Good Bones

My family and I spent the past weekend in Portland, OR. I admit, it is a city that I love to be in! The energy, the arts, the focus on the environment; so appealing! Part of our time there, my dear hubby accompanied me to the Plucky Maiden’s Junk Fest – willingly! Of course, my camera/phone died before I got a single picture of the event, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you how much I enjoyed the displays at many of the booths. From cowboy boots to vintage linens to jewelry made from bits and pieces of the past. It had me wondering what “vintage” pieces will be from my generation in the years to come.

My grandparents had two sofas through their adult married lives – TWO! One was an extra-long, and covered in drab, olive green corduroy. It was the perfect napping sofa, even for my six-foot plus husband. The lines were clean, the cushions full, the pillows… well, the pillows could have been better. Somehow, we left that sofa behind a few houses back and though we’ve cycled through a few sofas since then, I still hanker back for the ease of a nap on those cushions. If we still had it, I’d reupholster it all, but keep the bones. The bones were good. It is hard to find bones like that these days, especially that will keep up well. Perhaps that’s one of the things that appeals to me about vintage finds; things were better made.

Thrift stores, consignment shops, even Craigslist and Freecycle – all great resources for searching out that piece that has the bones you need for your own house. The bonus of these is that you can find pieces that were well made and that with a few tweaks can become a completely new piece AND one that is completely your own. Reupholstering can actually cost less than buying a whole new piece, especially if you invest in quality materials. If that isn’t within the budget, it is amazing how many YouTube instruction videos and blog posts are written with tutorials to do it all. A few tools, some practice, and a piece with good bones and you’re good to go.

I like to think things are on their way to being better made again. Things are on their way to being better overall.

Lagom

Ever have one of those moments when you’re in the middle of a thought and suddenly you struggle for the right word or phrase to describe whatever vision it is you are trying to get across? You roll a few words around in your mouth, but none of them are quite right. You know there is a word that exists, that it is somehow eluding the fumbling connection of constants and vowels rushing into your head, vying to be “it”. You slow down, relax, recall whatever threads you can grasp that you associate with that word, and then…

Lagom.

That’s my current “it” word. A Swedish word that has no direct translation, but “is neither too much nor too little; but neither is it just “enough”.”* It is within the realm of comfortable, but not to the point of excess. Lagom can describe everything from possessions to decoration to lifestyle. Within it are notes of embracing what you have, of taking no more than your fair share and ensuring that those behind you have what they need, of allowing room in your life/house/beliefs for things to shift and take new form without being crowded out, of giving things room to breathe.

I like the idea of lagom. It reminds me that I don’t need a dozen towels when two will do (when one is dirty, wash it and put the other up!). It encourages me to invest in the best quality of something that I want to last so that I’m not using as many resources buying one plus replacements of something of lesser quality. It is the timer in my shower letting me know that my body has gotten clean, but there are others in the world who still need water.

Life should be about the balance, of achieving lagom – enough time put in at work to be comfortable, but not so much that you don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Enough food to sate your hunger and thirst, but not so much that your body has to do some “remodeling” to find a place to put it. Enough furnishings in your house that you have what you need and enjoy, but not so much that you can’t even find those pieces you enjoy. Do we really need two refrigerators, five basketballs, 15 sets of sheets and six bedrooms for a family of four?

I can see what you’re thinking. “What if I have a party for ten teams of 2-on-2 basketball over the course of three days? Oh no! I don’t have enough bedrooms!” We have neighbors with fridges and coolers, hotels and community centers these days. If you must have the tournament, creating and working with a community is not only easier, but much more rewarding. And since your free-time opened up once you allowed others to help, how about taking a look at your linen closet?

*My thanks to Alan AtKisson for his essay, “The Lagom Solution” in the book, “Less Is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, A Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness” for finally providing a name to the definition and thought I’ve long embraced and not been able to name, until now.

Edit your home

A reassembled cake plate and simple pennant banner herald the flowers of summer

There are some fantastic photo editing programs out there, whether for your Smartphone, your iPad, your point-and-shoot DSLR. The great thing about these programs is that they allow you to see things in new ways. The photo of you and your sister from the 80’s with the terrible hair can be cropped, colorized, highlighted and refocused to pinpoint in on the little hand that reached out to pinch your derriere just as the shutter clicked. Pictures of babies now even more resemble angelic cherubs with soft-focus halos, just the same way their adoring parents see them.

If only that software could be turned on our own homes. The walls would go from drab, bland spaces to collections pulled together to highlight a quirky interest in squirrels featured in a variety of wall hangings and possibly a table topper or two. Our bedrooms would go from piles of clothes strewn about to calm, restful spaces with a throw oh-so-effortlessly draped at the foot of the bed, just like in the magazines.

We have a tendency to see all of the flaws with the spaces we live in, rather than taking the time to stop and focus on what the heart of the problem is with the picture. Set your viewfinder on one area, look at the various filters that could be applied. The clothes all over? What if you invested in a closet system that would better accommodate those sweaters so they weren’t bulging out of drawers? That would also free up extra drawer space that could be dedicated to the workout clothes you search for in those early morning hours, reducing the need to toss all of the non-workout clothes out of the drawer during your frantic search (bonus #2: 5 more minutes of sleep!). Filter applied!

Take the same approach room by room, or even just on a certain area of a room. Focus on what isn’t working in the space, look at it with a different filter or change in perspective. Can’t get it to work, even in a different place? Maybe it is time to let it go. Highlight those things that make the prettiest picture to you!

From the Closet to the Open Door

Recently, I had the opportunity to help a friend go through a closet. She was a bit hesitant at first, I think wondering what I would think/feel/say going through her things (or for that matter, what she would think/feel/say watching me go through her things), but by the end of our mini-session, I think both of us felt as light as the now much more streamlined closet shelves.

It was a bit ceremonious when we opened up the sorting bags, one for “toss”, one for “donate”, plus those lucky few who landed back on the shelves in a more orderly fashion. It was the release of items that had either fully served their purpose or those that had served their purpose for this family, but still had purposeful use in them. There is something restorative in readying yourself for the send-off of “things” that may have been bringing you down even only subconsciously. It isn’t just “things” that can fill our closet shelves either – it is the baggage tied to it. It is the “That was a gift from Aunt Martha!”, or the “I always wanted to learn how to do that skill.” We see things as the representation of what we often wish we were or what we were at one point in time. Letting go can be the moment we allow ourselves to move on to something new, to recognize that life changes, as do our desires.

I think that often we get bogged down, reluctant to let go of one item or another because we fear that just when we let it go, we will realize how much we needed it! (And the chances of that if you haven’t needed it in 5+ years?) However, if the change in thought can be made from “What if I need it again?” to “Could someone else use this more than me?”, the shift focuses from the selfish to the self-less; we recognize that desire in ourselves to help others, even by giving up something for ourselves.

Set aside 20 minutes and go through that one shelf. Examine each item and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is it something I have used within the past 1-2 years and how likely am I to use it again?
  2. If the answer was no, is it something that holds either monetary value (and I should sell it) or does it hold a lot of sentimental value (and would a picture of the item do just as good of a job in bringing back those memories so I can free up the space)?
  3. Could someone else have more use for it than me?

By the end of our closet cleaning endeavor, my friend had filled up three bags with items to donate and had an entire shelf empty for the first time in years! Some of the items she no longer had use for are now wonderfully gracing my shelves and each time I see them, I appreciate the kindness that went with their sending off from her home to mine.