Want to slow down your hectic life? Practice the old-fashioned habit of porch sitting! Here’s how to embrace a more intentional life by enjoying your front porch, + ideas for making your porch pretty and welcoming.
“Sitting on the summer-night porch was so good, so easy and so reassuring that it could never be done away with. These were rituals that were right and lasting; the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles in the dimness, the eating of foil-wrapped, chilled Eskimo Pies, the coming and going of all the people….Oh, the luxury of lying in the fern night and the grass night and the night of susurrant, slumbrous voices weaving the dark together.”
– Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I believe we could all be living much simpler, leisurely lives if we simply revived the lost art of sitting on the front porch.
People like the idea of porch sitting, but we don’t do it much anymore. Our days are too crowded for us to think of “sitting a spell” and basically taking a time out from the hustle and bustle. When we do have pauses in our day we’re more likely to spend them checking apps and social media.
Front porches are an invitation to a slower, more intentional life. They’re a waiting homescape where we can cultivate the deeper values of connecting with God, our families, neighbours, and nature. Yet for many people, front porches have become merely an accessory for curb appeal–if we have them at all.
Porch Sitting: An American Tradition
Although porch sitting isn’t common anymore, this is a recent shift. I haven’t lived many decades, so I can’t pinpoint from my own experience when porch sitting fell out of common practice. But I suspect there’s a lot of factors.
Perhaps people spend more time indoors watching TV. Maybe we’ve grown more insular and we prefer the privacy of a back deck. Perhaps we don’t need porches for catching a breeze because we have air conditioning now. Perhaps homeowners would rather spend money on extra bedrooms and closets to store our stuff, so architects have stopped including porches in their plans.
Whatever the reasons, it’s a loss.
There will always be something utterly charming, homey, and wistful about those books and movies from the last century that portray families doing life on the front porch.
From what I’ve read, we have Andrew Jackson Downing to thank for the popularization of the front porch as an iconic feature in American homes. Downing was a landscape architect who lived in the early 1800s. He popularized the front porch in his writings and designs, as a way to link homes and their occupants with nature. Interestingly, Downing believed that the architecture of a home could affect the morals of its residents; it was critical to build homes that were beautiful, functional, and integrated with their natural surroundings.
Builders today seem to be less idealistic, making homes to suit the shifting priorities and values of their occupants. Drive through an average housing development today and you’ll notice that the most prominent feature is the garage. In more expensive housing developments, the garage may or may not be prominent, but the entryway certainly is. Where I live in the Birmingham, Alabama area, many of the higher-priced new homes feature two-story, vaulted entryways. This architecture style seems built to impress our neighbours rather than foster community with them.
Large or small, many of our modern-day homes lack the unassuming graciousness of a front porch. On houses that do have porches, you don’t see people using them much! As I did with the old-fashioned art of dressing up, I’d like to encourage us to see value in this old-fashioned habit and cultivate it.
How to Recover the Lost Art of Sitting on the Porch
Porch sitting doesn’t have to be just a nostalgic pastime of the past. If you want to stake a claim for tranquility in your life today, plant yourself on the front porch–often! Here are two ways to become a porch regular:
1. Make porch sitting one of your rituals
Spend time on your porch at consistent times: for 20 minutes each morning with your coffee, or for an hour or two on a summer evening after the supper dishes are done. If you do this only once in a blue moon, you’ll find yourself saying “we should do this more often!” So do it! Make it a thing. Make it part of the rhythm of your day or seasons.
2. Take everyday activities you normally do inside, and move them to the porch
Your day is full of brief activities and moments that could easily be enjoyed outside as well as in. When you give your kids a snack, send them outside to the porch to eat it. Catching up with someone on the phone? Take your conversation outside! Read your book on the porch. Do supper prep like chop soup vegetables or knead bread. Plan for your week with a calendar and notebook. As I mentioned in my spring bucket list, eat a meal (or two) on the porch every day you can.
How to make your front porch pretty and inviting
You can start your porch-sitting habit right away without so much as a chair, but it’s also fun to think of ways to spruce up the space so it’s even more inviting. Several items on my list of 30 ways to bring beauty to your home involve porch accessories, and there are many more thoughtful touches you can do as well.
When imagining an ideal porch setup, think of the space both horizontally and vertically. For instance, a porch rocker is obvious, but also put things low to the ground, like a colorful rug; or higher up, like a hanging pot for flowers, or a wreath on the door. I’m dreaming of my porch all the way up to the ceiling! Someday, I’d like to paint the ceiling a “haint blue.” It’s a Southern tradition, and it would go prettily with the navy I plan to use on the shutters. Take the porch environs into consideration, too: think what plants you’d like in front or climbing up the side.
17 things to put on your porch:
- lighting, such as string lights or sconces (this way you can linger even as it starts to get dark!)
- planters or pots with greenery and seasonal flowers
- bucket of porch/yard activities for kids (bubbles, bean bag toss, flashlights for tag when it gets dark)
- outdoor cushions for extra seating
- hanging basket for plants
- bird feeder
- sunshades (hang depending on the sunlight your porch gets at different times of day)
- rocking chairs
- swing or comfy hanging chair
- porch brackets
- side tables for drinks or books
- front door wreath
- colourful doormat
- washable blanket
- fragrant flowers growing nearby (honeysuckle or jasmine would be good ones!)
- citronella candle to keep the mosquitoes away
This is just a sampling of the porch accessories you could add! Think about what you would use and enjoy the most.
What to do if you don’t have a front porch
Perhaps you love the idea of porch sitting, and you’d be out there every day…if you only had a porch! Well, let me encourage you to enter into the spirit of porch sitting and get out there anyway. You can put a couple of Adirondack chairs on your front lawn or set up a bench swing. I once heard a speaker at a conference tell about how she put a bright turquoise picnic table in her front yard. Her family would hang out there, and neighbours would drop by for conversation.
Now, if the facade of your house allows it, you may be able to build on a front porch in the future. That would be fun because you could design it to your specs! But the point is, you really don’t need a porch to enjoy this old-fashioned practice.
Just take the little-used frontspace of your home and start living there. Wave to your neighbours when they pass by, get to know the postal worker, and enjoy the refreshing rest of porch sitting and slow living.
This post is part of my “lost arts” series, where I pick an old-fashioned habit to discuss and talk about why we should blend it back into our modern-day lives. Here are the other posts in this series (I’ll be adding more in the coming months!):
And here’s my post on 5 Old-Fashioned Habits That Are Due for a Comeback