Since my husband and I moved into our first “just us” place sixteen years ago, I’ve felt a strong desire to create a happy, cozy home.
But I spent a lot of time as a young mom not exactly knowing how to do that. Did a happy home need to be perfectly tidy? Decorated a certain way, like the pictures in magazines? Would it require chore charts and expensive organizing systems? Nightly sing-a-longs and elaborate family dinners?
Over the years, my definition of a happy home has become a lot more laid-back. Of course, the first ingredient is love, and that’s universal. But what other traits have the power to make a home happier?
Happy homes can be created and defined in a lot of different ways, but here are five “ingredients” that rank high on my list:
1. Everyone gets to be him- or herself.
My #1 definition of a happy home? A safe, comfortable refuge for the people who live in it. And according to my philosophy, people feel most comfortable and safe when they’re free to be themselves.
I’m working hard to create a family culture in which everyone’s unique strengths and traits are accepted and celebrated. We aren’t all good at the same things, and we don’t all care about the same things, but it’s my goal that we all support and love each other for the people we really are.
2. It’s functional – not perfect.
A lot of moms stress out about creating a perfectly clean home, or finding the magical organizing system that will make everything effortlessly fall into place. But to me, the goal of cleaning, organizing and even furnishing is to create a functional – not perfect or Pinterest-worthy – home.
How do I define a “functional” home? It’s:
- Clean enough that everyone feels comfortable
- Organized enough that everyone can get their work done, keep track of their treasured objects, and lay hands on a pencil, notebook, or frying pan when needed
- Decorated enough to feel lived-in and personal, and like it’s got some history…whether the “decor” is a carefully-curated collection of original art, or bowls of pinecones gathered from treks around the block.
“Functional” homes don’t need to be magazine-cover perfect; just good-enough in the ways that matter. And I personally think a home that looks like a work-in-progress is way more interesting than a house that looks like it just came off the shelf.
3. It feels good to be in.
When I was growing up, my mom “made do” with most of the furnishings and accessories from her early marriage – which meant that in the 80s, when all my friends’ houses were sporting wall-to-wall mauve carpeting and gold-tone lamps, our house was abundant in late 60’s and 70’s brown, orange, pea green and mustard.
Still, I always felt good in our home. It’s not that my mom put a lot of time or any money at all, really, into decorating, but everything always felt thoughtfully arranged and homey.
Not long before she died, my mother shared a story about the first house she and my dad lived in after they got married. She told me that the house was small, and she hated it, always wishing for something bigger and better. But later, she realized that it had been a cute house with great potential, something she could easily have made into a cozy, lovely home if she’d approached it with an attitude of gratitude and creativity.
I’ve never forgotten that story and have tried to bring my mom’s attitude into every home we’ve lived in, no matter its flaws.
4. It supports the whole family’s needs.
Our large family has lived in houses of varying sizes, so I’ve learned that square footage is less important than how you use the space you have. One of my goals is to create a home that nurtures different family members’ needs for socializing and solitude, noise and quiet – not always easy to do in a house with seven people!
With that in mind I’ve worked to create different “zones” in the house that can be places to shout and laugh or study and reflect…though sometimes the same zone can serve different purposes at different times of the day.
My kids are definitely inconvenienced and annoyed from time to time, and they’ve had to learn to compromise, but it’s my aim that any kid who needs a quiet nook to work math problems, or a safe place to blow off steam, can find it – though he might also need to be patient and wait his turn.
5. It’s full of laughter.
All families have different languages. In our house different family members “speak” music and books, sports and movies, in varying levels of fluency…but our primary vocabulary, the way we all communicate and connect best, is through laughter.
Whether we’re cracking up over a corny joke, watching The Great Outdoors for the seventeenth time, or gently ribbing one another around the dinner table, laughter is the one thing we all share equally…from Mom and Dad down to the “baby” of the family.
We can be pretty silly, but we’ve created some amazing memories, the kind of tales we tell again and again. For us, the all-important “family mythology” almost always begins with a funny story.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means – I could easily come up with five more! But instead, I’d love to know: what ‘ingredients’ do you think are necessary to make a happy home?