What Makes a Home
When I was growing up, my family would make the four hour drive nearly every other weekend from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks in Upstate New York to visit my grandparents. They had retired in a log cabin that they designed and built in the early 70's. The cabin was situated in a grove of white pines on a beautiful plot of land next to the Ausable River. I remember it as an almost mystical place. The stout wood stove where we would congregate at night, the heavy woolen blankets I’d slide into shivering in the frigid winter. How cozy the home would be in the morning. The books and trinkets that lined the walls. It was such a unique, meticulous home. Everything seemed somehow important and right where it belonged.
My grandfather was a quiet, serious man whose world captivated me. He would fly fish in waders in the spring and make elderberry wine in the fall. Harvest honey from their beehives and smoke salmon. I remember the wild green in the summer, the riot of colors in the sprawling garden they tended. I remember feeling a youthful awe that they could tend to all of this. The property seemed never-ending, so different than the boxy lot we lived on in town.
I must have said something to him about it because I remember him telling me that one just needed to pay attention and show up. The land told him what it needed if he listened. My dad says this sounds more like something Grandma Carmelita would say, but my memory points to Grandpa Al. It likely came from her initially*. The origin may be debatable but that lesson has stuck with me for over 25 years. Whenever I think of it, I’m transported right back to the winding dirt driveway that abutted the garden, blanketed by pine needles.
To me, the most magical places (outside of nature, forever the master) are the ones that look and feel personal and well-cared for. Style is amazing but lovingly tended is my number one favorite trait in a home, business or venue. I love to see unique signs of the people who spend time there, free from layers of dust that indicate neglect. This is accomplished best by doing what Grandpa Al told me, paying attention and showing up consistently. If we listen, our environments will guide us.
We tend to turn our noses up at the ‘chore’ of cleaning, tidying, yard work or homemaking, and outsource it, rush through it or avoid it altogether, but it can be the most beautiful and satisfying ritual to take care of our environment. It’s a mutually beneficial undertaking. Our surroundings become an art form that we get to enjoy.
My mornings and evenings have changed quite a lot in sobriety, and one of the more meaningful effects is the presence of mind to consistently straighten up in the morning and evening. Making the bed while coffee brews in the morning, appreciating the light spilling into the room. At night, I wash and dry my dishes and put everything away. It’s a regular pleasure to love where I live and much of that comes from daily care, paying attention and showing up while appreciating the mundane but profound blessings of these spaces that support our most essential needs. (Especially poignant in the Bay Area where homelessness is a growing public crisis.)
Housework is a complex issue that has fallen out of fashion and been weaponized in gender politics. I also recognize that with work, busy families and a thousand moving parts, we don’t always have time to clean our refrigerators out or even wash all our dishes before collapsing in bed. We have a time shortage epidemic. And I’ve certainly had my heated arguments with partners and roommates about unbalanced distribution of responsibility. But an ordered, tended home can act as a clean slate in all the chaos, helping us cope and grow and thrive.
I’d advocate for everyone to reframe the belief that caring for our space is lesser work to be avoided or delegated. Demonstrating enjoyment in housework to our roommates, spouses, and children is contagious. One of my favorite ideas from housekeeping icon Marie Kondo is to make folding clothes a family activity. It ends up being a way to connect and take care of each other rather than a dirty job already exhausted mom has to find time for. Imagine sending your kids out into the world with a good grasp on laundry. How their future partners will thank you!
Taking care of our environments can be a really enjoyable way to spend time and take care of ourselves. When I come home from a trip and find all my things in their place, I feel grounded and safe. When I visit someone’s well-kept home, I’m inspired and delighted. It’s hard to describe, it just feels good.
Next time you roll up your sleeves to wash dishes or pull out the broom, experiment with looking at is as a meditation. Take your time, maybe burn a candle nearby, listen to something you love and enjoy. Create a bit of art in your organizing or dusting, in your garden or bookcase. Let your laundering be a ceremony. Think fondly of those who taught you, whether they’re family or otherwise. You never know who might be inspired by your example and how wide that ripple may extend. Your grandchildren, maybe even the planet.
Happy homemaking, friends.
Thank you to my dad and Aunt Bonnie for filling in details on this story.
*I’d venture to guess that their life as a whole was largely influenced by Grandma Carmelita, who was known throughout Upstate New York as a gifted healer. I’m indebted to you both for your love and influence.