Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Home Renovation and the Quixotic Pursuit of Perfection

Last Saturday, I spent the day at the beach with the kiddie-poos. My husband, on the other hand, spent the day, with his brother, painting the entire inside (including ceilings) of his friend's new house--which is actually a charming but really OLD house. While I am glad that the husband could be such great help to his friend, his day (especially compared to mine) served to remind me of the advantages of the Good Enough approach when it comes to life and, especially, houses.

I know many people who have taken on fixer-uppers, and a I thoroughly enjoyed reading about David Giffels's own Herculean (or Sisyphusian?) efforts recounted in his entertaining book All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling Down House. But Giffels is also honest about the ways in which his dedication (or obsession) with the house impacted his marriage and his family. Similarly, I think about my husband's friend working on this house everday after work and on weekends, when he could be relaxing with his fiancee in the romantic bliss of their engagement. Instead, they must live in the garage of the house and cook on a hot plate as they try to agree on every single appliance, fixture, and floor covering for their house which, though charming, needs pretty much everything except new sheetrock.

Perhaps this seems so daunting to me since one of my first arguments with my husband (when he was still my fiance) was when we went to Home Depot and tried to decide on new carpet for our house. We started to become conflicted about carpet texture and color, and then promptly left the Depot with no carpet. Five years later, we still have raspberry-colored carpet throughout the majority of our house (which was here when we moved in), and we have made very few decisions related to home improvement. Perhaps this is also why most of our walls are bare. But the marriage is strong, a claim I'm not sure I could make if we had begun our relationship under the ceiling of a falling down (or even slightly leaning) house.

Don't get me wrong, I respect and even admire those people who place high value on the aesthetics of their homes, and I know our friend's house will be stunning in the LONG run. But it all takes us back to the Good Enough Principle. When I visit friends or colleagues who have spent years--lifetimes--working to make their homes into works of art, I get tired just listening to the stories about how long it took them to gather the pre-used bricks for their garden wall or how carefully they laid the 594 hand-painted tiles for the mosaic on the shower floor. After visiting such a house, when I get back home, I arrive back at my own front door with a great sense of relief and comfort, glad that I've seen such beauty, but also glad that I do not care to spend hours, days, weekends, and a lifetime creating the perfect house.

Instead, we live in a house with raspberry carpet, cheap and comfy couches (which are not especially attractive but all sections recline into La-Z-Boy position, a feature with which I now cannot live without), and old shower stall that has been (very nicely, dear Husband) frequently patched with fiberglass.

But, as we relax in our house, we have peaceful, easy feelings and we do not have to debate about parquet vs. wood, tile vs. linoleum, cork vs. bamboo, or granite vs. corian. We keep what we have, and we spend our weekends playing at the beach. And that's not just good enough; it's great.

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