Contentment

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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Home Contentment Series Part 1: Clean house!

home-contentment-1What if I told you that contentment and happiness with your home is possible with just a few simple steps? What if I told you a clean house is a happy house?

You’d think I was nuts, probably. Right? Because how are you supposed to be content and happy with this pile of junk that’s supposed to be your house? Nothing matches, the carpet looks like the apocalypse happened on it, and there are possibly crushed Cheerios in all the corners of all the rooms.

Plus, maybe something smells a wee bit horrific.

There’s no contentment to be found, you’d tell me. Look at this place.

Trust me, I have absolutely experienced what you’re experiencing now. We’ve lived in ugly apartments with avocado appliances and terrible wallpaper. We’ve had unspeakable carpet and no budget to replace it. We’ve had ugly bathrooms and floorpans that made no sense, and through it all we had friends and children running rampant. My very soul felt like it had been sucked out of me and crushed into the filthy carpet pretty much every day.

I had to fight my way out of my despair bit by bit, and now I am here to help you out of your despair. We can do it, I promise. You can find a new joy and contentment with your home, even if you have no extra money, no ability to replace anything, and no magic genie waiting in his bottle.

Our five-part series begins right now. And it begins with a clean house!

I can feel your un-enthusiasm from here. I can tell you’d rather have your dentist drill all your teeth out. Trust me. I’m not wrong. I believe there are a few people in the world who don’t mind grime, crumbs, or stickiness. But I don’t believe those people would actually read a blog post about home contentment, either. Their central nervous systems literally register contentment in any home situation as they crunch across crushed crackers all over the floor.

The rest of us will feel better, happier, and more content in a clean house. Let me help you get there.

First, the obvious things:

  • Vacuum the carpets. (You may have to pick up and/or throw out a lot of things first, like magazines and toys.) ((May the Good Lord be with you.))
  • Sweep the hard floors.
  • Mop the floors that can take the water (vinyl and tile). Gently spot clean the floors that can’t get drenched (laminate and hardwoods).
  • Open the windows to let in fresh air. Even if it’s winter. Especially if it’s winter. A clean house needs to smell clean, which means you might need a lot of old air to get sucked out.
  • Start a few loads of laundry. Don’t forget the towels, the throw rugs, and the blankets you keep in the living room.
  • Clean the toilets, bathtubs, showers, and bathroom sinks. Pay careful attention to the floor around the toilet. And use the wand on your vacuum to go around the perimeter of the room, where all the hair collects. Don’t forget to clean the bathroom mirror and counter around the sink.
  • Attack the kitchen. Here’s a blog post with a lot of instructions if this is going to be an all day job.
  • Dust. I know, it’s the worst chore ever. But maybe our homes would feel less like mausoleums if we dusted once in a while.

That should give you a good head start on feeling better about your home. But maybe you’re  in need of an advanced cleaning suggestions because something still doesn’t feel right.

Advanced options

  • Choose your favorite cleaner (Windex, Mrs. Meyers, or simple white vinegar), get a rag, and start scrubbing. I often miss things like my windows, the hand rail on the stairs, and all that grime that accumulates around the light switches and door handles. If you have short people living in your house, get down at their level and scrub those tiny handprints off.
  • Use the wand on your vacuum (or just get really good at using your cleaning rag and solution) and pay close attention to all your baseboards. They’re probably dusty and sticky and covered in hair.
  • Ditto for your ceiling fans and light fixtures. Get the dust and the spider webs.
  • Vacuum under the furniture, behind the furniture, and under the cushions. (My friend Josie just did this and found her wedding ring! It had been missing for a year!)
  • The windows should still be open to let in that fresh air.

clean house

Super-Advanced Ninja Cleaning Options: for when you’re really, really about to lose your mind:

These suggestions are not for everyone. They may be a little controversial. But I’ve found them to be helpful in my own home, so use them at your own discretion.

  • Train your kids (and their friends) to eat in the kitchen. Also train them to wash their hands before leaving the kitchen. The end. Banish snacks and sippy cups from the rest of the house. (One day I’ll tell you the story of when my mom found a cup of Pepsi in my brother’s room. The pop was so old the liquid had fermented and we had a potent stench that nearly put me off soda for life.) Be kind, but be firm and consistent. Your furniture and carpet will thank you for it. You’ll have fewer sticky fingerprints, fewer crushed crackers, and less stinky milk soaking into your textiles.
  • Consider your pet situation. I hesitate to bring this up because I know that pets are considered family in a lot of homes. However, we just had to move our cat out of the house and into the garage this very week, and I can’t believe the difference it’s made for us. The carpet is less hairy, there aren’t spots of litter all over the floor, the whole house smells better, and NOTHING HAS POOPED ON MY CARPET FOR SEVEN DAYS. I feel like I have a new house! The cat is furious, but he should have thought of that before he spent three years acting like a drunken frat boy around here.

Obviously you know your own situation better than I do, but those are two areas that might make a big difference.

Don’t despair if your house is clean but you still feel like it’s an awful pit. The next four parts of our series will get you closer, inch by inch, to loving your home without taking a bulldozer to it.home-contentment-banner

 

Home Contentment Series: The Prelude

home-contentment-series-headerContentment and happiness with our homes is important to us, right? We want to feel comfortable and safe in our places. We want them to represent who we are and what we offer to the world. But so many of our homes fall short of that ideal, leaving us cranky, anxious, and unsettled. We want something better.

I don’t think this is wrong. I think that human beings instinctually want to improve their places in the world, and that’s a very good thing (think back to the Garden of Eden, when God told Adam to go out and take care of everything he saw).

But I am furious at the standards that have assaulted us, especially recently. Home decorating has always been a thing, but the current level of TV networks, shelter magazines, and the internet have pushed our standards way, way, WAAAAAAAAAAYYYY past what most of us can afford or pull off. These unreasonable standards have to be challenged.

So sit back and let me tell you little story of many years ago when I was a young social worker in rural Michigan. One day I was assigned a home visit in a really poor area, and when I pulled up to that trailer in the wilderness I felt glued to my driver’s seat. By that time I’d been a social worker for only two years, but I’d been in about every kind of filthy, cluttered, dark, claustrophobic home you can imagine. Oh, the smells. The grime. The general air of despair and neglect.

Like this. I was in a LOT of homes like this, but instead of the desert, imagine a Michigan forest. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/roadsidepictures)
Like this. I was in a LOT of homes like this, but instead of the desert, imagine a Michigan forest. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/roadsidepictures)

I knew I was headed into a metal tube of despair and neglect, and I was wondering how long I could hold my breath while I conducted business like an adult. (Not long enough.)

The elderly couple greeted me at the door, I took a last snootful of fresh air, and stepped over their threshold. I blinked. I blinked faster. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a 1960s trailer, exquisitely maintained. It could have been bought new and furnished yesterday, not forty years earlier.

Nothing was new. Not the carpet, the couch, or the paneling on the walls. I don’t know how they’d kept that carpet in such good shape for decades, but it was perfect.

I decided to breathe, just for the sake of not passing out in front of these sweet people.

BACON.

The air smelled like bacon, and exactly like my own grandmother’s house. We headed to the kitchen where (of course) the appliances were ancient. But they matched the dining set, the floor, and the cabinets. The dishes were done and the counters wiped clean. I would have eaten anything they offered me, and for a social worker, that’s saying a lot.

I’m going to guess that this homemaker probably didn’t actually choose to live in a time capsule. I’m pretty sure she was forced to keep what she had because that’s all they could afford. But her choice to lovingly care for her home has spoken loudly to me for more than fifteen years.

She loved what she had. She kept it clean, decluttered, and fresh.

Home doesn’t require trendy appliances or the perfect floor. We could bulldoze our house and start over, and still be miserable if we don’t learn to care for what we have. What we buy today will be outdated in a decade or five minutes, so we have to learn to find contentment in something other than just buying a new thing.

fiesta coffee cup
I love Fiestaware. It’s beautiful, but it’s also been in style since, oh, MY GRANDMA BOUGHT DISHES back in the day. Timeless!

This Home Contentment Series will help you do just that.

We’re going to look at five areas that will slowly increase your happiness with your home. I promise none of it will require going into debt. It will require some work on your part and a new perspective on your home, but I think we can all manage that just fine.

And when your own home discontentment creeps up on you, just close your eyes and imagine an old, metal trailer full of an elderly couple’s possessions. Imagine all the surfaces buffed to a shine, an immaculate kitchen floor, and a cozy place to nap on a funky brown couch. Think of how contentment has nothing to do with what the trend of the moment demands of us.

Let’s look for something better.

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Two Simple Ways to Corral Your Wandering, Restless Spirit

We all know the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to see that other grass up close, examine it, and possibly buy it for ourselves. Right?

irish-cow-2
Mr. Moo-moo Cow would like to assure you that the grass isn’t greener over there, and he’d really not appreciate being corralled. So tone it down, Louise. No more fences. (Ignore him. We need a corral.)

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something within my spirit that’s always wandering, restless, wanting something new or different or better.

There’s always a different house I’d like to live in. A different kind of car I’d like to drive. A new place I’d like to visit or a new restaurant I’d like to try. A new career that might be way, way easier than the one I have at the moment.

Can you relate?

I like change. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because life is always bringing something new. Change is less agonizing when we’re eager to see what’s coming. I love watching my children grow to a new stage, I adore new seasons and new weather patterns, and I will be super, duper, double-dog happy when skinny jeans go out of style and something reasonable comes back in.

Please, Lord. Let it not be crop tops again.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Now that we’ve addressed our fashion needs with the Almighty, let’s look at a few simple ways I’ve found to corral this wandering, restless spirit of mine. Maybe you can find some help here, or suggest other things you’ve learned.

Numero Uno: Make a permanent decision. If you’re a serial dater and getting sick of that scene, maybe it’s time to pick a partner and put a ring on it, as our pop star so profoundly encourages us. I’m a serial house-lover, meaning I moon over any and every house that a carpenter has ever put on the earth. I love them all. I could drive my family crazy by moving us to a new place every few years, just to see what my coffee pot looks like on a new counter. But Eric and I have decided to stay in our current house, and to make the decision final we refinanced our loan to accelerate our payoff.  There’s something about signing a bunch of papers or having a big ceremony that settles something deep in our hearts.

fiesta coffee cup
Notice the coffee. Notice the steam. Appreciate the caffeine that slowly seeps into your veins and brain cells. See? Isn’t this fun?

Numero Dos: (Are you enjoying this international counting today? It feels zany and fun from this point of view.) Notice where you are right now, and train yourself to be thankful for what makes this place and this time good. What about this delicious cup of coffee? What about this safe, warm room? What about these delightful people God has given to you as family? Sometimes we’re two steps ahead of ourselves, worrying about the future (worrying about things that might not even happen!), and we miss what’s right in front of us. Bring the restless spirit back to the present and be thankful for it.

There are times when the only thing I need to do is recognize that my spirit is getting all wound up again, looking for contentment in places that can’t offer it. Just acknowledging this truth wins half the battles for me, honestly.

So now–what about you? Where does your heart wander away, looking for greener grass? What do you do about it?

 

 

You simply don’t have to live like everyone else. (Permission slip granted.)

Why does everyone think they can tell me how to live? How do I get permission to make my own choices?

Today on the blog we’re handing out permission slips.

They’re exactly as you remember them from your school days. They’re pink and sort of gritty and smell weird, like carbon copy paper always does. You’ll love them just as much as you used to, because you can wave them in the air wildly whenever an authority figure questions your location or motives or general life choices. “See? See right here? I have permission. Here’s my slip.”

permission slip for adults

Hopefully we’ve outgrown the need to get a slip to go to the bathroom, but I swear adulthood doesn’t feel much different some days. All we’re trying to do is live our life, but all these people have all these opinions.

No more! Today we’re deciding to do what we want.

You, over there. The woman who wants to have ten children and then homeschool them in the wilderness? Here’s your permission.

To the man who wants to learn to surf even though he lives in Nebraska? Even though he’s about to turn 65? Fine. Go for it, fine sir.

Start an organic farm? Go into ministry? Go to college? Drop out of college because you’ve realized you’ll never be able to pay it all back and actually live your life?

Have one child, have no child, get married, travel the world alone in a sailboat. We’re fine with all of that.

Permission granted. You simply don’t have to live like everyone else.

You simply don't have to live like everyone else. Permission slip granted

Now, cranky Great-Aunt Gretel might have a problem with that. And she’s likely to tell you all about her opinion of your life choices, and this is where you’ll need the permission slip. Print it out and hand it to her.

We’re all adults here.

We know our loved ones mean well. And let’s be honest, the status quo was pretty much developed because it’s quite nice to have warm, safe shelter and food on the table. When we run after our dreams, sometimes those dreams don’t come with things like stability or paychecks or health insurance. Great Aunt Gretel just wants us warm and fed and also not living in her house.

We can’t blame her for that.

And this is why we’ll be gentle with our responses when she comes at us. We’ll remind her that we really have thought it through, and we’re really sure this will eventually be a blessing. A weird blessing, maybe. But a blessing none the less.

I understand what might happen here, okay?

Because we’re adults we understand the consequences of our actions, and we have no desire to leave our loved ones in danger or despair. We’re trying to manage the dream and the reality, right?

Right. And that’s why we get our permission slip. This is going to be fantastic.

You can do it, I promise. You can make the changes needed to live your calling and your dream. And maybe one day Great Aunt Gretel will look around at all you’ve changed and smile a little, tiny bit.

We can always hope.

How to get a clean kitchen and make your loved one very, very happy.

clean-kitchen-header
An alternate, and perhaps more truthful, title.

Desperate for a clean kitchen? Are you looking around with wild eyes, realizing the place is a mess and you’re about to get in serious trouble for it?

Look, now’s not the time to point fingers, alrighty? It doesn’t matter how your kitchen got to this state. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sick or busy, or cooking up a storm, or if you’ve been intolerably lazy since the day you were born.

None of that matters now. What matters is that you have a bombed-out kitchen and need to get it clean before your spouse/roommate/soulmate/parental unit loses it again tonight when he or she walks in the door.

I’m here for you. We can do this. You can absolutely get this place cleaned up and make your loved one happy and glad and joyous. You want a happy house, right?

Here’s what needs to happen:

Step 1A: Summon your will from the deepest, strongest place in your guts. This next hour is not for wimps. But you can take this place from gross sanitation hazard to sparkling, Grandma-approved glory. It just takes guts, that’s all. And some hot water and soap and a dishcloth, also.

(Step 1A2: Please go get some soap and a dishcloth if you do not own these things. Dear heavens.)

dishcloth-drying

Step 1B: Determine if you have an appliance known as a dishwasher. If no, skip to step 3. If yes, determine if this is a crappy appliance that only swishes lukewarm water over the dishes, or if it’s an actual appliance of quality that can blast crud off your dishware. If it’s the crappy kind, no worries. We can totally work with that too. You’ll just have to rinse off the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, or run it a few times. What matters is that you have a handy box to hide the dirty dishes while they get “clean.”

Step 2: Find your sink and empty it out. Pull all the dirty dishes out and pile them on the counter. While you’re doing this, rinse them off. Scrape off the crud with a spatula or a spoon or something (be careful not to ruin delicate surfaces if you have fancy stuff).

Travel around the kitchen (and the rest of the house while you’re at it) and gather up the rest of the dirty dishes, pots, pans, and what have you. Now that the sink’s empty, you can rinse and scrape those as well. Pile everything on the counter near the sink.

I realize this seems like a stupid step if you’re trying to clean the dishes– why not just wash them right away? Scraping and rinsing dishes will keep your dishwater from turning into a disgusting swamp immediately, that’s why. And it gives your dishwasher a fighting chance if you have seriously gunky dishes to put in there.

clean kitchen

Neatly fit all the dishes you can manage into the dishwasher. Big plates go together on the bottom, the silverware all needs to be put into the basket, and then cups and things that will melt in the drying cycle (like those cheap plastic containers for leftovers) go on the top, away from the heater. Make it look like an army general lined up his troops. That will get the water swished around the best, therefore you’ll get the cleanest dishes. Fill the soap dispenser (do NOT use regular dish soap– use dishwashing detergent) and turn the blessed machine on.

Do not lose your will to live just yet. We’re halfway to a clean kitchen!

Step 3: Clean your sink. All that loosened food is probably sitting in the basket at the bottom, plus the sides are disgusting. Empty out the baskets on both sides and wipe down the whole sink. Now you’re ready to actually wash the dishes that didn’t fit into the dishwasher.

Step 4: Half-fill the sink with hot, soapy water. Take the dishcloth or scrubber and get at those dishes. This will take the proverbial elbow grease. Rinse each dish off with hot water, check to make sure it’s actually clean, and then rest it upside down to drain out. You can lay the dishes in a rack or on a clean towel on the counter.

When the dishwater turns gray and the bubbles disappear, it’s time for fresh water. Drain out the nastiness, empty the basket, replug the sink, and start with new soap and new water. Trust me, you can’t just add more soap to the gross water. It’s still gross water. You may have to replace your water a few times if you have a lot of really dirty dishes.

If you have a dish that truly won’t come clean, throw it in the trash. Ha! Totally kidding. You can squirt a little dish soap in, add some really hot water, and let it soak.

Step 5: Wipe down all the counters and the stovetop with a wet cloth. Wipe the crumbs into your hand and throw them in the trash. Scrub the sticky and gunky parts until clean.

Step 6: Sweep the floor and then scoop up the dirt. Throw it into the trash.

Step 7: Take out the trash. Put in a fresh bag.

Step 8: Decide what to do with those drying dishes. If your loved one has really high standards, show them a little extra love and actually dry them and put them away. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. If they’re a little more relaxed, they probably won’t mind a tidy pile of drying dishes.

clean dishes in a clean kitchen

I figure that God invented evaporation, so why should I hurry his process? I let the dishes air dry.

Step 9: Finish scrubbing any of the dishes you had to let soak. Rinse them. Add them to the happy, clean kitchen pile of joy and delight. (Maybe I get a little too excited about this?)

Step 10: Clean out the sink again. Drain the water, wipe down the sink sides, and clean out the basket into the trash. Rinse the sink. Wipe down the faucet and the area on top of the sink to get rid of hard water stains. Rinse out the cloth and spread it out over the faucet or the sink partition to dry.

Now take a look around and give the room the hairy eyeball. Do you now have a clean kitchen? Does it smell fresh? It should feel better. Rooms that have been lovingly cared for always feel better.

But let’s think about this on a deeper level

I’m not sure why, but there’s a connection between the physical act of caring for something and how we feel about it. We can’t control much in life, right? We have job problems and relationship trouble and money challenges. But we can control how we care for the spaces we live and the things we own, and that care can change our entire outlook on our situation.

A clean kitchen means we’re doing the best with what we have. We don’t have to have luxurious homes with the fanciest things– our grandparents often had simple, old, basic kitchens but cooked wonderful meals and made loving memories. They knew the value of caring for what they had.

I hope this silly little blog post helps you do the same, and grow a little more content in the process.

And…ahem… Gentlemen, wives often really appreciate a clean kitchen. Wink wink, nudge nudge. That’s all I have to say about that.

Encouragement for Young Wives and Mothers: You are doing a great job. You’re not goofing this up at all. Pinky Promise.

I’m here to give encouragement to young women of all kinds.

I write to all of you, whether you’re married, single, up to your ears in children, or not.

You have this in common: you’re twenty-something-ish,  you’re a female, and you’re quite, quite sure you’re making a huge mess of everything.

Your romantic life and/or marriage feels like it’s in a shambles. Every day is full of irritations and possibly screaming fights. Or maybe it’s full of…nothing. Mr. Perfect has not yet made his appearance. Something must be wrong with you.

Your career is nothing like what you thought it would be. Instead you have a gazillion dollars of student loans hanging from your neck while you sit in a gray cubicle too many hours a week. Or maybe you’re home with the children and the student loans hang around your neck, which is a super terrible combination to endure. You must have gone wrong somewhere.

Your home is absolutely coming apart at the seams. The carpet is old and dirty, none of the appliances match, and you can’t find where that smell is coming from. You really should be better at this. 

Your children appear to be hooligans in the making. You are fully convinced your efforts to parent are wasted, because obviously if you were doing it right you’d have angels and happiness and possibly unicorns dancing in and out of rainbows all day.

encouragement for wives and mothers

 

Dear friends, you are wrong about all of this. This is the encouragement you need.

I’m willing to guarantee that you feel like a mess and a failure, but in reality you’re doing just fine. 

I’m about to turn forty in a few weeks, and I had the luck to come of age when Pinterest wasn’t a thing. I wasn’t assaulted with perfect images of clean houses or twenty-nine crafts to do with my toddler on a rainy afternoon.

When it rained my toddlers and I muddled through the day, watched a lot of Baby Einstein, ate some crackers, and took a nap.

Guess what– those toddlers are now 13 and 11 and they’re becoming truly wonderful people. They were not emotionally stunted by my lackluster crafting schedule.

I didn’t feel like my house needed to look like a showcase, because Instagram wasn’t reminding me sixty-two different ways of how beautiful a home can look when actual people don’t live there.

Waaaaay back in the day, Facebook was used for fun things like pregnancy announcements and requests to borrow a chainsaw. We finally all got smartphones and then things got ugly, when we could show the world our children’s perfect Halloween costumes or how matchy-matchy our living room sets were. Date nights turned into an opportunity to prove how deeply, madly in love we are with our partners.

Welcome to my real life. This is how my coffee table looks most days.
Girls, I’m forty years old and my coffee table looks like this every day. We never get it all together. NOR DO WE NEED TO.

Let’s blame the smartphones

I think that’s when things began to go seriously downhill. I blame the smartphones for it all.

And you, my sweet sisters, are doing the hard work of becoming adults with a constant assault of this nonsense in your faces all day long. No wonder you feel tired and ashamed and mismatched.

What you need is a double dose of encouragement, right?

You’re doing great, I promise. You’re loving your family, you’re taking great care of your home, and you’re working really, really hard. Show yourself some grace and choose some reasonable standards instead of that nonsense on the screen. Go find an older friend and inhale her perspective like the breath of fresh air it will be.

Tell her you’re going crazy and you need some help. She’ll remember how hard early girlyhood can be, and she’ll help you straighten things right out.

And if all else fails, don’t forget to nap and eat some crackers when it rains.

Young moms– I wrote a book just for you! There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse is chock full of ridiculous stories and encouragement to get you through your days. Plus, there’s a ton of biblical advice in there, too. Click here to buy from Amazon!Encouragement for moms! There's a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse

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