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About a year ago, a few months shy of our tenth anniversary, my husband and I bought our first home.

We’d lived in rented New York City apartments for the first four years of our marriage. Then we returned to our hometown, right back to his childhood home, to help his parents, as his father is homebound. After six years in that mother-daughter (or, in our case, father-son) home, we moved ourselves, our four children, and his parents to a larger home in the same town, thinking that the extra space would be helpful when, we hoped, we added another child to our family.

As it turns out, this home is a great gift as we await the birth of a new baby this summer, but we began reaping the benefits sooner than we anticipated. This spring, our home has been upgraded from gathering place, resting space, and keeper of our stuff to multi-age classroom and office in the midst of this pandemic.

As our lives have shifted these last two months and I’ve spent more and more time in my home, I’m starting to see and appreciate it in a more intimate way.

Home is a living, breathing thing

Just as I gained a new appreciation for my body after it grew, birthed, and nourished new life, I am seeing how beautifully my home has changed gears to nurture my growing family. We are setting down roots in this space and drawing nearer to each other by creating memories through new routines.

Our dining room is now a classroom. Each morning, before the kids start school work, we read the day’s Catholic Mass readings and have conversations we thought we didn’t have time for before. Likewise, our living room has become the place we gather to pray together each evening.

My husband has used three different rooms for office space, as other circumstances have changed. Each time, we’ve found a way to utilize what we have in ways we didn’t plan. The folding table isn’t the classiest set-up, but it’s getting the job (his job!) done.

We’ve added to our list of things to do around the house, and in fact manifested this list into a shared Google doc. Per my request, we don’t delete things off this list as we complete them, but rather cross them off, so we can see progress and delight in the details of making this space more and more our own. We did a good deal of work before we moved in, but these little tweaks are just as powerful in putting our stamp on these walls.

Care from the inside out

Perhaps what surprises me most is how I’m taking more care to clean our home, especially the kitchen. Early in quarantine, I saw a meme that read something like, “I thought I didn’t deep clean my home because I didn’t have time for it. Turns out, that’s not the reason.”

I would have said the same three months ago. How does one deep clean a home with four children playing, snacking, and now schooling in it all day long? To quote another popular video circulating on social media, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

But as I spend more time in my home, I find myself caring for it differently, too. I am leaving fewer dishes in the sink for “later,” and more frequently washing until not only are the dishes clean, but the sink is scrubbed, too. I’m even cleaning the dish rack after I put the dishes away.

More often than I used to, I’m sorting through the random stuff that ends up on the counter, so that I can wipe them down all the way to the backsplash. The piles of papers are smaller, and I’m finding places for those odds and ends that would have found refuge in a junk drawer, if we had one.

These are the tasks I used to put off, as long as the more immediate items—are uniforms in the wash? Have we started the dishwasher?—were taken care of.

Redefining “essential”

At the risk of repurposing an overused word right now, I’m re-defining what I consider to be essential in my home. Maybe the dishes really shouldn’t wait until tomorrow. Maybe it is worth the few minutes now to sort through the mail and deal with a couple of things so it doesn’t feel impossible by the end of the week.

These little things seemed so big when I was driving my kids to school and karate and trying to time dinner for when my husband commuted home to New Jersey from New York City each evening. Now that I’ve found the time to do them sooner, I’ve seen the big impact they have on the way our home and family function. With weeks of this practice, I’ve recognized the time and effort they require of me to be small in comparison to the benefits they give us.

My hope is still that someday, not too far away, we will go back to school, karate, and work again. That my minivan will again become my office and after-school snack headquarters. That we’ll listen to the same songs on repeat as we go from one place to the next, and I’ll pray that no one’s going to need the bathroom on the way. That I’ll be watching the clock at 6:30, waiting for the sound of the garage door signaling my husband’s arrival home.

Though we’ve found beauty and gifts in being home and being together, we don’t anticipate that this will be our long-term lifestyle. So how do we hold on to the good we’ve found in this time when things shift again?

For too long, I accepted the narrative that it’s okay to put off caring for my home—the dishes can wait, the laundry isn’t urgent, deep cleaning is too much of a hassle. These things weren’t “essential” on a daily basis. Our lives kept moving forward, and a messy house was just part of the deal.

From here on out, I choose to take more responsibility for how I treat the home we come back to each night. I see the value of the things I thought I didn’t have time for, how a neater space and more attention to the details help us to keep our priorities in order. The time spent in the moment pays dividends in the moments that follow. In a word, these things are more essential than I realized.

Yes, I will have less time to devote to cleaning and caring for our home when we’re running around and when I’m caring for a newborn again. But I have a new perspective on which of the household tasks matter and why.

We express our gratitude for our home in our prayers each night. I intend to express the same appreciation in practice in all the days to come.