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How decorating a room taught me to quiet my heart

I was 22, fresh out of college, and living in Jordan when I set up my first apartment. I arrived in the country with two suitcases’ worth of belongings for a year’s stay. Most of that was clothing, but I managed to squeeze in three small items to make my place feel homey: good smelling hand soap, a little throw blanket and a fragrant candle. I had visited enough places overseas to know that pleasant smells and bits of cozy are a necessity.

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My apartment was small but adequate, with one bedroom, a living room/eating area, tiny kitchen and bathroom. I didn’t need much, but I knew that I wanted to have enough room to invite people over for dinner and sit comfortably in the living room. Once I had my apartment secured I began the process of buying furniture and decorating my space–something I had been looking forward to for years! There wasn’t a Target, Ikea, or even online shopping options. Furnishing a home in Jordan consisted of walking the streets at Eighth Circle, sipping strong Turkish coffee with shop owners and receiving marriage proposals from old men who wanted their sons to marry the blue-eyed American woman who was just trying to buy a couch.

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I finally secured dark brown living room furniture, a king-sized bed and an easy-bake sized oven. I had a few framed pictures of my family, a bath mat in the bathroom and some gorgeous Turkish pillows; that was the extent of my decorating. But it was home, and that little apartment became my refuge during the nine months I lived there.

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Things have changed a lot since that time eleven years ago: I moved back to America, got married, gave birth to four children, and have lived in eight different apartments/homes. Two things, though, have remained constant: I still look forward to decorating and I still want my home to be a refuge. Creating a refuge in our home has always been something I felt happened pretty quickly, but having it decorated beautifully is something I’ve had to work at. It’s also a process that has evolved as my tastes and style have changed and our family has grown.

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We’ve moved seven times in our 8.5 years of marriage and each time I find myself haphazardly hanging things on walls and decorating shelves and surfaces so that I can be ‘done’ and just enjoy my home. But, then, I don’t enjoy it because it is haphazard and things don’t always feel right.

family room

When we moved to Virginia at the end of January, I knew I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to take time to piece together our home in a way that worked for our family–our budget, our time, our style and our day to day life. So, when I heard about the Cozy Minimalist Course, that Myquillin Smith was offering, I was more than eager to participate. And I am so glad that I did! Our first assignment seemed counterproductive to me. We were told to “quiet the room”, i.e. take everything out of the room that we were working on decorating. The furniture, things on the walls, books on shelves, curtains, etc.

quieted room

It felt really strange to have a completely empty room. But then it started to feel really good. I was able to walk into that room, look around, and start imagining what purpose I wanted it to have. And as its purpose became clear, I was then able to start envisioning how I wanted to decorate it. So, I started pulling in chairs and tables. I would tweak a little here and there, always taking my time and choosing what I thought was best for that particular spot. Three weeks later I’m still tweaking, and our room is still pretty empty. But I know where I’m heading and I’m pretty sure I’ll love it when it’s finished.

Living Room Spot

I wish I could quiet my heart and mind just like I quieted my room. Just take everything out and slowly bring commitments, thoughts, relationships and life back in. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Quieting my room, though, has made me evaluate aspects of my life that might need to be rearranged. Areas that may be in need of a new or restated purpose, or perhaps just some prioritizing so that I don’t feel haphazard in my day-to-day tasks of mothering, wife-ing, and everything else. So, how does one quiet their mind? I think it begins with stillness. “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10. Stillness can seem counterproductive. Especially in the busyness of life when there’s so much to be done. But when the Psalmist spoke of being still it was in the midst of talking about the earth giving way. You’d think maybe that would be the time to run. But, no. He says to behold the works of the Lord in stillness before Him. Because God is our fortress and refuge. As I take time to be still and consider God, He begins to expose areas of my heart that need cleansing. I can see more clearly where

I need margin. And I can better discern how He wants me to serve– in my church, my community, or in the lives of family and friends. Quieting a room helps you to see it in a new light, decide what purpose it will serve and what style it will reflect. Quieting a heart and mind helps you to evaluate what is necessary in order to live in a manner pleasing to the Lord–however it might need to change at any particular time. Sometimes we might find that everything was just as it should be, and we can keep on serving accordingly. Other times we might need to remove or rearrange in order to serve better. Ruth Simons, writer at GraceLaced, said in a post on Instagram yesterday:

…funny how sometimes, we can accomplish more by way of a leisurely heart than one frantic to keep up.

I want a leisurely heart, one that is quieted in stillness before the Lord so that I can serve God more fully, however that might look. How might you need to quiet your heart today?

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11 Comments

  • Reply Angela

    I like your perspective on quieting the heart. And I LOVE your new paint color.

    April 16, 2015 at 5:59 am
  • Reply Weekend Links {inspiring & encouraging}

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  • Reply Sherri

    Let me encourage you that you can “quiet your life” in your commitments and daily life. About 9 years ago, we did just that, and here’s the process we went through: My husband and I decided on our top 6 priorities for life. (Ours were faith, family, friends, finances, fun, and fitness.) I’ll go with an example of how I quieted my life in the family area. We were homeschooling preteens at the time, and I was very involved with the homeschool group in our area, and considering taking on more leadership responsibilities – I already ran meetings when the President couldn’t be there which was nearly 50% of the time, wrote the email the newsletter & was considering starting a website for the group, had my yearly turn planning a field trip, organized the promotion/graduation night, and was the prayer chain organizer. As I talked to my husband about this new responsibility, our children overheard and came to us and said they really didn’t even like being in this group. Well, that shed a new light on the decision making process! We listened to their concerns, felt they were valid, and I notified the group that when my commitments were up, I would not be renewing but I would happily “train” anyone who wanted to take over. (I did this with EVERYTHING our family was involved in, letting the kids chime in where appropriate.) Within about 6 months, we had so much free time for family, we weren’t running hither and yon constantly, I was certainly less stressed, and felt that we could breathe! It was very freeing, I’ll tell you. And, as we purposefully followed this process with the other priorities, other freedoms followed: less debt (now, no debt!) and better purchasing decisions, better health, a more defined focus on God and our obedience and service to Him, and because of our restored finances and fitness, we have a lot more fun with our family & friends. Here’s the really hard one: the relationships. Those took a lot of prayer and years to deal with, but we now have less stress from relationships that were not reciprocal. You, too, can “quiet” all areas of your life: prioritize, eliminate, focus. It may take a few months or even a year or longer for some priorities, but I can tell you that is was SOOOO worth it.

    You have my email addy – please feel free to let me know what you think, if you have questions, if you try this and what is your outcome. I enjoyed reading your post!

    April 19, 2015 at 12:29 pm
  • Reply Amanda E

    Lauren, I always love seeing how you decorate your house. It always seems so cozy and restful. and I’m LOVING the new paint color! Do you remember what it’s called? Im looking to paint our bedroom something similar 🙂

    April 19, 2015 at 4:18 pm
    • Reply Lauren Washer

      Thanks, Amanda! It’s Olympic paint/primer in one, Gray Beard is the color. I had never used Olympic paint before, but it worked really well, even on our plastered, weirdly textured walls 🙂

      April 20, 2015 at 4:45 am
  • Reply Claudia

    Thank you for the reminder of the context of Psalm 46:10. And I just love that cozy book corner! At least I see it as a book corner. 🙂 Calm, too.

    April 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm
  • Reply heather m.

    Hi from Virginia! Maybe we are neighbors? Who knows! You have a lovely site and I love your take on quieting your heart like you did in your room! It’s the only way sometimes. I hope your room comes together just the way you want it! ♥

    April 22, 2015 at 6:36 am
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