“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“The essence of home, you see, is not necessarily a structure. What makes a home is the life shared there…”
– Sally Clarkson, The Life Giving Home
I’ve been reading a lot of books centering around the home recently – books about creating the home and books where the home is held to an ideal. It’s been making me think a lot about my home in particular.
As a working mother, I can definitely say that I don’t have the time or energy to devote to my home that others do, nor am I naturally gifted at housekeeping. My house is normally in a state of acceptably clean, clutter-y comfort. My home is a mismatched, hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and thrift store relics and there is no perfect southern exposure to bathing my rooms in perfect, crisp light. I do not have a designer’s eye for style and color and I just recently started replacing things I purchased for my first apartment over ten years ago. I am not anything spectacular in the kitchen either and I can never quite seem to get in the counters clean enough or get all the crumbs swept up off the floor.
It’s easy to get caught up in Instagram-worthy homes that populate social media these days. It’s easy to get swept away in the idea that what makes a home are white walls, a minimalist sensibility and not a hint that the room photographed is ever actually lived in. These are the things that decorate a house, but these are not the things that make a home.
In her book, The Life Giving Home, which I’m currently working through Sally Clarkson makes a list of what a home is to her, what her ideals are in crafting her home and I have to admit I always approach these type of books with a bit of trepidation since homemaking and work are rarely seen to go side by side. But instead of putting me on my guard it got me thinking: I’ve always tried to consider myself a homemaker with an outside job, but how can I bring more intentionality into the home that I’m making even when my time and attention is divided elsewhere. How I can I make a home with my particular life in mind?
Ever since I was a child Tolkien’s descriptions of homes in his works have always stuck with me; the opening lines of The Hobbit were probably the first prose I committed to memory, not for any particular reason, but just because I found this image so endearing and they are the images I come back to when thinking about this topic. Nowhere in his works does Tolkien describe these homes, whether it is humble Bag End or the stately home of Elrond, as perfect or stylish or even impeccably clean – all things held to a high standard in the glossy pictures of modern homes. Instead, he focusing on the feelings the homes cause and power they have over those in their walls.
That is the kind of home I want and while cleanliness and order definitely help and are worthy goals they are not the primary focus of my homemaking. My house does not have to be spotless to be comfortable. My furnishings do not have to be new or stylish to be beautiful. The food in my kitchen does not have to be beautiful photographed or even entirely handmade to be nourishing. What my house needs to be is a place of comfort and safety. It should be a cure for the ills of the world and refuge for those who seek it. It needs to be a place filled with food and song and laughter and good stories, and these are all things I can do with my life. Sure the food might be a little simple, and some nights a good portion might come from a bag or a box and perhaps the stories might not always be perfect or of the highest caliber.
I hope that if someone comes to my house and sits at my hand-me-down table or on my thrift store couch after eating a good meal made from the best I could offer on a busy night after a long day that they would feel at ease, they would feel a little less weary and they would leave a little happier. That if they pass by my home, which will never be worthy of a magazine or a pin on Pinterest or even a well lit Instagram photo, that they might still think, “That’s Molly’s homely little house… and that means comfort.”