I read Shelter for the Spirit: How to Make Your Home a Haven in a Hectic World, by Victoria Moran, upon the recommendation of a friend. I found it to be a comforting and reassuring book. Moran starts off by suggesting that: “Home is so fundamental we tend to overlook the degree to which it affects our work, our well-being, and our overall effectiveness.” One reason that I read this book right now is because I recognize how important “home” is to me but I have not quite yet figured out exactly how to make my own home meet what I need from one. This book helped me to better understand certain aspects of my relationship to “home.”
Moran’s advice is very practical in that it addresses how people really act, think, and feel rather than proposing an idealized version of a home that is impossible to meet. For example, in the chapter on “Cleaning,” she addresses the fact that what constitutes “clean” differs for different people and the most important thing is to think about where cleaning falls in in the list of priorities in your own life:
Cleaning house is not the most important aspect of keeping house. It may not even make the top ten. Taking care of yourself, keeping your primary relationship close and communicative, being available to your children when they need you (not necessarily when it is convenient), and having an open door for everyone you care about are all more important than attacking dust bunnies, even those the size of Harvey. Once your priorities are set and living things take precedence over appearances, however, you can figure out where cleanliness fits in.
Given that, she then goes on to address specific reason why people don’t clean (lack of time, lack of skill, lack of enthusiasm) and discusses how one can face cleaning as a comfort and even spiritual act rather than as drudgery.
In the final chapter, on “Comforts,” Moran validates the need we all have to do things for ourselves that have no more value than giving us delight:
I think most of us look at personal delights as somewhere between minimally important and borderline immoral. We like them, but we’re not sure we ought to. We seldom give them a high priority when other demands are competing for our attention. Nevertheless, the soul feeds on simple joys and withers without them.
I felt reassured and comforted just to read these words. I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying things that may appear superficial, extraneous, or materialistic (such as drinking tea from a beautiful tea set instead of a plain mug). To me, the important thing is to be aware of what truly gives me delight and comfort, and what is in fact extraneous.
Speaking of extraneous, Moran also has an entire chapter on “Simplifying,” and her discussion of this topic resonated with me in a way that no other one has. First of all, she addresses the fact that clutter happens to all of us: “Ironically, our houses and apartments – where some of our best moments can be – seem to attract clutter and complication like a magnet. Mail, both the welcome and the unsolicited, is delivered; purchases are unloaded; items accumulate.” She then goes on to discuss five ways to simplify our space and ten ways to simplify our time. All of her suggestions are valuable, but the one that stuck with me the most was her litmus test for material possessions. The test consists of two key questions for each item: “Is it serving a purpose?” and “Does it make me happy?” As long as you answer “yes” to at least one of the questions, the item is worth keeping. This highlights for me that simplicity does not have to be about giving up all but the bare necessities. Rather, it is about ensuring that each item (and activity) in your life is there because it has some importance or meaning to you, and giving up the ones that don’t.
I highly recommend Shelter for the Spirit. It is a book I expect to return to through-out my life. I also look forward to reading Victoria Moran’s other books at some point.