Turning a House into a Home

It has been nearly five years since my husband and I turned the key to our new house, and yet, in that time, we are only just painting the fourth room. At this rate, we just might get done by the time we retire.

Truth is, I didn’t want to paint the walls when we first moved in. I couldn’t. My brain was still a mess the day we signed the papers. Anxious. Confused. Overwhelmed. The last thing I wanted to do was paint.

So, there our house sat for nearly five years. Bland, lifeless walls. Dull. Boring. Making me feel like a renter in my own house.

Over the weekend, as I picked up the paintbrush, ready to cover the cream-colored, builders-grade walls of the guest room, I felt a surge of excitement. Another room was about to be done.

I crossed the room, noticed dings and dents caused by toys of little ones, and suitcases by late-night visitors. I thought of the people who had been in this room, and the fun we had had together. With one flick of the brush, I erased it all, every last memory removed.

The closet held other memories, sparkles from a Christmas tree, and ornaments now gone. Scratches from tables and chairs we had moved out for guests. With one swift stroke, I removed those memories as well.

A mark on the door. A bump on the trim. Those would have to stay. For now.

Stroke after stroke. Brush beyond brush. The new arrives, the old is taken away.

I was anxious to finish this room, ready to move on to another. To paint walls and make them full of life. Make them ours. Turn them into home.

A home that all this time I had thought of as a house. A house that had seen the world pass through.

It watched newborn babies being rocked and held, smiled as children crawled across floors. It laughed with little ones that smeared greasy fingertips across windows as they looked in wonder at birds outside.

This house had laughed when we laughed, cried when we cried. It celebrated one life, and mourned the loss of another.

It watched my husband and I dance across the kitchen floor, twirl with children, play games with friends and family. It saw us bake, cook, and can, creating more messes than I care to tell.

This house had observed holidays, celebrations, birthdays. This house, without my knowing, had become a home.

I finished the last stroke, turning beige to silver-gray, amazed and wowed by the transformation.

I guess it wasn’t the color that turned my house into a home. I guess it had been a home all along. The click of a key, the turn of a knob.

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A Broken Cabinet and Hurricane Harvey

My husband and I dropped a piece of furniture down our stairs. The cabinet door ripped like a loose limb, tearing gouges into the flesh of our walls.

Within three minutes, my husband and I had killed our cabinet, damaged our home, and hurt our backs and knees. All because of one of my remodeling whims.

I partially blame my husband, who gives in to said whims, and goes along with my fanciful notions of being a superhero. Yes, I think I am Superwoman (a fairy tale I often aspire to), able to lift any piece of furniture placed in front of me. But the other day I had a revelation – perhaps I am not her, at least based on the broken cabinet in the hallway, and the torn walls by the stairs.

We pulled the cabinet back to the top floor and surveyed the damage. Walls needed puttying, texturizing, and paint. Furniture needed to be replaced. I went to bed, sick.

The next morning, I turned on the computer, determined to find a new cabinet to replace the old. Before I had a chance to look, the news of Hurricane Harvey popped in front of me.

Harvey had made a mess, damaging homes and ruining lives. Video after video spun before me, men sobbing, children teary-eyed and fearful, women clinging to babies while wading through waist-deep water.

People, lost, broken, homeless. Nothing but the clothes on their backs. I began to cry.

Here I sat, in my comfortable, air-conditioned house, sipping tea and eating breakfast, while others were hungry and homeless. As I lamented over a broken cabinet, others watched their worlds wash away.

The cabinet lay in the hall, broken and torn, a piece, I realized, that was rarely used. A piece we didn’t really need.

I wondered about the cost of a new cabinet, and measured it against helping someone else. What could that money do?

It wouldn’t be a lot, certainly not enough to save the world, or even a large city. But maybe it could help a life or two. A blanket, a few meals, perhaps a little medical care.

I turned off the computer and walked away. The cabinet no longer mattered. There were lives out there, more tattered and torn than any piece of furniture I’d ever seen.

If you are able, I encourage you to give.

These are two of my favorite organizations:

Samaritan’s Purse

American Red Cross

But there are many, many more. This article in New York Times contains a list of other charitable organizations.

Before giving, always check the legitimacy of any charity.

Have a beautiful day.

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Living an Authentic Life

I am sitting in my favorite armchair, a purchase recently made after the recliner in our home (finally) started to show its age. (I thought that thing would never die.)

I love my Pottery Barn chair, the cool leather against my skin, the little brass tacks placed in even arrangement around the arms. I love the way it looks in my home – simple, rustic, with just a touch of class.

I know, materialistic. Consumeristic. Completely un-simple-hippie-like. But honestly, I don’t care. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned about minimalism, it is this – it isn’t about what I don’t own, it’s about what I do. It’s about what makes me happy.

And this chair, it makes me so very happy. As does my lamp, my side tables, and my candle holder. My chipped white candle holder. Just thinking about that stubby little holder makes me smile.

These items are a symbol of who I am. Simple and rustic. A bit of a lost era, a time I wish I’d known. The life I long for, everything I strive to be.

But it wasn’t always that way. My life hasn’t always been this authentic.

I once bought into a lie, the lie many of us are fed, the lie that says that to be an adult one must fill their home with adult furniture, expensive pieces from expensive stores.

When my husband and I had our first grown-up jobs and moved into our first grown-up apartment, we did what the lie told us. We bought furniture, furniture that shouldn’t be used, especially with two little boys. A gray sofa with a matching loveseat, a table, a lamp, and a few pictures. Beautiful pictures. Pricey pictures. Too pricey for me. Too ornate. Too sophisticated. Pictures that shouldn’t have been on our walls.

Not long after those purchases, we bought a house. A simple house. We filled it with sturdy furniture meant for children, but kept the sophisticated pieces as well.

But corners remained empty, and well-meaning people brought us pieces, like clocks, curios, chairs with slender legs. More pictures.

My home became a scattered array of furniture, from French to country, contemporary to traditional, with a few Southwestern pieces mixed in. A mish-mash. A mess.

I was living a lie. A façade. A life someone else had made-up for me.

Thirteen years later, our home was sold, nearly all our furniture (except for a few pieces my husband couldn’t part with) was gone.

Many miles away, in a brand-new place, we began again. Bought furniture. Decorated. But this time, we bought only what we needed, and only what we loved. Casual. Relaxed. Simple.

I am finally in a home that I am comfortable in. A place I love to be. A place that represents me. That represents my family.

When you enter our home, you will hear a whisper, walls that tell the story of a family with somewhat rustic ways. A quiet family. Simple. Serene.

It took me years to figure out who I was, but I have no regrets. The destination was well worth the journey. It brought me to the place I was always meant to be.

Many of the pieces first bought when we moved to the Pacific Northwest are gone, worn by time, graced with age. Time takes away our favorites. But what remains is their memory, and how they helped me, find me.

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Letting go of Collections, to Make Room for What Matters

Don’t hate me, but I can’t stand collections. Multiple pieces of the same item lined on a shelf, like dusty soldiers waiting to attack, give me the heebie-jeebies. I hate clutter, in both my house, and in my mind.

I blame this hatred of collections on all the collectors I’ve known in my life.

My mom was a collector, albeit not an extreme one. Still, she owned thimbles, vases, cups and saucers, and tiny spoons from each state she visited. I wrote a story about her here.

My dad was a collector, too. In fact, his collections multiplied like evil bunnies. If there was anything to collect, my dad found it. He collected keys (here is a story about my dad), half-used paper, little nibs of crayons, and even old Pringles containers.

My dad’s brother was a collector, and so was his wife. Together, their home was piled with toys, books, stuffed animals, those weird little ceramics found at card stores and tucked in the back of thrift stores, brass elephants, and old papers and magazines they piled high in their living room, hoping to one day read. Their house, quite literally, was a hoarder’s house.

My husband was a collector, for a while. Though if you asked me what he collected, I couldn’t tell you. It seems anything, and everything, made its way into our garage, shop, and outdoor shed. Maybe he wasn’t a collector, as much as he was a non-tosser. (Thankfully, he’s changed.)

I once knew a woman who collected Beanie Babies. (Remember those?) She was obsessed, as many collectors are. She’d call every store in town until she found the Beanie Baby she thought she needed. During work one day, she spent an hour on the phone, then took off in the early morning for another hour to pick up said Beanie Baby. If the boss would have known, she would have lost her job. I wonder if it would have been worth it.

I look around my own home, which some might consider bare, and am thankful for all the collectors in my life. My home is simple and neat, and quite easy to clean. Just the way I like it.

But it makes me wonder, why do people collect? What is that makes them fill empty spaces in their homes with needless items?

For some, collecting fills a void, like mindless shopping. An emptiness that won’t go away. A hole… Click To Tweet

For others, it is boredom. Without knowing how to spend their time, they spend it shopping, collecting that which isn’t needed.

For many, it is a demonstration, to the world, and to themselves, that they are rich.

Most of us collect something, knick-knacks, dishes, shoes, clothing. I’ve even known people who have collected cars.

I have had my own set of collections in the past, like old Christmas ornaments, cookbooks, and I still own plenty of novels. Craft items once filled an entire room, paints, clay, beads, and leather goods. Hobbies once provided hours of joy, and perhaps then, they were collections that were worth my time and money. But one day, it was taken away, and I could no longer do that which I loved. That part of my life is over, and all my collections are gone, something I never regret.

Because it seems, when I let go of my collections, when I stopped buying and spending time on needless activities, I found something greater. I found Moments.

Moments walking, meditating, practicing yoga, and reading. Moments with my husband, and my family. Moments I will never forget. Moments that matter.

I can’t say collections are always bad. They can preserve memories, or provide a way for us to escape after a long day of work. Collections, for some, are dreams in the making. And if collections truly make us happy, perhaps we should keep them.

But often, collections gather dust and dirt, sit tirelessly on an old shelf in the corner, and take away time and space from what really matters.

I wonder if it’s time to let go of too many collections, to reduce our lives to the important stuff. I wonder if it’s time to stop collecting needless things, and start collecting Moments.

Do you collect? What? And why?

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An Experiment in Hand-Washing Dishes

Once upon a time, no one owned a dishwasher. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Dishwashers arrived around 1850, a big hand-cranked machine. (If you ask me, I’d rather wash dishes by hand than turn a heavy lever on a machine.)

In 1887, a newer model arrived.

In 1929, the first electric dishwasher was invented in Europe, by someone we are forever grateful to.

Fast-forward, and by the1950s, more dishwashers were being sold, but only to those who could afford one.

In the 1970s, dishwashers were commonplace.

I was one of the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) girls who grew up in a home that didn’t own a dishwasher until she moved out. (I had been the dishwasher up until that time.)

Lately, I’ve had this urge to try hand-washing again, just like I did when I was younger. Only now, it would be a choice, not a chore.

I’ve been reading blogs about others who have given up their dishwashers. Part of the simple life movement. I figured if others did it, so could I. I was the simple hippie, after all.

Plus, when I picture washing dishes, I envision the elegant 1950’s woman, apron tied loose around her flowing skirt, hair swept back, humming as she does the family’s dishes. I know, I’m a romanticizer, and not always realistic. (I think I watched too many episodes of “Father Knows Best.”) I know that about myself, and yet, I had to try this experiment anyway.

For one month, I would only hand-wash dishes, no dishwasher allowed.

Here’s what happened:

Day one: I pulled the dishes out of my nearly full dishwasher, filled my sink with hot, bubbly water, and, without a pair of rubber gloves to save my nails and skin, began.

Immediately, I noticed three things:

Washing cookie racks and sieves are no fun.

My back got tired very fast.

I hate prune-y hands.

But there were good points as well:

My drinking glasses were sparkly.

My silverware was brighter.

The tea stains came out of my cups.

And the best part, I felt I emotionally relaxed. There’s something therapeutic about standing over a sink of dishes.

Twenty-eight minutes later, I was done. Everything washed, dried, put away, and sink and counter cleaned. (Apparently, I’m a messy dishwasher.)

Here are the after-effects:

I felt like I’d completed a job.

I felt satisfied, like I’d just meditated.

My hands were dry. If I were to keep doing this, I’d either need a set of gloves, or a really good hand cream. But I didn’t need to worry about either, because as soon as my husband got wind of what I was doing, he put the kibosh on my experiment.

“You did this once,” he said. “A couple years ago, at Thanksgiving. Our dishwasher was broken. You’d already been washing dishes for about two weeks when the holidays came. It took days for us to get caught up. And in our house, you can never stay caught up.”

“But I had to do the dishes then. This time I want to. It’s an experiment.”

“No. You’ve done this before. Remember how much time you spent washing dishes? You have better things to do with your time.”

I remembered. And I knew he was right. (Dang! I hate admitting that.)

I knew he was right because as soon as he walked away, I dirtied more dishes. The problem in our house is this, we are always cooking, making everything from nut butters and milk, to cookies and bread. Our kitchen is a constant stream of activity, with an endless abundance of dishes to wash.

I sighed. My experiment lasted exactly one hour. Well, an hour and one month, if you count the time I unintentionally experimented when the dishwasher broke.

In any case, I learned a few things during my very short experiment:

I use too many dishes. I tend to take a glass out of the cabinet each time I want a drink, instead of reusing the same glass.

I use too many pans. Instead of reusing the same pan, I tend to stir-fry different foods in different pans.

This experiment made me aware of how many dishes I use, and how many I need.

I love my dishwasher. I really do. It’s great to hand-wash if you have the time, or don’t have umpteen dishes in your sink all day. But for some people (like me), a dishwasher makes sense. It makes life simple.

I may still hand-wash dishes on occasion, and pretend I’m an elegant 1950’s woman. But for the most part, a dishwasher will always be in my life.

What about you? Do you hand-wash your dishes? Would you?

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