Evaluating Our Home in Light of Margaret Kim Peterson’s Keeping House

Ok, I admit I’m obsessed with this book, but I read it at just the right time, when I feel like I’m really starting to make decisions that will shape our shared life and family culture. Who wouldn’t love a book that asks questions like, “Can we — do we — keep house in ways that respect and embrace our creatureliness and that foster community within and beyond our households?”

I interpret this to mean that one must have a house that acknowledges the physical needs and creature comforts of those who might pass through: nothing too pristine to be touched, a spare high chair or booster seat ready to be brought out of retirement in the basement, a comfortable chair for an old neighbor.

Peterson writes, “The physical fabric and setting of the house does matter when it comes to the creation of a home. […] Your house, in other words, affects how you live, and how you live affects your house.” The passage articulated a hunch I’d felt while house hunting and envisioning the kind of life I could live in each house. After all that obsession and soul-searching, our consideration of city versus suburbs was a legitimate one — our desire to have a house where we could walk or bike ride places, and easily invite even undergrads without cars.

Perhaps my favorite passage was a simple question: “Or will we set up our homes in ways that encourage household members actually to live in community with one another?” Yes! When we moved into our four-bedroom home, it seemed obvious that we’d take the large bedroom downstairs for our own, put Scout in the small bedroom downstairs, and park Pippin in one of the two bedrooms upstairs, reserving the last upstairs bedroom for J’s office.

But consider: we don’t actually spend a lot of time in our bedrooms. And Pippin gets up once at night to use the bathroom, often needing help, so it would be more convenient to be upstairs with him. And Scout gets up entirely too much at night. (Working on it, ugh.) And we wanted to have more space to play, and to entertain.

So we ditched our box springs, which wouldn’t fit upstairs, and put all four of us in the two small upstairs bedrooms with the plan that Scout would start in the big closet (her “closery”) and eventually bunk with Pippin. It’s a plan to maximize actually living in community with each other, and to free up space downstairs for parties, playdates, and overnight guests. I don’t think it’s the standard approach most American families would take upon settling into our house.

I’m trying to set up house without too much emphasis on beauty over utility, remembering: “If we furnish our homes with cooking and eating and conversation and sleeping in mind, we will be more likely to live in them in ways that foster nourishment and refreshment and engagement with the routines that sustain the bodies and souls of individuals and of communities.”

Scout modeling her “closery” — lighting necessarily awful because, hey, no natural light.