Spatial Storytelling | What Story Are You Telling?



"Everything speaks."

I came across this quote while I was doing some research for a project at our church. Mel McGowan, who once worked at Disney, is now the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at PlainJoe Studios. His company helps churches and non-profits tell better and clearer stories through design, branding, and media. In his ebook, Scared Storytellers, Mel shares the following,


"One of the greatest lessons I learned while working for Walt Disney Imagineering was the idea that “everything speaks.” In other words, whether you’re building a high-tech thrill, planting flowers around Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, or taking out the garbage, people take notice and “hear the story” you’re trying to tell through the settings you create."


Mel's words have been swirling around in my head over the past week. I'm beginning to ask the question, "What story are we telling within our homes?" If everything truly does speak, then even the little details matter as we design and decorate our houses. Our homes are telling a story whether we realize it or not.


Spatial storytelling can be effective in helping immerse our families in the truths and values that are important to us. The best stories engage all 5 of our senses. The items we touch, the images we see, the sounds we hear, the aromas we smell, the foods we taste, all play a part in the story we are experiencing. All of us remember specific sensory experiences from our childhoods! It might have been the smell of freshly baked cookies from grandma's house, or the constant creaking of your window on a stormy night. Our senses are powerful story shapers, and as parents, we have the opportunity to intentionally craft the story we want to tell.


I've been looking around our house with a new set of eyes. It turns out, my wife is a pretty good spatial storyteller without even knowing it. I want to share a few of the things I've noticed within the walls of our home. Here are the four best spatial story shapers in our home and also one of the worst.


  • Books intentionally placed. During different seasons of the year, my wife makes sure to pull out books that connect. She places them in a basket that is easy to access and changes out the books that are available to keep things fresh and relevant. We own A LOT of books, and it would be easy to glance over certain ones without even realizing it. Her intentionality speaks volumes. She also makes sure all of the kids' books are within reach on the bookshelf so that the boys can browse through them whenever they want. This creates a messy book room at times, but it is so worth it.

Why it matters: We believe that stories help shape who we become. By creating a home where books are prominently seen, we are elevating the value of story for our family.


  • Imagination stations. Around our house, there are a few features strategically placed to ignite our kids' imaginations. On our bookshelf, we have a small door that leads to Reepicheep's house in Narnia. In our basement there is a rack filled with a plethora of costumes for the boys to grab whenever they want. And in our backyard, we encourage the boys to turn their clubhouse into anything from a pirate ship to a movie theater.

Why it matters: Imagination is a muscle that needs to be trained to remain strong. We want to give our kids ample opportunities to "workout" their imagination muscles.


  • Space to create. In our basement, my wife has set up an area for the boys to create. There are art supplies all over the place that allow the boys to make whatever they want. I love that she has given them a blank canvas to be artists. The unstructured nature of the space gives them what they need to be "catchers and rearrangers" of all the things that they are absorbing on a daily basis.

Why it matters: There is plenty of structured creation happening at school. Crafts and art projects are usually pre-planned. Unstructured creation space encourages originality. We want our kids to think outside of the box!


  • Scoreboards for the win. Our 3 boys LOVE to play sports, so we decided to invest in a few scoreboards for their rooms and in the basement. This investment has definitely paid off. They love to keep score when playing against one another, and we think there is a ton of value in healthy competition that we can regulate within the walls of our home. A family favorite is to have free throw competitions before bed!

Why it matters: Our culture doesn't like to keep score, but competition is a part of the life we live. We want our boys to be good winners and good losers. We want them to know that you don't always win but that it's important to keep practicing to accomplish your goals. And we want them to be confident enough to hit the game winner when the clock is winding down.


And here is one of the worst spatial stories being told...


  • TV as a focal point. Why do we arrange everything around the television in the room that we spend the most time? The position of the television reveals to me what we place as valuable. I'm not sure what it would look like to do this differently, but it really does make you think. I'm reminded of the book, Fahrenheit 451, where everyone has wall-sized televisions that consume their lives. It doesn't seem far off from where we are today when you think about how much time we spend on some sort of electronic device.

Why it matters: We are called to be counter-cultural. The living room seems to be one place that we could do things differently. If our space is telling a story, what story do we want to tell?

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