Gina Smith can hang a string of Christmas lights in her laundry room and make dirty clothes look magical.
I discovered this last year when I started following her Adding Beauty Project. Gina’s blog fascinated me. My first thought was, “If I hung lights in my laundry room, it would look ridiculous.” But as the year went on, I experienced more and more envy and frustration. I couldn’t understand it. How did she make her kitchen look so homey and dreamy? Where did she learn about tchotchkes and knick-knacks and colors and patterns and warm, inviting nooks and crannies? How did she manage to take thrift store junk and transform it into priceless family heirlooms? (Note: I do not recall if Gina actually did this, but I know women who do.)
I’m an atypical woman in lots of ways. One of these is my intense practicality. I take exquisite pleasure in cleaning out the house, trashing, donating, re-organizing. I want everything neat and orderly and streamlined. Easy to dust. Un-cluttered. But Gina’s blog drew my attention to the fact that my main concern for my home had been what I was taking out. I hadn’t considered the importance of what I added in. What message had I been sending to my children by keeping their surroundings so sterile? Could they be learning, in spite of all the things I say out loud, that beauty is a non-essential?
This question was raised again in a session with Sally Clarkson at Hutchmoot in October. Sally talked about a visitor to her home who commented on the fact that everywhere he looked there was something interesting or lovely to see. Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. Sally said that it had been purposeful, the way she and Clay decorated their home. They had wanted to give their children an experience of beauty, to spark their interest and curiosity and to feed their souls. With wall hangings and knick-knacks. It seemed absurd. And yet it wasn’t.
I started small. I bought some baskets and set them next to the couches in the living room. When we went to the library, I just plopped the new stacks of books in the baskets so the kids would have easy access. All of a sudden, we were reading more, and in my house that’s saying something. Over and over, the kids would hand me books from the basket, and we would sit together and read. After that, it was paints. I got a nice, wooden box, and filled it with painting supplies: brushes, palettes, paints, paper. I tucked it into a corner. Suddenly, my kids wanted to paint all the time. It was remarkable! Could lowering the storage for books and craft supplies to floor level really make such a difference? Who knew?!
The next thing was a coat rack. Odd choice, perhaps, but no sooner had I tucked that thing in the corner than our coming and going routines smoothed out. When it was time to go, the coats were there, ready and waiting, no searching or fussing. And there was a place to store them when we got home. No flinging them on the floor or the couch. Then I bought a soft rug for the living room floor. Not long after, I caught the kids, huddled side by side under a Thomas the Train blanket, lying on the new rug at six in the morning. It’s so inviting. They want to play games more often, wrestle with their dad more often. Because of a rug.
I got a lamp for a depressing corner, a little jug for flowers, some brightly colored pillows. I got an inexpensive wall decal from Etsy, and now, rather than looking at a blank wall, we’re looking into a small birch forest. I’d like to keep going, too. I’d like to get that Hutchmoot poster framed, and I’d like to invest in the work of artists I admire. I’d like to add more plants and scatter every room with piles of books (because books never go out of style).
But the power of such minor changes still amazes me. I feel better about getting up in the mornings. The house just seems a happier place. I failed to realize that we’d been saving all our money for vacations, teaching the kids, inadvertently, that what we wanted most was to get away. I didn’t think how a few dollars and a few baskets might impress upon them how much we want to be here, in our home, with them. How much we value the simple routines of the life we’ve been given.
So thank you, Gina Smith. Thank you, Sally Clarkson, for sharing your wisdom with a slow learner. I don’t believe our house will ever be the same.