Monday, June 3, 2013

Use it Well

Most of us probably feel like our time and our money don't come flowing in endless amounts; these are limited resources that we can only spread out so far. It's hard not to compare our situation with others'. We can often feel like our homes aren't as clean as someone else's because we spend more of our time doing things like volunteer work, or driving our kids around to activities. And when we go on Pinterest we may see beautifully appointed rooms and begin to envy those people who 'obviously have so much more money than we do to afford a house that looks like that!'
While it may be true that the house with the wine cellar hidden under the kitchen may have cost more than yours, in many instances we can achieve the beautiful home by using our resources better; with some extra thought and planning, our time and money can go towards building up our home in more effective ways than previously.

For example, do you feel that it takes hours already to clean your home, so someone who has a perpetually clean home must spend their whole day cleaning it? In many instances, that's just not true. But the difference lies in how those 'neat' people use their time. Starting with a tidy house makes a huge difference in how long it takes to clean. It's much easier to sweep your floor when you don't have to pick up a ton of toys, some socks, the flyers that got pushed off the coffee table and all of the random knick-knacks that migrated there from other rooms. Tidying as you go is a huge part of keeping a house clean. If you are walking from room A to room B, try to find anything that has migrated from room B and return it while you're headed there anyway. And when you're done using something, put it away. It's a simple concept, but for many people (myself included) it takes a lot of training to make it a habit. I had long been the person who would carry the dirty dishes into the kitchen after dinner, but would stop short of putting them into the empty dishwasher while I had them in my hands. But I've since learned that it's quicker and easier, and definitely getting done, if I do it while I'm already there, instead of trying to find time later in the evening to come back to it.
One of the other tricks to cleaning in less time is to look for convenient opportunities. If you're in the kitchen waiting for the tea kettle to finish boiling, why not put away those clean dishes in the dishwasher? Or if you've finished giving the kids a bath, and you already have wet cloths in your hands, why not wipe down the tub and sink while you're there? (Some people might refrain from cleaning like this because it's not 'deep cleaning enough' since you may not use the right cleaners if you're just giving a quick wipe with washcloths, but if you are the type who never gets around to cleaning their bathroom more than every couple of months, don't hold out for a 'better' clean - just get it clean.) Likewise, if you have to make a phone call and get put on hold, use that time to pick up toys, or fold laundry.
Some chores take up real time, like vacuuming, or cleaning upholstery, but if your house is already tidy, then the cleaning tasks take less time since you don't need to do any preliminary clean-up. And if you get an early start on your day before your kids get up, you can likely get most of your cleaning done in that time since uninterrupted work is always the most productive.

Once your house is tidied and clean, the next step to those picture-perfect homes is decorating. Some of my favorite pictures from home magazines are the homes that look so streamlined and open. The secret? Those people don't have clutter! I have far too many decorations. I always see things in catalogues or at garage sales or at HomeSense and think of wonderful ways I can use them, and so they end up in my home on a rotating display. The joke's on me though, because with so many decorative pieces out, they just add to the cluttered feel of my house, and instead of having eye catching pieces, I just end up with a collection of mess. Thoughtfully placed and neatly coordinated mess. I used to look at every surface as a blank canvas for a new decorative display, but the funny thing about canvasses is that they are more welcoming when they allow your eyes a place to rest. It's the age-old rule for interior designers, painters, and graphic designers alike: you need some 'white space' for the eyes to rest in, or the whole picture consumes itself and the beauty is overlooked in the busy-ness. Our ceiling should not be the only 'white space' in our house. Our walls can be adorned with artwork, but unless you are going for an intentional gallery arrangement, or a cluster of portraits, the pictures should be hung sparingly for the biggest effect. Particularly in a house like mine, which doesn't have an open-concept floor plan or high ceilings. Our problem has been that since we had so many nice decorative pieces and beautiful pictures we felt obligated to display them. And I believe our answer is that we need to get rid of some of them, and hold on only to the pieces that we truly love, and display those with pride, in smaller numbers. What this practically means is that any picture in our household that came from Walmart or IKEA is gone unless we adore it. We're working on building our collection of fine art from local artists, which means that wall space is a precious commodity in our home. And anything that is widely reproduced that we bought in our first year of marriage just to fill the walls of our rental space that did have the open-concept floor plan and tall ceilings? Yah, those can go. And all those little glass displays I bought through PartyLite over the years? I don't need all of them - so those can go too. Hopefully I can make better use of the space I have, to make my home feel more open and less frantic.

One of the other things I love about other peoples' homes are their color schemes. Not simply the colors they use, but how they use them, and how they can pull together whole rooms using the same pallet! When I look at my home I think... well, I think it looks pretty ugly sometimes :) The individual elements are quite charming: our pallet table is fun and practical, our walls are a beautiful blue color with dark tealy/green accent walls, our white trim is clean and fresh, and the sideboard that we set up in the dining room a couple months ago is gorgeous! But they all feel disconnected, like they stand on their own without any consideration for the furniture beside them. I realized today that what my house really lacks is direction. My tastes are eclectic, and I believe that's reflected heavily in my decorating, but there's a right way to do eclectic decorating, and a wrong way - and I've been doing it the wrong way. Granted, many of the pieces we have in our house, we have out of opportunity and necessity; our furniture was all given to us, excepting the pallet table that Matt made. Our light fixtures were original pieces, or hand-me-downs, and the color of our flooring was something we didn't have much say in since we got such a good deal on some overstocked product, so our only real choice was "do we want this new flooring, or no new flooring?" But we are coming up to a point where we are planning on spending some money on fixes to our living room, and how we choose to spend that money can either add to the chaos, or help bring some order to our haphazard home.
Today I sat down and, for the first time, wrote out what our color scheme for our living room was. I didn't base this necessarily off of what it is right now, but rather what it should be, using some of the colors that are sticking around more permanently. Our accent walls and our couches and chairs are that similar dark teal-green - which is one of the only conscious color choices I made in this room. A couple months ago we need a runner for the sideboard and drapes for our front window, so I opted to get both in a fabric with a similar teal color, and a bit of a metallic sheen (which is the other conscious color choice I've made in the room). Our trim is white, our pictures are all blues and browns with yellow accents (purely by coincidence), and somehow, in the past year we have acquired a borrowed sideboard, a hand-me-down piano and a gifted dining room table, all of which have a similar dark reddish wood, which happened to match the wood arms and legs of our living room furniture. Things are looking up from last year when we had red wood on our couches, unfinished pine on our pallet table, a dark walnut colored dining table, a black bookcase, and a wrought iron corner display stand. This occurrence of matching woods helps us to determine what color we should stain our pallet table; as far as I'm convinced, it should only be either the same dark red stain that the rest of the wood in the room is, or a white ash color to play off of the white trim. But to paint it black or even dark brown would be out of place in this room now, and giving us one more thing that doesn't fit together well.
Another upcoming expenditure will be a new dining room light fixture. And while our first instinct was to buy whatever was cheapest off of Kijiji, I observed that we have a bit of an accidental trend of chrome accents in this room. By throwing in a chrome light fixture, this won't look like an accident anymore! So while we won't splurge on a $1000 chrome fixture of the dining room, we will at least hold out until we find something that will work together with our home.
From the information I listed above, I made up this summary of the pallet in our living room: Primary colors - Teal/Green, Dark Cherry (woods) Accent colors - yellow, white (trim), Chrome (metals). So if there is anything more that we plan to add to our living room, like pillows for the couch, or a new picture, we'll work on making sure it falls into one of those points on our pallet.
Bear in mind, this is coming from someone who is working hard to make their house coordinate better, not someone who has an established pallet and is working on finding some accent pieces; it's totally okay to introduce new colors, but when your house looks as random as mine, it's best to regroup before you choose to branch out anymore!

And one of my last point regarding using resources well to attain the beautiful home is to sometimes spend a bit more of those resources.

Yes, you may be able to find a light fixture for $20, but is that really what you want in your house? Or are you going to want to change it so soon afterwards that you might as well have not bought it in the first place? And yes, technically you can find couches at the thrift store, but if you don't need to buy those a) leave them for someone who can't afford more, and b) save your pennies and buy something you'll be really happy with. Saving $100 to buy a sofa that you can 'make work' hardly seems worth the sacrifice of the sofa that you would really love to have. But we can't have it all - so pick the pieces that matter most to you. For myself, I'd rather keep my old French Provincial style couches than buy something new, just because it's new. When we do upgrade our couches we'll likely get a soft-leather set, but that's a lot of money, so I've opted to stay content with my couches until we can save up enough - which may be a number of years yet based on how low 'new couches' are on our priority list! But something like our light fixture? So long as it's chrome, I don't much care what else it looks like! We'll go fairly cheap on that since it's not a huge concern for me.
Whenever we renovate a room, we typically pick one 'splurge' item, where we opt to get exactly what we want - regardless of cost (within reason). In our main bathroom it was our faucet, and in our bedroom it was our ceiling fan. Knowing that you have one perfect thing helps you to swallow some of the other cost-effective compromises you might choose to make. In our living room, our artwork is our 'splurge' area; I don't care about the name of the company I buy my furniture from, but I do care who is painting my pictures.

After re-examining my living room all day, I've identified some things that I'm willing to part with, which I never thought I would get rid of, and I've also decided to make a pallet for each major room of our house. Somewhat surprisingly, our main bathroom and master bedroom will actually have a very similar pallet to our living room, just with different woods and metals (dark walnut and oil-rubbed bronze in our bedroom, and ash and brushed nickel in our bathroom).

By rethinking the time we already have for maintaining our home, and setting a direction for our house that will help determine how we invest our money in it, we can use our limited resources well and come out with the home of our dreams - in the one we already have!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

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