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.