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The Nesting Place
By Myquillyn Smith
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Myquillyn Smith
All rights reserved.
A beautiful thing is never perfect.
Dwelling in Possibility
As a child, I didn't have huge dreams, impressive ambitions, or fancy prayers. I was a simple girl who looked forward to having a family and settling down in a little white house and growing something—you know, like a garden.
Compared with what other people were asking of God, I figured my request for a quiet life would be pretty easy to fill. But you know what happened? The opposite.
My husband and I have moved 734 times in our marriage. Actually, it's been thirteen times in eighteen years of being married, but as my fellow frequent movers know, each move can feel like ten moves. Only one house was white, and that's because I paid to have it painted white. Six months later, we had to move out.
Along the way, we've lost two businesses, had a disgusting amount of debt, and been embarrassed by what all this did to our credit. Every time I decided to plant peonies or hydrangeas, we moved before they bloomed. We have not settled down into a cozy little white house. We have not really settled down at all.
I didn't think it was fair that we had to move so much, but I couldn't complain. Our kids were healthy, my husband was supportive, and it didn't seem very Jesus-y to fret over a house.
Maybe you've been there too.
I finally realized that maybe all the junk I didn't like about our lives was part of a story, a story with an ending I'd like even if it wasn't what I had imagined.
Those thirteen homes weren't a waste. They were teaching me valuable lessons and I almost missed it. I almost gave up and believed the lie that loving the home you are in is reserved for a few lucky people whose circumstances happen to work out just right.
"Someday" Is Now
Have you given up on the idea that you can love your home? Do you find yourself thinking that your next house will be the one you love? Do you put off decorating projects until "someday" because someday you'll have time and money to do it "right"? And yet do you long to create a beautiful home for more than beauty's sake?
I sense a restlessness among women—my neighbors, my online friends, and most of all, myself. We desire something more than the next DIY craze or perfectly decorated space. We want to truly love, appreciate, and use our homes. We don't want to put a bandaid on something we hate, no matter how cute and budget-friendly that bandaid may be. But we don't know where to start. And hey, we are smart women; we also crave a sense of balance. Yes, we enjoy beauty and love a pretty room, but we aren't willing to destroy our finances or realign our priorities to get there.
That's why this book isn't about decorating a house. It's about creating a beautiful, meaningful home that you love. Right where you are. It includes practical tips, but more important, it presents a philosophy of decorating that I've found so freeing that it guides every decorating decision I make in my own home.
Do you believe it's possible to love where you are, right now, today?
I promise, I have made every home-decorating mistake, and then some. I have spilled the gallon of discount paint on the floor of the rental. I have spilled the quart of expensive paint on the pretty shelf. I have broken the oversized mirror. I have regretted the fabric, I have measured once and cut twice, I have painted one room five different colors in two years, I have made too many nail holes, ripped the sofa, purchased the wrong size, and bought chandeliers that were too small. I have returned rugs and lamps and pillows. I've been there, ruined that. I have lived to tell. And my house is better for it.
In our thirteen houses, I have made every mistake. It's been the best education I could have asked for. If I'd never tried, my house would still look like it did eighteen years ago. I'd still be giving dirty looks to a plaid hand-me-down sofa.
In September of 2010, I got a gift in the mail from my friend Dee: a canvas with the names of all of the streets where we've lived (by Red Letter Words).
I opened it and bawled. I cried the ugly cry—the trembling, snotty, bloodshot-eyes cry. My husband, afraid and confused, told me I didn't have to display the canvas if it made me sad. Sad? What? Did this look sad to him? Clearly I was happy! Seeing all the street names in one place helped me see something that had been happening all along. Woven through each of our sad/happy/weird transitions was a story, and I was beginning to see what the story was about. Because with all that moving and debt and non-white-house living and discontentment and guilt about feeling discontent and living in rentals when I wanted to own, I still got what I was looking for: a home.
I can sit here today in our rental house and embrace where we live and declare that I'm content. Because I trust that even though this might not be the exact home I'd choose, God chose it for me, and it is home.
I don't have a little white house. I have a big subdivision-style plastic house. But the people I love are here. I don't have a garden. But things are growing. I don't have all the money or time I want to decorate. But I have enough to take risks, be a little quirky, and enjoy the process.
I love sharing my lived-in home with friends, online, and now with you through this book. I don't open my home because it's finally done and presentable. I share it for the same reason I wear a bikini to the pool. It's not because I think I look great in it. It's because I'm finally okay that I don't. It's the same with our home. I don't share it because it's perfect; I share it because I'm finally okay that it's not.
I can accept the fact that my house and life and body aren't perfect, because I trust there is a greater purpose. I trust that God knows what he's doing, and I don't have to panic and attempt to make sense of it all. I've given up trying to control our circumstances and instead am determined to create a home wherever we are. And that's made all the difference.CHAPTER 2
Thirteen Homes and Counting
An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
From Dumps to Mansions and Everything In-Between
I'm an expert in creating a beautiful home, but not because I'm highly trained with my one year of community-college design classes. I'm an expert because I've had practice in thirteen homes so far and I've learned from each one, especially the ones I've hated and wasted time whining about. I am an expert because I finally love our home and think it's beautiful. But getting there wasn't easy.
Houses 1 and 2: The Bachelor Townhouse and the House with the Pink Carpet
It was 1995, my husband, Chad, and I were freshly married, and my lifelong dream was coming true: we were buying our first house. This was going to be the second house we had ever lived in together. Chad was renting an ugly, boring bachelor townhouse when we got married, but I hated it and begged for us to buy our own house so I could make it beautiful. He wanted to make me happy, so we bought the best we could afford on his student-pastor salary: a little $60,000 ranch-style home that had new pink carpet and pink accents on the Formica countertops.
No worries. I knew you have to look past some things in a house, right? This house had a fireplace. Who cared about the color of the carpet?
Within a year of moving into our pink-carpeted house with the fireplace, Chad decided that he really wanted to be a teacher. He needed a graduate degree for that, so we found a one-year program at our alma mater, Columbia International University, and high-fived each other as we moved out of the house we just bought. We left the state with a For Sale sign in the yard. I'd watched my parents buy and sell houses, and I was confident our house would sell within a few months, no big deal—even though we hadn't lived there long enough to change the pink carpet and pink Formica counters.
House 3: The Glorified Two-Car Garage
We were in our twenties when we made that move from Florida to South Carolina, so naturally we had no money and ate store-brand fish sticks for dinner and took out student loans to cover the tuition.
Did you catch that? We took out student loans so Chad could be a teacher. Let me make this perfectly clear: we borrowed money so we could secure a job making even less money than we had before. A foolproof plan.
We needed to rent a house while Chad was in school, since it was just a yearlong program and we had a house for sale in another state. My criterion for finding a place to rent went as follows: find the least expensive place available that had a roof and a toilet. Is there a place where we can get paid to live? Take it. In the end, we paid $280 a month for a glorified two-car garage.
As the school year wore on, it was clear we didn't make enough to cover all of our expenses. We got behind on our house payment for the house in Florida that wasn't selling. By spring, we were getting threatening letters. Then we found out I was expecting.
By the end of the summer, Chad had finished the program and was looking for a teaching job. I was due in November. One of the first offers he received was a teaching position for $18,000 a year, with no insurance. Reality sets in fast when you have a house for sale, a baby on the way, and a handful of shiny new student loans.
House 4: The Two-Hundred-Year-Old Southern Mansion
We took the highest-paying teaching job Chad could find (it included insurance!) and moved to Macon, Georgia. The school hooked us up with a realtor, and we broke the news to her about our five-hundred-a-month housing budget. She got creative and connected us with the owners of a home she had been trying to sell for years. It was a 4,500-square-foot, Gone with the Wind–style home, complete with towering two-story columns and a gourmet kitchen. We could rent it for five hundred dollars a month while it was for sale, enough to cover a few expenses for the owners, who had pity on a poor young couple.
The house, a Greek Revival known in the National Register of Historic Places as the Randolph-Whittle House, was rich with historical significance. We had just moved out of a 250-square-foot garage into a mansion with a story. I was giddy. But within months of moving in and enduring a few showings, something miraculous happened: the house sold. The realtor thanked us, saying that having a couple live there probably helped the new buyers envision themselves there (even with most of the rooms empty).
I remember thinking how odd that was. Living in this couple's old house helped them sell it, yet we had our own house still for sale in Florida. My brain began collecting house-selling data.
House 5: The House in the Neighborhood with Bars on the Windows
Our little boy, Landis, was due to arrive in another month, so we scrambled to find a new place to live. Of course, I wanted a house, not an apartment. I love design, I love architecture, I love houses—I deserve a real house! Again, I searched for the least expensive place available.
I found a home built in 1910 with twelve-foot ceilings and five fireplaces that cost about the same rent per month as we paid in the mansion. When you are on a mission like this, you overlook the fact that neighboring homes have bars on the windows.
I'll never forget our first day there. I had the screen door closed and the heavy wood door open when the mailman walked up on the porch. I stood there, nine months pregnant, and said hello. The mailman's response? He told me I should keep the door locked because the neighborhood wasn't safe. What had I done? It was the day we moved in and I already wanted to move out. Was this the life we were destined for? Moving from rental to rental, waiting for our house in Florida to sell?
We lived in the bars-on-the-windows neighborhood for six months, the amount of time on our lease. Our car was broken into, and I heard there was a vagrant living underneath the house next door. When there is a vagrant involved, you suddenly get excited about moving into a nice, new, clean, no-bars-on-the-windows apartment.
So that's how we had been married three years and had already lived in exactly five different homes. That's also how a person who thinks she is too good for an apartment can have a change of heart in a matter of months and become the most grateful person ever for not getting to live with five fireplaces after all.
House 6: The Apartment I Thought I Was Too Good For
So we moved into an apartment and I stayed at home with our son and we paid on our student loans and had no money. I repeat, no money. As in, I-couldn't-go-to-McDonald's-and-pay-for-a-small- order-of-fries no money. We'd heard of the word savings, but it seemed like an urban myth. I would go to the Dollar Store and look for the least expensive thing I could find just to enjoy having something new for our home. You know it's bad when you look for things on sale at the Dollar Store.
I wanted so badly to decorate, but we didn't have the means to spend anything on our house. The best I could do was to take down the rails that ran across the top of our four-poster bed to use as curtain rods in our bedroom. I felt hopeless. Tears were involved.
After three years on the market, our home in Florida finally sold. Lucky for us, we'd had renters for most of that time, but the relief of not owning that home was glorious. We sold it for exactly what we'd bought it for, so we had to sell one of our cars to pay the realtor's fee. You've never seen people so thrilled to sell their car.
After a year and a half of apartment living, Baby Boy Number Two, Cademon, was on his way. We had no plans, no goals, no hope of ever leaving the apartment. Chad was busy working at the school, and all I had to do every day was take care of a little boy, deal with a horrid case of morning sickness, and think about how I would be growing old in the apartment. We had major school debt, a little car payment, and a tiny bit of credit-card debt complete with not-so-perfect credit.
Then I started plotting. I wanted a house. I began to spend my days driving around town, studying neighborhoods. I also talked nonstop about buying a house. Poor Chad—I'm sure my discontentment was obvious.
We read Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace and within a year cleaned up our credit. We had learned the hard way about buying a house that wouldn't sell, so we had guidelines as we prepared for another move. I looked for a good deal, something we could sell easily when the time came. I looked for a house that I could immediately fix up with simple cosmetic changes like paint, changes that would make a big impact with little work. I looked for location more than anything else. Soon I narrowed our search down to a particular neighborhood. Maybe I wouldn't grow old in that apartment after all.
House 7: The Yellow House
We finally bought an adorable yellow 1940s mill house with 1,290 square feet. Perfect timing, because Baby Cade had arrived, and he was sleeping in a bassinet in the bathroom at the apartment. We paid $78,000 for our little yellow cottage. It didn't bother me that the washer and dryer were in the tiny kitchen or that there was no dishwasher. I could feel it: this house had good bones.
By then I knew it was best to make my house look good right away. I had learned that sometimes the unexpected happens and you move. I didn't know how long we would be there, but this time I was going to be prepared. I made the house pretty for me, and I made the house pretty in case we ever needed to sell it.
When your first house sits on the market for three years, you do everything within your limited power to make sure you won't lose money on your next house. I thought of decorating as a job—a job I loved, a job we benefited from, and a job that I hoped would free us to sell if and when the time came.
Chad worked extra jobs in the summer months, so I was able to scrape together money to spend on the house. I painted walls and woodwork with wild abandon. I learned about plants and we had the prettiest front yard on the block. We put up a picket fence and I painted it white to complete the American Dream Look I was going for. I tried to create a simple, charming home with what we had.
In the meantime, Baby Boy Number Three, Gavin, was on the way. (We had found that out even before we moved, when Baby Cade was three months old.) Even though during our first months in our yellow house I was either sick or taking care of three little boys without the luxury of a dishwasher, I loved what I was doing.
In that little yellow house, I began to see that I was contributing to our family through decorating. I loved the fact that something I enjoyed was also worthwhile, both for the time we lived there and for the time we would sell.
I keep saying "I" not because my husband was asleep on the sofa with a bowl of chips balanced on his stomach but because he was working and coaching and didn't yet know the joy and payoff that creating a beautiful home could bring. It didn't bother me. I knew I had enough to do in the house that could keep me busy for years, so I focused on what I could do.
Excerpted from The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith. Copyright © 2014 Myquillyn Smith. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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