No Place Like Somebody Else’s Home

One of the stories that I remember from childhood was “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving. The story takes place at the foot of the Catskill Mountains in New York. It’s about a well-liked man who does all he can to avoid doing actual work. His wife is portrayed as a nagging woman who constantly chastises him for his laziness. His home and farm fall into disarray while he wanders happily about town playing with the kids and telling tall tales at the local bar.

Eventually he wanders off into the woods where, after a rousing bowling game and shared drink with some Dutch men he encounters (the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew), he falls asleep under a tree. The rest of the story is how he wakes up to discover that he’s been asleep for twenty years. He returns to his village. His now adult daughter takes him in and he continues life much as before, wandering about town being amiable. Henpecked husbands everywhere would daydream of falling asleep in the very same woods.

I fantasize about falling asleep for a week, only to wake up to contractors reporting that they’ve finished the kitchen, cleaned the gutters, painted the downstairs and snaked all of our drains. For free. When we first married, my husband and I were ambitious. The deck got stained regularly, new gardens were put in, rooms were painted. We were “do-it-yourself” people and proud of it. I’d spend all day hauling dirt and mulch and tracking down unique, native plants. He’d be out in the garage coming up with a plumbing solution or installing shelving.

Cut to eight years and one child later. Icicles hang from the eaves due to uncleaned gutters. Blueberry bushes have been nibbled to the ground by rabbits since the gardens weren’t fenced. Our kitchen remains unfinished after six years of starting the project. The garage is a mess due to hasty work for a guest room this summer – the flotsam of drywall, trim and the things removed, in order to lay carpet, are still lying about. Our deck badly needs to be stained. Rooms need to be patched and painted. We live in Rip Van Winkle’s house.

Working from home, writing, parenting, doing housework, gardening and grocery shopping take up most of my “free” time, while the big projects have been put off, renegotiated or forgotten. But I’m painfully aware of the neglected projects. Now we’re in a maintenance mode that I find slightly embarrassing. We’re beyond the superficial appearance mode and heading into the “things will start to break and shit will fall on our heads” mode.

One of the things I look forward to, when my paid work ends, is turning a new eye to our surroundings, to our shelter and sanctuary. We’ve pondered hiring out some of the work to be done, with the upside that we can spend the next thirty years bitching about someone else’s shoddy workmanship rather than our own. The downside is that we miss the satisfaction of solving problems and making things better through our own ingenuity and hard work. There is something immensely satisfying, almost bordering on spiritual, about taking care of your surroundings.

I’ll be the first to admit that working as a team has never been one of my strengths. My husband, I think, is disappointed by this fact. I imagine that for the first ten years that he lived in this house on his own, he daydreamed about a partner who would joyfully hand him tools and nod agreeably as he went on to the next phase of the project. What he got was someone as argumentative and set in her ways as he is in his. And nothing breaks a deadlock better than doing nothing.

I’ve attempted the “I’d rather apologize than get permission” mode to get a few things done on my own, but I think things have reached the point where we need to get our act together. I’ve started to make a list of small projects I can complete over the winter, in the hopes that we can take on some bigger projects in the spring. First, though, I’m going to take a nap. May it be a long one.

23 Comments on “No Place Like Somebody Else’s Home

  1. Working, writing, parenting, shopping… just maintaining, takes time. Don’t beat yourself up imagining a perfect house that in the big picture really does not. Enjoy creating a home. By that I mean use your time to appreciate the gifts contained in each moment, the little things, ie time with your kids and husband sharing a laugh and having fun. Those are your real priorities.

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    • You’re right about all of that. I think our inaction on the house shows that we probably do have our priorities in order, but I often wonder, when I see a family living in a well-maintained home, how they do it. I’m going to pretend they have an unlimited budget and full-time staff!

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  2. There are times when a “well-maintained home” is just a myth. If you looked in the closets, under the carpets, under the beds, under the pictures hanging on the wall, or in that room whose door is always closed, you might find evidence that the home isn’t as well maintained as they would have you believe. 🙂

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  3. I live in a 90 year old home and if I look too closely I can see a hundred little things and about a dozen serious ones that need to be done. I’ve decided not to look at anything too closely until spring.

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    • I’m hoping that by the time I get around to fixing things, my eyesight will make things look pretty again. Our home is only about 60 years old, but we’ve aged it quite a bit over the last few years!

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        • I also find that I’m not as enthusiastic about climbing ladders, hauling drywall….just doesn’t seem like as much “fun” as it used to!

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        • I so agree. I stopped painting with the hallway and one bedroom to go – I just don’t care enough to work that hard right now. Maybe company coming would get me moving again – maybe not.

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  4. But there are so many other more important things to do! 🙂 It’s human nature I think and the same all around. For me it doesn’t apply as I rent. and I move a lot too haha I don’t live anywhere long enough for anything to get totally unpacked or lived in enough either 🙂 Yes, take that nap. From what I know of you, you deserve it! (I’m not a very good influence!)

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    • There are always more important things to do, until a pipe busts or the furnace dies. This is the first place I’ve ever owned – it’s a relationship in and of itself! Since you just wrote about homelessness, I recognize that my concerns are petty in the face of my gratitude for having a safe place to live!

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      • No matter what you do or what you’ve got it’s always something, no doubt about that! I did own one house and it was a nice enough experience. And I am a good renter compared to many I’m sure, meaning I’ll do my own gutters and upkeep if I can. Being on my own and a man of meager means, I don’t like to have to be worried about what may break or die in the middle of the night. I had about enough of that! 🙂

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        • I completely get that – I’ve had some horrible and some awesome rental situations. If you’re in a good place, it is nice not to worry.

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  5. I have a to-do list that’s a mile long, and it’s damn depressing when I dwell on it. I just try to compare the list of what I don’t get done to all that I do, and as long as I can claim a bit of victory on the latter, I stay sane.

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    • I try to remind myself that when you own a house, there is no “being done”. There will always be a list. Sometimes, especially when there are other priorities, it just has to be set aside. Until something breaks.

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  6. Oh my goodness, this is sooooo familiar! My big accomplishment today was going through several weeks’ worth of mail. That mail slot cover that needs to be repainted and reattached can wait…

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  7. Do you read Apartment Therapy’s blog? It’s super-helpful, and features a wide variety of homes, large and small, some who have worked with minuscule budgets but produced lovely results.

    When you do finally hire someone to do the work for you, be very clear about what you want and expect; the more dreaming, drawing (and clippings of photos that show your taste) the easier the process will be. I waited 20+ yrs to renovate our one tiny 5 by 7 foot bathroom. I love it and a thrilled with the results….but I also spent a year designing it and acquiring all the materials for it.

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    • So much of the delay in home improvement is time and energy. I imagine when my daughter is older, I’ll be able to go to town on the place. If it hasn’t fallen down around our ears! Thanks for the good advice – I will check out the blog you mentioned.

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