In recent months I’ve wondered about the relationship between how a woman cherishes and tends to her home, and how we value women as a society. Could it be that there is a noteworthy correlation between the undervaluing of women, and the undervalued art of tending to the beauty and order of a home? And could it be that when women stand up for the value of home-tending, we move humanity forward in its return to being a woman-honoring species?
(Who’s chuckling about the obviousness here…?)
At this point, I’ve begun to stand firmly for the value of what I do in and for my home. What I do — as with many other women and mothers — is constant. Beautifying through placement, flow and seasonal rhythms. Picking up, cleaning, endlessly returning the space to order since life — and the material things in a home — are in constant motion.
Sure, nice idea. But how do I really "stand for" the value of this?
Many ways. By naming what I do, out loud, taking it out of the shadow and into the light of day. With self acknowledgement. By counting it, quantifiably, as a contribution to what holds up our family physically, mentally, emotionally.
Yet it hasn’t always been this way.
When I was a teenage girl, my bedroom was cluttered. In college, my dorm room was too. Those were small spaces to contain all the immensity that is a Woman Child, as my dear, now-deceased Uncle Cheo used to call me.
Sometime in my twenties, home became more like an altar than a place for a bed, lamp and shower. A place to hold my big, powerful emotions and weary head. A place where the rigor and richness of living an authentic life could relax for the night. What would it feel like if my desk was an altar to writing? My bathroom, a sacred and small personal spa for refilling my well after days spent out in the noisy world? How many plants do I need to help my space feel like part of the Earth, rather than a closed-off and insulated cave? Are my eyes still wanting what’s placed on this windowsill, or shall I wipe its white paint clean and place new items here to sit for a while?
At some point I fell madly in love with my home.
Each time I’d move to a new home or apartment, home became a canvas for my art, a way to express my sense of beauty in space.
Today it’s that way still. Creating space at home is a passion of mine as it is for many other women.
Except I don’t live alone anymore. Home is shared with my husband and our 3-year-old daughter, and it isn’t necessarily their vision for home to be, in large part, a sort of altar.
That’s OK. Living together harmoniously is one of great challenges of committed relationship. Can I surrender my desire for him to put away his water glass every night rather than leaving it stranded somewhere in the house? Can he forgive my constant fluttering, never-sit-down-ness, my incessant need to create beauty and order rather than just relaxing with him on the couch? Can we find a way to share the roles that help make our house a serene and tasteful place to be?
Sure. Usually. And getting there is a terrific exercise in communication, acceptance and respect. One that grows us. One that makes us more of an “us” rather than just a he and a me.
A few of my close girlfriends share the kind of passion I feel for my home. We don’t sit until we tend to our own inner sense of what this outer space ought to feel like. We don’t take “relax” for an answer if the tug to tend to our space is the truest one we feel. We will relax when our Goddess Caves are ready to hold us exquisitely as we relax. We will relax when our art has been lived, when our homes have been loved, the way we were born to storm them into spatial artistry.
It’s not a hobby to tend to our homes this way. It’s part of who we are.
When I was pregnant, some girlfriends wondered how I’d do it with a little one around. “You’ll have to let go,” they would say. “I sure did.”
It did make me wonder. Would I become someone super different from who I was now, like, Wow, I don’t even care if my bathroom floor has hair on it now that I’m a mom!
Heck, no. I didn’t think so, and it definitely isn’t so. Have I let go 5%, allowing a little more dust on the edge of the floor than I used to allow? Yes. But does my home still feel like a tended-to sanctuary, where beauty and order are high priorities, and delight greets my eyes on every square foot of floor and wall space? Yes. Because this is me living my truth — not someone else’s.
“The dishes can wait!”
Yes, perhaps if your child needs your attention badly and you’ve been away all day. My dishes don’t wait. Not if washing them honors my truth in that moment. Warm soapy water and a spacious sink to wash dishes is a fortune that I indulge in, one that bathes my mothering hands in frothy spa suds and light, kissed by the sun from the window.
“Come on, relax, are you going to vacuum again?”
Hell yes I am. These feet hold my body all day long, moving many miles from here to there, carrying a 40lb. child, picking up after her and us, bringing in the mail and the CSA box, raising and lowering the swing, trimming raspberry bushes, picking up dog poo, and 4,000 things more. These feet deserve the love of a floor that’s clean to carry them, a floor not coated in dog hair and snack crumbs. These eyes like to see a sensuously pleasing carpet, free of the day’s haste and droppings. Tended to.
It must be about the tipi.
Somewhere in my memory, the ancient kind of memory, I can hear my soul sister Shirley sweeping in her tipi across the meadow. Carrying our brooms, singing into the nighttime sky, candles whisking warmth into the moon. I hear her joy; it sounds like mine.
The Bible says a woman’s place is in the home. I’m not Christian. A woman’s place is in the home when she wants it to be. And if she wants it to be at a job outside the home 10 or 40 or 80 hours a week, then that is a woman’s place. No book or nobody other than each woman herself knows where that woman’s place is. A woman’s place, moment to moment, is wherever her body and soul blend most rivetingly with this delectable planet. Apple farm, corporate boardroom, her own bathtub. She chooses where that is.
Mothers hold up the world.
We’ve all come from mothers. Life comes from Mother. Without daring to articulate all that we hold quite yet, I have noticed that women have a capacity to carry an enormous amount of responsibilities, visions, lenses, and landscapes — an exhaustive, complex and largely unrecognized array of what life needs.
If we’re carrying so much for our families — with parenting, our jobs or businesses, the social calendar, the home and yard and community, family dreams and relationships, emotional needs, and perhaps even refueling our own tanks too — why shouldn’t our homes play a big role in carrying us?
They do. So can we give ourselves permission to tend to them as wholly as we long to?
When a woman tends to her home like an altar, she sees in it the golden cave of the goddess. Like a mirror for her exquisite soul, she tends to that which holds her, because she knows how much she holds. She knows her worth. She stands for it.
Years ago I felt a bit concerned I cared too much about the sanctuary of my home. Listening to the bigger voice in me, I kept tending to home as a sanctuary of beauty, order and light. Chaos erupts, messes and spills, I embrace it, and then just like I breathe, my body moves in a dance of bringing it all back to clear, grounded, still. Now I see how masterfully this sense of space, this way of home, holds me. This is why I tend to it so devotedly. As it holds me, I can then hold my child and all of my life more completely.
Women, all of us, can either honor this tending to home as part of all we hold — and with our voices and actions, value it, not letting it be overlooked or belittled — or we can devalue it in a chorus with a culture that sess women as inferior. Since when did She Who Carries and Births New Life become less than a marvel worthy of utmost care?
It’s not about what anyone else sees or thinks. This is my tipi. My reflection of self care, in space. I will sing and I will sweep.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.