Embrace Your Foggy Unknown (3/3) | 42

Ultimately, what we do in our homes is usually overpowered by how our homes feel. And we have a whole lot of say in that — it’s crucial to tap into that during the unknown changes of this fall (but it’s still true all the time).

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Episode Transcript

This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.

This is an idea.

Two episodes ago, I kicked off this short series about embracing the fog in our falls this year, since so many of us have so many unknowns in our lives for the rest of 2020. Episode 40 was about remembering that we never know the future, even when there’s not a global pandemic, so even though things may feel out of control, it’s not the unknown future that’s causing it. And in episode 41, we talked about the idea of embracing partial solutions with the routines and rhythms in our homes, so that we can remember all the things we do have control over — which is more than we think.

In this last bit, I want to remind us all of one more thing as we think about the next few months to the end of the year, which include historically some of our favorite seasons of the year: the dawn of fall, but also the holiday season, which is where so many of our family traditions are held. But holidays or not, there’s a truth we all need to embrace so that this fog feels less …foggy. And it’s this:

What we do in our homes is usually overpowered by how our homes feel. Think back to your childhood, and try and remember what specific gifts you got for your 9th birthday, or what you did on October 23rd when you were 7. Try and remember your favorite song during March of your sophomore year of high school. You probably don’t remember too many of these specifics.

But now think of a few words to describe how your home felt — just a few adjectives, or perhaps tap into your senses, and think about the sounds, the tastes, the smells. For whatever reason, what stays in our memories are how things felt, not so much the exact details we can sometimes overthink as adults.

And this isn’t just about childhood; it’s for us adults as well. When you’re traveling and you’re ready to be home, think about what it is you’re missing: sure, it might be your specific pillow or the pressure in your shower head, or your favorite chair. But all those encompass how your home feels. What you’re after is a sense of home. Think about your favorite season, and think of reasons for why it’s your favorite: sure, there might be one or two specific things you do then that make it your favorite, but more likely than not, it’s more about how that season feels to you.

To me, this tells me we have God-given, hard-wired innate spidey-senses for how things feel, and that instead of that seeming extra, or superfluous, or just a thing to care about when you have time, money, and energy, I actually think it’s really important. And it’s important to remember that we have a whole heckuva lot of say in this idea for the rest of 2020 (and really, all the time), which is why embracing this idea is so important for our foggy falls this year.

You may not be able to control how or where you work, how or where your kids do school, if your favorite restaurant is open for business, or if you go to church livestream or in-person, so focus on the things you can control. In the last episode, that was the little routines and rituals throughout our days. In this episode, it’s all about how our homes feel.

This is a sort-of nebulous thing to talk about, so to provide some scaffolding, I’m gonna talk about this using the five senses.

1. First, sounds. What are the sounds echoing through your house (or maybe, what are the sounds you want to hear echoed through your house)? Consider playing quiet, happy music in the morning, to ease people into the day — I’m always surprised how effective this is. When my kids seem grumpy, or just at each other in the morning, I almost always play some morning classical playlist on Spotify, and it doesn’t cure everything, but it does help calm the mood. Play music during cleanup times, cooking times, and quiet times, and consider making a few dinnertime playlists for rotation throughout the week. And also, make sure screens aren’t on and making noise when they aren’t in use (that’s always one of my personal pet peeves).

How about how everyone’s talking to each other? If the chaos and loud voices seems constant, consider establishing a quiet hour in the afternoons, where everyone needs to be in their own spaces, doing whatever they want so long as it’s quiet. At the same time, perhaps establish a loud hour if you feel like you’re constantly telling people to be quiet (I’m talking to myself here). Some people, especially kids, just need to blow off steam with noise, and if you’re always shushing them, they’ll feel trapped and go crazy, and ultimately make more noise than you want at inconvenient times. If the people who need this know they’ll get at least one hour where they can be loud and crazy, perhaps they’ll store it up for then (and then take it outside the rest of the day or something).

And if you feel like the people in your home, the ones you love most, only hear from you tasks to do, or complaints, or general urgencies, consider having some sort of set dinnertime conversation questions, so that when you’re all together you’re doing more than just complaining about the pandemic or the news, or talking about all the stressful things about your day. Like I said recently, over most dinners we share our favorite parts of the day, and sometimes we add things we learned or things we failed at trying. We also have a set of those Table Topics, which are handy sometimes.

2. Next up, sights. How does your home look visually? And I don’t at ALL mean, is your home perfect, or decorated immaculately? I simply mean, are things in their rightful place? I’m always surprised how visual clutter adds unconscious stress, and how much calmer I feel when things are relatively tidy. Notice those little areas where things build up: the counter where things are always dumped, papers and magnets on the fridge, piles in the corner, overflowing bookshelves.

Consider making your home feel the way you want it to feel with a bit of seasonal reminders — but I don’t mean robbing the Hobby Lobby aisles full of glittery pumpkins and signs with dumb sayings. I mean, bring some nature in with twigs or leaves, get a few big real pumpkins when they’re available, and pull out your favorite tried-and-true fall stuff. If you’re feeling stuck in this department, or you know yourself and you have a tendency to go overboard here, my good friend Myquillyn is really great at bossing us around at making our homes seasonal but like normal people — I’ve got a link in the show notes of this episode to her stuff, if you’d like to follow her for some wisdom here.

And also, make a point to look each other in the eye, especially when it’s hard — like when your kid is excitedly telling you all about his favorite action hero, or Minecraft, or book she’s reading, or whatever it is they want to tell you about. Eye-contact is huge, especially at home, when we want to feel safest and at home. It makes our home feel safer, and that’s what we’re going for here.

3. Next up is one of my favorites, taste. In the midst of an unknown schedule, I think it’s important to both make sure you and your people are all eating healthy and not stress-eating, but also not putting too much pressure on yourself to make magazine-worthy meals all the time. Consider coming up with a fall rotation of meals. So at the time this episode goes out, there’s 17 weeks left of the year, including holiday weeks. If you subtract the week of Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s 15. If you create a three-week menu plan and just repeat it, that’s only five times on repeat over the span of four months. If your people are like my people, they won’t mind one bit eating the same soup five times the rest of this year. It takes just a bit of planning up front, but then you’re DONE for the rest of 2020. Doesn’t that sound nice? It does to me; I think I’m gonna do this this weekend.

I’m a fan of home-cooked, from-scratch, locally-sourced meals as much as we can, but I’m also ALL about embracing easy — so for me, that looks like using my best friend the Instant Pot, the partial solution of semi-homemade (things like frozen veggie mixes and store-bought pizza sauce), having my teen daughter cook dinner once a week when she can, and ordering out when it saves our sanity. We have a nearby place that has a super-cheap Taco Tuesday deal, where it’d literally be more expensive for us to buy the same taco ingredients at the grocery store — we want them to stay in business, so we figure it’s the least we can do by letting them cook dinner for us on Tuesdays.

In general, predictable-yet-homey tastes can help our homes feel more at home this fall.

4. Next is smell. I know there’s mixed opinions on candles, but I’m a massive fan of them when they’re well-made. I’m a bit of a candle snob because the cheap ones give me instant headaches, and I have a kid who’s very smell-sensitive. So, I’m willing to spend a bit more on good candles if it means they’re candles I actually want burning in the house. Whether it’s candles, or essential oils in an aromatherapy thingy, or some other thing you’ve got up your sleeve, pay extra attention to how your home smells, especially this fall (because fall has some of the best smells in the world, in my opinion), and also because we sometimes forget to stop and notice how our home smells.

For whatever science-y reason, smells are highly connected to memory, and they’ll instantly take us back to specific places and times. I still remember what one of my high school friend’s home smelled like (I loved visiting there), and one sniff of the combo of exhaust and cigarette smoke, and I’m back in Russia, when I first went overseas when I was 15. Smells are super-duper important, so they’re a small but powerful way we can make our homes feel safe, attentive, and welcoming when the outside world feels chaotic. I’ll put in the show notes of this episode an earlier episode of The Good List when I talked about why I love candles so much.

5. And finally, touch. Does your home have a few cozy blankets at arm’s reach for movie nights or reading on the couch? We actually had so many that I purged all but our favorite, then got a wicker basket cube that doubles as an end table for storing them (because they were going everywhere and driving me crazy). Do you have a few soft places to land in your home, where the people inside can go just to feel at home? I’m not talking fancy — just inviting.

And probably most important in this arena, and in “these uncertain times” — are you hugging each other at home? I know this seems trivial, and I’m not really a hugger by nature, but our lack of touching other people out and about can add up to more stress, less comfort, and heightened sensitivity outside the home. Inside the home is where we want things to feel safe this fall, so I’ve made more of an effort to hug my kids and husband regularly, even though I’m not big on hugging myself. I want them to look back on this time and feel like even though everything was uncertain in the world around us, home within our four walls was comforting, peaceful, low-stress, and generally happy.

The same goes as the fall holidays come, including Advent, so one final reminder during this series to grab a copy of my book, Shadow & Light, which you can use starting November 29 of this year (and every year hereafter). It’s a super-simple, open-and-go daily or nightly ritual for Advent using the Psalms as a prayer book, and you can enjoy it over candlelight, with both historic art and music to accompany each day. I intentionally made it a sensory experience, which is exactly what I’m talking about in this episode. Shadow & Light can help make your holidays feel homier this year, especially if you’ll be spending your holiday differently than usual.

And as a thank you for ordering early in the season, I’m giving you two extras, to help you prepare for the holidays with a stress-free mindset:

  1. A 3-part audio series, where I share a 101 on just what is the liturgical calendar (and Advent), how to incorporate more of the rhythms of the liturgical calendar in your everyday life, and a conversation with my friend Haley Stewart, where we chat about what we do in our own homes with our kids’ ages for Advent.
  2. And two, a gorgeous liturgical calendar wheel from artist Leah Banick that you can print and hang as reference and as art.

These are gifts intentionally to not clutter your life, they’re to pair with Shadow & Light so that you get more out of Advent without doing more or adding more to your plates. I think you’ll really like it.

To find the book and its free extras, go to shadowandlightadvent.com, or use the link I’ve got in the show notes of this episode, #42 of The Good List. As a reminder, I’m on twitter @tsh and every now and then on IG @tshoxenreider, but I like to invest most of my energy connecting with you through my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things. I send it out most every Friday morning, so to get it, go to fivequickthings.email and sign up for free, or find the link in this episode’s show notes.

Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon — thanks for listening to The Good List.