Starter Stories: Less Is More
Look, I'm just being honest here. I'm a nosy, nosy person. I'm usually discreet, but I find people watching (and, I guess, living room watching) endlessly fascinating.
Anyways, there's a company based out of New York called Urban Compass - it's a real estate platform which helps you find a place to rent, based on your personal tastes.
You know how you go on Craigslist and start searching for apartments in your budget, and then you Google the address, and then maybe use Street View to figure out what kind of area it's in? And then you might narrow it down, but you still have to kind of drive around and get a feel for the area and waste a bunch of gas money trying to figure out if it's a good fit for you?
Well, it's like that, only someone else is doing all the annoying work.
Anyways, they're doing this thing right now called Starter Stories where people are sharing stories about their starter home - either their first home or the home that gave them a fresh start, and all the trials and tribulations and joys that go into renovating and decorating and whatnot.
All of this to say- dude. It's like my old Domino's job - I get to gawk at people's living rooms and it's not even illegal.
Anyways, after spending waaaaaaay too long looking up other people's stories I decided I wanted to participate too. This was gonna be so much fun! I could spend a couple of days scrubbing the house till it shined, and then I would use the “good” camera to take the prettiest “after” pictures.
…and then The Plague hit our household. It’s been nine days since the first of us succumbed to the flu, but we’re still shuffling around in old robes and stained slippers and unwashed hair.
Welcome to the House of Bean, where we are definitely not bringing sexy back.
No, when I first saw the new pile of kitty puke I was so overwhelmed at the thought of one more chore on top of caring for a houseful of sick people that I nearly burst into tears. I realized I just couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t handle one more thing….. so I grabbed a Tupperware bowl from the kitchen sink and plopped it upside-down over the pile of puke.
I mean, everyone knows that if you can’t see the vomit, it doesn’t actually exist, right?
So, yeah. I sat down to write a post about all the tribulations of renovating my house, and how I feel like this home is kind of a piece of me, and I was trying to create some kind of collage of my delightful, Pinterest-worthy house and all the projects we were doing ….
Martha Stewart, I am not.
It’s just… my home was built in 1916. That means it’s nearly 100 years old, and over the course of a hundred years, a lot of people have left their mark on it… and unfortunately, not all of the marks were for the better.
For instance: There are four bedrooms upstairs. FOUR. Let that sink in for a moment.Okay, well, technically it’s three bedrooms, since the largest room doesn’t have a closet and can only be counted as a “bonus room” – but still. There are FOUR BEDROOMS UPSTAIRS.
WHY DID SOMEONE DECIDE TO CUT THE DOWNSTAIRS LIVING ROOM IN HALF TO CREATE A FIFTH BEDROOM DOWNSTAIRS?
I mean, I guess I kind of understand. All the bathrooms are downstairs, so if they wanted to flip the house quickly, being able to advertise the house as having a “master suite with a walk-in closet” made a lot of sense….
But still. There are FOUR BEDROOMS UPSTAIRS, and now there is a fifth bedroom downstairs and only one tiny, itty-bitty living room downstairs.
I even tried creating a little theater-style seating in the bonus room, hoping we could turn it into a “media room” where people would lounge and hang out and play video games, but to no avail. I'm the only one who ever uses it.
On the other hand... checkout my kickass homemade theater seating. I was originally going to paint the bottom white and line plywood in the little holes so we could use them as little pockets to stash stuff..... but I've changed my mind. Instead, I'm going to cover the bottom with carpet so they look built-in. The cushions are just old futons I got from garage sales and friends, and the sheets and pillows I grabbed at GoodWill. Eventually I'm going to sew the sheets as covers, rather than just tucking them, and it'll look super fancy....
But man, I hate sewing almost more than I hate laundry.
I don't know about you, but I think I rock. Who kicks butt decorating her house on her monthly budget of $0?
I do, that's who.
Anyways, I’d say 85% of our time is spent in itty-bitty living room, the other 10% is spent in the kitchen, and people only venture upstairs when it’s to sleep. I've pretty much given up trying to lure us upstairs, although... I dunno. Maybe I could lay some Reese’s Pieces up the staircase and lure us up? I mean, what’s the point of having a second story if nobody uses it?
Also, I’m pretty sure that last sentence is the most stuck-up, #FirstWorldProblems sentence I’ve ever written in my entire life. The next thing you’ll know, I’m going to be flapping my hands about how uncomfortable my money mattress is, or how the help doesn’t prepare my nightly filet mignon to my standards.
It’s just…. Dude. WHY DID THEY CUT MY LIVING ROOM IN HALF TO MAKE A FIFTH BEDROOM? I WANT MY LIVING ROOM BACK. Don’t get me wrong, my bedroom is lovely. It has gorgeous hardwood floors, and tons of floor space, and a giant walk-in closet, and a lovely attached full bath.
From a seller’s perspective, it was a brilliant move.
From a practical perspective? Unless one of us eats bad sushi, or has some other stomach bug which makes us grateful to have a bathroom only a few steps away…. I daydream almost daily about tearing that wall down and reclaiming that space.
I mean, think about it: how much time you really spend in a bedroom, unless you’re a depressed teenager? The answer is: not much at all, unless you're asleep or, uh... you know. "Folding Laundry" with the hubby. I dream almost daily about going all Fried Green Tomatoes on that wall.
Confession: I'll never actually do it. I mean, like the idea of crazy renovation like that, but it just seems like so much work – and who wants to work that hard on a house when there are so many horses to ride, or new cities to visit, or books to read? I mean, wasn't the whole point of moving to a small town in the Pacific Northwest to, you know, actually GET OUTSIDE?
I sure didn't move to St. Helens - a small town outside of Portland - so I could spend my time decorating and redecorating and re-redecorating my living room. We moved here because - well, because it's GORGEOUS.
Now, I don't want to make it seem like I'm against doing big projects on the house, or that renovation projects are bad. I'm all for buying a house that needs a little work. I fact, I have to say that some of the best money we’ve ever spent was the $1,000 we spent on our chain link fence.
Best. Money. Spent. EVER.
Would our living room look a million times more spacious with that gorgeous, soft grey, "L" shaped sectional I saw over at Fred Meyers? Absolutely.
Would I end up eating my children or skinning my dogs when they inevitably tramped mud or spilled apple juice on it? Absolutely.
So, fancy furniture will have to wait. It's not worth the headache, you know?
I am, however, a big fan of painting. It's amazing how much new paint can really change the feel of a room. I especially love bright, happy colors. Orange. Red. Yellow. Maroon. Teal. The brighter they are, the happier they are.
The Bean? The Bean's more of a black/white, and occasionally a nice, muted grey kind of a guy.
Sometimes I feel like we're literally living out Fool Rush In. Have you seen that movie? You know the scene when Salma Hayek's family comes and paints their boring, dull, ugly house all those happy colors for a wedding present?
This used to be a point of contention between The Bean and I, but somewhere along the way we figured out the perfect compromise between The Bean's fascination with boring colors and my fascination with gaudy colors. The Bean gets to pick the nice, mellow paint colors, and after we've made our house all
And honestly? It looks a million times better this way. I'm no interior design expert, but one thing I have learned is that bright things look less garish on sedately-painted walls.
Speaking of paint, I'm going to repaint the whole downstairs. The current paint colors aren’t that bad, although the ceiling is painted a lovely “1980s smoke-stained yellow”. One of the previous owners did start painting the ceiling white, and it looks great…. But I guess they got bored halfway through the project and gave up.
- It must be at least a shade or two brighter than the "flesh" colors that our house came with. It really makes a difference on those grey, rainy days.
- It must be a scrubbable paint. Whoever painted before us put flat paint on un-textured walls…. which means I can’t give my boys damp sponges and order them to scrub walls as punishment for bad behavior. Washing the walls is my favorite punishment for bad behavior – it’s as boring as standing in the corner, but it actually accomplishes something useful.
I plan on attacking the downstairs with our new paint scheme some time in February. I actually put the project off last summer because I knew that by February I’m usually hungry for something bright and cheerful to look forward to, so a painting project will give me something to occupy my time while I wait around for longer days, warmer weather, and less mud.
In addition to the tiny projects we're doing to make our house nicer, we usually have one or two "big" projects we try to get done each year. The first of this year's "big" projects was accomplished over Christmas break... which, I guess, technically makes it last year's project, but whatever.
We finally, FINALLY, ripped out the totally useless built-in.... uh....display case? Floating shelves? Weird bookshelf area? I have no idea what it actually was designed for - all I know is that the shelves didn't fit books, they didn't fit dishes, and I constantly bumped my head on them.
This house actually has less storage than my first studio apartment, so it may seem odd to remove shelves, but the Bean Family motto for 2015 is:
Do you have any idea how freeing it is to get rid of almost all your clothes? I mean, I'm not exactly a fashionista, so why did I have a closet full of clothes? How many different variations of slovenly did I really need taking up space? And even if I do fit into my "skinny" clothes again.... if I really lose all that weight, doesn't that merit new clothes, and not clothes from half a decade ago?
My closet wasn't the only place I purged. DragonMonkey is six years old. Squid is three years old. Did they really need 417 different types of t-shirts?
The answer is no. No, they did not.
I don't know when exactly when my new mindset clicked, but it did. Maybe it wasn't that our house didn't have enough storage. Maybe it was just that we had too much stuff. We are not a fancy family, hosting fancy dinner parties and scouring interior design magazines. I mean, there is literally a pile of cat puke under a tupperware bowl in my laundry room. Fancy is not who I am, or who I strive to be, so how much crap do I really need?
So sometime this summer I'll be selling the desk and will be scouting garage sales for an "ugly" but infinitely comfortable recliner. Maybe I'll even find one of those fake fireplace heaters or, daydream of daydreams.... a LoveSac. I had to sell my LoveSac when we moved here because it took up too much space in the moving van, and I'm still sad about it.
I actually would have already redecorated my office, but it’s off-season for decorating. Garage sales are seasonal (due to the rain) here in the Pacific Northwest, and because of the lack of competition people on Craigslist charge exorbitant amounts for used furniture. If you think I'm exaggerating, go check it out. I once saw the world's UGLIEST used sofa going for $900 just because it was "vintage".
People - old and ugly does not mean it's vintage.
You know, if I had the time and energy, I’d spend all summer picking up cheap furniture from garage sales, all fall/early winter painting, refurbishing, and reupholstering, and then make a pretty decent profit selling stuff on Craigslist during late winter/early spring, when prices are at their highest.
The fridge is currently just sitting in the laundry room – fridges are much bigger than you think, and it’s the only place it really fits (one of the joys of a century-old house.)
It's a nicer view from the living room: but I am really looking forward to not having to walk into the back of the house every time I want to get the milk.
Speaking of breakfast nooks, I can’t WAIT to build a breakfast nook instead of the catch-all playroom for the boys:
We also want to tear down the looks-only plaster wall (where we just tore down that bookcase thingie) and replace the useless under-stairs-Harry-Potter closet with a little reading area by the kitchen.
We want to rip out the entire kitchen and replace it with USEFUL cabinets. I'm really looking forward to this, because when we do it we're going to create a little drop-down barstool eating area..... and that space can then used as part of the living room.
We also want to put laminate down instead of the old-style wood flooring. The idea of having 1916 flooring is just so much cooler than it actually is. Not only is it painted over with funky-looking paint which would cost thousands upon thousands to strip and refinish, it has so many cracks and holes that whenever you spill water in the kitchen, it actually drips through all the way down to the basement floor beneath it.
We want to build a deck in our giant, “useless” backyard.
nobody ever goes out there.
With short ceilings (only 7 feet) it will never be totally inviting, but we can at least make it functional. I want to line the walls with storage cabinets, and maybe hang a punching bag and get some workout equipment.
We’re also planning on framing-in and creating a downstairs office for The Bean, although how he’s going to get any accounting work done with us galloping around overhead, I have no idea.
We want to repaint the porch floor.
We want to stain and epoxy the basement floor.
We want to repaint the house trim, and put window boxes under the windows, and, and and…
We want to… We want to… We want to….
We want to have Friday night movie nights with our boys.
We want summer camping trips.
We want to visit the coast, and bring chicken soup to sick friends, and teach the boys how to swim, and take the dogs on long hikes in the Oregon forests. We want to ride horses, and fly kites.
We want to buy an old car and fix it up in our basement and sell it for money.
We want to enjoy this house as a home which brings us joy, instead of letting it become a never-ending series of DIY projects that leave me exhausted and snapping at my children.
So…. We take it one small project at a time. So what if we’re roasting marshmallows in an asymmetrical hole I dug in the ground with a shovel, rather than the gorgeous fireplace on the deck of my dreams? We’re roasting marshmallows, and we’re inviting friends over, and we’re making memories.
And maybe it feels like forever before I’ll ever have my dream pantry, but when a friend needed a place to stay this past summer, I was able to open my home and give her a place to crash.
And you know what? If another friend knocked on my door this evening and wanted to stay the night, my home would be open to them, too, cat vomit and all.
I think that’s my favorite part of all about owning my own home – it’s being able to share, and give back to others, even if my home or my life isn’t perfect. And maybe I’m not as carefree and adventurous as I was in my youth, but there’s something nice about being stable enough to help support others when they need a hand.
But seriously, I can’t wait until the downstairs is freshly painted so I can enjoy the sight of my kids scrubbing walls.