A Happy Medium

Change — in our homes or in ourselves — can be good. But keep it in perspective.

We hear a lot these days about spectacular home improvements. Fans of HGTV and  Extreme Makeover Home Edition  — and they are legion — wouldn’t miss an episode of these hit programs. Some viewers are hooked by the pure escape, others like to chase the latest trends, and do-it-yourselfers snag ideas to transform their homes.

But sometimes “improvement” needs to happen within ourselves. You may need to tear your gaze away from that gorgeous kitchen on your TV screen and take a hard look at your credit card balance. Or instead of rolling your eyes at your Uncle Bob while you’re lusting over some jaw-dropping mansion, you might actually listen to his tale of a house with one tiny bathroom and five teenage sisters vying for the mirror.

On the other hand, you may be like me — so accustomed to what you’ve had for decades you hardly see it anymore.  Folks like us are stuck in a time warp with décor to match. I’ve hung on to my wing chairs and Chippendale sofa, to my 1980s-vintage dining room table and chairs, to a loveseat I’ve snoozed on for 40 years. I’ve managed to have a few pieces reupholstered  a time or two, but that was back when fabrics came in colors I liked — rich dark blues and reds,  pretty corals, sunny yellows.  Today my eyes glaze over at all the browns and rusts and greens. If I want earth tones I’ll go outside.

Then there’s my chipped paint and dated wallpaper — ah, yes, the good old-fashioned fruit pattern.  Go ahead, you can wince, even snicker. But for some of us that pattern  never goes out of style. Besides, it takes me back to kitchens of my childhood. And that, for now, means more to me than a fresh new look. My house and its furnishings are like good friends with whom I hate to part.  And since my husband died 10 months ago, the familiar comforts of home, though they bring sadness too, are dear beyond words.

Still . . . I do see houses that stop me in my tracks — with bedrooms so spacious they make me swoon with envy, and bathrooms with skylights that lift my heart. And yeah, I could probably go with some of those colors that “pop” (but spare me Gumdrop Green and Sour Apple) and  wallpaper patterns I generally spurn. Yes, it means coughing up some big bucks and living with disruption — but it also means seeing myself  and my surroundings in a whole new way.

Perhaps I’ll tune in to more HGTV, even consider becoming a DIY-er.  Okay, I hear you laughing, you who know me well. But change is good, they tell us, and this is a new year. I’ll go back to the fabric store to seek an update for a chair or two, look at oriental design rugs to replace the faded ones of yore, maybe even explore possibilities for expanding my cracker box of a bedroom.

The idea, I think, is balance. For some, it’s knowing when you  don’t need five bathrooms —  but you could use a bigger kitchen. Or when you’d love the luxury of a pool —  but your beat-up floors need attention first. Or when you hear the  siren song of that magnificent chandelier — but the drip-drip-drip of the shower drowns it out.

For me it’s a matter of deciding what I want to do more. Fling open the doors to a whole new style of furnishings? Or pick and choose what to keep, what to lose; what to shed tears over, then donate to a charity?

I may decide to keep it all. Or like some of you, I may pull out all the stops, and go into hiding when the bills pour in. Bottom line, changing our environment can be fun in small doses; larger-scale, we may wonder if we’ve truly lost our  minds.

But it’s worth trying if for one reason only: Change — even something as simple as rearranging a room, or switching the placement of our favorite paintings, or setting a vase of fresh flowers by our bedside — helps us learn more about ourselves and see the world a little differently. And that’s something that never goes out of style.


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