, and it should be addressed when creating your home, but it’s still secondary. However, the physical, material side of creating a home is easier to manage, so let’s begin our discussion there.
Pictures and Pillows and Rugs, Oh My!
Cleanliness and Comfort
Everyone has a cleanliness threshold, and while this might vary from family to family (and person to person), in general, humans need a degree of order and cleanliness to be mentally and physically healthy. A house constantly in chaos will never feel comfortable and safe, which in turn prevents young children’s brains from developing properly.
So the goal is to arrange your house to be tidy but not sterile, comfortable but not slobby. The house needs to be furnished, warm, and inviting. This means the furniture feels collected, not uber planned or ordered en masse from a home store. The floor has carpeting or rugs, and the sofa has throw pillows and comfy blankets are available. There’s plenty of comfortable seating in the living room, and the seats face each other to facilitate conversation and relationships. The dining table has enough seats for everyone who lives in the home, and you have extra seating available for guests. Your house, furniture, and art aren’t so expensive and so delicate that no one feels like they can freely move in your space.
If you have children, then toys, books, and art and craft supplies need to be considered. Do you want a playroom to contain all that? Or do you want to utilize the living room and dining room? How will things stay organized? What’s the cleaning up system? These questions are important to consider, not just for the sake of cleanliness, but also because it feeds into your family culture.
Ruth de Vos, an Australian textile artist and illustrator, shares her thoughts on this point. She says, “Our home culture reflects our values. We have books everywhere to encourage reading for everyone. We play music to set an appropriate tone in the home. Everyone here has easy access to art and craft supplies to encourage creativity. We designed the layout of the home to reflect that family is important and that children are treasured. The layout of the house is such that we can be together, but not necessarily in each other’s hair. We built small bedrooms and encourage all play and homework to take place in communal spaces in the house; the communal spaces have various nooks and spaces where we can still work and play independently.”
You may not be designing and building your house from scratch, but everyone can consider what furniture, décor, and arrangements will create that warm homey feeling.
Adding Heart with Decoration
Decorating your house isn’t just a big art project. What you’re really doing is embuing four walls and a roof with heart and soul and a sense of belonging. How we decorate our house tells who we are, where we’ve been, and what’s important to us. Here are several ways you can express that through décor:
Hang pictures of family and friends, or memories from trips and achievements.
Display family heirlooms and mementos from trips.
Hang art that you love or that was made by family members.
Have your favorite flowers and plants in the house.
Get rid of items you don’t like.
Paint the walls in colors that add to your family’s tone and pace. (Use neutrals, pale blues, and pale greens for a peaceful, calming effect, or use bold, bright, and saturated colors for an energizing effect.)
Update lighting fixtures to reflect your tastes and the kind of lighting you prefer.
The function and personality of each room should be considered, and then arranged and decorated accordingly. This is especially important for the living room and the bedrooms, as each occupant should feel comfortable and that they belong in these rooms.
When I was a college freshman, there was a common refrain floating around the cafeteria – cafeteria food was not an acceptable substitute for mama’s cooking. It was as if an entire generation realized just how much homemade food had been a part of their home life.
The smells and flavors of the home kitchen get ingrained in our memories and tie us to our home.
Making meals at home becomes part of home life – whether your family has a collection of favorite dishes you regularly rely on or you’re always experimenting with something new. The smells and flavors of the home kitchen get ingrained in our memories and tie us to our family, our house, and our childhood in a way nothing else really can. Birthday dinners or comfort food or recipes passed down from grandma are all a part of our history that carries much more meaning than just a meal.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
You probably noticed that even in sticking to discussing the physical aspect of creating a home, the relational aspect was still present. And that’s because as humans, we’re both body and spirit, so we can’t fully separate the material from relationships and values in something as intimate and integral as home.
So on the emotional, psychological, dare I say spiritual, level, what is home? I think home is the place where you belong and where you feel safe. It’s where you learn who you are and what the world is and how to live in the world. You learn these things in your family and within your home. There are a few ways these values and truths are brought into being in the home, so let’s look at them.
A Sense of Safety, Belonging, and Hospitality
One of the most important things I learned when training to be a foster parent is the importance of felt safety. Felt safety means the child feels safe – which can be totally different from being safe. For example, if a foster child comes into your home, and that child has a background of not having enough to eat, then just being in your house where there is food in the fridge and in the pantry (technically safe) still might not feel safe about food. You might need to leave a basket of snacks out or let them carry a fanny pack with snacks or store some snacks in their bedroom for them to feel safe about food. And this concept of felt safety applies to home. Each family member needs to feel safe in the house for it to be a healthy home for them.
Additionally, each family member needs to feel like they belong there. Not only does this mean being accepted by their parents and siblings (most importantly), but it also includes being able to give their input and having the agency to change their environment to make them feel comfortable and like they belong. Examples of this could be that their artwork is proudly displayed and photos from achievements like graduation or winning a prize at summer camp are framed. Or maybe things that they enjoy are in the house, like their favorite games, or having a warm blanket to cuddle with on the sofa, or having their own set of bath towels, or being able to decorate their bedroom how they want.
Lastly, the habit of hospitality is very important, both to your family members and your guests. Show your happiness to see your family members. Kiss your husband at the door when he comes home from work. Hug your kids and smile at them when they wake up in the morning or return home from school. Give your time and attention to your family members. Be inviting and gracious to guests by providing refreshments and being present. These acts show that the relationship is important to you and that these people belong in your home.
Family Culture and Rules
We all have rules, whether stated or not, that we carry with us from our family of origin. They might be rules like no dating until 16 or you will get straight A’s and go to college. When we form our own families and homes, we should consider what rules we want our new family to have. When my husband and I were doing our foster care training, one of the requirements was to write down our family’s rules. We considered what values we wanted to embody in our rules and then tried to distill them into short, simple sayings that small children could understand. Some of our rules are “We finish what we start,” “No hitting or hurting,” “We eat together every day,” and “We always tell the truth.” The values of hard work and perseverance, kindness and respect, family togetherness, and honesty will apply no matter what age the child is.
Family rules are one way to convey the values you want your children to live by, in your home and as adults. Family rules also help everyone know how to operate within the house and within the family, providing a sense of belonging and predictability. It also gives children the expectations for their behavior that guides their life and contributes to a sense of “my family acts this way.”
Your family culture is another layer. Family culture events usually take place in the house, so they’re intricately connected to building the identity of your home. Things that build your family culture are sharing stories around the dinner table, celebrating the people in your family (putting up streamers and balloons for birthdays, putting awards and art on the fridge, etc.), establishing family traditions (like Saturday nights are always pizza and movie nights, or decorating for Christmas the same way every year), and even formulating a family motto and designing a family crest (which you can prominently display in a communal space in your house).
Consciously addressing how your family lives together in your house helps to transform your house into your home.
Making a house a home can take time, especially when it comes to the relational and family culture aspects. But it’s a worthwhile process. Just remember, ultimately, a house becomes a home when loving people are making good memories together.
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