Tending House

I’ve been watching Good Bones on Hulu. It is a show about two women who buy dilapidated houses, salvage as much as they can, then gut and repair everything else. Frequently they tear houses down all the way to the studs. The process is only slightly less expensive than tearing down the house and building from scratch. I enjoy watching their process. While I watch, I think improvement thoughts about my own spaces. Even more important to me is listening to how the women talk about the houses. For them each house has intrinsic value that is worth saving, even if they have to replace rotted floor joists or entire roofs. My own house is in an ongoing process of renovation. The massive emergency disruptions of last summer have subsided and this summer will feature slow but steady kitchen progress. The progress is slow in part because I’m doing almost all the work myself, but also because I have to find funds to cover the next state. Currently the next thing to be funded is a big pile of flooring.

In the past weeks, as I’ve been finishing cabinets and weeding flower beds, I’ve also been thinking about my house and the land where it sits as a place. This is the small patch of earth over which I have stewardship. The work that I do to tend my house and garden has value because the house and garden have intrinsic value. I’m not talking about resale value. The price tag on this plot of land and structure is irrelevant. What matters is the shelter it gives to bodies and souls, the memories it housed, the laughter soaked into the walls and earth. I have friends who spent their quarantine in small apartments with little access to green space. My family has a house with enough rooms in it for us to separate when we wish, and a garden of green things we can walk out into. We are fortunate.

I appreciate this perspective because I so easily get caught up in the costs of everything. Houses are victims of entropy at every turn. Daily maintenance and attention are required just to make sure that the house doesn’t fall apart. If you catch the dripping sink, you don’t end up with a flood. If you stick down the curled up corner of wallpaper, it doesn’t tear. Of course some maintenance isn’t daily or minor. Last summer a third of our house was torn apart to repair a sewer line. Every time I turned around that summer there was another break or expense. At times I felt very exasperated with my house and the cost of everything in time, money, and stress. I was frantically trying to restore life back to normal without quite recognizing that the very shape of the experience meant that normal would be permanently different.

Perhaps that is why I knew back on March 11 when everything began to be canceled that the world would be forever different. I began shifting my efforts away from efficiency and productivity into preservation and sustainability. (Not just the environmentalism version of sustainability, thought that is part of it, but making sure I set up life systems that I could keep running in the long term with the new resource landscape.) I used to spend money for convenience, preserving time as a precious commodity. Now that all the days feel so much longer, I find less need to conserve time. In fact I’m finding huge benefits in using time on maintenance tasks. Which is probably why I’m finding a big emotional connection to two women on my screen who believe that damaged things are not only worth saving, they are beautiful. You just have to be willing to strip the house down to its bones and restructure. Quarantine has stripped my life down to its bones, and I’m beginning to see new ways I can put things together.