1. Warmth is overrated. We’re in the middle of a polar vortex. Those of us in old homes can feel cold air seeping in through the cracks and have even discovered ice on the INSIDE of our windows! Our old home can only be described as warmish AS the furnace is running; as soon as it stops – we freeze. In an old home, you cuddle under blankets when reading, watching TV, playing games, or even while eating dinner just to share body heat. But maybe it’s better that way. Maybe if everyone cuddled together a little more we’d be less likely to bicker about walls and things.
2. Life is short and we are only one act of a large production. Our home is 100 years old and has been through at least 4 different owners. I think of all the history these plaster walls and wood floors have seen. I sometimes try to imagine all the family Christmas parties celebrated here, the girls who’ve descended these stairs in their prom dresses, the couples who fought and screamed so loud the neighbors heard, the Sunday beef roast dinners, the families who danced in the kitchen, the teen couples who shared their first kiss on our porch… This old households volumes of fascinating life stories and that somehow makes me feel less alone. I am just playing out my scene on the stage of This Old House. We are all just pilgrims passing through – but while we’re here, let’s give a killer performance!
3. It’s okay to be a work in progress. Owning an old home can make you want to stick your head in a snow bank in the middle of a polar vortex unless you come to terms with the fact the “fixing-upping” will never truly be “done”. Repairs and maintenance on an old home are endless – our “to-do” list inevitably grows the instant we cross something off. But the upside is this: Old homes can also serve as a constant reminder that God’s never quite finished with us either! He, too, is working through His holy “to do” list on each one of us. I’m so thankful he’s not finished with me yet!
4. People are more important than things. This Old House taught me that when I invite over a group of junior-high girls from the local inner-city school and they play hide-n-seek on all four floors and spend over an hour climbing into a cubby hole above the old stairs, and while having all that fun they put a hole in the wall, break a door handle, and spill red food coloring on the kitchen floor – I’ll simply shrug my shoulders and say: “Just adds character to the home”. The joy of four junior high girls is so much more important than keeping a “perfect” looking home.
5. The hierarchy in rodent repulsiveness: Bats>rats>mice>cockroaches>stink bugs.
6. No demons here. Whistling, creaking, and hissing noises do not indicate demonic presence in an old home (which I believed, in fact, to be our reality for a while…), but rather, the place is just telling you it’s there and it’s tired. Like my knees when I first get up to walk, or my husband’s jaw when he’s chewing, or the little lady who lived down the hall from my mother-in-law at the assisted-living facility who farted exactly every third step she took – we all start to make noises when we get older. Those noises just say “I’m here and I’m tired.”
7. Old houses help us redefine need. When we told our friends we were moving to the city into This Old House, many said, “You can’t do it! You’ll go crazy with neighbors on top of you, no yard, parking on the street, tiny closets, laundry in the basement, etc., etc.” They all thought we’d lost it. And yet, we’re doing just fine and maybe even less crazy than we were before moving here. When asked to sacrifice, an old house teaches you those “losses” really aren’t losses but more like “changes”. It’s easy to confuse needs with wants.
8. Bathrooms can be shared. Old Houses teach us that we really DON’T need the same number of bathrooms as people in a home and that hospitality has nothing to do with amenities. We used to live in a house with as many bathrooms as people – and there was never a time when all of them were in use at once. We are fortunate as Old Homeowners that our house does have one and a HALF baths (more like one and an EIGHTH bath, it is THAT small!) – which is an eighth bath more than most old homes! In two years, none of us have peed or pooped our pants in waiting. We have hosted more out-of-town guests in This Old House than in our big house with many bathrooms. Guests really don’t care about big, fancy bathrooms – they just want to visit and be fed. And you can do that in any old house.
9. Perfection is a lie. It’s imperative to embrace imperfections when owning an old home. Years ago we had our perfect dream home custom built for us. We thought it was perfect, anyway – until it wasn’t. Within a few months, I had a long list of things I wished we’d done differently. So we kept “fixing-up” an already brand-new home. No matter what we added – a pool, finished basement, a home theatre, central stereo, etc. – there was always one thing more we’d come up with and say, “Then! Then this place will be perfect!”
But it never was.
Several moves later we landed in This Old House – and everywhere we look there is imperfection: slanted floors, broken window panes, crumbling plaster, loose hinges, doors that don’t completely shut, cracks in the wall and foundation. These things are our new normal and, incredibly, they serve as a constant reminder that perfection is a lie and I almost wasted a lifetime chasing it. They also remind me that all my imperfections, as well as those of my husband and my kids and the neighbors and my friends – they can be celebrated as they tell us of our humanness! This house is our home not because it’s beautiful but because WE, in all our imperfections, inhabit it! And all my people with their personal creaks, cracks and broken hinges – are truly precious in both God’s sight and mine because they are HIS CREATION and I get to do life with them!
10.) Homes are just piles of hay, sticks, and straw. As long as they provide shelter, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. I just read that in our city of Grand Rapids – a small to medium-sized city – we had over 500 people, including 49 children, staying at ONE homeless shelter last night. There are FOUR homeless shelters in our city and the others are overflowing as well. Tonight, the temps in Michigan are dipping to record-setting lows – somewhere around -25F. May I never again complain of all the creeks, groans, repairs, mice, and drafts in This Old House and may I instead be thankful and willing and eager to share the shelter it provides.
And more than anything else, may we never forget where our TRUE shelter is found:
“I will live in your [God’s] tent forever and take refuge under the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:4