Big Scary Purchases

I’ve had a mantra this summer as we’ve made several big, scary purchases:

It is my privilege to get to make these decisions.

When it’s overwhelming to decide on grouts. When there are delays in installation. When I’m learning how to drive a much bigger vehicle.

I sometimes find the language of privilege a little exhausting. But after years and years where frugality was a cornerstone of life, it is a novelty, if not an outright blessing, to be getting to shell out on these big, scary purchases that will, I hope, improve the life of our family for years and years to come.

There have been road trips where we crammed into our clown car with two small children, a dog, and quite a lot of associated kid stuff, and that was fine, because we then didn’t have a car payment, but now we have the option of financing a little when we could buy outright and enjoying enough space for our totally alarming amount of juvenile travel junk. There have been years where getting rid of all the mold in our various basement apartments was a (plumbing) pipe dream, so it’s kind of a privilege to wait around for the mold remediation guys now.

This can, of course, be argued further. Many Americans don’t have a reliable vehicle at all, much less the opportunity to upgrade to one spacious enough for their family. Many people long for children and would give anything to contend with the amount of junk that often accompanies parenthood. Or push beyond: not only am I lucky not have to have a moldy sink, but in the global perspective, I’m dang lucky to have running water in my home.

In that past life, I was never very patient when people would talk at length about their intense struggles to find the perfect shade of burgundy curtains or whatever. Like, does that really count as a legitimate frustration? In practice, this now mostly means that sure, I’ll talk your ear off about quartz versus soapstone if you’re in the market, too, but otherwise, I’ll keep my burdens of privilege to myself. So maybe we’ll have to go a few days without a kitchen sink this summer. So maybe J had to spend a day of vacation negotiating with used car salesmen when he’d rather be doing practically anything else, and we would have preferred a vacation to England over budgeting necessary home repairs.

It is certainly a pain in the butt to be a grownup and a homeowner, but right now, it’s better (for us) than the alternative.

The agony and the ecstasy, et cetera
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Evaluating Our Home in Light of Margaret Kim Peterson’s Keeping House

Ok, I admit I’m obsessed with this book, but I read it at just the right time, when I feel like I’m really starting to make decisions that will shape our shared life and family culture. Who wouldn’t love a book that asks questions like, “Can we — do we — keep house in ways that respect and embrace our creatureliness and that foster community within and beyond our households?”

I interpret this to mean that one must have a house that acknowledges the physical needs and creature comforts of those who might pass through: nothing too pristine to be touched, a spare high chair or booster seat ready to be brought out of retirement in the basement, a comfortable chair for an old neighbor.

Peterson writes, “The physical fabric and setting of the house does matter when it comes to the creation of a home. […] Your house, in other words, affects how you live, and how you live affects your house.” The passage articulated a hunch I’d felt while house hunting and envisioning the kind of life I could live in each house. After all that obsession and soul-searching, our consideration of city versus suburbs was a legitimate one — our desire to have a house where we could walk or bike ride places, and easily invite even undergrads without cars.

Perhaps my favorite passage was a simple question: “Or will we set up our homes in ways that encourage household members actually to live in community with one another?” Yes! When we moved into our four-bedroom home, it seemed obvious that we’d take the large bedroom downstairs for our own, put Scout in the small bedroom downstairs, and park Pippin in one of the two bedrooms upstairs, reserving the last upstairs bedroom for J’s office.

But consider: we don’t actually spend a lot of time in our bedrooms. And Pippin gets up once at night to use the bathroom, often needing help, so it would be more convenient to be upstairs with him. And Scout gets up entirely too much at night. (Working on it, ugh.) And we wanted to have more space to play, and to entertain.

So we ditched our box springs, which wouldn’t fit upstairs, and put all four of us in the two small upstairs bedrooms with the plan that Scout would start in the big closet (her “closery”) and eventually bunk with Pippin. It’s a plan to maximize actually living in community with each other, and to free up space downstairs for parties, playdates, and overnight guests. I don’t think it’s the standard approach most American families would take upon settling into our house.

I’m trying to set up house without too much emphasis on beauty over utility, remembering: “If we furnish our homes with cooking and eating and conversation and sleeping in mind, we will be more likely to live in them in ways that foster nourishment and refreshment and engagement with the routines that sustain the bodies and souls of individuals and of communities.”

Scout modeling her “closery” — lighting necessarily awful because, hey, no natural light.