What home improvement taught me about { self } improvement

As readers of this blog know, this is the year of the house. I have been re-purposing, refining and restoring. Decluttering (or, as Gwyneth Paltrow might say, “consciously un-coupling”) from stuff. It’s been cathartic and calming to bring order out of chaos when the possessions that truly matter to my life now find a new, clean home at last.

There have been other, subtler discoveries as well. Lessons that go way beyond any wisdom you can acquire on HGTV or your favorite shelter blogs. For example:

Trust. Know what you don’t know and cultivate a circle of advisors whose insights and experience you can trust—whether it’s developing a workout plan or laying out a kitchen. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t understand.” Someone secure in his/her knowledge will be happy to break it down for you so that you can be more informed and confident in your choices. Remember this and pay it forward.

Values. Not to be confused with opinions. You can change your mind about a couch (mid-century modern vs shabby chic), but not about, say, where it’s manufactured. If a living wage and humane working/living/producing conditions are important to you, read the labels—for furniture as well as food stuffs (locally made vs factory farmed). Buy according to your values and go with sources you can live with in good conscience.

Inner strength. My first contractor came highly recommended and the examples in his portfolio seemed first rate. Unfortunately, he turned out to be undependable and a diva besides, so in the end I had to summon up the courage to let him go. We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news, but learning how to give it with firmness and kindness is a skill we all need to learn—on the job or at home. And there are times when knowing and advocating for your interests is critical to your well-being.

Attention to detail. I bought what I thought was the perfect washer-dryer but learned the day before delivery that the freight company would only drop it at the curb and no further. It was up to the homeowner to get it into the house. I think not. It was only after I cancelled the order (and paid a stockage fee) that I saw that this was standard procedure. White glove service, which no one had told me about, cost extra. So it pays to read the small print even if you think you know the answer in advance. A few minutes of mindfulness in all things can save you weeks of pain.

Patience is not one of my virtues. I’ve been thinking about these home improvements for years so of course I want it all done yesterday. But I have learned that plucking at someone’s sleeve, asking “When will this be finished, do you think?” is unhelpful and kind of rude. Nagging never works—whether it’s your kids or your colleagues. Unless there’s a strict deadline, let people work at their pace not yours, and step in only when necessary. If you’re the project manager (as we all are to one degree or another in our lives), manage. Don’t do.

Gratitude. I am lucky to do the work I do with the clients I have and that gives me the freedom and resources to take on this adventure. Any inconvenience is one I’ve brought on myself through thoughtlessness or inattention. I am grateful to the home improvement team in whom I’ve entrusted my house and sanity. Whenever you can, say “thank you” early and often to the universe and those who support your world.