Contentment

The Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant

pageant for normal womenIn a move noted as “bold” and “long overdue,” a new pageant arrives on the scene this season.

Viewed by many as the obvious alternative for 99% of human women, the Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant offers what traditional beauty pageants lack– common sense and a firm grip on reality.


Competitions are scheduled in the following crucial life skill departments:

  • Chasing a toddler through a busy parking lot while holding two bags of groceries
  • Politely helping your best friend realize her eyebrows have grown out of control
  • Speaking to teenage offspring without using all the swears
  • Messy buns and other half-arsed hair options
  • Yoga pants vs pajama pants: how, when, and where

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply quickly and decisively. Judges expect a torrential onslaught of candidates, as no one has ever shown interest in the common woman before.

Perky, thin, gorgeous women with full and natural breasts will be shot immediately upon application, officials stated in the press conference held early this morning. Shot to death, they clarified.

The pageant is expected to be held sometime in spring, but an exact date is hard to determine, as NORMAL WOMEN HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO TO BE PRANCING AROUND THE STAGE AT A STUPID PAGEANT.


When an official date is scheduled, we will be the first to let you know. Stay tuned for further details.

How to control holiday spending so you can afford to pay your January mortgage payment

control-holiday-spendingAll the shiny things are in the stores! But we want to control our holiday spending, right? Because we still need to afford the rest of our life once Christmas is over.

Today I was in Lowes to buy sandpaper for the cat (it’s a long story and you really don’t want to know), and I took a moment to peruse their lovely holiday decorations.

They have a giant JOY sign that costs $1200. I mean, it’s huge. The letters are as tall as I am, maybe taller. It would look really cool in my front yard, BUT IT COSTS $1200.

Good grief.

It’s stuff like this that wreaks havoc at Christmastime. Of course we’d like the giant JOY sign. Of course we’d like to buy our friends and family everything they could dream of owning. Of course we’d like to put plane tickets to the Bahamas in our sister’s Christmas stocking!

But most of us can’t afford these things. And if you can afford these things, I bet you aren’t actually reading this blog post. You’re too busy rolling in your piles of gold coins.

The rest of us have to get a grip on our holiday spending or we’re going to be homeless and hungry in January. Here’s how we are going to do that.

We’re going to stay out of the stores. Instead, we’re going to go to the library to find excellent, free ideas for holiday fun. There are entire books on affordable holiday ideas! But mostly, we’re going to stay out of the stores. The marketing department of your favorite store has your number, sister. They want to control your holiday spending for you, and they know what makes your heart beat faster. They know what looks so beautiful to you, their ideal customer, that you lose your mind and whip out your credit card. Trust me, they’re way ahead of you. Stay out of their way because your mortgage company will not accept “but the JOY sign was so pretty” in lieu of a payment next month.

We’re going to do some math and figure out the Christmas budget. This is hard and ugly and might involve some crying when you realize you have $20 to spend for Christmas this year. You get an hour to be depressed, and then you will pull yourself together, be proud of yourself for accepting reality, and you will get creative.

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We will have honest conversations with our loved ones. Maybe it’s our spouse, or our best friend, or our mom. This might be painful. But your loved ones would be horrified to know you’re spending holiday money you don’t have on them. Love them enough to be honest. And also, this honesty might be a life saver for them! Maybe they don’t have enough for Christmas this year, either. Maybe you can have a potluck night instead, or go to a free holiday concert together. But until we’re having honest conversations with our people, we won’t be able to take care of each other in the most loving ways.

We will remember that children do not need an explosion of presents on Christmas morning. If your kids are old enough to understand the concept, begin by helping them understand the family reality right now. They understand and can adapt far more than we give them credit for, and trust me, they’ll be able to feel your stress if you spend too much. Let their holiday be breezy and fun like it’s supposed to be. If your kid is too young to understand money or presents, then please, please, please, go to the thrift store and buy them a few delightful things. I swear to you they’ll never know the difference.

It doesn't have to look like this at your house.
It doesn’t have to look like this at your house.

We will go to church and remember that Christmas was never supposed to be about blinking lights and credit card debt. We will remember a tiny baby, placed in a manger, worshipped by shepherds from the hills. We will feel profoundly thankful and we will tell our Heavenly Father how wonderful he is.

I do know this– Christmas begins and ends in our hearts. If we’re miserable and sad, no amount of holiday spending will buy enough presents to fix us. But if we choose joy and simplicity, no lack of money can ruin the season for us.

So may we choose wisely, and may we choose joy!

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I found a few ideas on Amazon. Maybe these will help! (*Affiliate link)

Priorities: A worksheet to help you plan the next right thing for your life.

Perhaps you’ve reached a point in your life where you really want to do the best thing for yourself and your family, but you have no idea of what that best thing really is. You aren’t sure what your priorities really are.

Should you work more hours and cushion the budget?

Work less hours to be home with the kids more?

Go back to school? Find a different career? Volunteer more? Volunteer less?

The options are endless and every decision leads to a different place in the future. How are we supposed to find the best path?

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But before we get our knickers in a knot, let’s calm down. There certainly are a lot of choices in every life, but there doesn’t have to be one, solitary healthy outcome.

I’m serious. You can make a lot of different choices and end up in a lot of different places fifteen years from now, but most of them will be good and healthy and fine. You’re going to be fine and your family is going to be fine.

Unless, of course, you take up heroin or chain smoking or bank robbing. Those are terrible priorities. Stay clear of those things and you’ll probably be fine. You might become a doctor with a nanny who takes care of the kids, or you might become a stay at home mom with an Etsy shop. Maybe you’ll own your own restaurant or maybe you’ll cater small parties from home. Fine and fine.

We worry a lot about the future but seldom remind ourselves that it all works out, somehow.

But still, we have to actually make a decision and then act on it, right? Life choices all begin in the same place: mulling the problems and potential solutions over in your mind. We have to find our priorities, and we can’t do that without some serious thinking.

Today I’ve included a little worksheet/graphic for you at the end of the blog. If you like to write and think slowly, print it off and get yourself a pencil and an excellent beverage. But maybe you’ll just bookmark this link and work from the graphic itself; whatever works for you is fine.

The worksheet has one purpose– to help you identify the problem in your own life that is causing you the most pain, and then to identify one priority and solution to start on the path to simple living.

It’s easy to think “Yikes, lady. I have way more than one problem and I want to do all the things to fix everything all at once.”

And I’m here to tell you the truth: Doing all the things will make you all the crazy. . You have to say yes to a few things, the most important things, and then you’ll have to say no to a lot of other things.

This little worksheet will help you think through where you are now and where you want to be. It’ll bring you one little step closer to the next place in your life. It will help you simplify everything.

I was at a conference recently, and the Hope*Writers encouraged us with this– if we get stuck, just do the next right thing. Then repeat and repeat. I hope this worksheet will help you figure out what the next right thing is for you!

 

Printable. Find your priorities

 

 

How to find contentment when your season of life is just really, really awful

How can I be content when this season of my life just totally stinks?

If you haven’t slept eight hours straight in weeks (or years!), this post is for you. If you can’t find contentment because your life is a terrible, awful mess, this post is for you.


If you have bills piled high on the counter and a lot of zeros in the checking account, this post is for you.

It’s also for anyone who is being literally smothered to death by small children, health problems, marriage struggles, or relationship issues.

If every single one of those things has landed upon you simultaneously, then let’s have a nice little chat.

I know you want to have a great attitude in the midst of the struggle. I get it. You’re not trying to mope around and spread gloom and despair. You see that Pinterest meme that says life isn’t about avoiding the storms, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.


And you want to believe that’s possible, but your life is this terrible, complicated mess and all you want to do is have three free hours to nap. And then you want to be able to afford to buy some really cute shoes.

You’re not asking for much.

You just want a little bit of quiet time and a little bit of money to go further than the basics. You’d love to find contentment, but your season of life really sucks stinks and you are sick to death of it.

I’ve been where you are. I was once a young mother with little money, a little house, and very, very little sanity. I felt stuck and crazy, and this was because I was stuck and crazy. There was no getting out of our situation unless a nanny and a trillion dollars fell from the skies.

I had no choice but to plug along, day after day, making the best decisions I could with what I had. It felt like things would never lighten up.

Contentment (and a better life!) can be sneaky

Here’s the thing– while I trudged along through the endless days, things did lighten up. The kids learned to sleep through the night and eat regular food and then they went to school. My sanity returned and eventually our finances balanced out.

I’d like to offer you a miracle cure to fast-track you through this season of life, but I can’t. I can only tell you this secret– it’s the trudging that eventually makes all the difference. Trudging along is really a thousand little choices every day that feel inconsequential all by themselves. Really, no one notices if you wipe a snotty nose a hundred times a day or restrain yourself from that $6 latte again.

You might be tempted to think those little choices don’t matter.

But, my friend, you’d be wrong. It feels like we’re going nowhere, but really every single one of those actions is digging us a little bit further out of the muck.

contentment is found one step at a time

It’s the sum total of all those steps that makes the difference.

One day you look around and realize you’re in a better, more wonderful place. But you wouldn’t have gotten there without the thousands of tiny steps each day. You’ve found contentment, inch by agonizing inch.

We pay off debt with each individual dollar that isn’t spent other places.

We love our children with a hundred hugs and a million kind words. Also, many bags of goldfish crackers and trips to the park.

Marriages are healed with many gentle responses and so, so many words bitten back.

I know it feels endless and hopeless. But don’t underestimate the value of the tiny things in this very season of life. They might be the very things that change the future.

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How to find your blue carpet friends (and why you need to!)

blue-carpet-friends-3Are you surrounded by friends who get you? I mean, do you have friends who support you in all your life choices? I think they’re key to living out your calling and dreams, and here’s why.

I have this good friend, Betsy, who is also my hairstylist. Now that my hair care routine requires quite a bit of dye to restore my luscious locks to the color I remember them being at age 25, Betsy and I get quite a bit of quality time together every six weeks.

The last time I was in the shop we started talking about priorities in life, and the toll they take on our finances. For example: choosing to travel as a family and/or enrolling the kids in a Christian school. Both are wonderful options, but neither comes cheaply. We talked about making all the budget areas stretch so we could fit our priorities into our financial picture without taking on debt.

And then we really got on a roll and examined how our friendships can be the key to helping us stay on track with our life choices, or they can derail us in the most dangerous ways.

I told her about how many years ago we’d chosen a completely different preschool for Caleb, because the community at his older sister’s preschool included people who actually went to the yacht club. They drove SUVs the size of my living room. They gave birthday parties for three year olds that cost hundreds of dollars.

I was out of my league in my rusty Chevy and wee little house and homemade cupcakes. So far out of my league, that for Caleb’s preschool experience we chose a little school in a farming community to our south. I felt far more comfortable there, like my life goals made sense to them and then, in turn, to me while I was there.

Betsy understood exactly what I meant, and told me about their friends with blue carpet. “They can afford new carpet,” she said, “but they have other priorities. They just haven’t changed it yet.”

That blue carpet brings something important to their relationship. It’s a statement. A reminder that not everything in life has to be perfect. It’s okay to have financial limitations or life goals other people might not understand.


It’s camaraderie, too. When we can peer into a friend’s life and see tangible proof that they feel no need to have everything matching and new and shiny and perfect, we can hold our our mismatched little lives close together and feel like we’re on the same team. Someone gets us.

On Thursday nights I take our kids to a local youth group and pull my beat up Sienna in next to my friend Kris’s beat up Sienna. We open up our trunks together to try to locate the leaks we both have, leaks that soak our trunk carpets in a good rain. We’ve been bonding over weird things since our college days, but those leaky trunks are just one more piece in the friendship.

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It’s not like friendships start and blossom over things like wet carpet or blue carpet or even brand new carpet.

They blossom when something in me recognizes something in you, and we feel like we’re understood. We might not have the same life goals, we might not have the same blue carpet or old minivan, but we understand that you’re picking your important things and it’s okay for me to pick mine, too.

Friends who support us while we carve out our lives are one of God’s greatest gifts. So, today, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice your friends’ oddities and quirks and mismatched life. And may you say, out loud, how wonderful you think it all is. Your words might just give them the courage and joy they need today.

Flop down on their blue carpet and tell them it brings out the blue in their eyes. Climb into that minivan and say, “Oh, no. Mine smells so much worse than this. This is fine.”

Blue carpet is a way to connect and encourage. It’s kind of precious like that.

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Creative Contentment: how to have fun instead of slowly dying from despair

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I used to think that being content meant I was so blissfully, joyfully happy with life that I lost all desire to change anything.

I didn’t know how much room for change we have, even while living a simple life. There’s so much room in there. So much variety. So much freedom and creativity involved.

Being content is all well and good, but sometimes we get a little bit sick of the way things are.

We yearn for something different. Better.

Then perhaps we mentally chastise ourselves for allowing discontentment to creep into our thoughts. Or, at least this was the way for me. But I’ve realized something important recently– it’s possible to be content while absolutely changing everything.

It’s okay to want things to be different, even while we try to live simply, being thankful for what is.

We don’t have to live in drudgery and quiet despair for the rest of our days, relabeling it contentment and then fading into the gray. We don’t have to put up with clothes that have turned into tatters, or a 2002 Corolla that was a really good deal but makes you sigh every time you look at it.

Let’s talk about how creativity can help us be content and keep some fun in our lives.

For example, we have a house that I love, but there were some things that didn’t quite feel like home in our house. I absolutely knew that I should be nothing but thankful for that place, because millions of people would gladly trade places with me. But I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite right.

Finally I gave myself permission to start changing things. Even though the cabinets were only a few years old (and I’d picked the dang things out myself) I started painting them. I repainted a few walls for a second or third time. I went to the nursery and bought a few excellent plants to fill in the landscaping. I framed some photos of our trip to Ireland and hung them in the kitchen, right where they make me happy ten times a day.

My goal was to be content with the house. It took a lot of work and creativity to get to that point. Sure, I could have passively accepted everything just as we found it the day we got the keys, but then we’d still be living with bare white walls and really, really ugly bathroom cabinets. Who has the time to live with that kind of hideousness?

Let’s take a look at a more challenging scenario– The Corolla. My husband loves cars. He loves them fast, he loves them quirky, he loves them sporty. The Corolla is none of those things. It’s a four door sedan with four cylinders and a radio that works only sometimes.

Creativity isn’t really going to help him much here. We could get him some fuzzy dice and maybe a pine tree air freshener, but it’s not going to help the gutless engine or the automatic transmission. I think what we need is creative financing so we can trade some vehicles around. I’m happy as a clam in The Corolla, so maybe it’s time to trade the van for something jazzy for him to drive. Or maybe we can adjust some of our financial plans so a different car is on the near horizon.

Maybe he’d like to ride this bike instead of The Corolla?

I think the man needs some hope, super bad. He’s absolutely committed to being a mature grown up about this whole vehicle situation, but I see him shudder every time he looks at The Corolla. I’m not making that up. The gray despair is swirling around his ankles, threatening to suck him under. I love this man; I can’t let him die slowly of a four-cylinder engine.

I don’t want you dying slowly of despair, either. Whatever is going on in your life, I want you to live simply and joyfully. Here’s what you do:

  1. Choose your priority. Whatever it is– staying home with the kids, getting your budget under control, running the organic blueberry farm– identify what’s very most important to you.
  2. Cheerfully make a list of all the secondary stuff that’s bothering you, and then find the antidotes to those problems. Think wide. Think long. Brainstorm with your most creative ideas. Throw out any ideas that interfere with your priorities, but just go crazy with trying new things.

I can’t wait to hear what changes for you! Please, let me know.

Home Contentment Series Part 5: Finally, now I can buy things for the house.

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You might be asking yourself if there will ever be a good time to buy things for the house. And I’m here to tell you that yes, there’s a time and a place! Let’s get right to it.

{Welcome to our home contentment series! You’ve joined us on our last day. You can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 and catch up with us.}

Perhaps by now you’ve lost hope. We’ve been at this home contentment series for four solid days and you’re just about to send me an email to tell me I’m an idiot and you hate these ideas. You are ready for the part where we get to burn the ugly old couch and get a new one. Please don’t email me hate letters, because I do understand your frustration. I totally agree there’s a time and place to buy things for the house.

You don’t have to put up with the old, the ugly and the stinky for the rest of your life. Just a few weeks ago I took my pizza pan for a walk–straight to the trash. It was awful and we’d put up with it for five years. Could we have afforded a new pizza pan before that? Yes, but I was feeling cheap and frugal. So I put it off and put it off.

But there’s a point where cheap and frugal are just plain dumb, my friends. We cross the line from good common sense to tacky and dumb. There’s nothing wrong with buying new things when we need new things. Furniture wears out. Carpet gets stained. The fridge dies.

Except this couch, which we purchased in 1999 and it REFUSES TO DIE. I will own this couch until I'm dead. Maybe they'll bury me on it, I don't know.
Except this couch, which we purchased in 1999 and it REFUSES TO DIE. I will own this couch until I’m dead. Maybe they’ll bury me on it, I don’t know.

This is part of life and it’s okay to buy new. But there’s a difference between buying a reasonable new tool, and buying things just because you’re in the mood for something flashy and you don’t particularly care how it affects your finances.

We know new things won’t solve the deeper problems in our souls, right? So let’s consider a few questions that will help us dig deeper. Are we trying to pacify something that needs to be addressed with prayer or counseling or a smack in the head, or are we actually making a mature and reasonable decision?

Here are things to ask yourself when evaluating a purchase:

  1. Is this a tool that will serve our family well? Will it serve us better than what we already have? Maybe the new couch has a hide-a-bed, and your guests can use it. Maybe it doesn’t smell like dog or Great Aunt Myrna’s Pall Malls. Fine and excellent. No-Aunt-Myrna stink is a dang good reason.
  2. Can we actually afford it? I know, huge bummer. But the fact remains that contentment is shot to hades when the credit card bill shows up and you don’t have the money to pay for it. Do yourself and favor and wait until you have the money for it. Or go on a long and serious hunt for a version that you can afford. I’ve dedicated serious portions of my life to searching for a high-quality, inexpensive couch/house/rug/bed. It’s fun! It almost makes me understand those weirdos who sit in the woods for all of November waiting for a deer to shoot. Except I’m warm and darting in and out of resale furniture shops, not sitting in a tree stand with a weapon.

    I found this chair at an estate sale for $150. Best purchase ever.
    I found this chair at an estate sale for $150. Best purchase ever.
  3. Have I waited a reasonable amount of time before replacing the old thing? If you’ve been living with the inadequate or hideous item for long enough, you’ll know. This isn’t a hard and fast rule you can memorize, but more a level of maturity you will know by instinct. If you’ve been a grown up for a long time while you suffered, then good enough.
  4. Is it really, exceptionally beautiful? Will it make us very happy? Happiness doesn’t always follow the rules of common sense. Right now I have a painting of two old, pudgy ladies in their old-fashioned bathing suits, and they’re tiptoeing into the ocean together. There’s no practical use for that art piece (I use the term loosely). It just makes me really happy, okay? I found it at the resale shop for $20 and love it every time I see it. If a purchase makes you feel the same way, then that’s a pretty good reason. Do we really want to go through life being practical and beige and safe? No! Sometimes we want to see fat old ladies going for a swim.

    Well, here we have Exhibit A. I don't have a good explanation, I just love it. The end.
    Well, here we have Exhibit A. I don’t have a good explanation, I just love it. The end.

Now that you know I have disturbing taste in art, let’s move along.

Back to one last point. I’ve found it helpful to have a plan for what needs to be replaced. This gives you the ability to prioritize your purchases, working slowly through the list as finances and common sense allow. Your plan will depend on you. What do you hate the most? What’s in the worst shape? What doesn’t fit your family anymore? You know. You know what your family needs. Come up with your plan and work it. (The free checklist below has a place to make this list. How helpful is that!?)

One day you will look around and feel so much better about your home. I know it might feel like it’s too far away and you’re still tempted to charge all the shiny things on your credit card. Before you make that step, may I make one bold suggestion? Pray about it. Now, God is not some magic genie in the sky, waiting to drop blessings on your head when you say the magic words. But I do believe, after many years of seeking God and learning more about Jesus Christ, that he is deeply and intimately involved in the lives of those who seek him.

This is the new couch we paid cash for. The Lord did not drop it out of the sky.
This is the new couch we paid cash for. The Lord did not drop it out of the sky.

He will not drop a new Pottery Barn couch from the clouds. Your carpet will not magically roll back and reveal perfectly restored mahogany floors just because you begged God hard enough to get what you want. He’s not your grandpa in the toy aisle.

But I know that many, many times over the years he’s provided things for me that I could not have provided for myself. Usually it’s when I’m in the middle of trying very hard to have a great attitude and hunt for something that’s close enough to what I want, within our budget. But he is a God who loves us and wants to provide for his children, and I have personally experienced that many times over.

If you think (or know!) you’re one of those children, try praying about it. See what he opens up for you. He might not choose to work miracles on your material possessions, but he might work a miracle in your heart. And trust me when I say that’s even better.


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Home Contentment Series Part 4: Move furniture and rethink your artwork.

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Today we move furniture and artwork around in the house! I hope you had a hearty breakfast because you’re going to need all your energy.

{Welcome! If you’re new to this series on Home Contentment, you can catch up with previous posts: Clean it, Declutter it, and Paint it.}

Are you here because your house is awful and you hate it and you want new things to make you happy? I totally understand the desire to walk into the nearest furniture store and buy all the things. This happens to me every year, always in February, when Michigan is at its coldest, bleakest, and nastiest. While all new things would be very fun for a few moments, I also know the guilt and horror would be fierce when the Visa bill arrives in March.

So I don’t buy new things; I move around the things I already own. Sometimes I do little things, like switching the couch to face east instead of north. Maybe I move the toaster to a new section of the kitchen.

But sometimes I go a little nuts and start taking the artwork down AND I take furniture out of one room and move it to a totally new room. Eric thinks I’m crazy, but I have tons of fun and spend zero dollars.

Before you buy one little thing, I beg of you– try to move furniture and things around first. 

Step 1: Decide on a new furniture arrangement. Don’t worry if you hate it. Moving furniture is never permanent and rarely fatal. But try moving things around in at least two rooms.

Step 2: Switch a few items to a totally new room. The location of your poster of the Golden Gate Bridge is not regulated by law. It doesn’t have to stay in the hallway. You can put it someplace new! Move the photos of your kids to the kitchen. Maybe that red side table would look better next to your bed, and your nightstand could double as the microwave stand. The Furniture Police will not arrive and take you to Furniture Jail if this turns out to be a terrible idea. (I thank Myquillan Smith for reassuring me that terrible ideas are almost never life-threatening.)

Ta-da! These are leftover party supplies from my sister's wedding shower this summer. Repurposed in a blank spot in our downstairs living room, I think they look quite festive.
Ta-da! These are leftover party supplies from my sister’s wedding shower this summer. Repurposed in a blank spot in our downstairs living room, I think they look quite festive.

Step 3: Listen to The Nester, and Quiet the Room. Trust me and follow that link to her post. You’ll be able to honestly evaluate the room when you move furniture and doodads out of it. While you’re at it, buy her book (affiliate link). You’ll love it.
Step 4: Boldly cull the items you don’t love. You don’t have to keep the things you adored ten years ago, but now feel kind of blah about. You don’t have to display your wedding china or your grandmother’s bedside clock. If you think you might want to keep them, box them up and store them away for a while. Reevaluate in six months to see if you’d like to have them back out.

I keep moving these items around the house, looking for just the right combination and location. Meh. Still needs some work.
I keep moving these items around the house, looking for just the right combination and location. Meh. Still needs some work.

Step 5: Swap with friends. This could be a really fun experiment. Move furniture to a new zip code if you really can’t stand it in your house anymore. Maybe your friends have things they’d like to get rid of, too! Have a little party where everyone brings a few items and then leaves with different ones. It will probably help if you don’t invite that one friend who has really… um… terrible specific taste.

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This side table belongs to my friend, Jen. I’m the table’s foster parent for now.

Step 6: Think up new ways to use things you already own. Can you frame photos you have stashed in a drawer? Use the record album covers as artwork? Take unread books and make book art out of them? A tea cozy out of that hideous sweater your mom gave you last Christmas?

I hope these steps will help. If nothing else, they’ll at least keep you busy until the burning desire for a new couch eases. But don’t worry, if that burning for new things won’t go totally away, our next installment will show us how to buy new things for the house– responsibly, thoughtfully, and with no regrets.

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Home Contentment Series Part 3: Paint away the grunge.

home-contentment-3Today we move into another level of finding contentment with our homes. We’re going to paint away all the grime and sadness and pitiful-ness (yes, that’s probably totally a word). ((If you’re a renter, stay tuned. I have thoughts for you, too!))

{Welcome to our Home Contentment Series! If you’re just joining us today, you can find Part 1 (Clean It) and Part 2 (Declutter it) by clicking the titles. I’m so glad you’ve stopped by!}

I firmly believe that taking care of our homes radically improves our contentment with them. In fact, I believe this brings more contentment than walking into the nearest home store and walking out with a whole new kitchen/landscape/furniture set. The physical act of caring for our things connects us in a deeper way to what matters. I don’t have the foggiest idea of why this is, but I know it to be true. The more I tenderly look after what God has entrusted to me, the more I’m thankful for the resources I have, and discontentment vanishes like the trends we see on Pinterest.

I just repainted the kitchen this year, and my contentment with my home soared.
I just repainted the kitchen this year, and my contentment with my home soared.

So, let’s get to it. Today I’m going to convince you to break out the paint supplies and freshen up the surfaces in your house. Obviously it helps if you already own brushes, rollers, and have leftover paint from other projects. But if you don’t have these things and have no money to spend on them, try borrowing them from friends. Or possibly even your church. I know our congregation keeps all kinds of supplies on hand, and they’re barely touched for most of the year. You can even ask friends and family if they have extra paint to share with you. Many a paint project only requires part of a gallon, and most homeowners would be glad to see their leftovers put to good use.

It never hurts to ask, is all I’m saying.

Once you’ve located your supplies, here are the things to care for:

  • Door and window trim (inside and out): The trim in our homes takes a beating every single day. Take a close look at your windows and doors and begin to repaint the most damaged areas. If you have random colors all over, I highly suggest picking one color (like a white semi-gloss) and unifying the whole house. If you have stained trim, then you might need to lightly sand it and polyurethane it.
  • Baseboards: I don’t know what’s harder on the baseboards– all those shoes getting kicked off or the marks the vacuum leaves when I get too close. But I know the baseboards in most of our rooms could really do with a nice touch up. Your house might be the same.
  • Scuffed and dirty walls: Wait! Before you bust out the drop cloth, try a Magic Eraser for the scuff marks and dirty spots. Those little miracle workers have saved me a ton of time by just erasing the grime. If the Eraser doesn’t work, then evaluate– do you have to do the entire room? You might get away with just a wall or two. However, I do suggest painting the entire wall over. Trying to touch up rarely looks right, but I’ve successfully painted a whole wall and had it blend right into the adjoining wall with no problem.
  • The doors: Again, they get pretty beaten up. A fresh coat of paint will make the whole room seem glorious.

    The upper half of these walls used to be a dark khaki color, and I hated it. So I finally took some leftover paint and just freshened it back up. So much better!
    The upper half of these walls used to be a dark khaki color, and I hated it. So I finally took some leftover paint and just freshened it back up. So much better!
  • Cabinets in the kitchen and bath: This is advanced, ninja level painting right here. But if your house is looking dumpy and sad, a fresh coat of cabinet paint might perk things right back up. (Here’s a blog post from my own kitchen.) My happiness with our house doubled as soon as I painted our kitchen, I promise you. It was totally worth a lost weekend.
  • The home’s exterior: I would enjoy painting the whole exterior of a house as much as I would enjoy being slowly eaten by sharks. I thank the Lord often for vinyl siding. Go out and really look at your house. It might be time for a paint job, and it might also be the time to call in favors from friends and family. If you have vinyl siding, you might need to rent a pressure washer and get all the mold and dirt off.

But what if you’re a renter?

Are you doomed to scuffed and gross walls? No! Of course, I don’t know your landlord, and that relationship will be up to you to evaluate. But I have been a landlord before, and I will straight up tell you that if our tenant had called and asked to paint to keep things looking nice, I would have cheerfully purchased all the paint and supplies for her. I would have gone over there and worked with her!

This is exactly the face I would have made if my tenant had asked to paint a wall a decent color.
This is exactly the face I would have made if my tenant had asked to paint a wall a decent color.

Being a landlord is a horrible, awful, merciless job. Knowing a renter is taking the initiative to care for our property is a HUGE bonus, and you might be surprised how delighted your landlord is about this idea. You will probably have to live with a neutral paint or agree to paint it back when you move out, but it never hurts to ask.

If you’re pretty sure your landlord is from the fiery land below, then you might need to use a little subterfuge. Go ahead and paint, (blogger not responsible if this backfires) but do your best to match the colors in the rental already. If the colors are mustard yellow and hot pink, combined with some festive wallpaper from 1980, then I highly suggest you go blind or find a new rental. Or threaten to find one if your landlord won’t let you repaint to something less hideous.

May the painting fairies be with you. May your brush bring joy and gladness as the new paint chases away your sadness.

And may you join us for our next installment in the Home Contentment Series. We’re going to move the furniture!

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Home Contentment Series Part 2: Declutter.

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Let’s declutter our places and learn to breathe comfortably in our own homes again, shall we?

In Part 1 of our Home Contentment Series, we gave a nice and thorough list of things that might benefit from a good cleaning around your house. My experience is that a clean house feels more comfortable, and therefore I feel more content in it. Today we go to the next step of finding contentment in our homes, and we declutter.

Well, honestly.

If you can dump all the clutter in your house in one day, you’re either a miracle worker or you own a dumpster and a very large bulldozer. Let’s find a more reasonable option, shall we? Let’s break things up into manageable bites.

declutter the coffee table
Welcome to my real life. This is how my coffee table looks most days.

Ask yourself this: Do we use this item regularly?

If yes, then keep it. If no, clarify with this question: on the rare occasions we need this, is this very important to have? (I’m thinking tents, holiday decorations, umbrellas…use your common sense.) The no-no items get donated or dumped.

And one more note before we begin– decluttering can be a huge blessing to others who need what you have. An attitude of generosity makes this process so much easier and fun.

Ready? Here we go!

  1. Entry closet: locate all members of your family and force them to try on everything they keep in the closet. Keep only the coats, boots, and shoes that fit and that are worn frequently. Now send your family away because you are going to be getting rid of things and they’ll claim they need to keep those items. Flummery-some stuff needs to go. With a keen eye, evaluate all the stuff you have in there. Take it all out, and then only replace the things you use at least yearly. Throw out or donate the rest, and do it today.
  2. Bedroom closets: Declutter one closet each day, repeating the above steps. Remind yourself that the items you don’t keep will be a true blessing to someone else, and be brave!
  3. Linen closets: I like to keep at least two sets of sheets for every bed in the house, plus multiple extra blankets. This is because we live in Michigan and you can never have enough blankets in your house, but also because I’ve lived through multiple stomach-bug incidents in the middle of the night. One time my son was down to his sister’s sleeping bag and a throw pillow from the couch and I swore I’d keep more sheets in the house from then on. Learn my lesson and don’t skimp here. Homeless and domestic violence shelters will love to take your extra sheets and towels off your hands.
  4. Kitchen cabinets: Be ruthless. Think of how many pots and pans you actually use in one sitting, and then declutter the cabinets. There’s no reason to look like you’re running a kitchen store. Find a college ministry and donate your extra cooking implements.
  5. The refrigerator: Why do we keep all those condiments? They’re so gross, but we can’t part with them. Well, today’s the day. Open the fridge up nice and wide. The homeless shelter has no interest in your three year old bottle of Asian sauce, so please throw it away. Keep going until every item has been evaluated and every surface has been wiped down with hot, soapy water. If you have the strength, attack the freezer. Go out for dinner.
  6. Under the beds: May the Lord be with you in your time of need. I bet you’ll find some treasures under there as you declutter.
  7. Utility areas, basement, and laundry room: Sort through all your tools and painting supplies. The local Habitat for Humanity is anxiously awaiting this donation. Evaluate those half-used gallons of paint. If they’re in good shape, log onto Facebook and ask if anyone wants them. Paint might be out of some of your friends’ budgets, and they might be sick to death of their own wall colors. If there are no takers, the ReStore will be happy to help.
  8. The garage: In our house, the garage is Eric’s domain. I don’t mess with much out there, unless I put it there first. In your case you might want to seek a few marital counseling sessions and then prayerfully attack the garage as some sort of marriage-building session.
  9. Under the sinks (kitchen and bathroom): Maybe there’s a perfectly good reason we own 400 tampons in varying absorbencies, but you know who else would love to have those? The women’s shelter. I’m not sure what to do about the 3,293 plastic bags under the kitchen sink. Maybe keep 10 and take the rest to the recycling bin at the grocery store?declutter the cabinets
  10. Various places unique to your home: I’m sure there are places in your house that I can’t see, but you’re looking at them right now and adding them to your list. For us, the coffee table is an endless battle of Legos, magazines, books, and snack bowls. You might have storage sheds, kids’ bedrooms, homeschool areas, or a south wing to your mansion. By now you’re a decluttering expert, so get to it.

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