The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.
April 12, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

So much of my headspace is wrapped up in how my house looks (which is not so awesome) and it drags me down whenever I’m at home. This isn’t how I want to feel about my home. Can you help me change my attitude?

While my house is clean and organized and entirely livable, large parts of both the house and yard are so very shabby and worn and not nice to look at. When I bought the house, it was (and still is) in structurally great shape for its age (1905), but a patina of neglect lay over the entire house after decades of incredibly lax owners. Seven years later, we’ve made consistent but small improvements as our time and finances allow, but it feels like trying to dismantle an iceberg with a toothpick. A couple rooms look great, a lot of it still looks as crappy as the day we moved in, and since it’s very small and we have large, active pets, everything gets a ton of wear that seems to outpace our ability to improve it. We’ll finish putting up crown molding and painting the dining room, and then notice that the hardwood floors are worn completely down to the bare wood, for example. We won’t be able to afford to refinish the floors or make any significant renovations for many, many years.

I feel so much frustration and dismay thinking about how long it’s going to take us to get to even a baseline level of “nice,” and it eats away at my happiness whenever I’m at home. I feel embarrassed and prickly when people come over and comment in amazement about how they can’t believe we still haven’t redone the bathroom (it’s functional, just mind-blowingly tiny), or how long it took us to fix this thing or that thing. I end up spending a LOT of my time at home endlessly cleaning and organizing and puttering in an effort feel like I’m making progress on improving the place, but of course this isn’t actually contributing any sort of actual or substantial change, it just means that I spend a lot of my time cleaning instead of relaxing.

I know that everyone has things they hate about their house and a mile-long list of projects they’ll get to "someday," but I have such a hard time getting over this. My husband and I want to have a kid within a couple years, which will further limit the time and money we have available to make improvements, and if I’m unhappy about it NOW, I can’t imagine how agitated I’ll be about it down the road with even less time and cash flow to work on it. I want to get a grip on my attitude toward the house so I can enjoy being home with my family, not ruminating endlessly about how I wish I had perfectly smooth walls like my friends who live in new construction or whatever. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter how the place looks as long as we are safe and warm and have heat and water and electricity and a good roof, but dammit, sometimes in my heart it DOES matter.

There are so many things I love about my place—its long history, the walkable neighborhood, how easy it is to clean, its proximity to public transportation and shopping and good restaurants and both our offices—but its surface appearance drags down my mood and instead I end up focusing on all the things I hate about it when I should be happily ensconced on the couch with my husband, relaxing and enjoying its coziness.

Possibly relevant factors:
- Despite everything I wrote above, we don’t really wish to move (nor could we afford it anyway).
- I’ve been under large amounts of stress for the past few years (multiple job losses, then starting grad school), which is probably exacerbating this. My first instinct when I am stressed is always to clean up or "prettify" my environment, so living in a shabby house is probably not helping. I finish grad school at the end of this year, but then we’ll probably be embarking on, yeah.
- This feeling frequently extends to our "stuff." We’re still rebuilding our savings after dealing with a prolonged bout of dual unemployment, and I can make myself crazy trying to protect our belongings and furnishings because I don’t want something to get ruined and then have to go out and buy more stuff. But I so don’t want to be the mom barking at her kid to be careful of the rug, or mad at my dog because she just scratched the floor, or whatever.
- I’m not really looking for tips on home improvements or how to DIY on the cheap or anything like that. I really want to relax my attitude toward my house and my stuff more than I want to revamp the house itself.

Words of advice gratefully appreciated.
posted by anderjen to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Can you make a plan? Write down a to-do/wish list of everything you want to do to the house and then look at it critically and write out a practicable timeline? You may find that there are some small things you can do sooner than you realized, which might make you feel better about the situation. And if you've got 'A Plan' as to when you will tackle specific projects that are nagging you, maybe you'll be able to relax and let go of the anxiety they are causing you.
posted by bq at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel embarrassed and prickly when people come over and comment in amazement about how they can’t believe we still haven’t redone the bathroom (it’s functional, just mind-blowingly tiny), or how long it took us to fix this thing or that thing.

People actually say this to you!? How rude! I think your own feelings are coming from these kind of people. Stop inviting them over. Invite over the ones who will say something positive (like, "Oh, the crown moldings look great!").

I know you say you don't want DIY tips, but are there parts of it you could do? The people I know who have done so (for the things they were able to do, obviously) really felt proud of their work. Doing some small projects that you have the capability of doing might help give you that sense of pride.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2012 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, my wife and I are going through this exact thing right now.

I have mostly overcoming what you are feeling. This is how I did it:

1) I appreciate what we have already fixed up or done.
2) I appreciate what is beyond the walls of my house or yard, such as the neighborhood, what the other houses look like when I look out of my windows, etc.
3) I remind myself that if I were to fix up everything now, then there wouldn't be any similar or related goals later. For example, I have lists of things I want to do inside and outside, and I tell myself that once that list is done, what comes next? (I know, there is always something to do be done, but I am not there yet.)
4) Overall, at least for us, it's a matter of patience, which isn't even directly related to the house---just being able to control patience as its own element. We planted some trees that are going to make a beautiful living wall...but we have to wait another two years before we will see the results...extremely difficult!

This is all continuous, though, so it's not like I change my mindset and I am fine; it takes continuous maintenance.

Much easier said than done, of course, so YMMV.

P.S. And I don't give any tiny bit of crap about what others think. If they were to say to me "I can't believe you haven't done _____" then they would never be coming over again. I just don't have people like that in my life, to start with.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:58 AM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have a you-space, even if that is a little corner of a room where your desk, easy-chair, computer set-up whatever is exactly as you would wish it, add things that trigger good feelings in you: at the moment my space has an expensive scented candle that even when not lit gives off a small amount of scent. Make sure that everything you need for some down-time is there. I have a speaker for my iPod, laptop and all the books/music I could want. It is important that none of the clutter or spots that make you feel like this is visible from this little spot.

Have a designated space for visitors which you keep nice and set boundaries. Why are people commenting that you still haven't renovated a bathroom?

FFS, tell close friends what you've written here and surround yourself with people who, if they suggest a job of work is necessary in your home, will help you do it. (I'm not exagerrating; I've had several "chain-gang weekends where a group of friends have come over to tackle a really shitty, hard, dirty project in exchange for all the food & drink and a nice setting)
posted by Wilder at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I feel embarrassed and prickly when people come over and comment in amazement about how they can’t believe we still haven’t redone the bathroom (it’s functional, just mind-blowingly tiny), or how long it took us to fix this thing or that thing.

These people are being crass and impolite. There's two aspects to consider -- other's external perceptions of who you are, and more importantly, who you really are. If their perceptions are wrong, that's entirely their problem. Are you happy with your house in and of itself, as a place for you to live, so long as the incremental improvements continue apace? If so, it doesn't matter one small iota what other people think about it.

Be self-assured if you're comfortable with who you are, & let the perceptive ones perceive that, and let the dolts be doltish on their own time. So much useless energy goes up in smoke in an attempt to show others what to perceive of us, when that is not the thing that matters.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in an old house. 1907.
The previous house that I lived in was nearly as old too.

Both houses were neglected when I got them. My current house still needs a lot of work.
When I sold the previous house, I had done a lot of work, but it still was not perfect.

I consoled myself about it by thinking: I am saving this house.
An old house gives character to the neighborhood, and homes just are not built like this anymore.

Someone else would not have taken the time and care that I took to repair the structure.
I did not do any band-aid solutions just for cosmetics. I waited until I could do it right, then did it right.

I took a grand old house, that was falling apart, and I saved her.
posted by Flood at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I'm struggling with this in a big way. And I just re-did our entire house plumbing two weekends ago. Mostly. There's still a big hole in the bathroom wall and the back yard irrigation system and hose isn't hooked up.

The thing that's helping me to come to grips with it is making a list of everything (plumbing, electrical, kitchen, bathroom, ...), subdividing that list (kitchen electrical, kitchen cabinets, which kitchen cabinets, the cabinets themselves vs doors for the kitchen cabinets), and then starting to dig in to why I want each of these changes.

Electrical? Yeah, I'd like modern grounded 3 wire runs to every socket, but with modern lighting we're probably pulling less energy through the wires that are there than was done historically. There's one K&T section to the exterior lights that I should address quickly, but other than that...

Kitchen? Yeah, the rest of the aesthetics there would be nice, but the cabinets hold the dishes.

Going through this list helps me narrow stuff down to what's important and what isn't, and helps me get a grasp on things.

It also helps me keep the panic feelings under control when Mrs straw comes up with "hey, we should convert the office closet into a bathroom for guests!", I can add it to the list, let it sit there, and then when reasons beyond "I don't want another f*in' project" come up, like "the impact fees for adding another toilet to the sewer system are $16k", I can put them on the list too.

This way it's a set of known things that I can prioritize and have a good reason for each one why I haven't gotten to it yet, why it isn't going to get gotten to, or why, maybe, I should tackle that one item this weekend.
posted by straw at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've inadvertently discovered a little mind hack for this feeling: going house shopping. I don't mean looking at the criminally deceptive pictures on the MLS; I mean actually going out and taking a look at houses that are selling in the same price range that your house would. The mere fact that you care enough to write this question virtually guarantees that you'll discover that 90% of people in your price bracket are living in less appealing homes than yours. I spent years feeling frustrated with my house, finally decided to move and lo and behold, I can't find anything I like better. It's no use looking at more expensive houses if you can't afford them. You can only afford what you can afford, and there will always be people with more money, and people with less money. The only thing you should care about is whether you could be doing better with the money that you have. And I bet you can't. And if you discover you can, well, that's something to think about, too.
posted by HotToddy at 10:15 AM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Creating a me-space is critical, as Wilder suggested. One corner where everything is consistently tidy, painted, clean, one corner you have to make sure you keep clean.

Creating a To-Do List is good too. But, not just a list of to-dos, but a list of Have-Dones. Make it a checklist of all the things that needed to get done with your house, and check off the ones that you have already done over the past few years. This should put things into perspective when you realize how far down the list you've already gotten! This dovetails into what TinWhistle suggested.

I feel embarrassed and prickly when people come over and comment in amazement about how they can’t believe we still haven’t redone the bathroom (it’s functional, just mind-blowingly tiny), or how long it took us to fix this thing or that thing.

About this ... People, or person? That person / those people are potentially toxic, and you need to understand that their reflection on you and your house is worthless. It affects you because it digs to the deeper base of your own (unnecessary and unsupportable!) self-disappointment, but you have to realize that it's a bunch of shit talk and actually reflects more on the person saying it than on you and your family.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in a tiny modest neighborhood in a resort town filled with gazillionaires and celebrities. I don't even bother locking my doors. Who'd want to steal from my little house when just a few blocks away are houses worth millions of dollars?

I used to worry, like you, that people would judge me based on their expectations of what they thought my house should be like? Until a friend gently told me, "I'm here to visit you, not your house."

True friends don't worry or judge you based on the amount of dog hair that mysteriously attach themselves to their pants when they get up from my couch (purchased 12 years ago in the AS IS section of a store going out of business).
posted by HeyAllie at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like the "perfect one part as a refuge" suggestion, and would also say that, since most of the projects are long-term plans, can you think of one or two inexpensive things that would make you feel better in the short term? Off the top of my head, for example, I might think (1) a fresh coat of interior paint -- the best thing we ever did in our house (from khaki to a golden shade of white that felt like we let all the sun in) to cheer it up, (2) some colorful accents, like curtains from inexpensive cotton fabric, or a big poster that you love, (3) doing someting temporary in some room (especially those that aren't getting fixed up soon, and/or away from public critique) that's a little outrageous in a way that makes you happy, like a fluorescent wallpaper border used at chair-rail height all the way around the room (easy to remove when you finally do... whatever in there) or hanging big Japanese scarves on the walls to cover the crumbly plaster.

Obviously just shots in the dark, and nothing like getting everything Just So, but better than feeling like you're camped out with shabby relatives in your own home!
posted by acm at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: Your house sounds so lovely, like a graceful old lady who has lived a full and satisfying life. Perhaps you can surround yourself with some of that romantic beauty, like treating yourself to fresh flowers once a week in the rooms that you use most often.

When the kids come around, you may find that you care quite a bit less about appearances. Otherwise, wait a few years until they're bigger and put 'em to work in the yard!
posted by Liesl at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anyone who comes over and is not on board with the philosophy of "Wow, how lucky we all are to have houses, and live where we live, and be healthy enough to pick up a paintbrush" should be off your list of invitees.

Count your blessings!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:32 AM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: May I suggest "Unfuck Your Habitat"?

Also... next time some rudester criticizes your bathroom, thank them for the offer. Go ape, go over the top with frenzied gratitude that they would be amazingly generous enough to offer to do such a thing. Because obviously, the only good reason to say something like that is because they're offering to take on the job themselves, obviously.

Then, don't ever let these uncivilized savages back into your house unless they can show you the colour of their tile samples. Rudesters and ruffians! Shame on them!
posted by tel3path at 10:39 AM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Could you learn to appreciate and incorporate elements of the "shabby chic"/cottage-style of decorating? It's nothing if not comfortable and inviting, and the scratch-and-dent look is a highly-desired part of the style.

Shabby Chic

It can be done quite cheaply with thrift store and yard sale finds, if desired.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:55 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I totally empathise with your pain as I am in a very similar spot, house-wise. I am just about to undertake the latest round of improvements, and so many of them are simply catch-ups and repairs and so few are real aesthetic fixes that it pains me to think about it. I am often totally overwhelmed when I think about everything that seems to "need" fixing.

But it doesn't need fixing, most of it. My house looked fine to me when I bought it because I had been renting apartments, mostly apartments "with character," and I was so totally accustomed to beat-up baseboards that they didn't even register with me as a flaw when I was house-hunting.

And one thing that does help is to pretend that I am renting -- sigh, well, there's nothing I can do about the floors [etc] -- and fluff things up with nice curtains and rugs and other wee things.

Beat back your inner bourgeois and accept that your house is functioning as a house and that is a good, good thing. It is also a huge plus to have ratty floors and so on when you are raising children -- I have a 4yo and it has been great to go through early childhood with "Oh, a thing of cranberry juice exploded all over the wall-to-wall? That's fine." And you already have pets, so surely you know a bit of what I'm talking about already?

Nth ditch the awful sneering friends. People come over here and gush about how unique my house is and about how much "character" it has. Get some of those over to your place. Have parties for them.
posted by kmennie at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can't fix it, flaunt it! In your place, I'd try to stop seeing flaws and start thinking of them as features. The floors are worn? Imagine all the history those floors have seen. The bathroom is tiny? (and seriously, your friends should not be criticizing your home when they come to visit. Rude!) Think of the families that used that bathroom before you. I love older houses. They have a character all their own, and your house is truly unique. It's not some cookie-cutter house that are a dime a dozen. No other house in the world has your home's history, its stories, its quirks. Try to embrace the quirks instead of only seeing the flaws.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It might be helpful to think about how you feel about your friends' homes. Who do you most enjoy visiting? Is it because their home is so perfect, or it is because of the people in it?

Some of the spaces I've most enjoyed being in were cluttered and maybe a little shabby, but full of great books, music and flowers, art and animals. Lived in by people who were clearly using their home as a vehicle for their passions, and not so much to keep up appearances.

Another thing I think about when I'm faced with something similar - is that gee this seems a bit overwhelming but ... I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from each step of the way. So in a way it's kind of nice to know I will have this source of satisfying, interesting projects for a long time.

Friends who are rude enough to remark on the flaws in your house -- well, it could be a socially clueless thing and might not be a reason to kick them off your guest list, if there are other redeeming features in the friendship. But depending on their level of cluelessness I think you can treat them to a raised eyebrow or a "And I can't believe you haven't been sent to charm school."
posted by bunderful at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

As someone in the same boat, here's what I find helps me get motivated to solve my problems, while still avoiding that feeling of being overwhelmed:

1. Start with your bedroom. Yes, the rest of your house may look awful, but your bedroom is your sanctuary, so focus on that. Plan it, play with it, execute it over a weekend, and keep working on it until you're done. Begin the day liking your environment, and end the day liking your environment. Don't go on to step two until this is done, and pretend the rest of the house does not exist.

2. Get a deadline going for a second room. Perhaps you plan a small dinner party in two weeks, and you want the dining room to look fantastic, so now you've got two weeks to get the dining room done. Ignore the rest of your house. Retreat to your bedroom if you feel overwhelmed, to see what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Throw out any ideas that can't get done within the two weeks -- focus on paint and rearranging furniture and curtains and lights. Get the room done before the party. Show off your bedroom and dining room during the party.

3. Repeat step two with additional rooms. Your deadlines might have to be more creative -- have your kids' room redone before their birthday, have the second bedroom redone before your mother pays a visit, and so on -- but just keep focusing on one room at a time, period.

Eventually, one of two things will happen: you'll either get all the rooms done, or you'll sell the house. But! Get that first room done so that you feel good about it and about your primary environment, and for those people who don't think you've done enough, fast enough, say sincerely: "You know, that's true, and I have a free weekend coming up; if you volunteer to help, I bet we could get it redone in two days. You up for it?" and they'll either help, or scamper.
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on April 12, 2012

Oh, and:

but dammit, sometimes in my heart it DOES matter.

Of COURSE it matters; it is the environment you call home. That's why your solution probably shouldn't involve settling for it in its current state, but instead breaking it down into small chunks that you can motivate yourself to do.

Heck, I had two side-by-side lightswitches that I couldn't stand, because they were in separate single-gang wall boxes, and so each had a single switch plate covering it with a 1/2" gap between. Hated hated hated it, even though it was such a small thing. Finally I went to home depot, bought a 3-gang switch plate, loosened the switches in the box a bit, and discovered they'd fit in the first and third spaces. I found a blank to put into the second space, and now every time I touch that lightswitch I'm happier. Just like the little things in aggregate can make you miserable, the little fixes can individually cheer you right up. No project is too little to make you happier.
posted by davejay at 11:32 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When people say unkind and unreasonable things to you, look at them as if they have just said an unkind and unreasonable thing, Then just say "We're doing our best. You're welcome to come over this weekend if you'd like to do some painting." Then change the subject to something neutral. You have a home. A tiny bathroom should not make you feel ashamed. If it's really filthy, maybe, but if your home's public spaces are reasonably clean when you have invited guests, then they should not make unkind and unreasonable comments. Uninvited/surprise guests have to take you as they find you.

Make a list of projects, large and small, and prioritize them. Try to knock off a small task once a week (I just put up a switchplate cover that I got in December - yay, me). The rest can be done as time and money allow. When you're out walking the dogs, or playing scrabble with your sweetie, or anything else, don't feel bad about what's not done. Your own priorities are more important than other peoples'.

Budgeting for an occasional visit from a housecleaner has made me lots happier with my house.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in a house just like yours. I often have the same conversation with myself that you have. That horrible bathroom, the roof, the crappy back bedroom, the floor in the dining room, the scruffy front porch. Then I think about how much we have done to this house already and I feel good. I do have some judgy friends who don't actually say anything out loud, but I head them off by showing them the latest changes, or I'll tell them what's coming up next on the project list. I cope with it all by telling myself that if I have to choose between spending my time scraping 60 year old carpet underlay off stairs or hanging out at an ice rink or baseball diamond cheering on my son, I will always, always choose my kid. He doesn't care that there are still unpainted plaster repairs on the bathroom wall.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going through something very similar except on a smaller scale. We finally got our house renovated and added on the rooms we wanted but we still needed to do a lot of painting, furnishing, decorating, and organizing. I would get so overwhelmed thinking about everything we needed for the house and everything we needed to do and how much money it was going to take, that I ended up doing nothing. So finally I decided to take it room by room and do a little something every week... buy something, or paint something, or organize something. I started with the master bedroom and I am almost finished. Next is my daughter's bedroom. I figure it's going to take the rest of the year to finish. Home improvements and renovations are much costlier and time consuming than decorating, but if you take the same mindset and just start with one room and forget about the rest of the house and decide what you're gonna tackle 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on in that'll start to see the end of the tunnel.
posted by daydreamer at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2012

Best answer: Make a "before and after" project. People used to do this with scrapbooks, with actual snapshots and handwritten captions. But you can do it on your computer too. The key is taking lots of before photos, in progress photos, and then 'completed' photos when you're reasonably happy and moving onto the next thing. It can be so reaffirming to see the time and energy that you've already spent, and how successful it was. It's also a good reminder that these things take so much more time than is obvious.

A nice flat wall is completely expected in a brand new home. But making a flat surface over an old plaster wall? After stripping years of wallpaper and paint? And rehabbing the wood trim? And dealing with weird old electrical boxes you find hidden in the walls? And figuring out how to attach trim to walls which are nowhere near perfectly vertical? That shit takes TIME. Take photos along the way and look at them frequently to remind you of what you've already accomplished.

I might actually print out a copy once in awhile, and leave it in a binder in the living room. You can flip through it with a class of wine or show those folks with superior taste in large bathrooms what was actually required to get there.

I also had to ween myself off the insanity of Pinterest and design blogs. Having some inspiration is awesome and it saves time, but making your entire life existing in aspirational images of PROFESSIONALLY DONE houses can only lead to insanity. The next time you see a photo of some great DIY project, ask yourself a) How is this being photographed? Is the light blown out to make that room look flawless? b) What is the context of this photo? Was it designed and executed by a professional, or someone with much more experience than me? Did they also work full time and go to school or have an excess of funds? c) How did they get there? What steps were required along the way? Was it a disaster for years first?

I've actually come to appreciate very normal 'house blogs' of people who do one small project at a time, and talk about the ridiculous hold-ups along the way, and how they just had to undo that thing they did for months.

Finally, take a step back, and see if there are a few light cosmetic touches that would solve some problems. We often get into this perfectionistic state where "I'm saving up 'til I can do it RIGHT" which means having enough time and money to fix it perfectly.

But -- as you point out -- that might be years away. If the walls are dingy and you have to fix the windows, wood trim, refinish the floor before you can get to decorating and painting nicely, ask if you can take 2 days now to completely paint the room as a stop-gap measure. If it's YEARS away until you can do it right, why not spend $200 now to make those years brighter and nicer? It's not going to take away from the funds for that project.

I'm not talking about "spend $1k to make it nice" -- more like, what small things can we do to address a cosmetic problem? Paint with bright white paint. Put up some curtains. Put up some art. Get good lighting. You don't have to live in complete purgatory until some (unlikely) future perfect time. Make it nice enough now. You might realize that the stop-gap measure was enough for a few things too. Yes, super nice custom blinds would be really swell for the huge windows above the stairs. But my little white linen cafe curtains, held up with a tension rod, look pretty cute and completely solved the visibility problem. I'm glad I didn't spend my meager funds on those blinds right now, and I can't really imagine doing so in the next few years.

Finally, have a BBQ this summer! Clean out the cobwebs, put up some tibetan paper prayer flags or Mexican party flags, put some beer in a cooler, and play some tunes. This house isn't a building, it's a home, in which you live, and can invite your NICE friends who appreciate sweat equity. Enjoy it.
posted by barnone at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have sort of a similar thing going.

Part of what it's done is give me more compassion. It turns out that keeping up a house (even just to break even and prevent decay) is a lot of work, and renovation is even more work. And if you have a big yard with landscaping, my lord, it's a lot of work. I had no idea how much work. I don't know how other people do it and maintain their lives and hobbies at the same time. All the people I might previously have judged, either for being too obsessed with keeping up their houses, or for having somewhat shabby houses, I have a lot more compassion for them. (Similarly, I have a feeling that when one has kids, one gets more compassion for that mom who's always snapping at her kids not to wreck things.)

Like, think about how much work your parents and the parents of your friends were doing when you were a kid just to keep up with the house and the yard. There are so many people in the world doing this good work, fighting entropy. Think about how much love and effort that represents, which are just hiding behind the surface of houses which are barely-breaking-even. We are all in this together, doing our best.

Don't read housing porn. Those photos of perfect spaces create an imaginary unattainable ideal - even just the perfect lighting and whitebalance, not to mention the fact that they don't have piles of stuff to store. Housing/renovation porn is a popular hobby now, but resist it. Remember that strong identification with paint colors and design objects and decorations and whatnot is driven by selling you products.

If your friends are actually hassling you about renovating bathrooms, tell them "nope, we're happy enough with this for now and we're spending our time and money on X instead".

About your floors, I fully sympathize because I'm there too. Maybe think about whether you could put down rugs to cover large parts of the floors and save wear until you can save up to get them refinished.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Last year I asked a question about learning to accept my house that I'd just bought. Although our situations aren't the same, I think the answers I got are mostly applicable to you as well, and I found many of them helpful.

Your house actually sounds really good to me because it has so much potential. One of the things that depressed me about my house was that it was done up in a rather cookie-cutter, boring neutral way by the previous owners, and I didn't see how I could put my mark on it. Your house will give you the satisfaction of improving it over many years, and will just get better and better. I know it's a cliche but perhaps if you meditate on the fact that it's the journey that counts and not the destination, you'll feel a bit better.
posted by hazyjane at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a Japanese name for accepting and appreciating imperfection and signs of age as an aesthetic. It's called "wabi sabi" and I think it's the kind of perspective you are asking for here, when you say that your home has a certain "patina" that you want to change your attitude toward. I suggest reading about this concept, since naming it and realizing that it can be an aesthetic preference as well as a kind of philosophical outlook might help you see the true beauty in your home.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 1:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

You didn't mention if reading lots of house improvement magazines or watching those shows on television is a past time of yours, but I've found myself to be a lot more content since I've stopped doing so. They encouraged me to focus on the lack of what I had rather than all that I did have. Also, nthing the suggestions to not have snarky friends over.
posted by Jandoe at 5:26 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking of magazines etc -- is a nice antidote to house porn.
posted by kmennie at 6:27 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is maybe broader of an answer than you want, but I honestly notice a difference in my general outlook when I try to take some time to be thankful. (I'm a total cheeseball and like to try to do thankfulness meditations.) A lot of other posters in this thread have talked about focusing on the positive parts of your house, the history and the neighborhood and the patina. Doing that through an intentional way (journaling, meditation, lists, whatever) can help make the positive thoughts stick. That's what I can have trouble with, making the positive thoughts stick, and as I get older I've accepted that I just need to be a little more intentional about it.
posted by lillygog at 7:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your house is clean and organized, you are way ahead of a lot of folk (80% of the time, me). Even though our house is younger (1940s) and the previous owners had done a fair amount (redid the hardwood in the main floor), we still are behind. It took us three years to sand and repaint the peeling garage door. The large flower plot is only about 1/4 planted. But the gardening aspect is what is slowly, slowly giving me a little patience (and tackling little tiny things that were grating on my nerves; we don't have a good entryway anywhere so our dining room ends up getting a lot of random stuff throw down, but I convinced my husband to put up some coathooks by the back door, and whenever I look at them I feel a little better). Back to the gardening -- we have a small dwarf lemon tree, and just planted two colonnade apple trees in the back, and two years ago I planted some roses. All of these plants take time. You can't rush them. You might be able to put in an annual next to it, but somehow knowing I need to wait for them to grow and fill in the space makes me more patient. We're also due to have a baby very soon, and that helps re-prioritize things (we've wanted to paint the living room, but my mom assured me it looked fine; I spent the time organizing the baby's room). There's a ton of stuff still for us to do (overhead fan in the guest room is still broken; shed door is busted), but you also need to make room to live your life, since that's the reason you bought the house in the first place. And houses, even in top condition, are a ton of work (there are days I miss my small little apartment and it's built-in snow shoveling and yardwork).
posted by ejaned8 at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: Wow. Thank you, guys, so much. I teared up a little reading through all your responses. You don't know how much your kind words have helped.

Most of the critical comments have come from family, particular older relatives with loads of money or credit at their disposal to do whatever they want to their house whenever they want to do it, and who perhaps have forgotten what it's like to be in their twenties or thirties with limited means and ten thousand other things all vying for their attention. I don't necessarily want to bar them from the house, but I will definitely be communicating that they are not to comment on what still needs doing. Our friends have actually been nothing but cheerleaders regarding our work on the house. We don't have them over very often due to most being allergic to dogs, but with nice weather coming on quickly, some backyard parties sound like just the ticket.

A have-done list is a terrific idea because I know we’ve done way more than I give myself credit for. My husband often tells me that I hold myself to a standard of a person who has significantly more money and free time than I do. I do have a huge folder of "before" pics of our place, but it got moved to an external hard drive when I got a new computer a couple years ago and so I haven't looked at it in a long time. I think I will make an album in a place where I can see it regularly. And yes, no more house porn. I actually shut down my Pinterest account a couple weeks ago because of this.

- tel3path, I love "Unfuck Your Habitat," thanks for reminding me about it. I love seeing REAL pictures of people’s houses on the internet, not just the ones that have been staged for Apartment Therapy or whatever.
- straw, your point about recording not just the endless to-do list but also the reasons for getting to each project (or not) resonated with me. Because there IS always a reason why we haven’t gotten to X or Y yet, and a damn good one, too.
- Flood, I adore what you wrote about saving your house. That is exactly how I feel about mine. It's a truly beautiful house at its core and it makes me happy to see it finally starting to become the beauty we've always known it could be.
- HotToddy, that's a fantastic point. I tend to forget that when we were house-hunting, we looked at 50+ houses and this one WAS far and away the best of the lot. There wasn't a single other house that we even considered buying.
- kmennie, I have totally played the pretend-rental game in low moments.

Sincere thanks to everyone who answered for restoring both my perspective and the joy in my house that I know should be there. It helped immensely just to hear from others who have found themselves in the same situation. You are all awesome.
posted by anderjen at 11:23 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

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