This Old House

When I think of old houses or antiques, I’m reminded of the Japanese philosophy called wabi-sabi.  Loosely translated, it’s the art of finding beauty in imperfection, revering authenticity above all.  It celebrates cracks and scratches and all other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind.

Some of the things that I love best about an old house are the creaky, uneven floors, the lack of right angles, wavy glass windows, hand-planed woodwork, and hints of the lives of those who lived there long ago.  It’s this character, charm, and history that attracted me to the idea of restoring a 200-hundred-year-old house that’s been in my family for over 100 years–my family’s homeplace.  I relish the sense of continuity; I literally follow in the same footsteps as my ancestors as I walk through this house and around the farm.

As one can imagine, caring for and maintaining our home is of the utmost importance to me.  So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the other thing that I love as much as an old house is a well-appointed, everything in its place, clean house.  I know that it’s mainly because I’m wired this way.  However, the other view is that restoring my family’s homeplace was a significant effort and expense, and I love and want to take care of it.  So, messy, unclean rooms, scratches on the floors, and dings on the walls tend to bother me.

This is the issue:  Not only do I love a clean, well-maintained, old house, but I also really love my pets.  And, it’s important to me to spend time with them.  My cat, Clementine and our dogs, Maud and Dash inhabit our house daily, along with their sometimes dirty feet, shedding fur, and little messes.  There is also the occasional scratch on the floor.  This is because Maud and Dash like to race into the den at top speed every evening; and, there is also Clementine, who sometimes startles at the sound of a rustling grocery bag and takes off in a full sprint across the hardwood floors.  Anyway, our house has taken on some imperfections over the years. This really bothered me at first; I’d find myself on hands and knees, kneeling on the floor, trying to buff-out a scratch with burnishing cream furniture polish or going into overdrive cleaning everything.  But, after a while, I started to make myself crazy.  I thought something’s got to give.  I knew I’d have to let go of some of this, or end up restricting Maud and Dash from coming into the upstairs part of the house as often.

In struggling with this dilemma, I remembered a comment that a guest once made about our house.  She said, “This house looks like a museum.  Does anyone really live here?”  At first, I took it as a compliment that I’d succeeded in restoring this old home with family memorabilia, and that I’d taken care to make it attractive and keep it in good condition.  However, the more I thought about it, I realized that what she’d said wasn’t really a compliment.  The more I reflected on her comment, the more I didn’t like what my house was saying about me.

Perfection is an illusion, and it’s exhausting!  It’s difficult if not impossible to obtain.  Furthermore, the problem lies in never being content with the state of things–always striving to make it better.  Also, all the misspent time cleaning or fretting over an imperfection instead of focusing on more important or joyful endeavors; such as, walking the dogs, reading a book, or talking to a friend.  No.  I didn’t want my house to say that perfection was my priority anymore.

Here’s the thing:  We do LIVE in this house now, and so does Clementine, Maud, and Dash.  I still appreciate a tidy, well-maintained house, but I won’t spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning it anymore.  And, as for those scratches on the floor, they are evidence that we live here and share our home with those whom we love.  Those scratches and imperfections are OUR contribution to the character, charm, and history of this house.  Life isn’t perfect, and wabi-sabi, or finding the beauty in imperfection is really just about accepting and embracing life–scratches and all.

39 Comments »

  1. Great piece. Enjoyed the read. Sitting in my car after work before meeting my life’s balance with family, dogs, scuffed floors, tufts of hair in corners, and a smile.

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree, it’s sometimes difficult to find a balance between keeping a clean and tidy home and doing the things one really enjoys. I tend to neglect the housecleaning, to the point of when I do end up cleaning, Doug asks, “Is somebody coming to visit?” Shame on me! Haha!

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  3. I can understand why you would want to keep your lovely house spotless (and scratchless), but it is lovely to see how your pets look so comfy and cosy at home. It is definitely worth a few scratches and bumps here and there, plus it add even more character. 🙂

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    • This house has been in my family for over 100 years. My great-grandparents bought it in 1912. My grandfather grew up there, and my dad was born in the cottage next door to the house. My husband & I restored the main house in 2003-2004. Thank you for your kind comment. 🙂

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  4. Well-written post! I understand. There’s not much more cold and impersonal than a house where everything is just a little too clean and polished, and for me, it’s worse when everything’s new. It’s unwelcoming for me to enter a home where there is no evidence of life or history.
    I used to struggle with cleaning compulsion, and I picked the very worst time, which was when my kids were small and I had babies and pets as well. I spent so much time and energy cleaning when I really should have been doing anything else. Therapy got me out of that. It’s only in the last few years I’ve heard of wabi-sabi, and I’m happy to embrace it. I think this shows in my love for our old house, our antiques — I too enjoy the gently sloping, squeaky floors.
    I still can’t abide a mess, I still make the kids tidy up the living space twice a day, but I do not obsess about everything being just so.
    As for floors, I have no intention of adding more hardwoods. If you compare the hardwoods to the laminates that were here when we got here, you’d no doubt see how well those laminates hold up! I don’t care if people think me cheap or tacky, they’re not the ones cleaning my floors! lol
    I embrace scratches on furniture, and always have, but you know what still drives me crazy? The areas around the light switches and the light switches themselves. Kids are gross. You’d think they’d mined coal all day! lol
    Anyway, I’m glad you’ve learned to let go of some controlling behavior. You must surely be happier now. I know I am. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joey, thank you for your thoughtful and supportive response to my post. Our house is an eclectic mix of antiques, old stuff, and a few new pieces. I like what you said about entering a home with evidence of life or history. That character or energy is what makes a home welcoming, and I finally realized this after my guest’s “museum” comment. 🙂
      Like you, I don’t let things get too messy, but I don’t obsess either. However, we do have a small, guest cottage ( my dad was actually born there) that I like to look just so for company, but it only gets cleaned when guests are visiting.
      There are a few more scratches on the hardwood floors, but I’d rather spend time with my pets than have perfect floors. And, you’re right about laminates these days. They’re amazing! They look as good as hardwood and last much longer.
      I’m with you on embracing a few scratches, but dirty light switches…yuck! 😉 Lol–mining coal…you’re hilarious!
      I am happier now, and I also have more time to spend on meaningful endeavors. 🙂

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  5. Tonya,
    I love your lovely house and even more your love for the members of your family, even four-legged. They are what make your house a home and their little paws, the scratches on the floor or furniture are what make memories for you.
    I am glad you have embraced the present instead of hoping for an idealist house, which might perhaps get featured on TV but would have no real life in it.
    Susie

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  6. I am studying construction engineering and one day we went out to look at different areas of the city. There were residential areas with impressive modern houses: tall, white and futuristic with clean lines, a lot of glass and a lot of steel. Still it felt like something was missing. Then we went to another area of the city. Here there were mainly old houses, with facades of wood and stone and small winding streets with cobble-stone and cracked and uneaven asphalt between them. Like your old house even these buildings seemed to have few straight angles. And still, we found what had been missing before: a sense of life, of history. Most of us, future engineers, agreed that this part of the city was better. Still, the funny thing is that eventually many of us might still end up building more of those dead houses with sterile facades, as the fasion is nowadays…

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    • I agree that older buildings have character and charm. The issue, often times, is cost. It’s more expensive to restore an an historic building than it is to build something new. Of course, some of the modern architecture can be very artful and beautiful as well. But, you’re right, the trend is for new and industrial styles these days.

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      • Yes, it can be complicated to restore old buildings. But what I wonder is why it’s so uncommon to build new buildings, new city areas, inspired by old-fashion architecture. But I guess that it differs a bit from place to place too. In some countries they aren’t as bad at it. And, luckily, it’s true that there are a lot of beautiful modern buildings too.

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