Perspective: This House Is…

This is a photo of Nero doing his best to look cute and cozy on the couch–his newest habit of making mommy late for work:

It’s also a photo of our fireplace area in the main living room. At the bottom left of the fireplace is a framed piece of folk art. Let’s take a closer look (and yes, I have unabashedly joined the Instagram craze):

It was a gift, passed down to me from my mom who paired it with a vacuum cleaner for my bridal shower almost one year ago. The custom-framed cross-stitching (at least, I think that’s what it’s called…cross-stitch? embroidery? My sewing lexicon is, admittedly, limited) was given to her by a talented neighbor at the house where she first lived with my dad.

Mom and me at my bridal shower (August 2011)

Mom acknowledged that she displayed it in their first home, but couldn’t find a place for it once they moved. She nevertheless held onto it for posterity, if only (as she admits) to present as a matronly practical joke at such a ladies’ social gathering. But perhaps, deeper in her sub-conscience, she preserved the silky, geometric letters to impart a mother’s wisdom in her future daughter’s first home.

And, initially, I applied its tongue-and-cheek sentiments rather literally. Vacuum the floors, but don’t worry, no one will notice the dust bunnies in the hard-to-reach area behind the bookshelf. Scrub down the bathroom, especially when guests are coming, but best to keep the shower curtain closed, since that tub would probably give Mr. Clean a run for his money… or a heart attack. There’s clutter in the bedroom? Does your closet have doors that close?  Being a good hostess and homekeeper, in other words, did not mean cleaning all the time. Because that’s no fun, obviously, and my house is not a museum.

I recently finished reading the first memoir of a blogger I admire, Jessie Knadler. (I say blogger, but she’s really so much more – author, mom, self-sufficiency inspiration, etc.). In her story, Jessie takes us on her transformation from high-profile, party-til-dawn city life to farm-owning, chicken-slaughtering, Wal-Mart-shopping “country girl” for the sake of love. She does it with humor and gently sarcastic wit, but also a good deal of grace.  

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Jessie in person at a book signing in nearby Lexington, VA. She gave a short talk describing the give-and-take sacrifices that come with marriage, her thoughts on what the book is about, and how writing became her way to make sense of it all. The general moral being, you can’t change a person – you can only change yourself; but you need not change yourself at the expense of losing your sense of self because the person you might have been trying to change only wants you to be you, no matter your geographic location.

Her thoughts were excellent timing, really, because I’ve been thinking for the past couple months about balance. Did I miss some unwritten adult rule – admidst the bills, the menu-planning and meal-preparing, the grass-mowing, piles of laundry, dog-walking, and so on –  some rule that taunts in size 72 Comic Sans font cautions of the lack of free time that comes with being a homeowner, a wife, a working member of society? Am I, in my current flurry of daily activity, embodying the person that exudes happiness from every orifice and quotes Benjamin Franklin-esque maxims and is happy about the day’s work when it’s time to go to bed in the evenings? Am I stunting the growth and development of the person that I want to be–is my happiness put on hold because a jaded, “just get through it” attitude is easier?

I think perhaps I’ve inadvertently been operating on the same principles that governed my high school extracurriculars: keep a busy schedule– you know, the whole “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” sort of schedule–with swim practice twice a day, piano lessons, dance classes, and, well, school. Currently, in my adult life, I volunteer two hours a week. Making my own food (as much as possible) is important to me, so time must be made for meal preparation. I also don’t like wasting food, so when the produce is ripe, preservation techniques (jam, pickles, freezing) must be employed. I work a full-time job during the week, and the bulk of every other weekend is spent at a second job. Nero’s not going to walk himself. I pay to attend classes at our local CrossFit gym four times per week, and on top of that am apprenticing to be a trainer so have been attending additional classes for training. I maintain an Etsy shop and periodically add inventory which requires extensive arts and crafts time. The thought of potato bugs scares the crap out of me, so my garden needs at least a little bit of attention each day. Oh, and, you know, I blog on the side. No big deal.

(And I do have friends, I assure you).

Let’s be clear: I’m not listing these tasks and responsibilities to complain or compare with anybody else; it’s simply for me to articulate why I feel so busy. And I do feel busy. But my biggest clue to re-evaluating balance came when my co-worker recently asked me if my day has more hours in it than everyone else’s. Unless everyone else lives in a world that has less than 24 hours in a day, the answer is no; but I can see how it might seem otherwise.

It was from this statement that I found that I have been loosely evaluating my success from week to week on how well I was able to juggle all of my responsibilities. Some weeks I go to the gym consistently, but the laundry pile rivals Mt. Everest in magnitude. Other weeks, the gym thinks I’ve vanished, but Alex and I ate well-planned meals (dinner and dessert?) all week long. And still other weeks see late evenings at the office and subsequently become littered with Thai takeout boxes, an overgrown backyard, and guilt at abandoning my blog. In other words, I had become acutely aware that I cannot do it all, all the time. And, heeding my inherited advice, I shouldn’t necessarily try to do it all, all the time.

Boy, that’s a relief, isn’t it?

Another point of reflection I gleaned from Ms. Knadler came through a series of descriptions of her hard-working husband who is an “efficiency expert.” Not the Office Space “The Bobs” kind of experts; just a generally chipper enthusiast of doing work – manual work. And I began to wonder if I might adopt an enthusiasm that allowed me not only to accomplish the things on my to-do lists, but to enjoy them–to find satisfaction not just in getting things done, but in working to get things done. Perhaps my perspective could change would I change my attitude.

Applied in my own life, there are certainly some opportunities for efficiency. Simple things like, if I’m walking to the bedroom anyway, why not grab some shoes scattered about the foyer and put them in their rightful place in the closet? And more complex things like, giving up my 30 minutes of unsuccessfully-look-for-something-to-watch-on-TV time means I can make progress each night on the cabinet I wanted to refinish for the upstairs office. Even at the end of a long day of work, just jumping in and working more on the messy things that make me happy has made me feel productive, satisfied, and, as the embroidery art might suggest, healthy.

In retrospect, perhaps it was naive of me to take my inherited advice so literally (Mom, you were right). Now, however, I continue to proudly display the humble folk art as a reminder to work hard at the pieces of my life to which I am dedicated and feel are necessary responsibilities, but to also let life run its course, knowing that I shouldn’t be unhappy when things are a little messy. And who knows – maybe some day I’ll have a daughter to pass this custom artwork onto.

So, this is not a post to say that I’ve got it all figured out. Because I don’t. But, I am beginning to understand the importance of balance, and I just needed to articulate it in some way.

What about your house? What have you found to be the key to “balance?” Using my art as inspiration, how would you fill in the blanks to describe things in your house (This house is ___ enough to be ___, but ___ enough to be ___.)? What trinkets, art, or other reminders around your home remind you to breathe? Do tell.

5 thoughts on “Perspective: This House Is…

  1. Carrie says:

    Oh, how I ADORE that piece of art…I sure could use something like that in our house. I struggle with balance constantly (I feel like your post took the words right out of my mouth!) but I agree that finding satisfaction in the DOING rather than just the finished product is an important and necessary revelation…

    • Jessalyn says:

      Thanks, Carrie! Above all else, I find it reassuring to know that I’m not the only one trying to find balance. There is solidarity in shared struggle which perhaps gives one even more courage to enjoy the “imperfections,” don’t you think?

  2. Danielle says:

    You wrote this at the most perfect moment, or maybe I just read this at the most perfect moment. I struggle hourly with balance. Sometimes I dare say I have a severe case os OCD concerning cleanliness and organization in my house. I am pretty sure I make Jeff and the kids crazy with my quest to find balance. I think I need to print out a picture of your cross stitch piece and put it on the fridge to help me chill out. I am going to have to read Rurally Scewed and maybe I will share a piece of your balance.
    So here goes:
    This house is full enough to be comforting, and crazy enough to be fun.

    • Jessalyn says:

      Love your “this house is…” statement. Do you plan to incorporate it into your home somewhere? In one sense, Jeff and kids are lucky to watch you find balance; it will empower them to learn and know how to balance their own challenges, especially as the kids grow older. Thanks for sharing! It certainly is reassuring to know we are not alone or not just going crazy in our quest for balance 🙂

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