Cleaning my house stirs up mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, when everything is clean and orderly, I get a deep sense of satisfaction. This is my house. This is what I am providing for my children. Yes, a lot of the furniture is second-hand and was given to us. Yes, the kitchen decor is from the 70s. Yes, the wood floor could use some work. Yes, there is only one bathroom that was wallpapered in psychedelic silver foil paper with bright pink and green and blue flower designs with a striped wallpaper on the ceiling giving one a sense that they were relieving themselves within a gift wrapped by someone on an acid trip, which made me immediately tear the paper off upon moving in, although I still haven’t replaced it four years later. Yes. But it is mine. And theirs.
However, while I am in the midst of cleaning I often have a bunch of other thoughts running through my head that sound a lot like this:
When I get some extra money, I am going to replace that table. I’ve always wanted a big farmhouse style dining room table with lots of chairs and a bench. It would totally fit here and be perfect. Maybe then this table could move into the kitchen as sort of a breakfast table or I could just get rid of it because it is on its last legs. I’d like to move this other table down into the basement and keep using it as an “art” table. Actually, I should probably spend money for a table on replacing the carpet in the basement. How much could that possibly cost? If we then paint the paneling and get some comfy beanbag furniture like at that new place that the boys always run in to when we pass it at the mall, it would be the perfect place for the boys to hang out with their friends and I could finally clean off that desk and make my little “office” down there too and we could have a place to do crafts that wasn’t the kitchen! But, I guess if I do have extra money, I should consider re-doing the cabinets in the kitchen. Or replacing the dishwasher. Or the microwave. Actually, I should really just suck it up and spend the money to have that bathroom built out in the basement. The people who lived here before had the wiring done and put up the beams to wall it out. How much could it cost to finish? It would be so nice to have an extra toilet in this house. And a shower, especially for the summer when coming in from the beach or being super dirty from sports, they could just get clean before even going upstairs. Perfect! I can’t imagine even having that kind of extra money though. There are always other things to spend money on. First, I should have my brother-in-law stop paying for my EZ pass. Then, when I am really on my own I can consider spending money on home improvements. Oh, and I still owe Dad money from what he loaned me for summer camp for the boys a couple of years ago. I never finished paying him back. I’ll do that with my tax money this year. If I even get any back. Of course, I need that for camp this year. Maybe I should start putting away a little money each month for all of these things. So many things! I would love to buy an electric fireplace for the blue room and a rug, then that would be a perfect room for our winter reading and snuggling. I suppose I could break down and get a TV for that room, too. If only I could get a new couch for the TV area that I could be sure the cat wouldn’t pee on. Then we could all stretch out. The boys are getting so big. That area isn’t going to hold all three of us for much longer. And I want them to be able to have friends over. I want them to have a house that they want to invite friends to. A house that will be a comforting place for them and for everyone to be.
And then I stop and sigh. And realize that for a house to be a comforting place, it is about the love of the people who live there and not about the decor. And realize, again, that I’m doing the best I can and should probably not even go down that wishful path of “It would be so great if…” We have enough. We don’t need more. Better that I can take them to the movies from time to time, or out to eat. Better that I pay for groceries and clothes. Better that they can play the sports they want. Better that we can sit at our second-hand table and play a board game and eat supper and know that someone thought enough of us to give that table to us.
We are constantly barraged with images of “perfect” homes and families on the television and in magazines. It is easy to slip into the mindset of wanting more, of trying to reach this standard of living which is pretty improbable for the majority of people in the world. It’s easy to confuse this idea that having the perfectly decorated house means you have a perfect family and life. It feels almost like if you can achieve that perfect backyard, you will certainly have the loving family memories that go along with it. But of course it doesn’t matter what your house or yard looks like. I don’t love my family any less because I have an unfinished bathroom and a Brady kitchen (sans avocado fridge).
They say that women get a low self-esteem from reading fashion magazines. Well, I had to stop looking at Pottery Barn catalogs and home magazines for similar reasons. If a furniture catalog comes in the mail, I throw it out.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses,” especially when one lives in an affluent, Northeastern suburb like I do. Many of my children’s friends live in large, gorgeously decorated homes. They often “wish” we had a bigger house. I always respond with, “Who would clean it? You boys don’t even like to clean the one we have!”
And now with Christmas rapidly approaching I will be faced with the boys and their desires for toys that are way too expensive and homes all around us that are beautifully decked out for the holidays. We will make our humble house homey for the season with our tree that we pick out together and a collection of ornaments that I inherited from my mom from my own childhood, as well as ornaments the boys and I have been picking out and collecting over the years. The boys’ will get new bikes for Christmas and a few other gifts and will be spoiled by their relatives and not even realize how lucky they are. But I’ll know.
The truth is we are luckier than 99% of the people out there in this great big world. We have our health and a roof over our head and food in the refrigerator and a loving family and lots of “extras”. My kids complain that they are bored if they aren’t playing video games on their ridiculously expensive devices. I was able to buy and cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my mother and brother and have leftovers to feed us for a week. I have a job and a steady income and my boys can go to school and get an education and learn music and art and play sports. And at the end of the day, we are together. We can snuggle on our almost too small couch and read a book or watch a movie.
We have enough.