March 30, 2009

a house sinks, a heart journey to: “ I AM”

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve been “here” on my blog… a maddening, saddening, gladdening year. So- what of my unexplained absence, you ask?

To begin, this won’t be one of those short, sweet, twitter-type entries… this is a manifesto, a dissertation, a “take-your-adderall–and-concentrate” kinda saga. This is a true story- a (formerly) painful story I know I’m supposed to share. This is the tale of losing a house and finding a home...

A year ago today I realized we were going to be moving, whether I liked it or not. Moving from the custom house that we had just built less than three years before. Moving from the house that I just felt like we had settled into…. the house that was published in magazines, filmed for HGTV, and was the closest manifestation of who I was.

You see, the house was sinking. Sinking like a rock. Sinking like the sunset. Sinking like the friggin’ Titanic, people.

We noticed the cracks in the bricks first. Soon to follow was doors not opening and closing, cracks throughout the floors, sinks dropping away from the granite tops, and doors finally getting to the point where they had to have paper towels wedged in them to stay closed. We couldn’t have locked the house if we wanted to! (Thank goodness we lived where we didn’t really need to lock the doors.)

The nightmare really kicked in turbo when the builder’s insurance adjustor visited and later deemed the house “the builder’s art”, which excluded it from coverage. Don’t laugh. (I did.) I wasn’t laughing in the end when it actually held up after lawyer review.

We held on and kept fighting for the house throughout the next months- it was an exhausting cycle of lawyers, paperwork, money, lawyers, crying, stress, money, lawyers, paperwork, stress, crying, lawyers, money. Yeah, fun for the whole family...

Oddly enough, I didn’t realize how truly awful everything was during that whole time until much later. (Don't think the cruel irony of this happening to an interior designer passed by me, either...) But now, with my new-found perspective, I realize it was literally like living inside a horror movie. Due to the cracks in the foundation, walls, floor, and doorways, the house was overrun with spiders. It was uncontrollable.

Over three months’ time, I got three brown recluse bites and my husband was bitten by a black widow. Random factoid of the day: brown recluses and black widows don’t respond well to pesticides, especially after they have established themselves in abundance around your home. They need to be totally saturated in the stuff, but they hide during the daylight hours. They will, however, find the time in their busy breeding schedule to come out at night and bite you while you sleep. If you didn’t already have arachnophobia, I apologize if you do now!

But- that wasn’t the only type of critter
that got through the cracks everywhere… let’s just say thank God I have four cats. I remember the first time I caught them all staring at the bottom of the refrigerator. They were all fascinated, and I couldn’t figure out what in the world they were doing! I posted a photo of the cats staring in a semi-circle on a decorating forum I’m a member of, and the girls on there told me exactly why they were staring at the bottom of the fridge. I thought I was going to pass out…

In recalling all of this, spiders and all, I’m just laughing now- but it wasn’t funny back then. I mean, my pest control guy came out so often and we got so close that I didn’t even bother to be home when he sprayed every 10 days or so!

Despite anything
regarding the legalities and where all that stood, there came a time when the house was uninhabitable. A contractor friend of mine had to break the news to me that the next episode of the “sinking house show” would feature the plumbing bursting under the concrete slab. Since it didn't (and never would) make sense to attempt to invest the almost 200K it would take to repair the house, it was time to go. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. My heart, soul, and life savings was in that house. Or so I thought.

The life savings part
unfortunately still rings true, but a funny thing happened on the way to the moving date… I found my heart again, and my soul started to sing the sweetest, most authentic and joyful song. It was the song of “I AM”.

“I AM” really began early in the year, before the major drama. I started realizing that the house was big, and I had a lot of “things”. It also dawned upon me that there had been times when I didn’t even go upstairs for two months. TWO months. I had no reason to! My husband and I truly lived in about one-quarter of a 3500 square foot house. That’s crazy. Crazy, I tell you! I AM crazy.

Upon realizing that this move was really going to happen, I decided to have an estate sale. After I actually had to go upstairs to prepare for the sale, I soon realized that I had more “stuff” than anyone in the free world. Stuff I didn’t care about. Stuff that had no emotional pedigree. Stuff that was pretty, stuff that was nice, stuff that filled a space. Yet that stuff that was filling a space was emptying my spirit. I AM drowning in banality.

A house is a kind of living, breathing thing to me. This means that if I’m inhabiting a house, I feel I should have a relationship with it- a true connection. The house should hug me when I get home, comfort me when I’m sad, and welcome my friends when it’s time to celebrate. It should be a reflection of me, and I should be a reflection of it.

The only way this synergy and reciprocity is going to happen is if I share my true self with the house. If I fill my house with random stuff that looks great, but has no story and no resonance with me, how can I call that house mine? It could just as well be a builder’s model home or a staged house for sale. I looked around and the fact became clear: I AM not reflected in the space I’m living in.

The journey to “I AM” continued with the unavoidable repetition of this whole story to friends and neighbors. I began to realize that every time I told the story of the situation, people would either get really mad that the whole ordeal happened to me, or they would give me that look you get when you tell someone your pet passed away. I also realized that I didn’t feel either way about the whole thing. I didn’t want to kill the builder and get revenge, and I didn’t want to sit around crying and eating cheetos every night. I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t sad anymore. It dawned on me: I AM just not feeling “loss” in this situation.

Actually, I was happy and “light”, for lack of a better word to describe the feeling. You see, the big houses come with big responsibilities... they can be quite a time-suck. There’s so much upkeep to be done all the time, it’s just non-stop. Added to that, there’s the neighborhood pressure that’s constantly there. It was a very nice neighborhood- and you know, you don’t want to be referred to as “THAT yard”! So- every time a single weed would pop up in between yard-cutting days, I felt the pressure to immediately go out and whack it. I became the Tony Soprano of the yard. I dared a weed to pop up! Yet, as Tony discovered also, it’s quite stressful having so many to kill and so little time. I realized I AM not a large house person, and I AM not a yard work person.

When the search finally began for another house, it was pretty overwhelming. The whole reason we ended up building before is that we couldn’t find the perfect fit in a house that was already on the market. I realized things hadn’t changed on the real estate front. But I had.

Several entries back on this blog, I posted a whole plethora of cottage photos. I’ve always loved the look and feel of cottages, and I intended to do a whole little series on here about “the cottage”. Little did I know, my heart had its own intentions regarding cottages. It was going to live in one, and it knew it a LONG time ago.

I’m gonna break left on you for a minute and tell you about my heart’s intentions. I have to watch what my attention is given to, because attention seems to turn into intention, and then things tend to just “happen”! I don’t mean that it’s just me going all "law of attraction" and manifesting all kinds of stuff out of the blue- I think it’s a result of praying, God’s will, and my desires all merging together somehow…? I’ve found if my heart is set on something- is truly adamant about it- and is unafraid- it happens.

All of this is important you see, because my heart wanted a cottage. It was no coincidence that I blogged about them, or that I kept reading about them and thinking about them. My heart was really, REALLY set on one, and I’m thrilled to say- my heart now lives in one! We moved into a precious 1941 post-war cottage in an awesome neighborhood that is full of activity and optimism. People are always out walking or chatting, the trees are tall and beautiful, and birds and squirrels are everywhere… bliss!

Our cottage is around 2000 square feet, which is just right for us. It also needed lots of updating, which I was all too happy to begin! (Still in process...) This house is perfectly imperfect, which I have found to be sooooo liberating. The beauty of an old house is that it has this laid back character, which shows itself in a slightly slanting floor here, an uneven countertop there, and some chipped cobblestones on the pathway out there. These are things that I'm normally asked to correct as a designer, but for me, right now- I love the irregularities! These badges of time help to relieve the pressure of maintaining a state of constant perfection.

When a house is new, your goal is to keep it looking- well, new. I’m here to tell ya- that ain’t easy, unless you’re willing and able to hire everything out. The cottage doesn’t demand all of that, it just exudes comfort and ease. I'm working towards mine also exuding "modern" and "bright", but that's another post. ;)

I only wish other people understood all these positive things. I wish they understood how much the whole situation has transformed our lives. After moving in and running into people who inevitably ask about what happened and where we’re living now, I realize I’m getting that “your pet has passed away” look again. People seem to automatically view any version of scaling back as negative. It wouldn’t matter if I told them the house was made of platinum and gold and has bonafide angels protecting it… I still get “the look”- because this house is smaller than the other one, it’s in the city (its own stigma to some), it’s not custom built or brand new, and it’s not the house that was in all the magazines and filmed by HGTV.

But I can tell you what this house IS. This house is who I AM.

The other house was who I thought I was supposed to be. And I've finally found the beautiful joy that comes from knowing the difference. :)


Kristi @ Addicted 2 Decorating said...

That is, quite honestly, the absolute best blog post I've ever read...anywhere.

I'm so happy for you, and for where your journey has led you.

I understand all too well about "the look". I get it often. Four months after Matt and I got married, we built a house in the suburbs--not a dream house by any means, but a nice house for young newlyweds. Now, six years later, we live in an 834-square-foot condo in the city. I, much like you, had to come to the realization that surrounding myself with "stuff" just for the sake of having stuff was more of a burden than a joy.

Anyway, so glad for you, again. I anxiously await seeing photos of your darling cottage, and I know that it will be a perfect reflection of you. What more could one want??

Midway Cottage said...

Cheers to you for committing to a more authentic life. Those who give you "the look" are probably feeling the same emptiness inside that you felt before all of this happened. I look forward to hearing more about your new house and seeing some pics!!

Megan Gery said...

really great post, and really great outlook. can't wait to see pictures of the new cottage!

AnNicole@Our Suburban Cottage said...

I agree with Kristi - that was a fantastic blog post. I am so impressed with how well you've processed the past year and understood the meaning and lesson in all of it. Truly inspiring! I can't wait to see cottage pictures now!

susan said...

I can be impatient, and this is long, but I read every word. I understand the "I AM".

We moved (by choice) 3 months ago from a 3500 sq house to somewhere around a 1700 sq house. I've been a huge collector of stuff for many years, good stuff. Much stuff ended up being donated, as you cannot easily put a 3500 sq house into a 1700 sq house.

My husband and I are still both shocked at how much lighter we feel, how much less pressure we feel, how much easier life is in a smaller space. I would say, nearly every day since we moved in, we have told each other how much we LOVE our new (not newly built) home. And, like you, I am a designer, a kitchen designer, and this kitchen is about 1/3 the size of my previous kitchen! I love the efficiency of it. We didn't expect to feel anything like how we feel in this house. It feels so right for both of us.

We have the tiniest usable backyard in the world (on 1/2 acre, much wooded) after having an enormous garden at the other 1 acre house with nearly 200 roses and tons of perennials, which I will miss this spring, but the feel now, is one of an intimate New Orleans courtyard. How great is that?

The house is not perfect, not at all. We could have bought an even larger house than the 3500 sq ft house, if we wanted, a few months back. But, there is enjoyment in finding creative ways to live well in this smaller space. Personally, I find that I prefer efficiency in walking about a smaller home rather than within large expanses of space. I think that may be part of it.

I will say...I may not have wanted to raise 3 kids in this size space, as we have done in the other home. But, for the 3 of us now, and even for our other visiting kids and THEIR SO's, it's fantastic. They love this house as much as we do.

One more note. You mentioned that you wanted to live in a cottage. I find that interesting. For many years, as I have visited my relatives in Denmark in their small homes and apartments, I have quietly and closely observed their happy (upper, not highest class-meaning they could have had larger homes) lifestyles in their small spaces and tried to understand the meaning behind how we live in both countries, at least in terms of housing. That is partially where my comfort with a smaller space comes from, I believe. I think they are less about accumulating possessions (for large homes) and more about experiences outside of the home, thus, wanting their homes to be simply maintained and functional. In fact, I know that for sure. I can still learn from them. I'm not there yet. After all, I grew up in the birthplace of suburbia, Long Island!

Fantastic post. Enjoy your home. And, I am very sorry for the monetary loss (if not the lifestyle loss.) :)

Anonymous said...

What a truly amazing story....Journey I should say.
Isn't it amazing how things go when you put your energy into the wrong things. We don't listen to our instincts enough....we tend to pay attention to what we think we're SUPPOSE to want and not what our heart and mind tell us.
I too went through some major changes in my life which also included "downsizing" from 3000 sq ft house to a 900 sq ft condo and I can totally relate to being so much more content in every aspect of my life....from having only what I need (and want!) to becoming an Interior Stylist.
Hats off to you! Congrats on finding YOU.

beauty comma said...

Dear Tambra,
I suddenly saw a familiar face on my followers' widget! Welcome back to the world of blogging!
What a year you've been through... I'm really impressed with how you've coped. Finding your cottage sounds like the perfect thing for you. I think it's really sad that people actually feel sorry for you! But the size of our homes have always been the most important way of showing one's status in a society, so I guess this has almost become an instinct in humans.
I hope you'll post some photos of your new home! I'm convinced that it looks just perfect!
Have a lovely weekend Tambra --

Trudi xo

design snitch said...

All you sweet, sweet people! Thanks so much for the comments/emails- it means so much to me. :)

Jeanne Baker said...

What a gift you are!
What a gift this has been in your life- because you allowed it to be.
All of this speaks of your character, ...your soul. YOU my dear, are a BEAUTIFUL soul!