Earlier in our marriage, my husband did not come home at the end of the day. Instead, most nights he arrived at the local circus for his dinner. Sometimes it was the local zoo.
Just kidding. It was our house. It just looked and smelled like a zoo.
As he pulled into our driveway I imagine he often braced himself as he turned the key and unlocked a door that may or may not budge thanks to the Tonka Trucks and Hot Wheels and kicked off little boy shoes.
He never complained about the piles near the door, or the hallway likely strewn with toys, or the living room with throw pillows all over the floor. Toddler fighting, baby fussing (#witchinghour) and a wife yelling in frustration at someone or something were normal parts of his evening routine. He likely found a pile of clean laundry on the couch and the mail all over the counter, and if his wife actually stopped what she was doing long enough to look in his eyes and smile when he came into the kitchen – well that was winning.
Granted, having three babies in three years, along with two moves, three job changes, and finishing (his) MBA in those same three years, it was a chaotic time for our marriage and our home. But the nightly circus/zoo rattled our interior and exterior peace – mostly mine, but also his. I hated that the brief time we spent with Peter each night was the most chaotic of the whole day. It never looked or felt how I wanted it to be when we welcomed him home from a long day.
Initially, I chalked it up to a necessary state of our life. I couldn’t fix the witching hour. I couldn’t add more hours to the day. I couldn’t change the size of our home or the number of toddlers and babies I had….a messy home and hard evenings were a natural part of parenthood. This was our new normal.
That was pretty much my mindset until, in a Rachel Hollis-like self talk epiphany, I told myself that I was in control of my home, my house and a crappy late afternoon hour did not control me. I was pretty “done” during this self talk, which is probably why my vow that I would teach myself and my children whatever habits and skills necessary to change the status quo – actually worked!
It took awhile to train myself (and the kids) and intentionally practice building a completely new routine, but now it happens like clockwork and it’s super easy for all of us. My husband now comes home to a place of peace, at least most nights.
This is how we do it.
1) Quick Clean
I’ve purged our home of stuff and junk to the point that I can quick clean our entire downstairs in 10 minutes or less. That’s a pretty short sentence to describe what was actually a painstaking process, but getting rid of stuff is the most helpful thing I did for creating a more peaceful nightly routine. More on that coming in another post.
Around 5:00pm we stop whatever we’re doing, put on the timer and some loud dance music (the music is key y’all), and together we pick up the whole house. Kids are in charge of their playroom and bedroom (all of their toys and books have a home, and they all know what that home is), and I usually use the time to tidy the living room, make sure any papers, mail, homeschool stuff, stray books, etc are all taken care of. I have a Norwex dust mitt and an endless supply of Kirkland (Costco brand) baby wipes, and with those I can dust or wipe down the entire downstairs including guest bathroom in under 2 minutes.
2) Set the Table
I learned this trick from my mom when I was little. She would say a set table gives a man hope that dinner is quickly following – whether or not you have any idea at that point what you’re making for dinner. Haha!
My boys set the table with real napkins and candles every night, and it makes our kitchen look like something meaningful is ready to happen.
3) Candles and Music
While my children are finishing up their pick-up jobs, I use a little remote control I keep in my kitchen junk drawer to turn on battery operated candles in the living room. It sets a beautiful and cozy atmosphere for everyone, with no danger of a little one knocking over fire. Battery operated candles are pretty much my favorite thing ever. (Costco carries a set of 5 with remote control and batteries included – worth every penny).
I have several Pandora stations I use for evenings, my favorites being “Classical Guitar Radio”, “The Piano Guys” station, “Classical Relaxation Radio” and “French Cooking Music.” When I turn on the battery candles, I also turn on one of these stations for background music.
4) Put a TV Show On
I try to keep the TV off during the school day and wait until I really need the break while I make dinner. After my kids finish their 5 o’clock clean-up chores, and they pass “mom inspection”, they get to watch a show. If I know my husband will be on the late side getting home, I’ll have the kids change into their pajamas and let them watch a second show. It makes the witching hour often my favorite hour, because my house is clean, the table is set, there are candles and music, and my kids are half ready for bed. It gives me a chance to make dinner in peace, and whatever else I want or need to do for that 40+ minutes it takes to watch two episodes of Wild Kratts.
5) Front Porch Light On
This feels almost too small and simple to share, but in my gut I feel like it makes a little difference to pull into a driveway and see the front porch light on. He knows it wasn’t on all day, and he knows someone had to intentionally turn it on for him. It’s the first thing he sees before he walks back into our world, and I feel it sets a stage for welcome and happiness and peace.
As y’all know I’m a big believer in the “little things” that bring immense grace to hearts and homes. These 5 o’clock ten minutes have changed the evening atmosphere at our house, and I know they can for anyone who’s willing to put in the work of building intentional rhythm and new habits.
Do I still get frustrated and yell during the witching hour? Of course. It’s not Utopia over here by any stretch. But the worst hour of the day has become one of the best. And the only thing that really changed was me.