I am reading the book The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. It’s a lovely, photograph filled book written in journal style. It’s pages and pages of one page thoughts on the creative life lived in the home.
In the introduction, the author stresses the difference between domesticity and domestication, something I’ve never consciously distinguished between. She describes domesticity as
the pleasures and joys of the gentle domestic arts of knitting, crochet, baking, stitching, quilting, gardening and homemaking. It is emphatically not about the repetitive, endless rounds of cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping and house maintenance that come with domestication. Domesticity rises above the bossiness of cleaning products and media exhortations to keep our houses pristine and hygienic, and focuses instead on creativity within the domestic space.
That’s not to say, of course, that cleaning and maintenance isn’t a necessary part of home life, but I think this distinction is important for me to keep in mind, as it lends some clarity to my role in our family as well as to my needs as a creative individual. I loathe housework, I really do. Yet, when I am neglecting my chores, I can’t truly enjoy pursuing the “gentle arts”, as Brocket calls them, because I’ve always got this guilt nudging at me. It seems there is always some dull task that should be done. I don’t believe in keeping a pristine and sterile home. Home should be an organic place, full of life and a bit of clutter. But, I think I need to figure out how to better incorporate all aspects of homemaking into daily life. Routine. It sounds easy enough. I mean, I know I can’t do it all and do it perfectly; that’s not what I’m striving for. I just don’t feel content at home right now, and I’m longing for more of a rhythm to life that will perpetuate more order and overall enjoyment. If I can accomplish this, even if imperfectly, before the new baby arrives, I think I will feel very good. It also wouldn’t hurt if we found a house before that time. Sometimes a clean slate is just what one needs to successfully carry out new goals.
But the above isn’t even what I’ve come to write about today. While reading this book, I had an epiphany about myself, a realization about my desires and values.
I have long been conscious of the way women who choose to stay home to take care of their families are often marginalized by our society. Homemakers and homemaking are undervalued. Worth and outside approval come from the superficial status of one’s career and other accomplishments out in the world. Despite the often negative attitudes toward women in the home, I have never doubted the value of a wife and mother at home. But even though I know I am doing the right thing, I sometimes encounter feelings of inadequacy, and I think it is due to my self conscious nature and feeling the need to prove myself.
It has been interesting over the last year as I’ve connected with old high school and college friends via Facebook. Some of my female friends are following their long held artistic dreams and are very successful, which urges me to play the what-if game, even though I truly know there is no place I’d rather be than right where I’m at. Perhaps part of the problem is I feel that I’ve squandered my gifts by not pursuing them as ardently as I could have. I have little doubt that if I would have devoted myself more thoroughly to my music studies in college and dug down to find the necessary drive for success, I could have done it. I guess the problem is, as much as I love to sing, I didn’t have the ambition, and I never figured out how to drown my pesky self consciousness, the worries over being judged on such a personal level. Music is vulnerability, and too much sensitivity to that is a hindrance. So, I guess I’ve always felt a bit of disappointment with myself in this regard.
But suddenly I realize the problem is not that I lack ambition and that I’ve failed to become what I should be, it’s simply that I have not channeled my ambition correctly because I am not pursuing a career. I have not recognized the necessity of ambition as a homemaker. I have not allowed myself to fully embrace what I truly love and have instead held onto past ideas about myself that conflict with who I really am and what I really want.
In college I studied music and literature, not because I had a plan for my life that would incorporate these disciplines into a livelihood, but because they are things I love. I always viewed that as a lack of direction, lack of ambition, complacency, but now I realize that it was an early signal as to what I am really about. I am a creative person, and I guess I always felt that I had to force those interests into something I could do to make money, to make myself useful, instead of appreciating and enjoying them simply for what they are.
I am now coming to understand that I will be most at peace with myself if I once and for all discard the lingering guilt over not having pursued a career simply because I’m smart enough and talented enough to do so, and realize that my call has always been to be a wife, mom, homemaker, and creative person. This is how God designed me, and it is silly to think that I need to prove myself out in the world, as though intelligence and talent is not to be just as important and valued in the home.
Music, reading, writing, sewing, cooking, baking, gardening, etc., they’re all ends in themselves. I derive the deepest satisfaction simply through the process of creating, and when that gets wound up with approval seeking or guilt or the need for perfection, creation loses its meaning and its appeal.
Musing over this book is revealing to me the great value in creation for its own sake and the importance of a home bursting with creativity and personal style. Being a homemaker does not have to be mundane, though some of the tasks are. It can be infused with great energy and artistry. I think I’ve always felt slightly guilty about creating, as though I am merely indulging myself when I should be doing more important things. But the process of creation is important and creating is a an undeniable part of who I am. I am coming to see that practicing creativity in the home is just as important as those repetitive tasks of cleaning, laundry, making meals, etc, and they can go hand in hand. I will be most satisfied and my home will be at its best if I embrace both the dull but necessary chores and the very real need to create. Neglecting the chores leads to chaos, guilt, frustration, and general discontent. Neglecting my creativity leads to many of the same things and leaves me feeling stifled and longing for more.
It’s not that I lack ambition. I have just never fully recognized where my ambition lies. I’ve always felt slightly self-indulgent when I envision my ideal home environment, as though aesthetics are ultimately unimportant. Dreaming up quilts and curtains and pillows and seat cushions and wall colors always felt somehow, well, like I’ve said, self-indulgent. But why should I feel guilt over it? I suppose it is partly money. I feel like creating an aesthetically pleasing environment is an unnecessary extravagance. We have been saving so long for a house, so of course we’re not going to spend a bunch of money on furniture or even smaller purchases for the home. Fortunately, my sewing skills do allow me to create beautiful things for a much lower cost, and I am fortunate to have a big stash of fabric to draw from. The other aspect, I suppose, is time. And again, in walks guilt. I always feel like I should be doing something other than creating. Something that contributes more.
So, I guess my job now is to embrace, and not suppress, my creativity in the home, to believe that what I do artistically has value and is an important aspect of family life, rather than an embarrassing little secret that must be kept out of sight. I need to learn to nurture these needs and desires and to internalize the truth that being a homemaker presents the opportunity to follow and explore my creative urges without fear of judgment, without need for perfection or approval.
A song can be sung for the sheer pleasure, a quilt made for its warmth and expression of love. Perfection is not necessary. The act doesn’t need to be anything more than it is. It doesn’t need recognition. It just needs to enhance ones life. It needs to make one feel more whole, more one’s self.