Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When Simplifying Life turns into Building a New House

Calvin: Will you be in charge of decorating the new house, Mommy?
Me: Yep.
Calvin: Can I help?
Me: You'd better.
Calvin: What do you want me to do?
Me: Well, what's your area of expertise?
Calvin: (thinks) Uh, I'm good at whittling!
Me: Score.

If only it could be that easy. If only Calvin could whittle us right into that home, with lively curtains on the windows and perfectly placed pendant lighting.

I thought we were up to our eyeballs in nit-picky decisions a month or so ago, but it turns out it was only belly-button high, back then. And though I'm inclined to call "eyeballs" now, I know better. So let's just say we're at clavicle. Chin, tops.

I vacillate between Type-A precision and shut-down mode. It surprises even me. I never thought of myself as a shut-down kind of girl. Not when it came to making a house look pretty.

But here's the guts behind the shut-down: It's weird that we're building a house. I know I've said it before. I'll surely say it again. It's how I feel, for at least a moment of every single day. I never thought I'd be here. I don't know exactly how to act here. Sometimes I pull on my twin-set and embrace it with the vigor of Martha Stewart herself. Other times I slink off to the corner and say things like, "I really don't care. I promise I don't care. Whatever you decide will be fine. Good, I mean! It'll be good. Just please, decide without me because I just. don't. care."

I remember back when everything in the world went cockeyed and we knew we needed to sell our house. We knew it was time to live more simply so that our resources could be freed up to do more important things than pay a mortgage and plant an orchard that wouldn't survive one season. Things got so confusing there for a while. I'm a girl who loves to decorate, and I found myself on shaky terrain. I fretted over that invisible line in the sand - what's too much? What constitutes excess? What's just plain greedy? So we buy an old house for cheap in a sketchy neighborhood - do I dare make it look pretty? Wouldn't that be frivolous? Shouldn't I live in a dive and send the cash to Southeast Asia? How could I ever justify a vintage schoolhouse map for $25 dollars while children are dying from malaria?

People talk about "balance", but isn't that usually just a cop-out?

I wanted to do whatever was right, but down in my soul, I was scared. I couldn't shake the feeling that this is part of who I am. This stuff is one of the things that makes me come alive. I'm good at it. I enjoy it. Is that wrong? And if it is, now what?

Almost 18 months ago, I read these words, by our beloved Nester:

Is it wrong to enjoy a pretty house?
Not at all.  But I think it’s easy for materialism and comparison to creep in and that’s something I like to be mindful of.  I don’t believe that moving furniture, painting walls, changing pillow covers and enjoying those things is a sign of discontentment for me.  Nobody accuses the writer who is restless with the pen and a blank page of  trying find her contentment in the wrong place.  Is the singer who changes the arrangement, the pianist who craves the keys, the painter who tweaks the canvas, the collector searching for that one last treasure, the songwriter who paces the floor waiting for the perfect words,  are they looking for meaning and contentment in all the wrong places simply based on what they are passionate about?  Is it about time they smartened up and stopped wasting their time? No one would dare accuse them of such.  I think they are created to pursue their art.  I LOVE tweaking and playing in our home and I’ve done it my whole life, it’s who I am, my home is my canvas. As a child I dreamed of creating beautiful, meaningful rooms. I’m guessing that you are one of those people too.  If treating your home as a canvas is a ridiculous notion to you,  you probably stopped reading this blog years ago and you are probably pursing something that you love that I wouldn’t understand~I love it when people know how to find their passion.

I'm not even playing when I say that the clouds parted and angels sang. Okay, I'm playing about the angels. But finally, finally, I started to see that balance doesn't have to be a farce. Bringing a space to life is art to me.

So what has changed?

Well, the house has changed (only instead of buying an old house for cheap, we're buying a new house for cheap.) The budget has changed. The heart has changed.

Unfortunately, I'm finding that some of the urges have not changed. I caught myself trying to rationalize a $300 pendant light just a few days ago. I could swear I heard my subconscious whisper about the virtues of $90 curtain panels so lovely that they make a girl's heart pinch.

Conventional wisdom and throw-back Shannan would have both said that if I can pay cash for these things, I can afford them. Some might nudge me towards the fancery by reminding me that "you get what you pay for". Some would pat me on the back and say that it's my Christian duty to fulfill my Proverbs 31 calling by making my home as beautiful and welcoming as possible. Many would say that God has given me the money I have because He wants me to enjoy it in most any way I see fit.

I see things differently now. Yeah, this art fulfills me, but helping others building wells and rescue children from slavery fulfills me infinitely more. So I balance my art to make more room for my purpose.

The passion is still here and the canvas could not possibly be more stark, making me alternately giddy and overwhelmed. I'm having more fun than ever, because I'm forcing myself to be think outside the box. A zippy rug would be fun, but we happen to already own a boring brown one. Make it work. (I adore you, Tim Gunn.) Pottery Barn is still his same, Don Juan self, but Flea Market is rough and edgy and plays hard to get. I like it.

Flip the whole story on its ear and there remains the fact that we are choosing to upgrade our flooring and our cabinets. We are willingly handing over money to pay extra for things that will be rust & dust, one day.

You see my dilemma.

I have big plans to remain staunchly conflicted through the completion of this task, and beyond. I'll question and second-guess. I'll stew over the clearance-rack curtains so long that someone else will snatch them up while I waffle. And then I shall swiftly kick myself.

I'll keep right on fighting my stubborn, selfish will. I'll pray for a heart that stays right where it should be, fearing all the while that it'll move.

I'll do all of this while I make my art.
So, tell me where you fall. Does this stuff give you fits, too, or is it just moi? And while we're already here chatting it up, what's your art? I'm dying to know and I'm especially hoping that someone tells me chemistry is their art. Or land surveying. Or public policy. Or tax code. I'll stop now.