Back when we were engaged, my husband and I bought a house. Not just any house, actually–a giant fixer-upper, a three-story, four-bedroom, 160-year-old Victorian. For two people and two cats. We were a bit… ambitious. And we had rosy dreams of growing into the house as our family grew up over the years.
Since, then, we have both changed jobs, got a dog, got rid of a dog, gave up a cat, had two kids, lowered our income (voluntarily, mostly), and put thousands of dollars and hours of backbreaking work into fixing this place up. It’s looking pretty good these days, although there are still a million things that could/should be done.
(Here’s a picture of our latest kid, just for fun:)
And now… we can’t wait to get out of here.
The truth is, this house has eaten up a ton more money and time than we expected, and we’ve enjoyed the process a lot less than we had hoped. A fixer-upper that is too big for your family is not a blessing–not only is it a massive project, but also expensive, a lot of work to maintain, hard to keep clean (so. much. dusting. of spaces we don’t even use!), hard to keep free of clutter (“there’s room over there, just leave it in a pile.”), and definitely also expensive. Oh, and we had a period of about a year where we had to worry about Alex’s exposure to lead from… something… in the house. We replaced carpet and repainted a ton, and the lead levels in his blood dropped back to a normal level, but we still don’t know where the lead was coming from. I resent our antebellum house for that anxiety.
We’re hoping that I will be able to stay home full-time with the boys soon, but we need to lower our mortgage payment and get some things off our plate to make that happen. So we’ll move–to a smaller, more updated place. It will be awesome.
But when that happens, we will have to begin the home decorating process over again. I feel like it has taken all of the last six years for me to find a furniture arrangement that I like in this house, so I want to write down the biggest lesson I’ve learned before I forget it when we have to start from scratch again.
What was the secret to our final, comfortable, functional furniture arrangement in this big old beautiful awful house?
Less is more.
A little open space turned out to be way more valuable than another chair or table.
Clearing out some room gave us room to breathe. It made a space for little boys to run around and stack blocks and use a rocking chair. It made a space for doing a workout DVD without moving anything, or sitting on the floor to read a stack of books.
When we first moved in, Matt and I had to combine our previously separate belongings, and generous friends kept offering us free, hand-me-down pieces of furniture, which we would accept without a thought–free furniture! But before long, our house felt more like a Tetris board than a welcoming home. How can we fit in this chair? It’s a perfectly good chair!
Now, we’ve given away or sold a couple sizable things, and the house feels lighter, breezier, more welcoming–because people actually fit inside now. There is room to walk and room to relax. It’s a downright relief just looking around.
These days, if anyone is redecorating and getting rid of their old stuff, I have a few questions to consider before we accept anything new. Where would it go? Is that space more valuable when empty? How much work would it take to keep the item clean? (Dusting. I hates it, precious.) A lot of the time, it turns out that the furniture isn’t worth bringing home–even if it’s free.
If we move to a smaller house, we’ll probably start out with too many things stuffed into our living spaces again. I hope I remember to just start clearing things out, to give us room to live lighter and better.
Getting rid of the clutter–even big, solid-wood pieces of clutter–makes everything better. Less is more. When in doubt, throw it out.
I’m sure there are plenty of metaphors and spiritual lessons I could throw in here for good measure (sin clutters the soul and mind? living lightly on the earth as good stewards of God’s creation? too much stuff = first world problem = luxury blinds us to the bigger sufferings of others?), but you know, sometimes you just need to remember the surface level lesson: if your house feels cramped and crowded, get rid of some stuff. It’ll help.