I don’t love clutter. I never have, much to the chagrin of my in-laws, who I think have finally given up trying to fill my car with the stuff they are trying to clear out as they age. My answer is, “donate it, and not to me.” Every move and there have been many in my marriage, has been preceded by a garage sale and/or a dumpster trip. Everything that’s in my house now is there because I love it. Most of it speaks to a moment in our lives; the mixing bowl that was a prop for my daughter’s play, the Italian art glass vase that my son gave me at Christmas, the Australia print that I purchased with my younger daughter on our trip to the Gold Coast, the quilt that was handstitched by my great grandmother that is probably the first possession I would worry about in a fire. Almost all of these items are replaceable, but it’s all so beautiful to me. No matter that the dishes are from Wal-Mart and the furnishings were bought at the scratch-and-dent furniture store. I consider myself a minimalist, with a flair for what currently matters to me.
Home is a refuge.
I moved straight from my dad’s house to a dorm room, and then to an apartment with my newlywed hubby. We had old brown plaid love seats from my in-laws’ office, our living room was lined in cheap fake paneling and came with a prostitute on the corner. When I swam, there was a creepy old guy who stared out the window at me, and the night two families had a feud and slashed each other’s tires was the night I looked at Travis and said, “Get me out of here.” We broke our lease the next day.
In a succession of rental abodes, I painted, I papered, I sanded floors, I sewed curtains, and I created the safe spot I wanted for myself and my family. Colors and styles changed. Laura Ashley eyelet gave way to paisley then floral. Brown plaid love seats became navy cotton then green denim, now hazelnut cream colored leather sofas. My children’s rooms were bright, but not always neat, that was a battle I couldn’t quite seem to win.
The first house we bought was cute, built in the 1980s, with high ceilings and a loft playroom. The kids liked to raise and lower toys in a purple plastic bucket tied to a jump rope, and the older two tormented the baby by dangling her toys in the bucket just out of reach. The next one was an early 1970s number. When we walked in after closing, I sat down on the window seat and bawled. I had just bought the ugliest house on the planet: dated Brady Bunch wallpaper, carpet that had been just cut and spread by the owners, dingy walls, and mildew-soaked powder blue carpet in the master bath, but the most beautiful pine and oak trees. I immediately set about transforming it.
What I remember about the house is watching my girls practice dances in the kitchen because the double oven was reflective enough that they could check their form on soutenu turns. I remember setting up a used drum set for my son in the termite-ridden garage. I remember being caught making love on that couch by that teenage son and his friends. I remember hours of hand-cramping sanding and painting. I remember a window seat perpetually piled with clean but unfolded laundry.
As our youngest child approached her high school graduation, we decided to sell this haven/money pit and built a new house. The Empty Nest house is different, though. Our kitchen table has four chairs and two of them get dusty because no one ever sits in them. I do laundry just once a week. The attic is no longer full of toys. We whatever we want on television. I no longer make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for summer lunches, nor do I decorate my refrigerator with kid art. I don’t have to stand at the bottom of the stairs, bellowing for one child or another to get a move on.
I am conflicted- I want my kids to be independent, but I keep having to transfer money into their bank accounts. I miss throwing noisy birthday parties, but love that birthdays now consist of alcohol filled brunches and dinners with the adult kids. I love the quiet and the neatness, but I miss their noise and energy.
I miss climbing the stairs at night to kiss each one and tuck them in. It’s all part of the journey, I guess. Loss and gain, tug and release.
I love my house. And I love the man I share it with. He makes it home. I am never lonely when I am in my house. I have filled it with light and color and heirlooms. My husband and kids and dogs have filled it with love.
Kim Bryant’s Blog: kimberlybryant.net