The Life Giving Home

life giving home book

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of becoming and Belonging, by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson. Originally purchased in 2016. 272 pages.

Books and people which extol ideals and poetically challenge us to reach for them can be good for us, even when attaining those ideals feels impossibly out of our reach. The key to being able to properly appreciate what we’re reading is to be comfortable and settled in to who we are, what we can do, and what our particular life and stage of life requires of us. If we’re not, what is meant to encourage us can cause the reader to feel as if she is failing.

Often before reading a book, and occasionally in the midst of reading it, I read reviews other readers have written about the book. About halfway through The Life Giving Home, I suddenly wanted to know what other readers took away from this book, because the ideal loomed large.

Sally and Sarah Clarkson, the mother and daughter authors of The Life Giving Home did a good job of combining their homemaking ideas, principles, and stories. Using these, they weaved together a tapestry designed to give the reader both a glimpse and a spark of desire to cultivate a “life-giving home”.

There were redundancies and literary hiccups along the way, to be sure. As I read the chapters that Sarah Clarkson authored, I was often reminded of the words of acclaimed author James Baldwin: “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” Despite those missteps, I appreciated her insights on the importance of home cultivation even as a single person. A home and hearth which provides peace, restoration and sustenance is important in the life of everyone, regardless of their particular family situation.

“All people need a place where their roots can grow deep and they always feel like they belong and have a loving refuge. And all people need a place that gives wings to their dreams, nurturing possibilities of who they might become.”

The ideals espoused in Sally Clarkson’s chapters were what drew ire and feelings of inadequacy from those readers who didn’t enjoy her book. The temptation is strong to feel defensive in the presence of examples and family stories which seem far above anything we can replicate in our own lives and families. I don’t light candles, neither do we have a fireplace but love, life, laughter and creativity are cultivated in our home in myriads of other ways. Quite recently we had a painting night where we all produced works that are masterpieces to no one but us:

paint night1


In other words, you can build family memories on things other than candles, hearth fires, Celtic music, and poetry reading.

This book is hopeful if far from a perfect one in many respects. I found their idealism refreshing; worthy of emulation. We don’t live in the same geographic region nor do we have the same likes or dislikes as the authors’ family. We do however, engage in meals, family routines, and memories that look different from the Clarksons and that is as it should be. It doesn’t require that we do everything the way Sally and Clay Clarkson did:

“Every day in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”

The Clarskons do paint a picture of their home life that could invoke feelings of inferiority were I not settled in my own life and in the home we have created for our family. Her children, in whom she expressed  praised and immense pride, could summon worries of personal deficiencies in parents whose children are still finding their way. As I read this book, I was thoroughly convinced that this was not her intent but rather that the authors hoped to inspire a determination to create a home of sanctuary, whatever that entailed for each of us.

The book had a well organized structure, but should have been shorter. After the initial chapter, each chapter correlated to a specific month of year, beginning in January. In each of those either Sally or Sarah offered inspirational ideas that could be implemented in that month, accompanied by stories of family memories.

Some of the ideas and stories felt redundant or reworked from chapter to chapter, which I found bothersome. I only need to hear about the peaceful atmosphere provided by lighting candles a couple of times. I get it. They find lighting a candle a peaceful, affirming addition to the atmosphere of the home. The same things apply to music, fires in the fireplace, and a hot bowl of soup. The repetitiveness of those family rituals were often repeated in a ritualistic way. It would have been better to express the importance of constancy in a less redundant way.

Lastly, the flowery language that Sally Clarkson is known for is just as prevalent in this books as in past books. There are times when I can read and enjoy flowery language, but it’s not something I am always in the mood for. When I’m not in the mood for it, I can barely read more than a chapter of it. I recognize that there are some readers who don’t ever enjoy it, so I feel obliged to include an advisory that this is a flowery book.

Many of the other reviewers of this book felt as if they couldn’t appreciate while they had several young children underfoot, or felt as if  it was some way in condemning to their underwhelming efforts as wives and mothers. That was, in my opinion, an unfortunate reading of the book, even though I understand how a young mother could reach that conclusion. The takeaway is do what we can, in line with our own abilities, resources, and family structure to live a little more intentionally when we consider the atmosphere of our home.

A strong current of encouraging hospitality was also a part of this book. Hospitality is a struggle for many of us in this era, but inviting someone over for coffee and cake is a lot less pressure than a full-on dinner party, which was also a good reminder.

I can’t say I loved this book, but there were sections that I liked a great deal. Unfortunately, there were parts I didn’t like as much. However, it wasn’t because I felt the book offered unrealistic ideals.

2 and 1/2 our of 5 stars.




10 thoughts on “The Life Giving Home

  1. hearthie says:

    It’s hard to write a book about homemaking at that level that doesn’t discourage young moms by comparison. Maybe you or I or someone should write a book about finding your own way into that beauty and meaning, and things that make it easier/harder.

    Like, for one – if I had to start over, I would have so little clutter and EVERYTHING I owned would be easy to clean. If it wasn’t washable, I wouldn’t have it. Kids >8 is when you get furniture that you don’t want written on. Young moms need Ikea furniture and throw rugs that fit in their washing machines and bins for toys that are attractive. Organization strategies to make with the clean, that’s where you start. Once you have that down, you add candles and such.

    Soup’s always good though. With fresh bread, in particular. That’s good for toddler ages, they like bread and soup. Nailing the perfect grilled-cheese sandwich is good at that age too. Comfort food.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    LOL. Being a tropical gal, I am not inclined to soup unless it’s chilly and down here it’s rarely chilly.

    But yes. I think a lot of the writing about creating a home which feeds the soul can be discouraging to young moms. In fact a couple of the reviews were along the lines of, “I really wanted to like this but I should waited to read it until my kids were older.”

    Which unfortunately is counterintuitive to the book’s point. It’s a deficiency in the genre; you’re absolutely right. I have more thoughts, but they will have to wait.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bike Bubba says:

    My pickup, having been asked to help people move many times, disagrees emphatically with using IKEA furniture. Particle board, half the strength and three times the weight…my pickup asks “if you’re going to stress my springs out, maybe something that will survive a move or two?” :^) (apologies for the digression) And a bit of humor:

    Seriously, it strikes me that what’s really needed for homemaking is a reminder that the house is a place to eat, sleep, love, and work, not a museum. Get those activities right, and you’re a success. Get them wrong, and no matter how beautiful your home is, and it’s a failure.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Elspeth says:

    Another thought I had was that many intentional families are creating homes of life and beauty but in the hustle and bustle of it all, they don’t notice it.

    After writing this review, it occurred to me how many things I hadn’t considered as anything particularly beautiful that we have around our house.

    For example, over our bed is the quote by A.A. Milne:

    As soon as I met you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.

    The framed prayer that hangs over our dinette table. The reminder to seek God in every circumstance that hangs in our family room.Family pictures everywhere.

    None of those things were things I gave a whole lot of thought to. At least, I wasn’t thinking of intentionally creating a life giving home. I was thinking, “These are things I want to see and want my children to be reminded of throughout the day.” Nothing nearly as planned and intentional as Sally Clarkson described.

    And I bet a lot of other families, even the ones with harried young moms, are the same. When they play legos with their kid, or bake cookies with him once in a while, or read them a story. None of these things evoke the kind of poetic beauty Mrs. Clarkson describes, but still.

    This is why it is important to approach these things from a balanced perspective and understanding of where YOU are in life. Simply being grateful and keeping harmful elements out is more than most people do today. It matters even if everything isn’t serene and beautiful, which also makes me laugh.

    Our kids are old enough NOW (youngest is 10) that we can focus more on aesthetics, so we do. But a lot of the calm, peaceful, life-giving aura stuff doesn’t really play well here. Partly because of the fact that my husband and I are like fire and ice, oil and water. Very different personalities and flows. I often don’t know how it works and works so incredibly well but it does (well yeah I do, it’s God).

    Nevertheless, a panning, list-making gal plus a fly by the seat our pants guy makes for some interesting moments.

    But our life is no less beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Elspeth says:

    I agree about the IKEA furniture. We bought some beds from them when our older girls were younger. Very bad investment.

    But the little home tools and decorative stuff? Love it! Very easy to spend money you shouldn’t in there, which is why I don’t go there often.


  6. hearthie says:

    Well, I had kids with markers, but you’re right BB – real wood holds up better. Assuming you can find it. (Ikea couches, on the other hand, have treated us right – I have one that’s in need of reupholstery but still very comfortable after 20 years).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elspeth says:

    You can find real wood, but you have to be willing to pay for it. All the wood furniture in our house is solid wood. Some of it we bought new like our master bedroom set, but some of it (ironically the most attractive, sturdiest pieces) we bought used. It required a bit of hunting, but thankfully my husband finds surfing Craigslist, OfferUp, and LetGo fun, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bike Bubba says:

    Real wood or steel–I inherited a “Flexsteel” couch without an ounce of wood in it and used it for another decade. Good stuff. On the light side, a furniture store once made the mistake of letting me look at their catalog of “premium” particle board furniture, and lost any chance of a sale when I realized the box was going to weigh 200-400 lbs, and I was living in a 2nd floor apartment at the time.

    And probably a better way of saying than “IKEA sucks” (I’ve heard they have delectable candies and meatballs, they’re not all bad) is “consider whether this item fits in your family’s long term plan”. If it won’t last a few years, the answer is “probably not”.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bike Bubba says:

    One other thought; it strikes me that a lot of cheap furniture (stuff in general) is really intended mostly to fill ever-larger homes. There is an immense amount of power in the notion that if you don’t buy the extra big family room, neither do you need to furnish it. If you visit “”, you’ll see that people living in tenements generally had better furniture than people living in McMansions today. Longer time preference generally means “a lot nicer and a lot smaller”.


  10. hearthie says:

    It’s harder to find real wood/good furniture here. Just as a thing, you can estate sale/thrift better goodies if you live where the “old neighborhood” wasn’t built in the 70s.


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