A certain grumpy baby subjected me to marathon nursing sessions the other day so I took the opportunity to scarf down a book I had borrowed from my sister, Simple Matters, by blogger, Erin Boyle. And I was surprised by how much I loved it. I admit to prejudging the book thinking that it might be another curated minimalistic and unattainable lifestyle on display to make the rest of us feel second-rate at mothering and homemaking. Instead, I found Erin’s practices for simple living to be not only attainable but also deeply thoughtful and, in many ways, cohesive in a Catholic vision of ideal homemaking—which is the vision of a domestic monastery.
Domestic monastery–those words get thrown around often and I always think they sound lovely but am unsure of what a domestic monastery is supposed to look like and what are practical ways for making it happen. Erin’s book offers a way to achieve some aspects of that vision.
Though my lay vocation as a spouse and parent limits me from renouncing the world in the radical way that a cloistered monk or nun might, I can still echo specific vows and practices of monastic life in our homes.
For instance, I can emulate vows of poverty by rejecting consumerism in concrete ways such as questioning how and where the things I buy are made. Consequently, this would keep me from being caught in the cycle of indirect exploitation that I so easily fall into.
“When we make a commitment to using our purchasing power wisely, we set off a chain reaction that affects people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been for the better.”
I can also be a good steward of my home by practicing domestic virtues of thrift, resourcefulness, and organization. To do this, it’s necessary to adopt habits such as the continual evaluation of the things in my home that so often become a part of the visual landscape and unconsciously cause stress. Erin shrewdly points this out: “We’re under the false impression that we’re not in control of our spaces when the opposite is true.” When we strip unnecessary things away, we create an environment of calmness and order, which of course is supposed to be the environment of a monastery–one conducive to prayer and reflection.
While the book deals mainly with decluttering and minimizing what we own, Erin makes it clear that it is equally important to properly value those things we do choose to allow in our home. She tells her readers, “I genuinely like stuff. I appreciate good design. I enjoy keeping a beautiful home filled with beautiful things. Not lots of things. Nice things.”
In the Catholic vision of homemaking, this speaks to me of a sacramental mentality–that material things can hold immaterial import.
Our children’s first education is through their senses in the home. The textures, colors, smells, sounds, and tastes they experience, whether it’s through something as explicitly religious as a home oratory or as simple as freshly laundered linens or candles at the dinner table as Erin and her husband have made a ritual of having, should never be underestimated in their power to instill a sense of wonder in a child.
What I really love about this book is that the author is reasonable. Erin isn’t asking you to konmari-the-shizz-out-of-your-home so that you’re left with nothing and no budget with which to start over. She gives practical tips and exercises for simplifying your life, and she acknowledges that the lifestyle changes she suggests are a gradual process.
The only thing I would have liked to see differently is how these ideas might realistically be put into practice for a larger family, especially since I currently only have one child who is still easily contained. However, one day I hope to have a bunch of little humans and I’d like the reassurance that this whole ordered and simplified life/domestic-monastery-in-practice is, to some extent, feasible.
There’s so much more I could say about this book, but this would probably end up being equal in length to the book itself. And anyway, I should stop writing and go make the author proud by cutting up holey t-shirts to make into reusable kitchen rags.
(Update: Jenny’s got us covered with the large family/minimalism aspirations)