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.




the life-changing magic of tidying up

tidying up

The life-changing magic of tidying up, by Marie Kondo. Originally published in 2011. 226 pages.

This is a lifestyle book, but at least it is a genuinely useful one. Marie Kondo filled a need based on a post-modern trend that could really only ever exist is a culture of material excess and consumption, but it is still a real need.

In the life-changing magic of tidying up, Kondo testifies that she has been fairly well obsessed with cleaning and purging since she was  child. Clutter annoyed her. After attempting countless methods suggested by numerous “organization experts” in tens of books and magazines, she came up with a method of her own, which she calls the KonMari method.

It’s a straight forward route to a de-cluttered house, and the best part is that when you get there, you won’t have to worry about ever having to deal with clutter again. Well, so long as you stay out of Target, Old Time Pottery, Williams-Sonoma and other bastions of clutter producing products.

In a nutshell, the Konmari method is this: Go through your house, in one fell swoop, and get rid of everything that is unused, unneeded, is lacking beauty, or doesn’t bring you joy. All of it. Every piece of clothing, kitchen gadget, tech gadget, tool, shoe, sock, bra, CD, book, or brick-a-brac. All of it. Even if it means you have to rent a dumpster to put outside your house and collect it all. Because our problem really isn’t lack of cabinet space:

“I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want.”

Now let me tell you. This SPEAKS to me. I am a purger by nature who gives away or tosses as much as I can as often as I can. And this is where Marie Kondos’s method turns controversial. This tosser is married to a keeper, so we keep a lot.

I wasn’t too far into the book when I began to question: How is this supposed to work in the context of a household of people who want to keep all their stuff? It wasn’t long before she made it clear that it would be wrong to throw away other people’s things without their permission. However, the hope is that your housemates might be inspired as they see you de-clutter the spaces you are authorized to purge.

One of the light bulb moments in the book was when the author suggested we learn to make a marked shift in thinking from trying to decide what we want to get rid of to evaluating the things we truly desire to keep:

we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

That alone cut my wardrobe significantly. In a good way.

One room I am authorized to “go konmari” in is the bedroom of our two youngest daughters, ages 8 and 9, so I did. Despite wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of our 9-year old (a keeper), the end result was so startling that even she had to admit that it was a good thing that I went through the toys with a merciless eye.

If there was thing about the book I found highly impractical, it was the details of the konmari technique. She suggests that whatever category you’re purging (clothes, shoes, books, whatever), that you take every item from all over the house, put it on the floor in the middle of a main room, and touch each item to see how it makes you feel:

the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.

That felt a bit new-agey for one thing, but on top of that we have a fairly large house in which we have lived for 15 years. There’s far too much stuff in here for that to be in any way practical. Very few things are capable of bringing me joy unless they are connected in to a memory or experience with those I love most. Getting rid of things is easy. Getting everyone else to get rid of things is harder.

Overall, it’s a good book if for no other reason than it helped me to really consider the amount of useless *stuff* I keep in our home.There is just too much stuff. And even if I can’t get rid of as much of it as I’d like, I can certainly refrain from needlessly adding to what is already here.

Grade: B

Content advisory: This book’s author is Japanese, and this subject is approached from a very Eastern perspective. I had no problem at all with that, but I thought I’d make it known to those of you who would like to know it.