Last year I was honored to be asked by the Central Virginia Family Guide to write an article on “Avoiding the Overload (a.k.a. quit spoiling your children) I’ve been saving this to post strategically the week before Black Friday because in essence….it’s the anti Black Friday theory. I’m not against saving money…good golly I’m not against that. I’m ONE HUNDRED MILLION TRILLION QUADRILLION PERCENT against excess and spoiling. An epidemic amongst our culture. I too am also guilty of it and continue to have honest conversations with myself sometimes daily. Please join me in this worthy pursuit to raise grateful children.
“Mine” and “More”
Two cringe inducing words that children need no help learning or demanding when it comes to “stuff”. As parents we work hard trying to instill a sense of gratitude and appreciation in our children as soon as they can utter the words “thank you”, and yet we find ourselves blushing at Christmas or birthday parties when we see our children fall into a “present trance” ripping open box after box with little to no reaction; let alone gratitude leaving their mouths and faces.
We live in a society of “stuff”. So much stuff our closets, basements, attics and playrooms are positively bursting at the seams. Inside we wrestle with a sense of guilt because we know our children really only play with 5-10% of what they posses. Cough cough…sounds a little like adult garages, attics and closets. Is it possible to trade in the tidal wave of presents in exchange for the calmer waters of satisfaction, gratitude, and perhaps even “giving away” instead of receiving? I think we can.
We have three children ages seven, six, and three. We are familiar with the insatiable present hunger that can manifest itself at Christmas or on their birthdays. I wanted to crawl in a hole one Christmas when my daughter flatly stated after opening her mound of gifts, “Is that it? I didn’t get that much stuff.” Somewhere in the universe a record scratched.
OR THE FACE YOU MAKE WHEN YOUR CHILDREN ARE UNGRATEFUL BRATS!
Although my gut instinct was to throw everything in my trunk and return it, I realized the problem wasn’t her, it was me. We created her blood thirst for things and we can “un-create” it with some “stuff detoxing”.
We in no way have arrived to the sweet land of gratitude but I have seen, by making some serious changes a few years ago, that their attitudes have significantly shifted and we are definitely going in the right direction. Cue clapping hands emoticons.
Let’s tackle Christmas first.
For us, our faith plays a pivotal role in how we approach this holiday. We practice Advent for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for the gift of Jesus. It is something we discuss EVERY day leading up to Christmas. How can we think of and “gift” others during this season?
Be aware of your dialogue with your kids. Saying things like, “Can’t you wait until Christmas Day for presents?” or “Be good or you won’t get any presents!” is an extremely confusing message. Getting children to think bigger than just Christmas DAY is very important. Continue to emphasize the joy of the SEASON and the focus of thinking of and giving to others as most important. Kids will get on board and think of some awesome ideas on how to bless others when challenged to do so. (cards, treats to neighbors, food for families in need, making gifts for friends, caroling, visiting nursing homes etc…) There are great ideas online for families during Christmas that are very budget friendly.
A few other suggestions:
– Have your kids purge their own toys and clothing on December 1st. I have been blown away by what my kids willingly put in a bag to give away to children in need or to donate. Teach them less is more and how to be good decision makers about what is most important. Take them with you when you donate, it’s important they see the process all the way through.
– Ring the Salvation Army bell as a family or a group of families. Take a shift at the Soup Kitchen downtown together.
– GIVE! We have a very limited budget for Christmas gifts on purpose. We match penny to penny on gifts as we do to giving by partnering with World Vision. Our kids sit with us and look through their catalog with monopoly money so they can tangibly understand spending. They pick out what they want to “buy” as far as farm animals, medicine, school equipment, etc… They LOVE this! World Vision has kid friendly videos on their site to explain to children how their giving works. This has been a major eye opener to them as they learn what REAL need is and why we don’t give them but a few things each Christmas because there are greater needs in the world. Great family lesson!
– Get grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends on board! I hear my friends talk about how their parents “spoil” their kids rotten on Christmas. Although I know it is well intended, it does more harm than good. You need to have honest conversations with the “spoilers” in your life. Tell them at this point, when your children are young, you are really trying to shape their character and need to work together as a team at Christmas time. It’s okay to set boundaries on giving.
-Think outside of the box. I heard of a family that gives no presents at Christmas time but instead gives a large envelope to their children with 12 individual envelopes inside filled with one adventure a month for the whole year, one of which is a major family vacation. What an awesome investment not only on your wallet to spread out the cost over 12 months but this is exactly what our children want above else, OUR TIME.
Now let’s address birthdays.
– Taking our cue from Christmas and continue to address the “spoilers” in your children’s lives. Encourage them to take your child on a special date rather than giving them more stuff. My parents once took my older two children to a local hotel that had an indoor pool for one night. Every time we drive by the hotel….EVERY TIME…they STILL talk about how that was “The BEST time ever.” Time and face to face events will ALWAYS trump a gift.
– When I send out invitations I always give gift suggestions. This might not meet etiquette standards but it has saved me a lot of headache after the party. There is nothing worse than your child receiving ” A Lego guy, A hot wheels pack of cars, A Playmobil boat, A Polly Pocket, A Barbie, A this…..A that…..” Next thing you know you have started brand new veins of toys. Instead I let people know, “Hey, this is what they are really in to now and we would love to keep adding to that collection or series instead of starting them on new toy line.”
– For each toy my children get, I have them purge a toy in it’s place. Our house didn’t magically get bigger since their last birthday so they need to choose what needs to be purged to make room. Chances are they have outgrown many toys so this will be painless. Start your Christmas donation boxes early!
– Delayed gratification is not a dirty word. Our daughter told us last year that she wanted an American Girl doll for her birthday. I naively did not realize that I would have to sell my last born in order to pay for this doll. I had to have a conversation with her that went something like this.” Chloe, you don’t really play with dolls that often and an American Girl doll is very expensive. You will have to show daddy and I over the next year that you really do like dolls and will play with them for us to consider buying you one.” So she did. For a year she took a small baby doll she owned and carried it around, took care of it, made sure we saw her paying attention to it. FOR A WHOLE YEAR. When it came time to plan her birthday we revisited the American Girl doll again. I reminded her that this was an extremely expensive toy and if she really wanted it then she needed to know that it would be her ONLY gift and that we were going to have a small party at our house with no bells and whistles. She decided on her own it was worth it. So that is what we did. One doll and a bare bones 7th bday party. They had a blast and she loves her doll. It was a good lesson for her on many levels.
We let her open it up the night before her party. Priceless……
Pulling the plug on the volume of gifts given in your home and shifting the emphasis to simplicity, giving, and thinking of others will require YOU, the parent, to be disciplined in spending and standing firm on your new normals. You are sure to receive resistance but consistency always wins. The JOY of giving will eventually sink in to their little noggins and you and others will reap the benefits. This isn’t easy but I can assure you that you are investing in your children’s character and teaching them early on what is important in life. A thankful and thoughtful child makes a thankful and thoughtful adult. Now that won’t make you blush!
Oh man guys what an awesome reception to expanding this category! I’m so excited to further unpack what true hospitality is (inviting, listening, loving, sharing, giving, etc…) and debunk what it is not (decorating, entertaining, perfect homes, five course meals etc…) It is critical as women and home makers that we get “it”. Oh I just want to rail on right now but this is not the purpose of this post.
I promise you Jesus did not stand at Zacchaeus’ door and sigh….”I told you I was coming over to your house today and you didn’t clean up, fold your napkins into swans, set out an autumn table scape, craft me a name place card, and cook me a gourmet meal. Clearly, you don’t love or care for me.”
Can we set up some ground rules on any house tours I do? I don’t want to seem hypocritical here. I keep saying “It’s not about what your home looks like but the spirit in which you invite others into it and how you care for them.” So why am I showing you photos of decorated homes?
Well….I’ll tell you why.
“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established, through knowledge it’s rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” Proverbs 24:3-4
WISDOM BUILDS your home, UNDERSTANDING ESTABLISHES it, and KNOWLEDGE FILLS it with rare and beautiful things.
Some other blog posts I’ll focus on the building wise homes and understanding how to establish them biblically part.
That third little nugget of “knowledge fills it with rare and beautiful things”… this is where I want to show a variety of homes that have creatively and very THRIFTILY filled their homes. It doesn’t say “fills it with brand new expensive things” or “fills it with rustic, eclectic things” or “fills it with modern and sleek things” or “fills it with Target, TJ Maxx and Home Goods things.” because we all have different taste, budgets, size homes. My mom still scratches her head when she comes to my house and sees the things I buy and colors I use. DOES NOT COMPUTE. She loves tchotchkes and borders and I love old things with patina and gray walls. Never the twain shall meet but that doesn’t make my house more beautiful than hers, just filled with different treasures.
So let’s get to this already. Can I please encourage you to READ Sarah’s words and not just rubber neck her home? She put a lot of time into answering all my questions so grab a cup of coffee or tea and take your time absorbing words and images holistically.
I’ve known Sarah since she was a pre-teen when I was her fearless youth leader in the late 90’s. I LOVE how God evolves relationships when you stay in the same community as I have for 20 years. I don’t think in 1996 when I was “discipling” her, a pimply teenager and me a pimply college student, that we could have ever imagined one day a friendship of sisterly proportion would emerge. We got married within four months of each other and stood up in each others weddings. We now live out in the country together raising our children in community. We traded in our wayward years, our bad taste in men and weird hair choices for slow mornings over coffee, paint color advice, rearranging furniture in each others houses and times of deep prayer together. I love this woman and you will love Sarah’s blunt and matter of fact story telling about her home and her growing pains on learning what true Biblical hospitality is.
Circa 1996-1997ish. You know…bib overalls, doc martin phase? Yikes.
2003….what do you mean I’m not a natural blonde.
Take it away Sarah…. (please note that they moved into their house in May and there are MANY things still not done so she was gracious to let me photograph it not at 100% completed)
“I should start by saying I do NOT feel qualified to be some sort of example of hospitality for anyone. All these things are what I desire for our home, but by no means have I mastered the trade. I was super stoked to have Kelly and Ryan take pictures because I knew it would look pretty and because we really needed an updated family photo-HA! But, NEWS FLASH PEOPLE- our house looks like this NEVER.
One of my biggest pet peeves is how unrealistic social media is. I had just had my grandparents over and I said “Quick Kelly! Come take pictures while it is still clean!” No matter what my house looks like, my life is messy and imperfect and some days it is just a boring grind that no one sees. I mean, I am a stay at home mom…it is just NOT that glamorous.
head shot outtake. hashtag real life
I do love to keep a clean house and I love to express my creativity in my home as my hobby. I do other things like I have a few friends and go to crossfit…but I don’t DO a lot. This is my choice of what I like to do in my small amount of free time. So while my house may look pretty, I do NOT like to cook- nor am I gluten or anything-free, I do NOT home school, I say NO to a lot of extra activities that busy our family, I don’t sign the kids up for extra sports or activities (yet) and I only get my hair cut once a year. Keeping thing simple is my “thing”.
The truth is, I do want to learn about hospitality. I want our home to be shared because we were given more than what we deserve. I am in a continual process of letting go and focusing more on our family and our ministry instead of the next creative project I would like to try.
1-How was “home” taught to you growing up? What things do you find yourself carrying over into your own way of showing hospitality?
The main thing about our home growing up was comfort. My mom sort of “decorated” and kept a clean home, but it was not her thing and not always tidy. She opened it up to many many people (as many as would come) from our church, neighborhood, friends, and family…plus any stray that might need a place for thanksgiving ect… For her, the main concerns were “was it warm (aka cozy) enough?”, “was there enough food?” and “is it conducive to talking and sharing?”. People often came to our home and were at ease and comfortable. Relationships and talking always came first for my mom…way above any to do list or house project or even being on time to everything.
I found for my personality, this mostly drove me crazy growing up. I like to clean, I like to decorate, I like to get my to do lists done and I like to be on time. So when we were married and had our own home, I wrestled with the fact that I really DO love the aesthetic part of a home but when its super clean and well put together, is that a barrier for people? Do they not feel as comfortable?
I think the answer for me was MY attitude. I decided that when people are here, it is THEIR time. I no longer care about the dishes or the half painted front door or anything on my to do list. What I love to do in my own time is be creative with my home. And it puts me at ease to keep it picked up (as best I can with 3 kids). But whenever someone walks through that door, I just don’t care about that stuff. I just plop on a couch and I want to hear their story and about their life and I am guessing that is why people feel so comfortable here. I suppose I got from my mom. That and we have a LOT of cozy blankets and we try to have a lot of food (mainly dairy products).
2- Explain your aesthetic with decorating and how you choose items. Does your profession play into your choices?
I guess as a designer I developed a clean and simple aesthetic. But I do love color. So I think for our home, it is kind of that way. It is a blank pallet (that’s where the Swedish white walls come in) with some color thrown in with textiles and painted furniture.
I do NOT like matching things. I just want the items I keep in the house to have some significance – I don’t care if they “go” together. The stuff on my walls are all very eclectic. I don’t want to buy some generic painting because I need to fill a blank wall.
I also use everything…I don’t set aside “nice stuff”. If I get something handed down like an embroidered tablecloth, I am going to use it and not stuff it in a drawer! We have used our good china from our wedding everyday since we were married.
My favorite furniture piece and lighting fixture in her whole house.
Lastly, we just basically have collected (cheap or free) a lot of chairs and couches and hammocks- some look nice and others have fabric ripping off and may fall apart at any moment because we haven’t worked on them yet. But we have lots of places for people to spread out, talk and relax.
3- When you decided to build your own home, what were some of the thoughts or considerations you made in layout and design that represented not just your aesthetic but what you felt God was calling your family to do WITH your home?
God has given us this amazing gift. Never ever in my life would I have guessed that at 31, we would live in a NEW home on a beautiful farm. We know for a fact that this was given not just to us. This home was meant to be shared and to be a place of peace and refuge.
We also knew we wanted to raise our children in an environment where they could learn to be creative and to be hard working. I am not a home school mom, so I knew that the time when my kids were at home was crucial. I wanted it to be a refuge for them too…and for their friends. I don’t want them to find that somewhere else. I want them to feel comfortable and learn from their family how to work hard and be thankful for all they are given. And learn how to share that with others.
I don’t know exactly what that will look like through the years- or even how to go about creating a home like that. We have asked God for each step to make that clear…help us to have a home with enough space for those who need it but not something too big and overwhelming and intimidating.
4- What are some of your favorite features of your home when you sit and look around it? Did your years working on furniture with your business at 508 Restoration help you decorate your home?
Our screened porch has been our favorite so far. We had no idea how much we would enjoy it! It is such a gift to eat outside or relax out there in the shade, no bugs or rain to bother us. It is the most calm spot in our home.
Our floors downstairs are special to us too because they came from the trees that were cleared for this house. Nathan and his brothers and dad and my dad all worked together to mill them and lay them. They are not perfect like a normal new home and we never worry about messing them up or scratching them.
5- What feeling or feelings do you hope your guests experience when they are visiting or staying over night?
We hope they are at peace. We hope they find a slower pace and a beautiful and restful place full of food and sarcasm and real life.
6- How do your kids use your house? Any kid friendly advice or things you have discovered to keep the house usable but not screaming “KIDS LIVE HERE”!?
We mainly have focused on the outside. With our kids and any visiting kids, we hope they learn to explore the woods and use their imaginations making bow and arrows (or any type of weapon) and as my mother-in-law would say, it’s always good to have some activities that are slightly dangerous too. Cause why else would they want to come back?! We have several swings, a giant rope swing and paths made in the woods to the creek. Next we are working on a tree house and possibly a zip line.
We focus on stuff that is fun for any age – boy or girl. I try to teach the girls how to make fairly lands with moss and leaves and sticks and be warrior princesses….or sometimes just run laps around the driveway. It works!
Of course we have all the junky stuff too like bikes and trucks and balls….which I try to jam all into one spot to keep the plastic to a minimum.
But honestly, our yard looks trashy a lot. It’s ok.
As for inside…I don’t really know. My kids all share a big room and all their toys are all in there with them. The girl side is very decorated because my oldest got that gene and its something we have fun with together. I also have a few toys in the basement as well as an old TV. The main living area downstairs has only one basket of toys for my youngest. Ideally the toys are to stay in said locations…but they pretty much get everywhere and drive me nuts on a daily basis.
7- When Anthropologie approached you and Nathan to feature your stenciled animal line how did you prayerfully walk through your decision to decline the offer? Do you regret your decision?
At the time, our little 508 business was growing more than we expected. It seemed like the less effort we put into the business, the more opportunities came up. It was supposed to be a hobby for me and now it was turning into a real job for both of us. I felt like God was blessing our business and we loved doing it together- it was good for our marriage too.
So when I got the call from Anthropologie (and after I peed my pants a little), I thought for sure this had come from God because it is certainly
NOT something we had ever pursued. I asked for a week or so to think it over. We prayed through that decision while starting working out all the details of the contract…I had a few phone conversations with the buyer and it was a wonderful experience. But something didn’t sit quite right.
Then one day while driving down our driveway, it was suddenly clear to both of us that we needed to say NO. It wasn’t exactly clear why but it seemed God was just asking us to trust Him. We just felt like if he was able to bless our business with little effort on our part, what is to stop Him from doing that again one day? Or maybe something completely different?
They are still deciding on what to cover the base of the island in. Look at dem windows!!
That week, after we turned down the contract, my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. I became pregnant with my 3rd a month later. And a month after that we sold our house (where 508 started) and moved into a rental in the country. In 6 months following, we started the process of building a house, Nathan changed jobs and I spent all my time either caring for the kids or in and out of hospitals with my mom. Then a month later, I had our Piper eight days before my mom passed away and then we moved again.
All I can think is that God is so good. He has never left my side. Things like this Anthropologie gig become so insignificant when you are thinking about what your life looks like living in the kingdom. Not to say that stuff is bad-and maybe one day some cool creative opportunity will come again. But He GAVE ME THAT CREATIVITY. It is His. These things are so small in comparison to what He can do with our lives when we give up control.
Looking back, if we had not listened to Him and signed on with Anthropologie, there would be so much about our life (in the kingdom) that we would have had to give up.
We haven’t spent a single second regretting that decision.
8- How do you extend the “spirit of invitation” to others? Do you have any verses or passages that you pray over your home?
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Finally one of my favorite mottos about your home.