Home Care

We downsized our house and our bills, and this is what we learned:

Thinking of downsizing to balance your family finances?

We finally did it. After years of thinking about selling our house and downsizing all our bills, we put the sign in the yard and found ourselves a new neighborhood.

Do people think we’re crazy? Yes, most of them do, although everyone has been too polite to say this out loud.

Do we think we’re crazy? Yes, a little bit. It depends on the day and the exact struggle. I mean, we traded a five-year old house in a tidy new subdivision for an eighty-five year old house in a well-established, slightly grittier part of town.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, is all I’m saying. If you have this nagging desire to pay off debt or lower your property tax bill or have less house to clean, here’s what we learned.

Lesson 1: There is always a trade off. Always.

Yes, the new house has lower taxes and our mortgage is lower. But the new house also has at least a hundred doors, and they’re all a bit wonky. Some have keyholes but no keys. Some don’t close all the way or latch. Some scrape the floor when you open them.

We will not discuss the lack of energy efficiency, the odd noise the furnace makes, or the ice dams forming on the roof right now. I don’t have all day to get upset about the ice dams.

Less expensive homes are less expensive for a reason. Lucky for us, we think most of this is kind of hilarious. Eric and I both grew up in old farmhouses so oddities like this don’t stress us out too badly. But if these are the things that drive you mad, then think twice.

Lesson 2: The actual process of obtaining a mortgage and buying/selling a house is soul-sucking.

Even with stable, normal jobs and excellent credit, there was a time when an email from our mortgage processor spiked my blood pressure to the stratosphere. We waded through paperwork I didn’t understand, shelled out thousands of dollars out-of-pocket, and had a home purchase completely fall through at the last moment. Heart attack city, I tell you.

AND ALSO, we ran into a problem when our property taxes were double paid due to a lack of communication by some of the professionals. A sizable amount of money ended up in cyber space for months instead of in our savings account, where it belonged. (Word to the wise– if you run into this type of problem, use Twitter to politely contact your bank! That got us assistance when nothing else did.)

I am now at least 40 years older from the experience of buying this house. I’m basically an 81-year-old woman with a great dye job.

Lesson 3: Moving is a big adjustment.

I got so caught up in the financial aspect of things that I sort of forgot about the emotional cost of moving. Except for the cat, who thinks the new house is wonderful, we’ve all had some roller coaster emotions the last two months. Our daughter moved away from some neighborhood friends she really enjoyed, we moved out of the school district so we end up driving a lot more (the kids didn’t change schools), and also many people think we’re insane.

There’s been a fair amount of anxiety, frustration, and explaining to do. I’ve woken up at night and had panic attacks over whether we did the right thing, but IT WAS TOO LATE because we were already sleeping in a house we’d already bought.

I guess this is an actual example of sleeping in the bed you made, right?

Overall, I think we made the right decision when we downsized.

The move has given me the confidence that we’re doing the best we can with our resources across a very broad spectrum.

We’re able to tithe and give generously, save for retirement, got a twenty-year mortgage, and paid off a considerable debt because of the move. Our kids are headed into very expensive years– driving, graduation, and college loom in the near future. I feel like this house gives us the financial flexibility to prepare for those expenses wisely.

We love to travel, and this house also gives us the room to do that. We traveled even when we lived in the more expensive house, but I always felt kind of weird about it. Now I know we’ve made the changes that free up the money to travel. Rome, here we come!

Finances aside, the house itself is working well for us too. It’s not the tiny house I dreamed of for years, but it’s a good compromise for everyone. The kids have enough room to spread out and have friends over, Eric still has his library, and I have a gorgeous backyard that the previous owner tended with love for forty-five years. I can’t wait to get out there this spring to see what’s growing.

Could we have saved even more money with a smaller, older, rougher house? Yes, of course. But then our sanity would have been at stake, and that would have cost waaaaay more than property taxes.

My advice is this: know your priorities.

What’s your greatest stress? Consider that question with prayer, good counsel, and lots of thinking. If you’re in a stage where you have little kids who need a lot of room to run around and you want to host all the Christmas gatherings in your home, then you probably would do well to pay more for your house to ensure you can live your priorities.

But if your finances are wobbly, or you just hate the thought of spending your money on things that don’t matter to you, then downsizing/rightsizing might be a great decision for your family.

There’s a tremendous amount of freedom in making the hard decision that brings your life into balance. Is it right for you? Only you can know! Life is too short to be burdened with debt, stress, and priorities that don’t fit what God has called you to do. It might be time to get your own sign for the yard!



Calm on the outside; freaking out on the inside

If you could peek into my house right this minute, you’d find us calmly going about our business in perfectly clean rooms.

I’m not even joking, friends. The house looks like we’re ready for potential buyers to walk in the door because we are, in fact, ready for those potential buyers.

The sinks are shiny, the showers look like no one has ever bathed in them, and the laundry is all done. The oven is clean and someone who shall remain nameless has been forbidden to bake pizzas until the house is sold.

It’s weird and I don’t really like it very much. It feels like we snuck into a show house and are pretending to live there.

It looks like this, but even CLEANER. No stuff stuck to the fridge, an almost empty counter. It’s spooky, folks.

The kids are old enough that they know how to not make messes, so they’re quietly going about their business in a tidy fashion while Eric and I read and write blog posts.

Outward everything is calm. But inside I’m totally freaking out. As evidence, I bring actual thoughts I’ve had since waking this morning:


Notice how my thoughts become run-on sentences as the panic grows.

To counter these negative emotions, I also have perfectly sane and intelligent thoughts at exactly the same time:

This other house we’re interested in will really offer us some great opportunities. It solves a few problems (LIKE THE IDIOT CAT), it opens up financial possibilities, and the decorating decisions will be such a fun challenge. I can’t wait to rip that ghastly wallpaper right off the wall. What a delight this will be!

It’s like my brain is in a blender. All the outcomes will be fine, honestly. We love this house and will be happy to stay here for years, but the other house we have our eye on could really be a great adventure.

We spent a solid two weeks praying about this decision to possibly move, and Eric and I reached the same decision carefully and slowly. Neither of us pushed or shoved the other in either direction; no one whined or wheedled or begged. Those of you who know me in person will find this unlikely, but I promise I put the brakes on my usual personality out of terror I’d drag my family into a nightmare that would scar them for years.

But we finally did it. The sign is in the yard, the kids are actually getting their dirty laundry into the basket each night, and I’m actually getting it all washed the next morning.

Now we wait.

As much as I’d like to demand God hurries up and gets our future all lined up in either direction ASAP, I’ve learned that spending time with him in the midst of the uncertainty is a far better option. That’s where the closeness and trust grows.

We prayed ourselves into this situation, now we can pray right through it. And prayer doesn’t mean demanding evidence. It means we choose to trust that he’s working– even when we can’t see it from here.

It means choosing to be still even when our brains are feeling like blenders. It means scrubbing a tub and being thankful it’s clean whether someone buys the house or not.

I was feeling like a moron the day Caleb took this photo, but it actually illustrates my state of mind today– happy, but also insane a little.

It may, in fact, require a Valium in the near future. I’m no saint. I’m due for another round of panic here in about three minutes. Bear with me, and I’ll keep you updated on the situation!








The day my husband suggested closing the door might be a viable alternative to a home renovation project

My laundry room causes me mild levels of despair. Here, see for yourself:

There’s nothing specifically wrong with it, unless you’re not into bare studs and exposed insulation.

And let’s not forget that one naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Some people might NOT FIND THAT ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL, maybe.

For heaven’s sake…

But all things considered, it could be worse. It’s dry, it’s relatively warm, and has electric and water going to the important places. I can’t complain, but I also can’t escape the gloom that creeps up on me every time I go in there.

I made the fatal mistake of looking for laundry room ideas on Pinterest. WHY. Why do I do this to myself? Because of course I found examples like this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and homebunch.com

And this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and estestinc.com

Good grief, America. We’ve lost our minds. Who needs a chandelier in the laundry room?That’s just too far.

A few nights ago I went for a walk and could see  into my neighbors’ laundry rooms. Most of them are bare and functional like our house, but some of the owners have upgraded to actual walls and flooring. The wheels in my head started turning.

After stalking my neighbors’ choices in a very creepy fashion, I stood in the basement and tried to imagine it with drywall and more than one pitiful lightbulb– less fancy than the American Laundry Monstrosities pictured above, but better than the utilitarian setup we have. It was a nice little idea, I thought. I got a little excited and then dragged Eric into the room to enjoy my vision with me.

Eric’s logical mind took one good hard look around the room. He pointed out the obvious things I was overlooking, like ducts and pipes and electrical outlets. “How do you even get around those things?” he dared to ask out loud. Even though he could tell his wife was unhinged with visions of laundry room glory.

I don’t even know what this is. Maybe the water connection to the hose?

Obviously the room was plumbed and wired by people who cared not a whit about the poor fools who would need to finish the walls after them. “Not my problem, Kemosabe,” seemed a likely phrase bandied about by tradesman as they installed permanent objects one inch out from the wall studs.

Good grief, guys. Could we let up on the foamy insulation stuff just a wee bit?

Since paying a professional to drywall the utility room this year clearly isn’t in the budget, we’re stuck. Eric looked at me calmly and suggested, “Why don’t you just close the door? Then you can’t see in here.”

I blinked at him, searching for a response I wouldn’t regret later. And on my way out of the room, I shut the door behind us. The very aggravating thing is that the man’s right– if the door’s closed, the problem goes mostly away.

I mean, yes, the despair and gloom reappear as soon as I step foot in there, but it’s not like laundry is my 24/7 job. I get to go to other places in the house, too. All places far less gloomy than this basement, I might add.
But for now, shutting the door just saved us about $53,292,765 in renovation costs, by my rough estimate. I guess I’ll have to be okay with it.

See? The problem disappears.


The Nester vs. Melissa Michaels: An Epic Battle of Christian Home Decorating Books

Christian home decorating books
Home decorating books have moved into the church, my friends. Consider Joanna Gaines, the Nester (Myquillyn Smith), and Melissa Michaels, all women who love Jesus and hate ugly rooms.

And frankly, this is a welcome relief. I’m a little tired of fighting over the big theological issues like predestination and the dumb things like the temperature of the women’s bathroom. I think we’re all ready for a little neutral territory, a little bit of fun in the middle of this crazy church lady life. So while some may roll their eyes at Christian home decorating books, I’m all for them. 

Christian home decorating books
So let’s take my two favorite home decorating books and put them head-to-head in an epic literary battle, shall we?

(This is probably where I should apologize for many of the pictures in this post. I’m guessing photos of book pages are probably some sort of copyright infringement, but since I’m basically begging readers to go out and buy these books from legitimate sources, I’m taking my chances with the Christian publishing world’s legal teams. Please don’t sue me. Amen. Also, be prepared for affiliate links below.)

The Nesting Place: by Myquillyn Smith

Quirky. The Nesting Place is quirky, and hand to the heavens, that is my favorite part. The Nester (because Myquillyn is hard to say and– apparently– impossible to type) is fond of using stumps for side tables and deer antlers for just about anything.

Her rooms are goofy and fun and she’s not afraid to show you the dark underside of her decorating, like chairs that are missing a leg or fabric that’s frayed.

home decorating books
It’s old, okay? The poor sweet chair has some issues, but we still love it.

My own house looks like this, so I feel right at home in her book.

But wait. There’s more. My other favorite part of the book is where the Nester goes explains all thirteen homes her family has lived in, why they moved, and the financial challenges they faced. Real life, in other words. Home decorating books don’t have to be full of fantasy and debt!

The Challenger: The Inspired Room, by Melissa Michaels

I didn’t think there could ever be a decorating book that might come close to The Nesting Place, but I was wrong. The Inspired Room landed on my front porch last week and I was smitten. Her decorating style is freakishly similar to my own, and now I’m desperate to use old maps to wallpaper (I use that term loosely) a small wall.

christian home decorating books
Maps as wallpaper!! Genius! She also has practical things like color palettes, a resource list, and seasonal decorating.

The Winner: Both of them.

I know, that’s cheating a little. An epic battle can’t come out in a tie, but this is my blog so I get to set the epic battle rules.

I love both books because both authors have a firm commitment to decorating with contentment and joy. I refuse to accept that I can only love my home if I gut the kitchen and then borrow money for a $70,000 remodel. That’s dumb and irresponsible. Both the Nester and Melissa understand that our homes are places of refuge, and that comes slowly.

They understand that a beautiful, welcoming home comes one little step at a time. We slowly work our way to something prettier, more functional, and valuable– we don’t just run to the store and buy it all on credit.

But please do run out and pay cash for these two books. You won’t be sorry!

Impulse Furniture Purchases: Maybe They’re Not Really So Terrible

The Clemence budget has been blown asunder recently, due to two separate incidents where we lost our minds and made impulse furniture purchases.

Twice. This was not one isolated incident.

And now, if you’re in the mood to listen, I shall give a long and rambling explanation of why it’s okay to blow the budget sometimes, especially if the purchase in question is very perfect. My ramblings will help you decide whether your purchase is worth it for you own situation. (Or you will decide I’m nuts, which is okay too.)

Here’s why impulse furniture purchases might be okay in specific circumstances:

We’d been looking for these items for a long time. I mean YEARS.

In our eighteen year marriage, we’ve never owned a solid set of dining chairs. Everything we’ve had has been picked up at garage sales, antique stores, and even off the curb. Our chairs have recently become so sketchy that a complete failure was becoming a real possibility. As in, a guest might get dumped to the floor as he took a bite of lasagna.

impulse furniture purchases
A peek into your blogger’s phone– this is one of the photos I took in Kalamazoo Kitty as I deliberated for 45 minutes about whether to buy the table or not.

When Eric handed me a spindle to a chair a few weeks ago, what had been a casual search became serious business.

The second purchase, a leather chair for Eric’s library, has been an ongoing search for several years. We love the Manhattan chair at Pottery Barn, but we just can’t justify that kind of money for one chair.

Impulse furniture purchases
Now Eric’s library has TWO leather chairs, both purchased for way less than the $1700 Pottery Barn option ($150 and $195). Technically both were impulse purchases, but Mama ain’t no fool. Buy them when you see them!

So while these purchases might seem like impulses, in reality they were just sudden appearances of something we’d been hunting for a long time.

We found high-quality pieces at resale shops, which means we spent $500 instead of $4,000.

While I don’t turn up my nose at old or cheap furniture, I really do prefer the stuff that’s well-made. I find new furniture to be hideously expensive for something that will be out of style in five years, plus so badly built we’ll be using it for kindling in those same five years. I turned to my two favorite shops in Kalamazoo, which both sell used furniture.

Boomerang for the Home has really nice stuff. If I want a sofa or dining room set to last two decades, I go here. But that high quality often means higher prices even for resale furniture. Also, the folks who can afford to get rid of these nice things to replace them with nicer things often have a… how do I say this politely… impressive sense of style. Think dark wood, four poster king-sized beds, and enormous buffets.

Nevertheless, sometimes a seller has the same casual, funky style we prefer, and Eric’s leather chair was waiting for us in a corner.

When we bought it, a matching sofa was sitting to the left. But I bet that’s been gone for weeks now.

Kalamazoo Kitty has a much wider range of furniture, accessories, and chalk paint. They have old and new, funky and fancy. Coming into this store is my son’s worst nightmare, as it’s guaranteed to take me at least forty-five minutes to see everything. On the day I found our new table and chairs he wasn’t with me. Hallelujah and amen.

Because they were at resale shops, it’s not like we’re going to find these exact things at every furniture store in Michigan.

When you find what you want at a resale shop, there’s a high probability it’s going to be sold very quickly. Our purchases were excellent and we knew it; other shoppers would have recognized the same thing. We bought them before the competition scooped them up.

second hand furniture store
I didn’t buy the china set they displayed on the table, but I thought about it. It had more pieces than I’d ever seen in china, including several pieces none of us knew how to use.

The purchases didn’t do permanent damage to our finances.

While we hadn’t saved the money specifically for the impulse furniture purchases, we did have the money in savings. Our budget had recently loosened up because of a vacation reschedule, so we were able to buy them without endangering the overall finances. No debt, no panic over the credit card bill next month.

So that’s how it worked out for us. Do you have the information you need to make your own decision? I hope so! If not, let me know below or at my Facebook page. I’ll see what I can do for you!


Bring back the everyday tablecloth: Get more mileage from your old table.

everyday tablecloth
Dear Fellow Lovers of Home Things,

I have been shopping for dining room tables. I have shopped and shopped and shopped until my eyes crossed. So I finally came home and threw a tablecloth on my table, and saved myself $2,000.

Not that our table is really the problem. I love the thing, but with two kids and a ton of guests, it takes a lot of wear and tear. Our chairs are really the problem– they’re getting so rickety that we stand a very high chance of dumping a guest to the floor here pretty soon. One day Eric (who is not a large man) sat back, a spindle popped out, and he handed it to me across the table.

We weren’t sure what was going to fall off/down/apart next, so I started looking for different chairs. (But more about that in an upcoming post.) I found plenty of chairs, but they were either very expensive, very ugly, or just as rickety as the ones we needed to replace. I started to realize that solid chairs often came with solid tables, and I might as well replace everything at once.

Why is this taking so long?

This whole process took months because 1) I am picky, 2) we need just the right size table to fit in our kitchen, and 3) I am cheap.

In the mean time, my tablecloth collection came in handy, protecting the table from further scratches, looking pretty, and growing on me.

Audrey pointed out that our tablecloth was getting so filthy that we were starting to sit at other spots on the table to avoid the crumbs. She was right– you can’t wipe off cloth very well. I tried. It didn’t work. And then I started looking for vinyl, wipeable options. (Like this adorable retro one from Amazon!— (affiliate link.))

The unspeakable cloth: Vinyl

If tablecloths in general aren’t in style at the moment, you can imagine that vinyl tablecloths are even less popular. The options are limited and most of the patterns look like they’ve been on the shelves for thirty years. If you look long enough, you can find some good ones.

They work so well, once you find a pattern you can live with. They cover and protect the table, and you can wipe off spills and crumbs. My own mother has had several high quality ones over the years, often cut from huge bolts at the fabric store. Her table is forty years old and still looks perfect. She had those vinyl covers on for most of our early years (because three children are h-e-double-hockey-sticks on wood). But now that my siblings and I can be trusted not to gouge the furniture with forks, she keeps it uncovered most of the time.

I say it’s time to bring back the everyday tablecloth! They keep our nice tables looking nice, but also, they give us time to save and shop wisely if our table is in rough shape. You could cover a table for eternity and no one would be the wiser if you become dedicated to the Art of Tableclothery (totally a thing).

They aren’t expensive; I’ve found my favorite ones at garage sales and discount stores. And every thrift store I’ve ever visited has about a million of them. Why can’t we get creative?

Sure, our families might wonder about them at first. They might feel like they’ve wandered into an episode of Leave it to Beaver, but they’ll get used to it. Maybe you’ll feel like putting out the good plates, sitting down with friends, and sharing a little longer over your pretty table.

pretty tablecloth

Time to move? Considerations for your new family home.

new family homeAre you thinking about buying a new family home soon?

I’m going to guess you can list the shortcomings of your current house in detail. You know exactly what areas need more room, more organization, and more light. You know how many bathrooms you wish you had and where the laundry room should be. Perfect. You’re creating the list of what your new family home needs with every exasperating room in the current house.

I did the same thing. Our first home was a tiny starter house with no discernible floor plan. The washer and dryer were in the kitchen, there was no proper place to put boots and shoes, and the basement was terrifying.

Eventually we moved to a new family home, praise be the the Almighty, and I did not make the same mistakes when choosing the new place. But now that we’ve been here a few years, I’m still surprised by a few things. In some ways this new house suits us even better than I thought it would, but other things have developed that I didn’t anticipate.

family home

Here’s what I learned. You might find it helpful for your own house search.

Kids’ stuff gets smaller.

When we lived in that teeny house, I swear to you– our daughter searched out every giant stuffed animal in Kalamazoo and then conned her grandparents into buying it for her. When we moved into this new house, I was grateful for the room for the stupid stuffed toys. But the child outgrew those toys in just a few years, and now all she needs is her phone and a few books. You might not need as much room as you think in a few years.

Kids’ interests change. Plan with flexibility in mind.

Don’t overspend on something that might not matter in two years. Sure, Dylan might play with his Thomas the Train table for hours today, but in two years he might be into drumming or Legos instead. You might not need an extra family room then. Pools, trampolines, and room for sports might become a huge asset with older kids. Plan for big kids, and plan for their eventual big friends. A house with many options will serve you well.

Pay extra for only what matters to your family.

If I see one more gourmet kitchen with a granite countertop, I will pluck my eyes from my head. Yes, of course some families love these rooms, and for them, it’s worth the extra expense. But I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. For us, a library nook was worth the extra cost. Family rooms, extra garage storage, or acreage only makes sense if your family needs them.

Privacy is huge as kids get older.

Trust me, when your kids are fourteen and twelve, everyone is going to be okay with bedrooms far, far away from each other. We live in a bi-level, and our floor plan is great for bigger kids. It would be a nightmare if we still had little ones who were up several times a night. But at these ages, we want to be in one place and the children want to be in a completely different place. Trust me, if you can afford it, you will never regret a separate area for your master suite.

Two toilets are a life saver. But two showers might just be a hassle.

Cleaning two showers is super dumb. I hate it. The kids are supposed to be in charge of cleaning the downstairs tub and shower, but something is going terribly, terribly wrong down there. No matter how many times I explain the concept of mold and hard water stains, they don’t believe they can clean them away. I don’t know what people do with more than two bathrooms– cleaning them must become an endless nightmare.

So that’s what I know so far.

I’m sure I’ll be surprised at all new things as the kids grow into high schoolers. Do you have any advice for me? I’d love to hear what you love and hate about your house, and what you’d like to see in your new family home. Comment over on Facebook! That’s where all the real action happens.



How to be a not-terrible hostess this Christmas season

As I write this, the holidays are approaching and you’re the elected hostess. It’s entirely possible your house is already filling with guests in some sort of Christmas Vacation scenario, and your Cousin Eddie’s dog is rooting through the trash while his tenement on wheels is parked in your driveway. The bedrooms and couches are filled to capacity and you’ve started smoking your hidden cigarettes again to ease your nerves.

How to be a great hostessYou want everyone to enjoy their holiday and their time in your home. But you’re also freaking out a little and wishing you’d moved to Iceland last year when you had the chance to transfer to the Kirkjubæjarklaustur office.

Just in time to calm your nerves, I bring you The Reluctant Entertainer (affiliate link*), the book that reminds us that hospitality is about opening our lives to our guests, not trying to impress them with our superior decorating, cooking, and cleaning skills. Being a great hostess doesn’t have to look like what we see on TV.

“Opening our lives” means sharing our actual lives, not the perfect ones we fake for social media. The pile of shoes by the front door can stay. So can the toys spread across the living room floor and the heap of clothes you hide on the far side of the bed.

The nasty garbage and the pile of dishes that smells like something died in the drain might be going  a little far, because generally guests do enjoy being able to breathe through the nose without gagging. And a wee bit of attention paid to the bathroom never hurt anyone, either.

Guests need comfortable places to hang out, good food, and some clean towels. Mostly, they want our presence, and not the jacked-up, anxious, nervous-breakdown-hostess edition. They’d like the calm and relaxed edition of us, the one who eats too many cookies and then hides the dirty cookie trays in the oven.


On the other hand…some of you may be dreading your guests for good reason. They might be picky, demeaning, and critical, with a tendency to make pointed comments about your scuffed baseboards.

Guess what.

This says a lot about them, and nothing about you.

Their criticism comes from a dark place in their heart, and you don’t have to go there. Go about your business. Eat another cookie. Take a nip from the flask you keep in the top cupboard. But don’t let them convince you that you’re the problem.

You enjoy your holiday, be the best hostess you can be, share the joy of the season and the gift of Christ’s birth, and move on. They’ll go home soon and you can nap all through January.


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


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.




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


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.

move furniture
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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