I was a bit in awe as I wandered through her house, admiring artistic evidence of order, creativity, educational excellence. I silently read through their simple schedule, written on the wall. I noted the chores, the tidy spaces, the books stacked. Of course I know people clean before guests come, but there was nothing fake about this. It wasn’t pretentious or Pinteresty, just a simple picture of an ordered, lovely life.

Not a word was needed, immediately I knew what was missing, why I was feeling so hopelessly overwhelmed, so unmotivated and lethargic.

I laid it out for her, plain and simple, and asked for help: We needed structure, we need purpose. The go-with-the-flow thing is great on the days when everything’s falling into place, when I’m energized and happy and feeling creative and spontaneous. But what about the other 359 days of the year? I feel like I’m a slave to whim and feelings, I feel like our days are too aimless, I find myself bouncing from thing to thing, based on the kids’ passing fancy. I need a renewed passion and purpose for disciplining, nurturing, and educating our kids.

She listened thoughtfully.

“Have you read anything by Charlotte Mason?”

I was embarrassed to admit I had not. There are so many educational methods out there, it all makes my head spin and the last thing I wanted was another book telling me to scrap everything and go a whole new way. But I was ready to read anything, especially after seeing my friend’s infectious joy and experiencing the peace of her ordered, lovely home. She encouraged me to just pick one, and give it a shot. She assured me that I was probably doing “Charlotte Mason” I just didn’t know it. We already spend tons of time outside and read a lot of books. This wasn’t going to be anything entirely new or foreign. It just might give me some inspiration.

Since I’m hopelessly frugal, I skimmed through the Charlotte Mason materials on Amazon until I found a 99-cent volume simply called, Habits.

Okay. Habits. Here we go.

Well within minutes I was reading aloud to Jeff, interjecting, “YES! Yes, this is IT! This is what I’ve been missing. THIS is why I’ve felt hopeless. YES!”

Put quite simply: Life is overwhelming. Homeschooling is overwhelming. Parenting is overwhelming. The Christian life is overwhelming. There are so many options, things to do, things to read, places to go, people to see. My phone’s blowing up with notifications and there’s a bazillion things I should be doing right now, and quite frankly I’m not doing very well at anything, I’m not very good at anything, and neither are my kids and so let’s just QUIT.

*sigh*

Of course I wouldn’t have said that, but there was a bit of that in my heart. Just overwhelm. But Charlotte Mason’s words from the 1800s cut through the cacophony of this crazy culture (and my crazy mind!) and flowed like a soothing balm for my harried soul. She spoke such wisdom, straight to my heart.

My overwhelm came from decision-fatigue. Where we have poor habits, we are forcing our minds to constantly re-decide something. This haphazard, undisciplined mind is exhausted. So many options. So much to do. So little discipline. So few good habits. Where to begin?

Focus. Focus on one and only one habit (virtue) for 4-6 weeks and master that one thing. Reward for character and conduct, not cleverness. Except exact and immediate obedience in the one habit and work tirelessly on that area until it is mastered.

By the time I finished the short volume, I had a clear vision of what we needed. I could see where I’d been lax, I could see what virtues and character qualities we’d failed to live out and failed to instill in our kids. It was painfully obvious but profoundly encouraging, because I felt for the first time in ages, that there was hope. I had a plan, a purpose, a passion and vision for my children, our home, my writing life and homeschool life. I could see how these habits would touch every bit of life because everything’s connected.

I had so much fun dreaming up ideas, plans, and ways to reinforce our new simple habits. I wrote little songs for the kids to help them remember important things. They were thrilled because I cut out everything unnecessary in order to focus in on just a few crucial things. The result was, instead of feeling mildly disappointed by them because I was expecting many different things but not really reinforcing any of them, I was only expecting a few things and was enthusiastically enforcing them every single time. This meant I was basically happy with them way more often. Hooray!

So I share this not as an “I’ve arrived” thing, I think you probably understand that. But I share this because at about 2 1/2 weeks in, it has profoundly affected our days, it’s given me fresh hope and purpose, it’s helped us tackle things that have felt overwhelming for months. It’s brought new joy into our home, and it’s brought back the joy and zeal for life I’d been lacking recently.

Habits. Who knew?  The tiny decisions, made faithfully over and over and over (and over and over) — this is what transforms our lives. And now, if you’ll excuse me, my writing time is over (one of my new habits!) so I’m off to read aloud to my kids. 😉

{Thank you for reading.}

Find Habits for 99-cents here!

  • Kellyn RossSwift

    Kari- we visited your precious piece of the church body last week, and I wanted to share with you how blessed I was, by many things, but mostly by your family interaction and the way children were viewed, treated and SOAKING it all in.

    First, as your husband tried to call service to begin and you and a small group of ladies missed it and continued in focused and energetic conversation, he watched for a minute then he approached you softly and kissed the side of your head and without interrupting waited to inform you it was time…

    Later as the service came to a close in worshipful response I watched your little girl sitting quietly and patiently, tucking herself under the corner of your chair while you played, her eyes fixed on her daddy in the front row with his eyes closed and hands raised- her mouth moving as she caught about every other word and joined in the joyous, wondrous praise.

    A few moments after this Jeff made a half joke about some side element as he called a few leaders to pray over a hurting elderly man, as heads bowed and prayers started your big little guy piped up from behind you where he’d been playing on the floor, loudly playing off his dad’s joke, repeating it once or twice in little boy fashion hoping to get a response, I cringed for him, as I waited for the inevitable harsh looks and shushing from any adults who felt so inclined to instruct him, but it didn’t come. Instead the prayer focus was maintained and he was momentarily ignored, but instead of hurt or resentment, I saw the opportunity for respect to strengthen in him as he grows and learns his own awareness and prioritization.

    I just wanted to share an outsider view of your Mama life 🙂 I know it isn’t perfect, but I appreciated watching your process. I’ve been following your blog for awhile now, thanks for sharing so much of your raw self. The authentic Jesus life is what people need to be touched by.

    • Stacie @ No Idle Bread

      Had to just comment on your name–my daughter’s name is Kellen. Not so common to find another. 😊 Beautiful comment, by the way.

      • Kellyn RossSwift

        Aw thanks Stacie! My mom was gonna name me Kelly Lynn and stumbled upon Kellyn one day 🙂

        I’ve grown to appreciate my name! Plus… it means warrior, doesn’t get much cooler than that!

        Very unusual name for a girl, the only girl Kellen I’ve ever known was my cousin! Good choice 😉

        Have a blessed week!

    • Kari Patterson

      Oh my goodness, I don’t know how I somehow MISSED THIS comment. How on earth did I miss this? This, this amazing LIFE to my soul on the day I needed it MOST. Oh how I needed it today! Thank you, Kellyn, for visiting our little ragtag bunch of believers, and thank you for seeing us through eyes of GRACE (oh, we need it!) and for taking the time to encourage this mama who really (really!) needs it. Thank you, thank you. I believe the have the Father’s heart, and He led you to share this with me at the perfect time. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Because of Jesus, Kari

      • Kellyn RossSwift

        Emailed you back Kari! Praying for an extra filling Christmas for your heart!

  • Amy Boone

    This is what I needed to read today, Kari. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed all morning with a messy house and with trying to get back into the homeschooling swing after Thanksgiving break. I would love to hear more about some of the habits you are working on and how you are doing that 🙂 Thank you for your words!

    • Kari Patterson

      Yes, Amy! I will share some. I’m a bit slow right now with holidays and birthdays, but I am working on drafting up some of the nuts and bolts of what we’ve been working on. It’s coming! Bless you girl! Merry Christmas!

  • Kathryn G

    I have had this book in my Kindle for months now but have not read it yet! Now I am inspired to go read it, as I feel the same way that we are lacking in good habits and the practice of certain virtues. I follow some of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy but need to read more of her work. Thank you for sharing!

    • Kari Patterson

      Enjoy!

  • Nancy Currie

    A post full of hope. And in it, you’ve named all that I have been feeling. Thank you, truly, for your writing. And now I must go read Charlotte Mason.

    • Kari Patterson

      Oh good! I hope you have hope! 😉 Jesus truly gives us hope and miraculously brings us exactly what we need when we need it. I hope you enjoy her writing!

  • Rosanna Penner-Sauereisen

    I am here from Simplehomeschool, where I found your post. I have now added this book to my book list for next year. It is the very first one I’ve added to. I think I may just need this. Thank you!

    • Kari Patterson

      Oh good! I hope you are encouraged!

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