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. A good lesson in appreciating old houses, and…life in general.
Some of the things that I love best about old houses 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 ancestral home or homeplace. I relish the sense of continuity; I literally follow in the footsteps of my ancestors as I walk through this house and around the farm.
As one can imagine, caring for and maintaining this home is of the utmost importance to me. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the other thing 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 value 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: I appreciate a clean, well-maintained, old house, and I also really enjoy spending time with my beloved pets. My cat, Clementine and dogs, Dash and Bizou inhabit this 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 Dash and Bizou like to race into the den at top speed every evening. 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. However, after a while, I started to make myself crazy. I thought….something’s gotta give.
In struggling with this dilemma, I remembered a comment that a guest once made about the 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! Furthermore, the problem lies in never being content with the state of things or enjoying the moment. I decided that I wouldn’t waste time fretting over imperfect floors or stringent levels of cleanliness anymore. No. I didn’t want my house to say that perfection was my priority. Instead, I decided to accept those tiny imperfections and spend more time focusing on the many sources of beauty and joy in my day.
We do live in this house now, and so does Clementine, Bizou, and Dash. I still appreciate a tidy, well-maintained home, but I won’t spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning it anymore. As for those scratches on the floor…they really don’t bother me; They are evidence that we share this home with those whom we love.
Here’s the thing: All of those little imperfections—well, they are OUR contribution to the character and charm of this house. And, what I’ve come to realize is that this “old house” is also a metaphor for life. Because we all know…life isn’t perfect. The point of wabi-sabi, or finding the beauty in imperfection is really about grace. Being able to live in a place, both physically and spiritually, where we accept and embrace life—scratches and all.
Here’s wishing you a beautiful beginning to your NEW YEAR!
All the best!