Maybe you live this way too, and if so, maybe you’ll get what I am saying. Or maybe I’m just a little strange, which might not be so far off either. I find the whole back-to-school, start-of-fall time really kick starts some sort of nesting instinct in me, maybe even more pronounced than that instinct immediately preceding childbirth. A few weekends back we spring cleaned the summer house, starting off on a Friday night, hitting it hard all day Saturday – one of us at a time, while the other did stuff with the kids – and then wrapped it up late Saturday night. The house just felt like it needed it, like it had never really shed the sand from vacations and playgrounds, and the corners were looking a bit ragged. The refrigerator needed a once over, and the pantry as well. Some purging followed. A trunk load went off to be disbursed to others. It felt luxurious, pristine, so absolutely squeaky clean that we temporarily stopped noticing the walls that need paint and the projects that need finishing (or starting). We collapsed, happy, onto a bed of freshly washed sheets under freshly washed blankets under a freshly dusted ceiling fan.
This honeymoon period never lasts quite as long as you think it’s going to, but it’s nearly perfect while it does. Like hair color, a good top to bottom house cleaning looks and feels phenomenal, and with a little bit of maintenance and ritual, it will continue to feel that way for awhile before another session is required. I’m thinking that session might need to happen this weekend, but like the grays multiplying on my head, I just may ignore it for one more week.
The other kind of nesting instinct that has kicked in for me lately is this desire to get rid of the excess and create places that make me happy to be in them. I’ve been thinking about the things that make me feel good in certain areas of our house, and other areas that don’t feel quite right. I’m not talking about finished projects vs. unfinished projects – living in a house that is 125 years old is not for those kind of people who can’t live in a constant state of not quite done. Some people probably live in that state in brand new houses as well, and I can thankfully say that I don’t suffer from that. Don’t get me wrong, I manage to have more than my fair share of furniture-lust. There’s a certain Finn Juhl sofa that I’d like to have two of (less the $16K that would cost me to bring that to fruition), but I can sleep at night without them in my living room beneath me. I’m talking more about those spaces that you love to be in – not because of any particular activity that occurs in them, or because the place is well decorated or up-to-date – spaces that are comfortable, that make the interactions or activity within them work better, calm spaces, beautiful spaces, spaces with connections to outdoors, the weather, the season, the air.
I just finished reading a book from the library titled Making a Family Home by Shannon Honeybloom. There were several things within the book that really resonated with me. One was about the shift from need-based shopping to shopping for entertainment – which can quickly lead you down the road of “if I just had that fill in the blank my house would look so much better, I would entertain more, I’d be happier at home.” The author tries to temper her impulses to add more to her house by carefully considering how a purchase will affect everyone in the family – will it contribute something to everyone, or just the buyer, temporarily, and then be forgotten? It’s really a nice concept for a lot of things – for toys, for clothes, for gifts. I try to keep my wardrobe to a very limited number of pieces, and rarely purchase anything new without having worn out something old first. I could probably stand to expand it a little more – when I’m gone I doubt anyone will ever say “She always had such great clothes.” To which I say, thank goodness.
Nor do I want to be remembered for my house, although I will always cherish the memories related to its making – particularly those memorable moments at the beginning with family and friends. It’s not a big house, but its rooms do host many of these moments, the best ones being the simple ones, the comfortable ones, the sweet ones. I gravitate to some over others, and that’s the part that interests me right now. What is it about some spaces that make us feel comfortable, at ease? What spaces encourage family interaction? Which rooms just get passed through without notice?
I love both girls’ rooms, which on the surface could just be attributed to the fact that we spend time there together as a family, the rooms are fun, they seem finished, they are light and bright. But I think it’s more than that. I think that the things within them were carefully thought through, and contribute to that overall comfort. The baby’s rug is less about the color or the layout or the cost, and all about the fact that it is stable enough to support tall block towers, and soft enough to cushion a first fall. We (the grownups) lay down on it each evening and let kids step over us in their play and we’re there on their level in a way that we wouldn’t be without the rug there. The colors are muted, they disappear. The ones that are vibrant are the colors of things we interact with – piles of books and wooden puzzles and dolls and animals. The ceiling is interesting, and the limited things on the wall were placed there over time, inexpensive, bits and pieces, arranged and rearranged in the quiet of the night to the sound of a sleeping baby. The dining room is a place we spend the least amount of time in. Occasionally we try to make the switch from the kitchen to the dining room to give ourselves more room for dinner, but we always seem to gravitate back to the cramped table and the close quarters of the kitchen table. What is it about the dining room that makes it a less desirable state? What can that room learn from a nursery? These are the sorts of things I’m wondering about right now, and will hopefully help guide some upcoming changes.
Full circle now to the images. They are in my laundry room, and taken the other night. That room was a major undertaking, and the changes were made out of necessity. And now that the room is back together (once I get those last two doors on this weekend), it has become a room that I really love. I know the machines are nice, and a lot of time and effort (and money) has gone into that room over the years. But the happiness comes from the feeling of cleanliness I get in there now. A room where the stains of a much-loved dinner are magically erased, the extra linens for out-of-town guests are stored, the fact that there are two shelves devoted just to those items used once a year at the beach. It may have taken ten years to get there, but it’s a room that works perfectly, and makes a mundane task enjoyable (within reason, mind you) and therefore, has become a room that wants to be treated like any other in the house – worthy of things that we love and find pleasure in.
I love the black and white photo by E’s class that I won in an auction on a really enjoyable evening out. I love the paper bike that M and E gave me for my birthday that I looked at daily until my real one came in. I love that E has been collecting shells since her first trip to the beach and that this year they filled my favorite jar to the brim. I also love that she’s letting me “borrow” them for this room. I loved the color of that aqua glass the moment I saw it, and loved it more when I discovered it was $8. I love that photo of the girls in their dressy-dresses, and the fact that the rest of the time they wear easily laundered clothing. I love the workmanship of my husband in full evidence throughout the room, and how he repainted the room from light blue to barely more blue just because I wanted him to. I do not love to fold clothes, but I really, rarely, mind it.