I don't mean what other people mean when they speak of a home,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

because I don't regard a home as a ... well, as a place, a building ... a house ... of wood, bricks, stone. I think of a home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can ... well, nest.

Tennessee Williams
Day 1

Yesterday marked three weeks in our new home. All the everyday items are unpacked and the most cherished pictures are hung. The kitchen has cooked a few meals, though the other night, as we dined on dry, jerky-like steak, a past-its-prime sweet potato, and sauteed broccoli I forgot to salt, Mario and I had a good laugh and realized we haven't quite figured out how to navigate in our new kitchen. With time, all things. Our upstairs loft area with built-in shelves houses our sole television, all of our books, and is complete with a collage of family photos above the couch. There are throw pillows and side tables and all the trappings of a good landing spot. The other rooms are a work in progress, but more progress has been made than not. 

As I mentioned before, the prospect of renting threw us off a bit. How does one go about making a rental their own? Our plan is to be here for the next 4 years (at least), so it is important that this feels like home for the duration. Especially after owning a house that felt temporary despite living in it for almost 7 years. I occasionally catch up on the blog The Nesting Place. I've been inspired by her and also found solace in her circumstances, past and present. She was, until recently, a renter who settled into her space rather beautifully. I needed some guidance, some inspiration, and some like-mindedness, so I ordered her book and have been reading it over the past week. And although not all of our beliefs and ideals line up precisely, reading her book was the best thing I could have done at this juncture. She didn't teach me anything concrete like, say, how to pick out furniture or paint an armoire, but she surely gave me permission to follow my instincts. To invest in something simply because I love it; I can always make it work. To stop focusing on the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect piece. To decorate with whimsy and use my home as a place of self expression. To stop apologizing for little messes, mismatched furniture, cluttered surfaces, and everything else I've apologized for over the years. To stop putting my husband in the middle of my self-doubt when it comes to decorating; he doesn't care about the nitty gritty and little purchases and nothing good comes from making him my scapegoat when I can't make a decision. She freed me to start living in my living room (and every other room for that matter). Thank you.

As we've started replacing furniture we left behind and adding new pieces, I've begun looking at things differently. Mario and I had sort of mentally settled on some pieces: a reclaimed wood table from a trendy salvage store in Portland ($800); chairs for it, of course ($75-$100 each); a solid wood bed for Kiddo ($400+); a new television for the living room ($700+)... and so on. Because we've drastically changed how we spend money over the past year, we knew we'd be saving up for eons; we'd probably be eating at the kitchen counter for the foreseeable future. You know what? We have a table and three chairs (so far), a bed for Kiddo, a new coffee table for the living room, a new cabinet and closet storage in our bedroom, chairs for our front porch, and many other pieces... and we've paid cash for all of it. Better yet, we love every single piece and bought them because we want them in future homes as well. Our moving fund + money for selling our old stuff has covered it with some to spare (and all for less than the cost of the table we had our eyes on for months). And while we took a break this month from snowballing our debt, we haven't created more. (That second television? We'll get to it eventually.) Considering the fact that we uprooted our lives and drove ourselves (and all our stuff) across the entire country, I think we're doing pretty darn good. Great even.

A car full of treasures.
Our new old kitchen table. We've since found three chairs.
Our house is coming along swimmingly. We feel comfortable and happy here. I like pulling into the driveway because I can appreciate how lovely our house is instead of seeing all the work that still needs to be done. I've also noticed a funny little phenomenon has occurred: we've starting nitpicking at it. The sheet rock is so thin. Hanging pictures is so annoying!; That chandelier is hideous and SO not us!; The laminate flooring isn't holding up well by the door to the garage!; The paint job is crappy in this spot!; When they built this, they definitely used the standard, generic fixtures. No upgrades here!". I had a moment last week where I stopped Mario mid-complaint. "Do you even remember our last house?" I said, just as much for my benefit as his, "It was horrible! When we moved in it was practically derelict!". Remember the well water so rich with iron it left our whites dingy and our toilets with an ugly orange ring? Or how about that tiny 15-year-old microwave that took 6 minutes to warm a can of soup? Remember how, after years of living with a cruddy, sub par dishwasher, we researched and saved for months before settling on the best new model? And remember how disappointed we were when it couldn't hold a single cookie sheet, the soap door wouldn't open, and we had to hand wash bowls beforehand just so they would come out clean? It's so easy to forget, isn't it? To become too comfortable, too complacent and altogether lose our hard-earned perspective. I spent 6+ years fixing up our last house and we were nowhere near done when we left. Not to mention the roof in need of replacement and surprise septic issues discovered during the process of putting it on the market. This was, in large part, why we never quite felt settled there. Oh, and those nice light fixtures we took years to replace and paid for with our hard-earned money? They stayed with the house. So why not buy a chandelier we love and want to have forever, and use it to replace the generic one that came with the house? An easy swap, and we get to take our chosen one with us when we leave so it may light up our next house.

My beloved Pyrex found its home.
Sure, we are renting. We've become the redheaded stepchildren of the real estate world. But I don't care anymore. You know why? 1) Our rent is less than our mortgage yet the house is 400 square feet bigger and 25 years newer. Aside from a security deposit, we made no other financial investment in this house. 2) It's a move-in ready home. So instead of spending our weekends wringing our hands over whether or not to go have fun or instead cross another project off our mile-long to-do list, all we had to do was buy a doormat, hang some photos, and start living. And when we discovered the sliding glass door wouldn't lock properly and the grout in the master bath needed replacing? We shot out an email and someone else came to fix it. We didn't have to buy caulk or tools or spend our limited free time doing something about it. It was a fret-free experience. So what if we can't sit on the HOA board? Boy does society lay it on thick when it comes to home ownership, though. And, not to get too political or deep here, I imagine that's part of the reason our country's housing market is in shambles. (Yes, even the crazy demand and insane prices in California and Texas are dysfunctional and unstable. I highly recommend the documentary Inside Job if you care to understand this whole thing better. I gained so much insight.) It becomes so ingrained in us that owning our home is a sign of success, stature, and independence, leading to bummer financial decisions for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses. I believe it's chiefly to blame for us buying our last house before living in the area for a bit. We let ourselves fall victim to outside pressures. There is a big question mark after the next four years and we find it simply unwise to plop down a large sum of money and to take on all the liability and financial responsibility that comes with buying (and selling) a house at this time in our lives. Sure, it's a buyer's market... but eventually we'd be the sellers. [Insert sound of me stepping off my soapbox.] 

In our last house, I felt perpetually sorry for myself because it wasn't living up to my expectations. Oh the resentment I felt toward my husband because he pushed me to buy that house! I can't count the number of times (hundreds?) I said something along the lines of, "You made me buy this house and [insert chief complaint at that moment]!" Any time I was upset with life, I threw that house in his face. I feel terrible for that. He didn't deserve it, not for one second, and he certainly wasn't responsible for my happiness. (Nor did he make me buy that house. Here's to finding my voice and to stop playing victim.) The truth is, that house became a culmination of all the things in that period of my life that made me unhappy. The walls were festering with my dissatisfaction. The fact was, a new house wasn't going to make all those things better. Getting my college degree, a touch of therapy, a physical outlet, meeting people... at the end of the day pursuing my own sources of happiness were the only way to fix what was broken. But the poor house took the brunt of it and by association so did my husband. That house never had a chance with me. Despite seeing my son through elementary and middle school; despite giving us a warm, safe place to lay our heads every night; despite years of snuggles and family movie nights in that living room and learning to cook in that kitchen. And yet here I am, with only three weeks between me and that house, and I feel peace. Because I learned more about myself in that house than ever seemed possible. I went from a girl in her twenties to a woman in her thirties; a high school grad to a college grad; a rather lost soul to the (still) flawed but deeply insightful woman I am today. Even though the last few years felt mostly salty, it had its sweet moments, too.

Some fun, quirky finds that are making this home decidedly us. (Bonus: both were purchased below the sticker price.) // A piece of art made from recycled materials, found at an art show and purchased from a local artist. // The woodwork on this vintage chair is to die for. //
Well, this turned into quite the post. I should have warned you so you could fix a bit of coffee and a snack. But seldom does one plan to let it all hang out. It just sort of happens one day. (Today, in particular, whilst cooking bacon for Kiddo's breakfast.) Those whirling, swirling thoughts have finally found their way out. This post was that proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for a person like me who must express feelings at all cost, lest they explode at the oddest occasion when it becomes too much (and my husband becomes my default outlet). I hope this post is the one that frees up my writing process by shattering my mental block. The one that gives me permission to put down the hammer or sponge or other housekeeping tool and write. Until tomorrow, friend.


  1. It is exciting to start over and make a house a home.

  2. Jen, so happy to see and read that you are settling in (and I hear you about the freedom of renting... the temptation rarely evades me!) and that your writing juices are flowing again. And of course, love the shot of the Pyrex! Ahhhhhh...


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