Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dream Houses

Think of the inside of your house as your soul and the outside architecture as the bones structure, your genetic inheritance. Our true home is inside each of us and it is your love of life that transforms your house into a home.
-Alexandra Stoddard

Whether it is building a fort or playing house and pretending it’s your castle, the idea of a dream house begins early if life. At least, it did for me. Our 91- year old house has been anything but. Just in the past three years, we have had to replace our roof, the plumbing and the electric. The worn wood floors needed resealing, which required moving all of our furniture out for a week. The original bathroom tile was rotted and crumbling. That is on top of an A/C system that breaks once a summer, a sprinkler system that flooded our garage and invasive tree roots that threaten the foundation. Don’t get me started on the closet space that already didn’t exist before our daughter was born or the 30-year old washer and dryer located outside in the detached garage. Like many people, we bought at the peak of the market before the collapse stole our equity and our options.  My reaction every time something breaks (which was daily for a while) was that we should cut our losses, sell and start over, rather than pouring more money into fixing what we will never be able to recoup. My conservative husband will not consider it. He reminds me often that I was the one who wanted “historic charm”.

Author and architect Sarah Susanka, doesn’t advocate “extreme makeovers". In her book “Not So Big Life.”, Susanka suggests  simple “not so big” changes that can dramatically transform a house into a home. She believes the same design principles apply to constructing an authentic life. Think of a house with lots of curb appeal, but maybe it doesn’t flow inside because of a bunch of chopped up room additions. An architect would say the house lacks integrity. The same can be said for a person whose exterior life doesn’t reflect their values and deepest desires.

You don’t have to quit your job, get a divorce or sail around the world to strike a balance anymore than you need to bulldoze and rebuild.  If I had purchased Susanka’s book six months ago, I may not have bought into a word of it, but seeing is believing.  After way too many fights about “the house”, I finally let it go and accepted the fact that it just doesn’t financially make sense for us to move. I admit it felt like giving up a little girl’s dream. Instead of spending money on major things that had to be done (like electric) we invested in a little bit in redecorating. We added red pillows. We covered the cracked ceilings with wallpaper. We dedicated a wall to hang our daughter’s artwork.

The quality of the home has almost nothing to do with size. Instead it can be found in the qualities of space rather than the quantities.” Susanka says. 

Our small changes did, in fact, allow us to engage the space differently. As a result, we enjoyed being home more and actually felt like there was more home to enjoy. Looking back on those wasteful arguments over resealing floors or whether to give up a bathroom to put in indoor laundry, the battle was over something much bigger. I was not living in my spiritual dream house either. Putting a for-sale in the yard or splashing on a fresh coat of paint was not going to make me feel at home where I belonged.  That required some design changes in how I spend my time.  

When we feel too busy to make small changes in our daily routine, we fall further into the no-time trap. The author described most multi-tasking as an addictive habit that keeps us feeling busy. The busier we feel the more important we feel as well as more drained and empty. Imagine what it would look like to change our perspective and look at time as one continuously unfolding moment rather than a container that comes in sizes of 24 or 7. Would it look like presence? Could you break free from the memories of the past and the speculation of the future and experience the one real time- now? I have experienced this concept of an unfolding moment when I write, I lose all track of time. When my son is scuba diving, he is totally engaged in that moment. It is not enough or too much when we are doing whatever it is we are passionate about. Susanka would call that the “walk to the light” principle. In design, it refers to the effect a window or lighted painting can have on a space. The light becomes a focal point that naturally draws people in. In life, presence can be that illuminating light.  

Are you living in your dream house?

For today’s “sky’s the limit” on what you can learn: A few more great quotes building on the home metaphor:

There are hones you run from and homes you run to.
-Laura Cunningham

Every spirit builds itself a house and beyond its house, a world and beyond the world a heaven. Know then that world exists for you.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by yourself. They are at home in the hearth of your soul.
-John O'Donohue

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