Monday, May 26, 2014

A quick (not easy) way to beautify a home

I went to a baby shower at Mary's home the other day.  (Her name isn't really "Mary", not that she'd care if I used her real name).  Her home was beautiful.   The polished wooden floors just gleamed.  The woodwork around the fireplace and doorways and along the stair rail were intricate reminders of an earlier era, which is appropriate to Mary, because she's a historian.  Her walls were decorated with framed maps, with sepia-tone photographs of her young daughters in matching white dresses.  The entire place was unspeakably elegant.

I came into Mary's exquisite home bearing my crock pot of bean soup, and instantly I felt the squirmy sensation that my whole being was just a little bit dowdy.  My friend Alice followed me into the kitchen (tall white cabinets, large sunny windows, floor tiled in cheery white, blue and green squares) and murmured something awestruck.  Mary laughed and said, "Isn't this kitchen awful?! It's so 1950's!  I know we'll never be able to sell this house unless we redo it, but for now we're stuck with it the way it is."   Immediately, Alice and I both started commiser-bragging about how much shabbier and messier our own homes are.

And then, fortunately, the feeling passed.

It'd be all-too-easy to get snarky about Perfect People, to get into an in-my-own-head-dialogue about how some people care too much about things and don't have real lives.  But that dialogue doesn't describe Mary, because the truth is she really is a warm, beautiful person whose home was a great place for us to gather and celebrate.  So fortunately, I managed to get my head into a space where I could think, "Here is one of the beautiful places in my city, and I get to come enjoy it.  I'm so lucky."

It's even harder, though, to appreciate Mary's home without lamenting the deficiencies of my own place:  Carpet that is 25 years old.  Walls covered in fingerprints and pencil marks.  Heck -- walls with holes I haven't yet patched.  Nasty pink bathtub.  Pencils, shoes, papers, plastic monsters, dog hair everywhere.  And the boys I'm rearing are so hard on the house, that in general I just don't even want to think about putting in the work to make it nicer until they've grown up and moved out.  The comparison between our places was just depressing.

Until the comparison wasn't depressing.  Because fortunately, that feeling passed, too.

Because my house might be a bit beat-up, but it was beat up on purpose.  We bought this home knowing it'd be full of active people.  We purposefully chose a place with a bedroom on the first floor so that my husband wouldn't have to go up and down stairs after he had a bike crash (and fortunately, he's only had one bad crash since we got married).  We purposefully chose a place with lots of rooms so we could find space for all our kids, and as our older kids left home we deliberately brought in more kids to fill the empty rooms.  We chose a place with a big dining room, so we could serve big meals to family and friends with big appetites.  We chose a place with a large living room, so there would be space for dancing (and nowadays for wrassling).

And that's how I made my house beautiful, in the space of just 5 minutes:  I remembered what my home is really for.  My friends who come over tell me they feel at home here.  Our home is comfortable.  It's active.  It's a place where we can bump into things and knock things over, and it really doesn't look much worse.  A place where it's okay to decorate with cardboard boxes and canning jars, where the dog hair exists, but it's not so hairy that you keep from lying down on the living room carpet to read a book or design a train track or perform acrobatic wonders.

And if I want to be in an exquisite, elegant, gleaming house . . . well, I'm lucky enough that I can do that, too.  I'll just go visit Mary.


  1. Just beautiful. I sometimes have the same feelings of envy/insecurity. Unfortunately, they usually don't pass so quickly. Thanks for showing the way.

    1. The ugly truth is that I like hanging out at the homes of people with messier or smaller homes than mine, just because it's so much easier to feel good about myself afterward. This visit to Mary's home was unusual -- and a bit of a learning experience for me! - MM

  2. Sometimes when I see other people's houses (especially on house tours), I get an immediate feeling of stress, like this place must be super expensive to buy, run, and pay taxes on and it must take forever to keep it clean, weeded, etc. I have to make myself calm down to enjoy what's there and to remember that there could still be good ideas worth borrowing for my house (on a smaller level).

    1. I hear you. When I look at home decorating magazines, I always ask myself, "how would this look if it were covered in dog hair?" Usually, the answer is "awful!". But every once in a while, there's a design that actually would look okay . . . -MM

    2. Ha! With home decorating magazines, I always wish they showed people using the rooms. Pretty is good. But so are comfort, fun, efficient design, etc.