A Small Spiritual Space: How to Set up a Home Altar That Works for You

The author’s home altar

Last year, my toddler started wanting to go to church every day after daycare. I loved that he wanted to spend time at church outside of Mass, and at first I said yes if we could, but it’s tough to fit in a church visit every single day, especially after work when dinner needs to get on the table. So, a friend (who is also my toddler’s godmother) suggested putting together a home altar so that my family could recreate a church visit at home.

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After some Googling, I realized setting up a home altar was not complicated, and it only took me a few minutes to initially gather things together. I’ve learned that it’s also okay if it’s a work-in-progress; objects can be added or removed as needed. As time goes by, the purpose of our altar will likely change too; right now it’s a visual reminder of our faith life, but in the future, it may become a central point for group prayer.

Location, location, location

When it came to choosing a place for my spiritual nook, I wanted a spot that was out of the way of foot traffic in our small space but still central enough that we would see it every day, so I chose a corner of the room near our kitchen table. At first, such a public spot in my homemade me nervous – what would visitors think? But I recognized that was part of the point. My spirituality had been becoming more important to me, and I wanted to make it part of my everyday routine. In that way, a home altar helps me remember that faith has a place among the mundane tasks of life.

Give it a personal touch

I didn’t want this to be an expensive undertaking, and I also favored the eco-friendly approach of reusing rather than buying new. I had an old bedside table that I’d bought off Craigslist that was the perfect size and had a storage drawer. Then I gathered religious items from around my home: a rosary, a candle, a Bible. My mom offered to send me an extra cross that she had at home. Over time, other religious books made their way to the altar. I did buy a kneeling pillow from Etsy that was small enough to fit underneath the altar.

Easier access leads to building habits

So often, my spiritual items are tucked away – the rosary had been in my bedroom in a jewelry box, the Bible had been on my bookshelf with only the spine showing. Putting them on top of a table makes them more accessible and reminds me to use them more regularly. This is true for my children as well; they can easily reach the items on the table and play with them, hopefully making these items things they touch and use habitually. For now, this means they occasionally walk around the house wearing a rosary, but it’s a start.

Carve out time for your new space

I struggle with daily prayer, so the home altar has become a visual reminder to take time out of my day to pray, especially because it’s in such a central location. Kneeling in front of a specific place is enough of a ritual to help focus my attention and be more intentional. Sometimes I’ve placed an item to help me remember a specific intention. Several years ago, I suffered a miscarriage, and placing an ultrasound of the pregnancy on the altar during Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month brought me peace. Having a tangible reminder of the people and things I hold the most important to me helps me to set aside time to remember and honor them.

I have other plans for the altar. I’d like to get some small cloth runners in the liturgical colors and a vial of holy water. I’ve thought about including a small chalkboard to write out a verse or quote. But I like that, just like my faith, the altar can be put to instant use and still be a work in progress – every day.

Originally published on April 29, 2020.

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