I was writing an upcoming post for The Stir about the utter grossness of sharing a bathroom with the boys, which got me reminiscing, a little sadly, about our wonderful bathroom back in Seattle. It was the product of our first remodel, which included expanding a bedroom, adding a garage, and replacing the master bath with a completely new structure. There was a jetted corner tub, two entirely separate counters, a pretty blue-and-green tiled shower.

We all use the same functional but decidedly unluxurious bathroom now, thanks to the strangely tiny bath that’s tacked onto our current bedroom. It’s minuscule, it leaks, it has no storage, it always smells like fifty-year-old mildew. We have dreams of adding on to that side of the house, but it’s unlikely that will happen any time soon, if ever. Things are different — we don’t have the same salaries we used to, we don’t have the same confidence in the value of such an investment. We made our money back on our last house, but not by much. We were very, very lucky we didn’t take a major loss.

Remodels and upgrades take money, or at least the willingness to increase your home loan, and we are living much more conservatively these days. Moving to Eugene has brought so many good changes, and while I certainly don’t enjoy worrying (or arguing) about money, I also feel like it’s beneficial in some ways that certain things are just completely off the table now. Does that make sense? I feel like that sounds idiotic — being broke is SUPER! I guess I just mean that I think the soul-sucking I-want cycle is much harder to resist when you can afford to take part in it.

Where was I? Right, anyway, the house. We did what we could afford to do before we moved in, but there are no short-term plans for any other major changes. Even small things, as we’ve learned, can turn into surprisingly complicated — and sometimes expensive — endeavors. (Nothing in this house is easy, I swear to god. Even replacing the hardware on the cabinets ended up being a giant clusterfuck because the prior owners had superglued them in.)

So it is what it is, and much of it isn’t ideal. Our kitchen is unattractive and awkwardly designed. Our washing machine and dryer are out in the garage. The sunroom is too cold during the winter months. The ‘family room’ is dark and dated and in dire need of a door for the odd-sized doorway. The bedrooms all have tiny windows. Every fixture and every light is mismatched and fugly.

But: our living room is spacious and well-suited for visiting family. Our bedrooms are clustered at the end of a hall, all of us held close together each and every night. Our kitchen is roomy enough for a comfy table where we sit for our meals, talking and laughing and likely as not, spilling crap all over the floor. And look where we are! God, right here in the town we’ve been trying to get to for years and years.

We got our Christmas tree this weekend, and I realized something: I have always, always dreamed of a house where you could see the lit-up tree in the front window.

Screen shot 2012-12-02 at 6.15.59 PM

The thing is, everything we have in our lives, it’s all so good. The surface details? It’s just I-want stuff. I remember an odd side effect of living through our previous remodels: it was so hard to stop. If you were going to be spending all that money on new countertops, why not have granite? If you’re going to redo the entire bathroom, why not have those awesome heated floors? And on and on it goes, leaving you with a permanent yearning for even greener grass.

Be happy with what you’ve got is the lesson of this house. I’m learning to listen.

(Except for the pee on the toilet seat. I’m never going to get zen about that bullshit.)


43 Responses to “The teachings of the house”

  1. Randy on December 3rd, 2012 3:34 pm

    Am currently in the middle of many min-remods and totally relate to the “if we’re doing this already, why not…” which sucks the life and fun out of every project.

  2. Eric's Mommy on December 3rd, 2012 3:52 pm

    Oh my god I can totally relate!

  3. April on December 3rd, 2012 3:52 pm

    I don’t share a bathroom with my boys, but they sure love to use my bathroom! I haven’t figured out why. Thankfully, they still prefer to sit to pee (and my husband has decent aim) so we don’t these problems … Yet.

  4. Amy Neto on December 3rd, 2012 4:00 pm

    Amen..you sucked the thoughts right out of my head! My constant mantra seems to be “keep it in the toilet”. I ended my marriage 1 1/2 years ago and moved into a smaller house with ONE bathroom. It can be a challenge with two boys, but it is all so much better than before. And yes, we can’t afford everything we want, but we are all snuggled together and happy. That is the best thing ever!

  5. Pete on December 3rd, 2012 4:15 pm

    You can try skylights in the bedrooms. They are cheap to put in (if you do it yourself) and they really light up a room. I put in a 2x4ft skylight in a bedroom with an octagon opening in the ceiling for less than $300 total. Took 4 weekends because I plan everything on the fly. That’s how I ended up with an octagon opening. I screwed up a cut for a square opening an figured, what the hell, maybe it will look good as an octagon.

  6. melaniek on December 3rd, 2012 4:32 pm

    Our house has a laundry list of to do’s that may or may not happen. We bought it for its space, not its 30 year old shell shaped harvest gold bathroom vanities. I hear you. I wanted to say I have been commenting to you via twitter for sometime now (since I started following your blog) and just now realized that because I protect my tweets that even messages @someone directly don’t go thru, so I guess that explains why so many bloggers never reply back LOL

  7. Marolyn on December 3rd, 2012 4:34 pm

    I’ve got a great idea for light fixtures and odd doors ~ Peruse your local Habitat for Humanity RE-Sale Store. We have been so lucky in our treasure hunting there. Our biggest find was a $375 pedestal sink with beautiful fixtures still attached…. for 35 bucks. The one we go to is our state capital and we were there over Thanksgiving and ventured into the 2nd building out back ( warehouse size ) and they had hundreds of doors, hundreds of windows ~ Both antique to modern and everything in-between. Totally worth our trip everytime. This last time I found two club chairs just that were exactly what I had wanting for only 25$ a piece! Merry Holidays to You!

  8. Kari on December 3rd, 2012 4:46 pm

    Two things:

    1. The Christmas tree through the window thing? Man, that is such a thing for me. I love it. I love looking at other people’s trees through their windows. It is my absolute favorite thing about the holidays.

    2. There is something really….God, what is the word? Soul-soothing? I don’t know if I can get the right word. But there is something deeply affecting about following you as you redefine What Really Matters. Deeply, deeply affecting.

  9. Maggie on December 3rd, 2012 4:52 pm

    Ah remodeling, two summers ago the toilet in our (tiny) master bath leaked through the ceiling. The planned project to replace the toilet, pipe, and ceiling turned into a $6,000 bathroom remodel of the world’s smallest bathroom. I hate remodeling, it takes time I don’t have, money I don’t have, and makes everything else look like ass. I’m actually kind of happy that with a kid in daycare and one in aftercare we can’t afford to even consider remodeling anything else for several years. Without the agony of choice, things are easier sometimes.

  10. bj on December 3rd, 2012 5:07 pm

    Beautifully insightful. We escape the remodeling mania through utter cluelessness, but I see that you are trying to say that one choice can lead to another choice until you are now trapped in choices you didn’t mean to make (like the job you don’t want to have or the inability to spend the weekend doing nothing).

    I’ve always pointed this out about the idea of splurging on something like a really expensive hotel that’s out of your budget. The problem with taht decision is, not infrequently, the hotel, or the car, or the house that’s out of your budget (and isn’t out of others) requires you to spend more money (the hotel to buy food, or the car on upkeep, or the house on keeping up with the activities and purchases of your children’s friends).

    Choosing carefully and not accidentally or by being trapped is wise living.

  11. LB on December 3rd, 2012 5:24 pm

    I love this post. That is a great lesson. It is so easy for me to compare my house to the homes of others (most of my friends) and to find it to be lacking. But home is where my family is and my little house is a blessing. I have so much. This post made me take a moment to be grateful.

  12. Erika Peterson on December 3rd, 2012 5:26 pm

    As a recent first-time homeowner of a semi-fixer-upper, this was the perfect post to read. Our kitchen is straight out of the 70s, the lighting fixtures are ugly, and there are cracks on the walls in every room. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s home and I love it.

  13. g on December 3rd, 2012 7:38 pm

    Just wanted to say I always love your writing, and I especially loved this piece.

  14. sooboo on December 3rd, 2012 8:57 pm

    I remember your other bathroom. It was truly awesome. You’d be crazy not to miss it. My house has a lot of a quirks that we can’t afford to fix (mainly the kitchen and bathroom). I’ve learned to be grateful just to have a house and when something gets fixed/ replaced, I appreciate it so, so much.

  15. Julie on December 3rd, 2012 9:03 pm

    An earlier commentator said it better but I love your posts when you are redefining what makes you happy-you are so wise and I really love being able to “eavesdrop” on your inner conversation.

  16. TwinMamaTeb on December 3rd, 2012 9:22 pm

    Thank you. Somedays I hate my 100 yr old house and feel like a sucker for falling for it’s “charm”. My kitchen is the size of an elevator and there are 4 of us sharing a bathroom. But my MIL raised twins, herself (plus another), in a trailer. My neighbors raised EIGHT kids in a 4 BR house. Thanks for being my daily dose of reality.

  17. Megan on December 3rd, 2012 9:46 pm

    Love it. We still refer fondly to the “spend zero dollars” plan we had a few years ago when things were tight. (Me: I’m planning summer…swimming lessons? Day camps? Husband: Try to spend zero dollars. Me: OK then.) The funny thing was that since most things were simply off the table we didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, which was nice.

  18. Joe Beernink on December 3rd, 2012 10:33 pm

    We had big plans for this year, but then I got really sick with Guillain-Barre Syndrome and eventually lost my job. But something great happened because of that. I got my first book deal, some friends helped me to find some freelance work that allows me (for now) to work from home, and I get to hang out with my kids a lot more. All those big projects, like remodeling the kitchen and the backyard–on hold for now. But honestly, life is pretty good without all that extra worry.

  19. Rebecca on December 4th, 2012 12:00 am

    Reading you as I have for years, this post actually brought tears to my eyes. Because through the difficulty of every detail not being perfect, you’ve found the good life. Despite the lighting and the laundry room, this is it, the end of the rainbow. Details sort themselves out, but you’re here now, and that’s everything.

  20. Joyce on December 4th, 2012 3:51 am

    I love everything about this post. What is it about getting to your 30s and suddenly everyone is always talking about their house extensions? 10 years ago if we saw a snapshot of ourselves we would laugh at the insanity, the stress, the competitiveness and most of all, the greed (plus, is it just me that finds these conversations unbearably BORING?). But it has become this unhealthy and soul-sucking cycle that you described so perfectly. Our inner 4 year old has gone wild with the I WANTS and we tell our children to appreciate what you have, be thankful, while we run to Home Depot and rack up more debt. My husband and I put our foot down on ourselves a few years ago after a terrible tax bill (we are self-employed) pretty much destroyed us and I learned the hard way to be grateful for the groceries, the heat, the gas in the car and all the things we really needed. It was a good lesson that I needed to learn. Things still occasionally niggle me and I haven’t been able to really decorate or do things to our house that I’d like to, but it feels good to have gone through it and be on the other side. Thank you for this scruffy but comfy sofa, the scratched dining table my healthy children eat at, the blank walls that keep out the cold and this (perhaps slightly imperfect) roof over my head.

  21. NancyB on December 4th, 2012 4:35 am

    I’ve always try to be/been a “make do with what you have” kind of person and my husband is a “but the grass is greener over there!” type. Sometimes they collide horribly but for the most part we’ve lived harmoniously for 24 years. And we’re fortunate that he can do all the remodeling on his own!
    So, it will happen someday – or it won’t. Either way you’ll be happy.

  22. el-e-e on December 4th, 2012 6:00 am

    I’m struggling with the concept of house-contentment right now. Wanting to totally remodel and/or move, for more space and better looking stuff…. and at the same time, knowing that what I have is really GOOD, and enough. I relate to LB’s comment above.

    I don’t know, I hope I can reconcile it. It is comforting to know that other people live with ugly kitchens and bathrooms, too. :) So thanks, to you and all your commenters.

  23. LJ on December 4th, 2012 6:38 am

    So nicely put. We all need to sit back and re-look at things. Great lesson – one that I needed to take notice of….

  24. Kim on December 4th, 2012 7:13 am

    I really relate to this post as well. I have all I’ve been yearning for for years: a career change to farming, a happy, healthy family, a simple life. But I also have a house back in Montana that won’t sell, will short-sale when it does. We have rent and a mortgage and we’re in a really scary financial position.

    But, knowing that there’s not enough money for food and bills, new clothes, shoes, etc., are just out of the picture and I don’t even want them. Spending $30 at a Thrift Shop feels pretty cool these days!

    Of course, on the house front, we spent the last year in a disgusting 1974 single-wide, and now we’re house sitting in a huge beautiful house (next year we’ll be in a really old farmhouse without updates. Which, good enough!). Ooooh, I am savoring this house and it’s 3 bathrooms!

  25. Nimble on December 4th, 2012 8:18 am

    I’m so happy that you feel you’re in a good place. And here’s to mildew eradication in the future when it makes sense. I lived in an old house for six and a half years and was not able to make any of the improvements we originally planned. It felt at the time that we were sliding slowly but inexorably down the slope towards the pit of ruin. Even after the bankruptcy and moving to a new rental unit I had fears that it was just a plateau before the suck got us sliding down again. Better now, even moving up maybe. Hurrah for feeling grounded and seeing the good stuff.

  26. Monique on December 4th, 2012 8:19 am

    I too have had to learn this lesson of keeping the spending to a minimum, and I live in a house with some of the ugliest fixtures and floors in the world. When I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot for any reason I scan through for what’s on sale/clearance and have hit some pretty good deals! I completely redid my daughter’s bedroom for less than $200 including new light fixtures, carpet, paint and bedding. I purchased everything over 6 months so no great hits at any one time. 2nd daughter’s bedroom needs a new window (don’t ask), so I’ll be looking at the Habitat for Humanity store (thanks previous poster for that idea!) for that.

  27. Vanessa on December 4th, 2012 9:13 am

    Omg yes. The loo thing, drives me batty! I have the same nuclear set up as you. Also – yes to the simpler “i-want” avoidance strategies, and bizarrely we have a trifecta – yes about having a tree one can see from the front of the house! :) In fact it’s going up right now…

  28. Kami on December 4th, 2012 10:28 am

    I have 3 bedrooms emptied out as I type waiting for my carpet to be installed. What was I thinking doing this right before the holidays? Wait. I wasn’t. It’s a never ending project owning a home.

  29. Donna on December 4th, 2012 11:40 am

    I so loved your old bathroom…..even with the wandering KY jelly tube.

  30. Rachel on December 4th, 2012 12:05 pm

    I have the I-want bug bad. Nothing is unreasonable: I want the rotting fake tiles made from PAPERBOARD out of shower (seriously, paperboard, in a shower!), I want the torn and stained linoleum replaced, I want the foundation fixed so the garage doesn’t break off from the house, I want mildewy paint stripped and redone…most of the things I want done aren’t even that pricey. But $84 for curtains here, and $26 for new switches there, and I could spend $50,000 on the house, just to make it presentable.

  31. Meghan on December 4th, 2012 1:02 pm

    I like this post so, so much. It was very timely for me because I was just lamenting our current situation of being broke (thanks two kids in daycare in DC!) and having all these projects on our condo wish list and not being able to afford the dream fixtures and remodels we would like at the moment. But we are close to a city we love. We have great commutes and have a pretty darn nice neighborhoods. We put our Christmas tree up Sunday and while we cant see it out our living room window (also a dream of mine) I looked at my boys (yes all boys and a lifetime of pee!) and realized that I have everything I ever wanted. It is hard though, Christmas marketing has a knack for making me feel inadequate and under-prepared, so thank you for reminding me today to be grateful for what I have right now and not begrudge the fact that my housing wish list will probably remain untouched until 2014.

  32. melty on December 4th, 2012 1:05 pm

    If anything I feel like I can more relate to you now. And I keep hoping for glimpses of your house in pictures. It can’t be that bad. We downsized our house because it’s too much upkeep living in a big house, and then we both lost our jobs in the span of 2 months (!) and really, all we can afford to do is paint. But this house is more of a home than the other one ever was, and our kids like it better and say so all the time. I’m comfortable here. It’s about family, not how nice the foyer looks.

  33. Kelly on December 4th, 2012 2:01 pm

    So with you! We are in a row house right now with only one bathroom, street parking, a tiny kitchen, no a/c, etc. but with a tiny little mortgage payment. There’s a lot about it that makes us sort of crazy. BUT…we’d been shopping for a bigger, nicer, more expensive house last year and the fact that we decided to stay put for now meant that when we had our daughter a year ago, I was able to leave my more-than-full-time, high-stress job in order to stay home with her and do just a bit of freelancing from home here and there. We never would have had that option if we’d moved…I would be stuck being booked morning to night and missing out on this amazing time with her. So totally worth it.

  34. Jennifer on December 4th, 2012 3:12 pm

    I love seeing the tree from the front window too. It’s so welcoming when you’re driving home in the dark/wet Northwest evening to see your pretty tree approaching from down the street! Our Colorado house had that type of display bay window in the front room. We don’t have a front window in our house now, so when we moved in we planted a tiny spruce tree in the front yard. Now, 5 years later, it’s big enough to look like a real tree and I bought 100 lights yesterday and I’m so excited to finally decorate my outdoor tree!

    Like you said, the little things are often the best things and all that we really need!

  35. Anonymous on December 4th, 2012 8:52 pm

    The ONLY things that matters in life are the love and health of your family.
    Your getting it figured out now, young lady.
    The only thing worse than pee on the toilet seat is no pee on the toilet seat. Savour what you have. It is fleeting.

  36. Wendy on December 4th, 2012 9:18 pm

    Sounds to me like there’s actually a great deal of remodeling taking place where you are. Perhaps not of your home but of your perspective instead. What an important post you have written here for so many.

  37. Redbecca on December 5th, 2012 8:03 am

    The vinyl in our kitchen looks like a 70s Turkish bath – the colors are hideous and it is ripped and stained and ICK. We’ve been in our place almost 4 years and I’ve finally put my foot down and this will be our Christmas/anniversary present to ourselves because we know what a difference it will make to the look and feel of the kitchen and the house in general. There are a million other things we would do if money were no object, but yeah, you gotta pick your battles. And the fact that we HAVE a place and we all fit and enjoy it is really all that matters.
    But super glue? seriously? WTF! Our previous owners put pepto-pink oil-based paint in one of the bedrooms at some point and never properly painted over/removed it. When we went to repaint that room, layers of old paint were coming off in sheets. It was horrible. We had to bring in professionals to heavy-duty fix it (after my brother in law spent 2 days with a professional grade sander in there).

  38. Mary Clare on December 7th, 2012 9:13 am

    The grass is greener mentality sets in when I go to other people’s homes, or hear about another vacation to an appealing place. Gawd, how can folks afford such grand vacations? I really don’t know. But, dammit I have so much. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate it.

  39. Anne on December 8th, 2012 5:41 pm

    I loved this post last week, and I came back to savor it again. Yes – we Americans have spent the few past decades wallowing in “I, Me, My”, and while it is difficult to buckle down in a new economy, I am still amazed: most of us Americans still live in homes larger and better-apportioned than anywhere in the world, and yet we think we are biting the bitter bullet.

    Check out a British or French kitchen. Look at the floorspace of anyhome:Europe. Kids share bedrooms. A yard? Sheesh. We Americans have no clue.

    And beyond Europe? Asia, Africa…

    Our fruitful plains are just that. Let’s give thanks for what we have, and let’s rein in the material idiocy of the past couple of decades.

    Your post was really spot-on.

  40. Gwen on December 12th, 2012 2:16 am

    I love this post. Also, I’d say that trading a kickass bathroom for weekends at the cabin is well worth it.
    You’re there! You did it!!
    If I had to live in a one room shack to live in my dream city, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And your house isn’t even close to shacky :)

  41. Shannon on December 12th, 2012 12:54 pm

    One neither should nor can have everything. Fund your priorities (the things and experiences that align best with your values and goals) with money you have in the bank. Not on credit or other moeny you don’t actually have. Be intentional and focused with your life and your choices. My tiny home is dated and it’s exterior doesn’t show well, but it is the cosiest, well laid out nest I have ever lived in. I can renovate my kitchen when I’m sixty, but my daughter can only be a Princess in Disneyland for a tiny window of time. I won’t care about how long I lived with shabby laminate floors on my deathbed because I’ll be too busy recounting my memories of travelling around the world and seadooing with friends at the lake. Burn those decorating magazines at your next cabin bonfire and roast marshmallows with your kids over them!

  42. cara on December 15th, 2012 4:04 pm

    So, I don’t know if anyone mentioned this or not, but the other night I said something about Sundry-something-or-other-ONEbathroomNewHouseTwoKidsWHOA to my husband, and he said: Oh, you should tell her about Bathroom Anywhere, to which I replied: WHOA I TOTALLY FORGOT about Bathroom Anywhere. Seriously. Google it. It would let you put in another toilet (um, anywhere) without the full create-a-new-bathroom mess on your hands. A Boys-only Bathroom Anywhere might offer some, um, relief? Just a thought. Plus if you do that, I’ll get to see how it works out (heheheh-kidding). I mean, I am ALL ABOUT being happy with what you’ve got, don’t get me wrong.

  43. auto on November 20th, 2014 7:34 am

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% sure. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Cheers

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