Sunday, March 13, 2016

What If You Hate Your House? (Part One)

I was recently privy to a discussion about houses. The overarching theme was that many people in this discussion were quite discontented with their houses, some even to the point of saying they "hated" their homes.

Sometimes this is justified (the floor falling through to the crawl space? I would hate that, too) and sometimes it is whiny (the $20,000 kitchen remodel that gets redone because after two years of living with the sleek trendy new kitchen.....the owner hates it...I have less empathy here).

I have been somewhere in the middle: in a house not falling apart, but that needed a lot of cosmetic work, not the style I would ever choose for myself, but yet full of memories and coming without a large price tag.

Here's what helped me during my years of House Discontentment.  (I should add that I love our house now!)

1. Painting! Walls, trimwork, furniture, anything. When we moved into this house the walls were unpainted.  Unprimed.  Stark white. Here's our first Christmas in the house, for reference--which was 2001.

Same view, after painting--the room just seems so warm, even without any curtains. (I lived with that blue lamp and its shade for years and years.  It was a hand-me-down from my father, and we were just working with what we had!)

(Circa 2006)

Finn's room, before it was Finn's room, was a guest room and my office. (This is circa...2002.)

Sage green walls warmed it so much (2007).

Painting furniture can liven it up a lot.  I remade yellow yard sale chairs (bought around 2008)....

Into bright and fun chairs (2011ish).

I have painted walls, trimwork, ceilings, cabinetry, furniture, even a refrigerator.  Paint is magical.

2.  Flowers...or anything from the Great Outdoors.

 The cheapest of the cheap grocery store roses, on clearance, half of them faded, are still rescued if they're in individual (thrifted) vases.

These are fake. I bought them in law school, so sometime before 2004.  They now live in a large white pitcher on top of the refrigerator, and I like the way they look up there. They are the only fake flowers I own, but I like them!

Alstromeria in an estate sale pitcher...these are my go-to cheap flowers. They usually last two weeks and they cost very little per dozen. 

You can see the yellow forsythia living very large in the photo of our living room, above. 

In winter I sometimes just turn to pinecones and candles.  I always ask for an orchid for Christmas from my father-in-law, and he always obliges (he loves them, too). The blooms last several weeks.

You can buy bulbs and force daffodils and hyacinth during the dark winter months--very cheaply!

Rocks on a tray.

And I once decorated for Finn's June birthday with leaves. 

Goldenrod from the pasture.

I find that clearing the table and setting out some flowers, rocks, pinecones, leaves, or weeds makes the house more beautiful and more likable. 

3.  Focus on what you can do to make things more functional during this season of life.  

Once upon a time we converted the corner of the living room into a play area for Finn.

This was such a minor thing, but it helped so much to have his primary toys in the living room (easier cleanup because they always migrated there anyhow).  He loved to sit and play there while I cooked nearby, and it worked so well during that season.  The corner now looks like this and features our dog's bed.  Seasons change!

I once read about a woman with many children who needed to solve the problem of hats, gloves, scarves, sunglasses, etc. getting lost, so she bought a second-hand dresser with one drawer per family member, and put it beside their back door.  When each person came into the house, they put their belongings in that drawer!  Simple, inexpensive, and effective.

Thinking hard about your needs in your current season of life (small children? empty nest?  teenagers? living alone?  elderly parents? busy career? lots of travel?) is the key.  What looks great on a blog or in a magazine may not work great in your home because we are all so unique, and need to come up with solutions that meet our individual needs.  Making one problem area more functional and more suitable for your life as it is right now--not as it is ideally or will be in 20 years--is so helpful!

4.  Embrace old stuff.  I will write more about this in the future. But there's value in trying to embrace the items you have, or that you can afford, instead of longing for things you do not have, and cannot afford.

The vast majority of my furniture is used.  The only things we have purchased new were our blue sofa and chair (now living in the basement), and our bed, nightstands, and cedar chest.  Every single other piece of furniture in my house is an heirloom, a gift, or something I rounded up from an estate sale or Craigslist.

 For a long time we used this table and these chairs (they were my mom's), until I found a farm table at a consignment shop. I didn't love the set, but it worked for us and we had many celebratory meals around that table until I found one I preferred.

Then we sent this set to Goodwill.  Hooray!

There is charm in the used--I love being surrounded by items that have a story to tell, even if they are not what I would necessarily choose if I walked into a furniture store.  Used furniture is often sturdier than new furniture. If the finish is not great, you can paint it with impunity.  I have bought original art at thrift stores and estate sales, and it looks so much better to my eye than generic mass-produced "art." 

 If you have patience and the ability to take a little time to pop into a yard sale every so often, go to the thrift store for a few minutes once or twice a month, and spend a little while checking Craigslist, you will find gems.  Slowly, over time, you will get good at it, too!  

So that is part one of how to deal with house hatred: use paint, flowers, functionality, and secondhand items to your advantage!  Small changes, like a painted dresser, a tray of pinecones, tidying up a pesky corner, and finding a $5 end table, can cultivate positive feelings about your home that may eventually snowball  At least that's what happened to me!


  1. What a comprehensive and inspiring post Polly!

  2. Great tips! I loved seeing all the pictures.

  3. So good, Polly! Loving our homes is a whole lot more mindset and attitude than circumstances, for sure. Our old home was old, had loads of character, and was situated on over 3 very private, treed acres in Texas. We had the barn, chickens, huge garden, etc. My kids loved it, and we made tons of memories there. Although it was a maintenance nightmare and a money pit, we loved it anyway. Now we're here in north Idaho in a new, Craftsman-style house in a very charming but also very closely-situated neighborhood, with a scrap of a lawn and baby trees. It doesn't have near the history or privacy as our last house. But we love this one, too! Different places for different seasons, and a grateful heart (We're just glad to have our own house after nearly two years of renting in between!) can make up for much lack. Loving where you live isn't always possible, but being content no matter what, is. Thank you for the encouragement to make our homes a place of beauty, no matter what!