When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne 4 years ago, I decided to make a rule about household furnishings and decorations. Nothing makes it through the front gate unless I truly love looking at it. In other words – only buy what you love.
Back in the dark ages, when I first moved in with my future-husband-but-then-boyfriend-who-I-later-divorced, we decided that we needed a dining setting and a bureau to store china and other things in.
“I only have an afternoon,” said A, so we hurriedly got into the car and drove to the nearest shop. Looking back now, how stupid was that? Sure, he only had an afternoon to spend furniture shopping that day, and if we didn’t find something suitable we could go out shopping another day.
But no. In our heads the idea was planted that we had to get the task done that day in that shop, so we ended up coming home with a very “farmhouse” pine dining table, chairs and bureau. He liked them. I hated them.
“Relax,” said A. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll get better ones.”
So I relaxed. I could stand to look at these hideous things for a year or two…
If I’d known that I’d be looking at those things for the next 31 years before I would finally replace them, there’s no way we would have bought them! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but sadly, I’m not very bright.
Another “practical” buy that I lived to rue was this tv table. Someone gave me a small tv for my bedroom, so I needed something to put it on. The table needed to be high enough so that I could see the tv over the foot of the bed. JB HiFi had a sale, so I picked up this thing, simply because it was cheap and it was tall enough. It showed the dust, was ugly and I hardly ever turned the tv on anyway. WHAT a waste of time and money. It definitely didn’t make the cut to come with us to The Best House in Melbourne.
Filling our homes and other spaces with items that aren’t really ‘us’ is an easy habit to fall into. Unless we’re filthy rich right from the start, when we’re young and starting out we have to accept any furniture and pots and pans etc that are offered to us. Money is tight. Auntie Edna’s old bedhead. Your Gran’s couch. The bookshelf that your Uncle Harry made for your Mum when she was a kid. You take them and are grateful, even though they may not be exactly to your taste.
“Relax,” you tell yourself. “These are only temporary. In a year or two we’ll upgrade.”
But then something interesting happens, particularly with the more frugal among us. Life.
Other financial priorities step forward. You get used to looking at those “not quite to my taste” items and so your eyes somehow glide past them. After all, the dining room table might be ugly, but hey! It holds things up off the floor perfectly well and meanwhile, we have a mortgage to save up for/pay off, children to feed and clothe, holidays to pay for, investments to make and … the list goes on.
One day you wake up, if you’re like me, in your 50’s and realise that there’s quite a few things in your house that you don’t like, have never really liked and they only made it through the door in the first place because they were free or cheap.
My epiphany came when I was packing up the old house to bring to The Best House in Melbourne. We’d lived there for 19 years while I was a struggling single mother bringing up 4 boys on a shoestring budget. We were dragging all of our furniture out into the cold hard light of day and I remember thinking, ‘Do I really want to take all of this junk with me to the new place?’
Don’t get me wrong – most of that ‘junk’ had served us well. But now it was time to start slowly replacing it with things that made me happy.
For the first 18 months after we moved I couldn’t do anything. I borrowed the entire amount to pay for this house and the bridging finance payments on 750K took up just under three quarters of my wages every month. We lived very frugally while we waited for the building plans for the old place to come through.
Now, it’s a different story. I’m retiring at the end of this year. I’ll be spending a heap more time here and I want to be happy with my surroundings, not feel mildly depressed at how scruffy and ugly everything is.
Over the last couple of years I’ve sold or given away many pieces of art, furniture and other bits and bobs that I don’t want to look at any more. I’ve replaced my couches with brand-new leather ones and my dining set with a second-hand Gumtree find that is just beautiful. At the same house I found the strangest-looking cabinet that I bought to use in my lounge room.
Isn’t this the weirdest thing? I love it because I’ve never seen anything like this before and it also has the ‘Queen Anne’ shaped legs that I love. The giraffe sculpture that I bought when I was in South Africa is peeping around the back of the tv.
Living with the rule of “Buy what you love” means that I’m far more selective about the things I spend my money on. Gone are the days of relaxing because this is only a temporary purchase. When you buy what you love, you want it to last.
When I was shopping for my couches I went to many places, looking at both new and second hand. My two non-negotiables were that they had to be real leather, (I like natural materials as opposed to man-made), and they had to be high enough that Dobby, my Roomba, could fit under them to vacuum. I found the perfect couches on sale and now, every time I switch Dobby on, I’m pleased that I don’t have to move the couches.
Being in lockdown for so many weeks has made lots of people realise that their surroundings need a bit of work. I was talking with a group of women who were all saying that it’s time to get rid of old shabby towels and linens, pictures, furniture and general clutter. Being around these things 24/7 is bringing them down. We all agreed that the rule of only buying the things you love makes a lot of sense.
Besides, when you buy what you love there’s no need to replace it. This is the table that has replaced the ugly one. It’s not made of glass and chrome. Remember, I like natural materials. It has the Queen Anne legs, and underneath is the cedar chest that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 20. The string quilt I made 10 years ago lives here when it’s not on my bed.
The ‘Blue Nude’ print by Picasso was a gift from A, bought on the day after we became engaged. I still love it. Underneath is a tree made from bits of wire and beads that I picked up in a flea market in South Africa, while a little stuffed beanbag frog from Canterbury sits on an elegant Japanese set of drawers that I bought when I was in Mornington with friends. A tiny pewter frog from Singapore sits to the side.
This corner of my room makes me feel calm and serene. It’s uncluttered and everything in it is something I love to look at.
When I was a student teacher still in Uni, I saw this antique treadle sewing machine in a junk shop. I think it cost me about $80, which was a huge sum to me then. I bought it a couple of years before I moved in with A and bought the ugly dining set and I’ll never get rid of it. I love it. It lives in a corner of my bedroom with a glass sculpture I picked up in Murano when I was in Venice.
The things I’m getting done around the house are also things that make me smile. Every time I have people over for dinner and I open the pantry, anyone who’s a cook gasps. The spice rack on the back of the pantry door is wonderful. Ever since I became a thermomix owner I’ve been making just about everything from scratch. No jars of sauces and casserole bases here, thanks! Having all of these raw ingredients in easy alphabetical order is fantastic. My brother-in-law also insisted that I put in a light that opens every time the door is open. I love it.
I was lucky enough to have the interior of the house pretty much done before lockdown. Now, of course, I’m looking to the front yard. I’ve put my orchard in and now the plan is to make the rest of the garden an oasis. I’m not going to put any old plant in “just to fill up a space” like I did in the front yard of the old place. I want this garden to be fruitful and beautiful as well.
Yesterday I got David27 to plant two maple trees out in the front of the house where the horrible yucca trees once stood. Those yuccas were cut down in December last year. At first I was going to plant avocados in their place, but now I’ve decided to have the maples there instead. This tree was one that I bought when my sister Kate met me at Frankston market around 18 months ago. Its colour will look amazing against the deep blue of the fences and the verandah (when I finish painting it) and it reminds me of Kate. Win/win!
I think that lockdown has made a lot of people take a fresh look at their homes and realise that they would have made a few changes if they’d realised that they’d suddenly be spending all of their time there. These changes don’t have to be wildly expensive, but simply going forward and having the rule of “Only buy what you love” will cut down on the things that Future You will look at and feel mildly annoyed with themselves for keeping all these years.
Our homes are our refuges and when you’re starting out it makes sense to cut down on costs and accept furniture and other things from family and friends for free. But going forward, it also makes sense to work on creating a space where you walk through the front door and feel contented and pleased to be there.
Of course, a huge part of this feeling is the relationships you share with the people around you. But don’t underestimate the emotional power of your surroundings. When you buy items for your home, you’re choosing what you are going to be living beside and looking at every day. When you really think about it, that’s huge.
As we get closer towards financial independence and the time that we retire, the environment we’ll be spending all of that free time in will be a large part of our lives. It makes sense to keep Future You in mind and begin to move towards creating a home that you are eager to spend time in.
Creating a home that reflects and nurtures your emotions and your wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it probably should take years (decades???) to be truly selective and intentional in your decisions of what to include in your space and what to leave out as you grow and mature.
But it’s an effort well worth making.