Five Cups of Coffee: Confessions of a Compulsive Home DIY-er

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t typically drink coffee.  I enjoy a mug on occasion, but I’m a non-caffenated herbal tea gal.  However through last night and today, I had five cups.  It was simply a dangerous experiment on staying awake…

You see–when you are pulling away at  or removing the layers that make a life so very discombobulated–that life seems even more frazzled and hectic at the time (like mine right now).  It’s like spring cleaning–pulling out drawers, opening cabinets, pulling it all out to remove the unessential, and then scouring and shining all that is left…it is messy, hectic (your room is disarranged) and then as stuff is eliminated the important things regain their sparkle, importance and you see the “beauty in what remains.”

I live in a house that needs work.  I own a house (my previous residence) that needed a huge amount of work.  My friends call it insanity.  My dad told me it is simply good economics (most economists would disagree).  We are a D.I.Y. family–four daughters of a contractor–we married our beloved husbands because they get our D.I.Y. nature…they get the nuttiness of it all and they sort-of understand the economics (the housing market in the last decade has made the math fuzzy).  Often, we buy the least desirable homes in our communities and remake them–rework them to be beloved and magnificent.  It is hard work.  Camera crews don’t follow us around and makeup artists don’t make us beautiful (but our husbands think we are kinda of cute with paint in our hair).  We know our way around a hardware store.  We lift 5 gallon buckets of paint, flooring and roofing materials.  We get our hands dirty, we get frustrated, we get mad, but underneath the heavy emotions and broken fingernails of it all we love it.  It is our family work–our business.  I’ve been married for 12 years and have upgraded/restored five (now working on six) houses with my husband and parents.  Today, I am one week away from letting go of number 5–getting it ready for its future family.  I’m the finisher in this marriage (the one with patience to use the tiniest paint brush in an tight corner).  I paint, stain, polish, get lunch ready for my family, and bless and curse the house that is still ours but not really ours.  Last night on a deadline, I grabbed for coffee and went through the night.  Five cups later–I’m back in my home state and in my new house that needs its own level of work (it is the ugliest house we’ve bought so far…but we don’t say it very loudly–we don’t want to hurt its feelings).

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So I’m left to ponder after the sawdust settles, “Is this real estate passion simple, minimalistic, what I want?”  “No” and “yes” all at the same time.  I am tired.  We live our lives in the houses that we give a huge amount of spit and shine–living in a remodel is not for the weak (but it is strengthening).  If you’ve done the math you can see we’ve never stayed much beyond two years.  Now we want to plant roots and  have a family home.  But I love the challenge of a new vision, the aching back (albeit my husband’s back aches far more than mine), the solution of reworking materials to save the earth and the budget…it is a different sort of fun, but the point being it makes one discombobulated and life really messy…  And as nice as HGTV makes it seem…it is never easy.  Worth it?  Sometimes.  Simple?  Never.

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So in my life right now I’m pulling back the layers…leaving one place…and really not seeking anymore D.I.Y. adventures.  The walls of this house–the one that I live today–a little crooked and things are far from perfect, but I’m accepting of that for now.  Pulling back the layers…I can see that I want more time for my kids, more time with friends, more hours in the sunshine, and our house is just fine for all of those things… Will I completely stop living a D.I.Y. life–nope (it is part of who I am)–but I am taking (for me) a radical step back and making sure my personal community of people (family and friends) know me better and see me often.  Unlike my life now–where I hung out with Al at the local hardware store this past weekend and we discussed painting, electrical, and the trends on the stock market on my five different visits.  I’ll miss Al, but to be honest my son has a way cuter smile.  Those kids of mine are the “beauty in what remains.”

smiling kids

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Minimalism: When the heart is onto it but life is a little behind

Baby GoatsOpening day at a local farm venue–the activity was free and the weather almost balmy for the beginning of April.  My sweet sister and I took our children to gawk at the chicks, feed the baby goats, and learn about Native American culture.  The rest of the families in the city had the same notion, and we were met with crowds.  The day didn’t turn out quite as blissful as planned, but the kids had fun–success.

Caleb and Adi 2


Days later, I am still pondering the life of Native Americans.  The guide for the Native American lodge was very knowledgeable about her people’s traditions and tales. She offered a glimpse into a culture that survived communally and washed in a belief that the natural world should be respected and cherished.  Each plant, animal and season had a purpose, a message, a cause to exist, and therefore was worthwhile.  But I digress.

The housing–I can’t stop thinking about their houses.  You see right now as I type this, it is late Sunday night and I’ve crossed over back to my home state line with a trailer full of stuff– small tools, boxes of garage items that haven’t been opened in three years, golf clubs that I haven’t used since before my first child was born, and a few lonesome house plants.  Yes I declare myself a minimalist, and my extended family laughs at my paltry pieces of housewares that I make do with because I want to live with less and a kitchen knife is my type of food processor (I’m good with having just enough…I thought).  But right now I’m cleaning out what remains in my former home, and it is too much.  Too much of my weekend has gone to digging through stuff.  Too much money has been wasted on buying this forgotten stuff.  Too many earth’s resources eradicated and redirected to creating this stuff.  Too many people injured by the unethical work conditions or pollution created so I can have more stuff.  And my children spent their weekend mostly absent from me and their dad because we had to deal with the stuff.  How ridiculous it all sounds when I write it out, but here I am in a truck with trailer attached trucking past America’s Main Street in middle states hauling stuff…junk…and then I think about the cool walls of the lodge, the dirt floors, the multiple families that would have lived, loved, and survived under its thatched skyline and I envy them.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When I was 16, I stayed on the Navajo reservation working and worshipping with this tribe.  They were then and are now few in number.  Separated, desolate, and  living in poverty under horribly harsh and unfair conditions.  These are not the Natives I envy–this scenario makes me angry, sad (but again I digress).  My admiration is for the ancestors of a people who took from the earth only what they needed, who worked as it was needed, who lived in a time of kinship and community ( and no I’m not completely deluded–it was far from perfect).  Life was real and imperfect, but it was not a residence like this Skype-d up alter-egoed FaceBook fairyland where modern man resides.  They were flesh who lived in the flesh.  I envy that while some groups did travel with their houses tied to dog or horse, they carried only what they needed.  They did not travel carrying a trailer full of junk wondering where to store it in an overburdened garage.  I envy that they some tribes thought beyond to the seventh-generation, and well I’m just praying we don’t pop a tire on this burgeoning trailer tonight…  Yes, I’m a minimalist–unfortunately my life hasn’t completely caught up with my heart…

Why I Didn’t Write a Blog Post (sort of…)

Spring Horses 2

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” –Robin Williams

You see I had penned a post on clutter and how to take it out like yesterday’s garbage (because a lot of times that is what clutter is).  However, it didn’t seem right to burden you with thoughts of manmade stuff when if you look beyond your window or even in the cracks of your sidewalk there she is–glorious, beautiful Spring!  Today friend, step outside (even if it feels a little chilly) and look for her–small signs can be so uplifting.  Today, clean out the winter ‘bluck’ in your soul and allow spring cleaning to come to your mind, your heart, and finally your soul.  This is the season for renewal, rebirth, and redemption–bask in that for at least 20 minutes –I promise you it is just what the doctor ordered.  Cheers

Spring Trees

Spring Shot 3

The Legacy of Owning Stuff: Be careful what you don’t purchase

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I will call her Mrs. Denial. This hardworking American mother never bought herself a beautiful dress.  She made do with what she had, what was passed-down to her, or what she found on clearance.  The kids are grown and she can afford more, but still she does not buy the dress that makes her feel the loveliest.  The reason she states are plentiful,”The grandkids may need something, the kids inheritance….”  She sacrificed and continues to sacrifice because that is what moms do.

But is it right?

Sadly something happened in Mrs. Denial’s methodology, her children didn’t witness this as selflessness.  Instead these actions made them see mom as not valuing herself.  The message got mixed up, “If Mom can’t have what she needs or dreams–neither can we.”  Today, her adult children all struggle with valuing themselves, and there may be a myriad of reasons why. Mostly, children emulate what they see and not necessarily what they hear…

I talk and write a lot about simplifying and minimizing what we own.  I think that message is important–we can’t continue to consume at the level we are in our nation and in the world and possibly sustain it.  I’ve wanted to live what I preach and I make do with what I have a lot.  It is a game to me, “How long can I go without, how can I use what I have to get the job done, can I borrow it, can I buy it used….”  I call it being resourceful and my children participate in the “game” with me and often it is very fun for all of us.

However, something has changed in the past few years and I’ve stopped consuming to the point that buying the shoes I badly need has become unbearably hard.  I have the money and yet I haven’t purchased them…do I deserve new shoes when others have so little and think of the resources, the questionable labor…?  Seems crazy doesn’t it–this self-created martyrism?  But there it is in my head this very instant…and the thing is I think others who journey through voluntary simplicity or minimalism struggle as well. It is a tricky business owning and consuming things.  The wants and the needs get confused, the voices of humanity and fairness echo in your head, and with so much vying for our money and time it is almost easier to completely deny ourselves than have to deal with figuring out what has true value or what is truly fair.

But shouldn’t we value ourselves?

If we cannot value ourselves then how can we value others in this world around us?  Maybe it’s about making ethical choices in our purchases and finding quality and not succumbing to the quantity.  It is the quantity that is the problem–we as a world own too much stuff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own anything?  (And yes I know the idea of “owning” can be philosophized to death–so let’s skip that part.)

If Mrs. Denial had bought a beautiful, solidly made dress that made her feel lovely…maybe she would have smiled more…her children would have echoed that smile…maybe their stories would be different…a different legacy.  Perhaps, some will think how stupid a dress is a thing and it can’t bring joy–no, it can’t…but sometimes our minds can be altered because of the way we perceive a thing…

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

It is a tricky business owning and consuming things, but I can’t talk about it anymore…I’ve got to buy some solidly made, lasting shoes…and I might just smile about it.

Home Economics: If the Shoes Fit Wear Them Out

Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

It is funny where lessons in economic can be found.  My daughter has discovered and I have rediscovered Beverly Cleary books–most especially those involving Ramona and Beezus.   For my daughter she understands the angst of Ramona’s everyday mishaps, and for me I am transported back home to Portland, Oregon where I spent my childhood.  As a girl I glided over the struggles of the Quimby’s and their continuous plight to make ends-meet.  Sometimes there’s was a similar plight in my own childhood home, and so as a girl I just thought that is how things are.  As an adult I recognize international  economic systems, national economics, education, taxes, a person’s background and insights, as well as a plethora of little events and details determine whether a family will be able to make ends-meet.  This is not the only economic lesson I have rediscovered with Ramona and her big sister Beezus.  It is the recollection of shoes and my own childhood that truly made me think.  In several books Ramona discusses shoes and her distaste for hand-me-downs, her acquisition of  new ones, and her desire for the loveliest ones.  She acquires shoes only when necessary–when they are outgrown.  She visits a shoe store where a knowledgeable shoe salesman aides her and her mother in their selection.  Her mother buys only when necessary and makes due with what they have–when they can.  My own daughter has several pairs of shoes.  Only two of them are absolutely necessary–her everyday shoes (athletic shoes) and seasonal shoes (boots or flip-flops depending).  I did not visit a shoe salesman to purchase these items–I bought them off the rack.  The other pairs were acquired in the same manner.  The quality of her shoes are poorly made, imports from China (most likely produced by a youth not much older than my own child)–I purchased them knowing they would not last very long (the built in obsolescence is how our ever growing consumption is created).  When I was a child I had a pair of leather sandals in the summer and a pair of leather oxfords or Mary Janes during colder months–these were purchased at a shoe store with a salesman.  I remember the salesman measuring my foot in the metal Brannock Device (I felt special having so much attention paid to me).  Then things changed–my mom began shopping at big retailers where shoes could be purchased off the rack for much less than the previous shoes I wore.  Rainy days were no longer spent inside cozy shoe stores smelling the clean pungency of leather and polish–no longer was their a happy salesman faking astonishment at how much my feet had grown–how sad.

Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

While the Quimby’s struggled often with their finances, it was not a result of squandering their money–though they did spend money on special treats they “made do or did without” often.  However, the economics of the day required good decent shoes from a shoe store–one pair to get you through.  It is not the economics of our day to day lives currently–we move beyond what is necessary and our children have six pairs of shoes in their closets (or more).  At what cost is this excess to our planet, to others working to produce these articles, to our homes with limited space, to ourselves spending the time and resources to constantly buy up more?  By the time I was a teenager I boasted over owning over 25 pairs of cheaply made shoes (not much to boast about)–now they all lay in a landfill.  As an adult I want to return to the economic of the Quimby’s–to buy one good pair of shoes for my daughter (when they are needed) and make due when we can.  This simplification of priorities and choosing need over wants (with an occasional treat here and there) is what made the Quimby’s a happy  family–I hope it makes yours one too.

Simply Living: On Our Own Way

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Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Right now, in this season, my work pants are old and less than fashionable, our breakfasts, lunches and dinners are homemade, our entertainment comes most often from the public library, and we’ve driven our car for nearly a decade (200,000 miles).  Right now, I can look into my living room and see scaffolding standing erect and pointing to unfinished walls.  When we walk on the first floor of our house, we tread not on hardwood or carpet but sub floors–and on most days I’m okay with this scenario.  This scenario speaks of freedom and choice.

Do we make these choices because we are in debt?  We owe a small amount on our house, and so these choice no longer are a result of debt.  These are intentional choices that allow us to save and not be tied to a career or to be ready for financial storms when they come (and they do).

These choices have allowed me to stay home when our children were infants. Later, these choices supported us through a recession where we found out we were pregnant and laid off on the same day. These choices have allowed for career changes and new dreams in midlife.  In the future we hope these choices will allow our family to give more to others.

Simplicity right now is financial–streamlining our finances to be there when we need it.

Simplicity in whatever form is often a difficult choice.  This is a world where there is a constant hum to become better, own more, and fill our lives with busyness.  I still hear the hum and ignore it often (but not always).

Is my life simple?  Our we saints for living this way?  No.  Life is complicated.  Even striving for simplicity at times can be complicated. It is our hope that this current complicated will lead us to future simplicity in our careers and home life.

My husband and I both work, raise our young children, and remodel on our days off.  That is busy.  In this season it is what we believe to be necessary.  Our simplicity plan right now is hard.  It is an ever changing journey.  However even when it is hard, we keep walking our path and we look out upon the landscape of this journey with an end in mind.  We plan to move soon–to make different life choices–to start a new season.  Our hope is to finish this house towards spring and be ready for that next opportunity that awaits us.  In the meantime, we will keep walking this walk holding firmly to each other’s hands and our children’s.  Our pants may not be fashionable, but our hearts are fashioned to our dreams of less so we can have more.

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