My takeaways from Habits of the Household

27 July 2023

If you hang out in the same corner of the internet as me (and hi, if you’re reading this, you probably do) then you have certainly seen Habits of the Household recommended. I’m here to say it’s with good reason! With chapters covering Waking, Mealtime, Discipline, Screentime, Work, and more, this book is packed full of actionable and simple ideas for implementing purposeful family habits in even the smallest moments. After reading two of his books (and preordering the newest one!), Justin Whitmel Earley has earned his spot on my list of trusted authors and I am jazzed to discuss Habits of the Household today.

To keep things organized (because I could truly go on and on), I’m going to give you four reasons I loved this book, four takeaways, and three suggestions. Let’s go!

Four Reasons I Loved Habits of the Household

1. The writing. For me, Justin’s passionate yet elegant writing makes this book. He is earnest and genuine, and his heart for what could be a dry topic comes through so clearly. He wears the dual roles of relatable dad and thoughtful expert beautifully: with a wife, four young boys, and a full-time legal career, it’s clear he is living the struggles and triumphs right alongside his readers. This work matters to him – and he has so many anecdotes and experiments to share – because he’s in the thick of it, too.

2. The practicality. For as beautifully written of a book as this is, it is extremely practical. It’s also meticulously organized – easy to read and apply even as it packs in a ton of information and ideas. I love how the ten chapters move chronologically, covering habits from Waking to Bedtime. Each chapter offers thoughts on the significance, opportunities, and potential pitfalls of an aspect of the household, presents some ideas for character- and family-forming habits, and then neatly sums everything up at the end of the chapter with the main idea, key takeaways and images, things to try, sample scripts, potential boundaries or expectations, and further resources.

3. The reminder of grace. If you struggle with legalism (the idea that your good works alone can ingratiate you with Jesus), then you might approach a book about habits of faith with apprehension. Justin heads that off by including the above reminder in the summary of every single chapter, and I think it’s perfect in its concision and clarity. He’s relentless in his belief that good habits are worth developing and equally relentless in his insistence that they don’t replace relationship.

4. The epilogue. He really brings it home at the end, touching on several of my pet themes: time, intentionality, the big picture (the family-age chart exercise is eye-opening, isn’t it?). And then he goes and references one of my favorite lines of scripture in a passage I’ve highlighted and starred in my copy:

I love this. I love it. I love that he speaks to the weight of our role without weighing us down. I love that he takes our duties as parents seriously, but remains lighthearted. I love that he points to the finitude of time without panicking. And I love how he closed with memories of his dad, tying it all back to Jesus in the most beautiful, affecting way.

Four takeaways from Habits of the Household

This is a book I will be returning to over and over, and I imagine I’ll take away something new each time as our kids move through different stages. But here are four favorite takeaways I had on my first read-through: either new practices we implemented, or particular encouragements to keep on our current path.

1. WAKING | The waking chapter was one of my favorites, and resulted in two of my most tangible new habits: a short kneeling prayer at the side of my bed first thing in the morning (I literally roll out of bed onto my knees, ha) and the family blessing before leaving for school/preschool/work. When we were first establishing the habits, post-it notes on my bedside table and on the wall near our front door served as helpful cues.

My favorite part about the blessing is that – just as Justin says – it noticeably changes my heart posture towards the kids in the moments leading up to it. It’s hard to snap at someone to PUT ON THEIR SHOES when you know you’ll have to hold hands and pray together ten seconds later :)

2. SCREENTIME | This chapter did not disappoint – I was nodding along with every page. Though I loved his thoughts on curation and many of the habit suggestions (like watching through the end of the credits!), what stuck with me most was the idea that setting screen time and curation limits is a way for the parent to take on pain now so that their kids don’t have to later.

As a parent, it’s often much easier (in the moment) to allow more screen time. It is much harder to say no, to enforce limits, to create the conditions for solo or group play away from screens. “We aid our children’s formation in character, wisdom, emotional intelligence, and creativity,” Justin says, “by intervening as parents and taking the inconvenience of saying, ‘Yes, this is going to mean I get fewer breaks and have to be more involved and have to manage constant requests, but this is for their formation, which means it is a fight worth fighting well.” This chapter gave me words for and even ennobled what can feel like a never-ending slog.

3. WORK | I loved this chapter so very much – it had many echoes of Hunt, Gather, Parent, and bolstered my belief that kids would almost always prefer to be doing something alongside a parent, invited into their work, than shunted off to the side or occupied with an activity designed for kids. For Shep, especially, we have noticed that one of the best ways to deal with any miscreant behavior is to redirect it into helping us in some way – drawing him closer and putting him to work instead of sending him away.

This chapter also encouraged me to just talk about work more, especially at the dinner table. Just as we ask our kids about their days, we can tell them about ours and actually include some real details.

4. PLAY | The opening of this chapter is beautiful – all about the importance of a playful Christian imagination, how “in Christianity, you won’t get very far without a healthy imagination.” And that is not because the story of God is made up, but because it is so very real: “the world is so much more than meets the eye. This is the wisdom of all fairy tales and of any good kids’ movie – that things are more than they seem. Extraordinary things are patiently waiting, right here in this reality, to be discovered … Play is thus a way to reenchant a disenchanted world.”

This chapter had echoes of Sally Clarkson for me, and I loved it. It gave me encouragement to keep on the track we’re on, ensuring plenty of margin and scaffolding for imaginative play and curating life-giving imaginative stories.

Three Suggestions for Reading Habits of the Household

1. Start small | It’s hard for me to imagine someone having a complaint about this book, but if they did, I imagine it would be that there are too many good ideas to choose from and it feels overwhelming to know where to start. I suppose in some ways this didn’t seem like an obstacle to me, because I write about habit formation and goals as a career, but I also get it – there are a LOT of really great ideas packed in here!

The encouragement I’d give you is this (the same advice we liberally dole out at Cultivate and that Justin underlines, too): start small. Pick 1-3 things you’d like to try and just try them. If they stick? Great! If you find they’re not quite right for your family, that’s okay. Go back and pick something else. And once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to something else. This is a long game, and it’s okay to go slow.

2. Don’t worry about your kids’ reactions | Perhaps my children are just used to my *interesting* ideas and experiments when it comes to their household and routines, but in general, I think kids are extremely adaptable. They’ll accept most new things without batting an eye! And even if there’s initial skepticism or resistance, it’s okay! Keep going! They’ll adjust – they really will. I was a bit worried about how to introduce the morning blessing and whether our kids would think it was weird, but they just rolled with it.

3. Read with a friend | Earlier this year, a friend invited me to read Habits of the Household alongside her. I was flattered and excited, and immediately said yes – but I had no idea how good it was going to be. Our two-person book club has met several times over the last few months – usually while walking or bike riding – to discuss a handful of chapters at a time. We share our favorite parts, what stuck out to us, what felt hard to swallow. We talk about new things we’re trying and swap practices that have been successful in our families.

I cannot recommend this approach to the book more. ⁠It is GREAT accountability for actually implementing new things, it will be an encouragement to you in the good work you’re doing of leading and shaping your family, and it will absolutely bring you closer to your friend. Highly, highly recommend. Grateful for you, Elisha!!

Friends, we get to decide the culture in our homes, and that is a great responsibility and a great privilege. We can form our children in God’s love. We can train them in meaningful relationships. And, as Justin says, we can create homes that are missional lights in a dark world. Habits can help, and so can this book. If you decide to pick it up, I hope you really love it! And if you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your favorite part!

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June’s Favorites at 7 Years

24 July 2023

Has it really been four years since I’ve written a post sharing June’s favorites?! Say it ain’t so! Unless I’m missing something in the archives, the last version was posted in 2019, when she turned three. (I also posted a few of Shep’s favorites at age 3, two years ago.) This post is clearly overdue, so let’s dive in.

Clothing and accessory favorites for 7-year-old girls:

Sneakers | We bought these Saucony sneaks for June for Christmas and were dismayed to see that they were falling apart by February – sad, because I love the look! We replaced them with these Adidas (different color pattern than above) in May and they still look brand new.

Needlepoint baseball hat | The cutest designs and perfect to pull on sunny walks and outdoor camp days.

Chino shorts and knit pull-on shorts | 90% of my kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs from my sister or consignment sale finds, but sometimes I need to supplement specific categories. We’ve been very happy with these two inexpensive shorts this summer!

Lake pajamas | Paying very little money for kids’ clothing means sometimes I treat myself to a splurge. Lake pajamas are $$$ but they’re oh so cute, very soft, and well made. I intentionally chose a striped pattern I can pass down through the kids (though the strawberries above are cute!).

Poodle purse | This sparkly accessory was tucked in June’s stocking last Christmas, and she has very much enjoyed toting it around ever since.

Natives | These are the stapliest of staples in our house. To help ensure a color we’ll both love, I choose 6-8 of the 60+ colors and June makes the final decision. She just selected this color for her most recent pair, which is really lovely in person.

Watch | This watch is easy for her to clip on her wrist and set. She mostly wears it after school when she goes out to play in the neighborhood; we can set a timer/alarm to signal when it’s time to come home.

Game and gear favorites for 7-year-old girls:

Backpack | As a native New Englander, there’s no other choice for a kids’ backpack than LL Bean. We bought her a teal one in this size at the beginning of kindergarten and it’s still going strong.

Books | All books all the time – I shared a bunch of kindergarten and first grade favorite series here!

Catan Junior and cribbage | These are two of June’s favorite games right now – she and I both learned to play cribbage this summer! :) If you’ve ever loved playing Catan, I’ll say they did a really great job adapting a pretty complicated game for younger players.

Doodle Crate | When we received a duplicate Kiwi Crate a few months ago, I found out that we had actually received every single crate in their inventory – so we switched over to the Doodle Crate, and June has loved it!

Hairbrush | I’ve found the “shine” version of the Wet Brush is the best for gently detangling!

Jesus Storybook Bible and Kaleidoscope books | While the JSB is still requested multiple times a week around here (I don’t think you can ever grow out of it!), we’ve also added a few volumes of Kaleidoscope books of the Bible as a bridge to a full-text Bible. We’ve been happy with them!

Piano keyboard and books | When June started piano lessons this spring, this is the keyboard and the books her teacher recommended.

Priority Start 20″ bike | We love, love, love, LOVE our Priority Start bikes! June started with the 16″ and now rides the 20″ to and from school each day (while the 16″ has been passed down to Shep). Both still look pristine and work perfectly! I have no doubt we’ll add a 24″ to the garage once Annie’s ready to ride and everything needs to be passed down.

Tennis dress and racquet | Tennis seems to be June’s sport of choice so far. She specifically requested a white tennis dress, which tickled me :)

Yoto player | The Yoto is still going strong! She often listens at quiet time while puttering around her room, and since the cards load on my phone, too, we regularly listen to them on road trips as a family.

Any elementary-school favorites or questions about this age? I’d love to hear!

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July 2023 goals

14 July 2023

Whew! A late-breaking monthly goals post if there ever was one, but that’s summer for you, I suppose :) It feels appropriate, because I’m keeping things super simple this month, goal-wise. I have so enjoyed having June as my buddy this summer that I want to keep my schedule as loose as possible to give us time and space for fun when I’m not working. Resisting the urge to pack in projects will hopefully give me that space, and leave me room to post here in the time I do have.

And even still, I might not get to all these goals – and that’s okay. To whit: I had planned to knock out a big chunk of budget updating after I finished work on Tuesday. But when June asked me to teach her how to play Dutch Blitz, I said yes. That “yes” felt hard for a moment – it’s always hard to reset your expectations – but I thought multiple times that evening about how happy I was that I had accepted her invitation. I can’t always say yes, but I never regret it when I do. That’s less of a huge life lesson and more of a bolstering reminder to myself to keep making the small decisions that add up to the life I’ll be thankful and happy I lived.

We stopped in DC to break up our road trip home from New England. It was a hot morning to walk the monuments and memorials, and the World War II Memorial was a welcome respite!

On my calendar:
— Shep is a guy that enjoys a birthday party, and this year we’re throwing him a joint effort with his best friend for even more fun (splitting the difference of their birthdays, which are about a month apart). The forecast is for 97 degrees for our playground fete…

What I’m loving right now:
— My sister wore these white linen pants in Maine and looked so very chic and comfy that I promptly ordered a pair. Size down!
— Speaking of clothes, I am seriously loving the ongoing clothing swap my friend Bethany and I have orchestrated. We’re a similar size, and every month or so, we choose 3-5 items from our closet to loan the other. Think Rent the Runway, but the free friend version :) It is SO fun to have new pieces to try and I love that we can inject novelty into our wardrobes without buying anything new!
— We had dinner with a dear high school and college friend while we were in Connecticut (shout out to Jackie!). She’s a devoted reader of EFM, and told me that Shep and her son have the same goggles because she bought them after reading about them here. The elastic-band style cinch makes them so easy to tighten and so unlikely to snag hair – we have (both) loved them this summer! Wanted to give them another mention in case you’re in the market.

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What I read in June:
Lessons in Chemistry | Talk about an unpopular opinion – but this book wasn’t for me. Yes, it’s gotten huge praise from just about every outlet (I think it was Amazon’s 2022 best book of the year?). Yes, I was incredibly impressed that this is the author’s debut novel. Yes, I thought the plotting and storytelling was clever. I loved the dog. But I found most of the other characters somewhat annoying rather than quirky, the novel as a whole depressing rather than uplifting, and ultimately, I found it to be mean-spirited and one-sided toward the idea of faith. Listen – I read plenty of books written by atheists or with characters who are atheist. But this was a book where faith was a theme woven throughout, and there was not one character or moment that showed faith or religion in a positive light nor one character that portrayed a genuine faith – in fact, it seemed the author went out of her way to skewer faith and religion at every turn. While that is absolutely the author’s prerogative, to me it seemed a simplistic, disappointing, and reductive narrative. For those who’ve read it, I welcome your thoughts in the comments :)
The Gospel Comes With a House Key | I have several friends who love this book… but my feelings are more complicated. Eep! The author repeats over and over that she practices “radically ordinary hospitality,” and her vision for how we are to use our time, belongings, and emotional resources truly is radical. Beautiful and God-honoring, but radical. (And frankly, it makes my goal no. 5 for this year sound embarrassing.) And that made it a hard read for me! It doesn’t mean she’s wrong, but it is hard. It also was literally not the easiest read – though it gave me a lot to chew on, I think if it had been laid out a bit more logically, and written in less of a circuitous, fluid manner, I might have had more takeaways from it. Whew!
Hello Beautiful | If you loved The Dutch House, I think you’ll love this book. The characters feel very real, and even though I sensed where the plot was going early (and resisted it, at first), the author won me over and I was satisfied with where it ended. I do think I missed some of the layers of meaning because I haven’t read Little Women (!), but I still enjoyed it.

My reading list for 2023! I’m 17 / 24 so far.

Revisiting my June goals:
Settle into our summer rhythm (Yes! Each week has been a new adventure, but I’m pleased with how it’s going so far.)
Film June in June (Done!)
Paint our master bath cabinets (Done! Waiting on cabinet knobs to arrive and I can’t WAIT to see them all put back together.)
Clean out June’s room (She and I have made great progress and probably have one more session to go.)
Plan thoughtfully for our time in Connecticut and Maine (Yes, and I do think it made a difference.)
Complete final prep for and enjoy the book swap (It was a delight!)
Update our budget tracking (No – moving to July)

July goals:
— Update our budget tracking
— Finish organizing the second half of our 2021 photos
— Edit June in June
— Tackle our master closet (Nervous about this one! Will be tougher than some of the other spaces.)

I hope you’re having a wonderful July so far, friends! Feel free to comment on anything I mentioned or whatever else is on your mind :)

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2023 mid-year goals review

10 July 2023

This post is already excessively long, so I’ll keep the intro short :) Here at the midpoint of the year, it’s become customary to share an update on my PowerSheets goals. Pausing and reflecting like this really does help me to appreciate how my little efforts have added up over time, and with ten goals on the docket for 2023, there’s a lot to cover! (And plenty of ups and downs.) Without further ado…


Goal no. 1: Create a book for the first 10 years of EFM
Progress I’ve made: Let’s just start out with a real humbling update, shall we? To put it bluntly, there is very little progress to report. I did download the Blurb software and format a past post into a sample layout… and then I got paralyzed by how long one post took and how overwhelming of a project this could be and set the whole idea aside in despair. It feels like perhaps there’s a shortcut I don’t know about (my layout skills are pretty minimal!), but I also could believe I would just have to plug away at the hundreds of posts in my archive one by one. I feel disappointed and frustrated, because I really want this to happen, but the idea of spending 100+ hours to bring it to completion feels daunting.
The next six months: I think my next step will be to challenge myself to complete five or ten posts in one sitting to see if I get quicker as I go along – then I can make a plan from there!

Goal no. 2: Tend to our home trouble spots in a new way
Progress I’ve made: Things are looking up :) I’ve worked steadily through each month’s area, shuffling the original list as needed based on our family’s needs. So far, I’ve tackled my desk/command center, the upstairs linen closet, our coat closet, our master bathroom cabinets, and our upstairs loft. As funny as it might sound, one thing that has helped motivate me is to take a photo or a time-lapse video of my progress. Whether you share them with anyone or not, they’re fun to see!
The next six months: June’s closet, our master closet, and the downstairs linen closet are the next three on my list.

Goal no. 3: Read through the Gospels with CWM’s boxed collection
Progress I’ve made: I’ve made very little progress on on this goal as originally framed, but I do feel I’ve made progress on the heart behind the goal, which is to spend time in scripture. Most notably, John and I have been working our way through The Bible Project’s 14-hour From Adam to Noah class, and it’s been really fun to do together! I take notes as we watch :)
The next six months: I plan to finish the class!

Goal no. 4: Secret goal
Progress I’ve made: My initial plan was to spent 2-3 hours each week chipping away at this with some of my additional time away from work. I very much did not do this in the first half of the year – something else always seemed to be a higher priority – but I did continuously add thoughts and ideas to a doc.
The next six months: A few weeks ago I actually did set a timer and spend one hour of focused work on this, and it was amazing how much I got done. With a looser summer schedule I’m giving myself grace until June is back in school, but at that point, John has agreed to hold me accountable to “pay myself first” and commit to this project for one hour twice a week.


Goal no. 5: Invite one family (or friend) over for dinner each month
Progress I’ve made: Between COVID and a newish baby, we had gotten completely out of the habit of inviting other families into our home. I set this goal as accountability to change that, and it’s been very successful! So far we’ve had two families from church over, some old friends, a really old friend, and some newer friends. And one month we went out to dinner with friends, which was not exactly the letter of the goal, but very much the spirit.
The next six months: More of the same! I will say that though this goal has helped me flex the hospitality muscle and having people over doesn’t feel so foreign anymore, it also doesn’t necessarily feel easier – it can still feel like a lot of work to find a date, choose a menu, and prep our space. But it has been worth it.

Goal no. 6: Reach 5,000 minutes on Peloton
Progress I’ve made: This is going very well! Thus far I’ve reached 4,324 minutes, which paces me well ahead of my goal. I’ve been helped along by the fact that Peloton added outdoor walking and cycling to their tracking system; all of our lunchtime spins around the block and biking to school have added up.
The next six months: My new goal for the year is 8,000 minutes!

Goal no. 7: Update our legacy box
Progress I’ve made: This was inspired by PFC’s “dead box” (but legacy box sounds much nicer, ha!). I planned for most of the progress here to happen in the second half of the year, so it’s no surprise that there’s not much progress to report. We did meet with an estate planning attorney to update our documents in the spring.
The next six months: I’m intrigued by the Big Book of Everything, which Brooke recommended on my original 2023 goals post – I think that will be my starting point when I’m ready to dig into this goal!


Goal no. 8: Complete our family photo album for 2015-2019
Progress I’ve made: No progress to report :)
The next six months: Complete the album, ha! Since the photos are organized and I’ve already made two of my five-year albums, I don’t anticipate this being too hard.

Goal no. 9: Tend to our family culture
Progress I’ve made: Lots of little-by-little progress! We’ve instituted our new slimmed-down but more frequent parent-kiddo dates. They were met with some confusion and even disappointment at first, but overall have been a joy. We’re working through our summer fun list and weathering a summer schedule with LOTS of variation. We’re thoughtfully pursuing and evaluating activities, including piano lessons and neighborhood swim team. We’ve traveled, played a lot more tennis as a family, tried out sleepaway camp at a Mother-Daughter weekend, and made lots of memories. And I read Habits of the Household and have implemented MANY new practices because of it, which has easily been one of the biggest wins.
The next six months: I’d still love to take the Birds & Bees course!

Goal no. 10: Have fun with my friends
Progress I’ve made: Lots of fun has been had! :) I started the year with a bang with the first Articles Club weekend retreat (such a delight!) and followed it up with many monthly meetings since. I co-hosted a book swap with a dear friend. I took tennis lessons with a friend this spring. I had a two-person book club with another friend and got together multiple times to discuss chapters (including biking the American Tobacco Trail together twice!) And I’ve generally seen more friends more often thanks to our hospitality goal.
The next six months: In the near term, I’d like to use our Museum of Life and Science passes with friends several more times this summer. I’m also still hoping to host a potluck party this fall!

And there you have it! A very robust update on my 2023 goals. If you set your own goals for the year, or even if you didn’t, I’d love for you to share a win in the comments from the first six months! I can’t wait to cheer you on :)