The best room in the house.

The best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

We used to have the best yard in the neighborhood. At our old house, our rare double lot may not have been large by exurb standards, but it was darn near sprawling in our little first-ring suburb.

It was great for the dog, with plenty of space to play fetch. It was great for the kids, with lots of room for baseball and a play set and a trampoline.

And then we moved, to a larger house, but a smaller lot, our backyard just a fraction (One-fourth, one-fifth? Maybe less?) of the old one.

When old friends come to visit our new place, they take one look in the backyard and say, “Wow—it’s tiny!” Hasn’t it been tough to go from your old yard to this tiny space?

The best room in the house | Modern Mrs DarcyWell, no. It’s been glorious. There are drawbacks, sure (namely, our play set now lives at my parents’ house). But overall, we adore our tiny backyard. The apparent limitations of this small space have shown us the upside to restraint.

It’s the best room in the house. Here’s why:  

We’re not yard(work) people. 

We love being outdoors, but Will and I both hate mowing and despise yard work—so much so that I talked about finding a condo. (Gasp!) Our huge lot at the old house came with a huge amount of yard work. Small yard, small work load.   

The best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

It’s cozy. 

When a real estate listing says a house is “charming,” they really mean it’s falling down. I don’t mean it like that; I mean it in the best sense. When we had a giant backyard, there was no place to sit without feeling exposed to the neighborhood. Our tiny backyard is snug, walled, and has clearly defined spaces. Because of all the patterns at play, it feels more like a room than a yard. 

twinkle-lights

Your space shapes your behavior.

Without even thinking about it, I started taking my coffee out to the patio in the morning—in my pajamas. I would never have done that at the old house: we just didn’t have the privacy.  

We’re also not having problems with the kids leaving their toys all over the yard anymore. In the small space, it’s easy to see when things have been left lying about, and a toy in the tiny plot of grass looks like clutter. The kids are picking up after themselves with (almost) no prompting. It feels like a miracle, but it’s not: it’s just the space.

bThe best room in the house | Modern Mrs Darcy

Somebody else did the work. 

The landscaping is all there, and it’s lovely: we just have to maintain it. It turns out I don’t mind maintaining my tiny triangle of yard, pulling out weeds or watering flowers. It’s meditative—but only because even a serious weeding only takes 5 minutes. 

Lovely limitations. 

I struggle with decision paralysis. We could have done almost anything in our old backyard, which completely overwhelmed me. There aren’t as many options in a small space, so there aren’t that many decisions to make. For me, that’s a good thing.  

Of course, this is about more than a backyard. Have you had a similar experience with finding freedom in limitations? I’d love to hear about it in comments. 

I saw the sign.

I’m not superstitious.

But I’m a writer, and I do keep my eyes open. (Professional hazard.) I’m also a freelancer.

When we were house hunting this spring, I couldn’t help but notice that every time we visited a certain house—for the first showing, then a second, to meet the inspector, then a contractor, and then to check on one last thing—the same thing happened:

I would get an email telling me I’d been paid.

The amounts varied, and none of them were terribly large, and yet they came—at odd times, from unexpected sources. I wouldn’t have been so surprised if we’d made all our visits on typical paydays, like at the end of the month, or on the 15th. But we didn’t, and yet the paypal payment notifications kept coming, every time I was at the house.

I don’t really believe in omens, but it seemed like a good one. We bought the house.

My oddly cooperative inbox reminded me of years ago, when a good friend was making a major decision with her husband about what job offer to accept—and in which city—when he finished his professional training. They had their own sign, and it wasn’t any stranger than my emails: theirs was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

They spent months discussing this huge decision. Every time the conversation turned toward the Big Move—at home, in the car, at McAlister’s, wherever—Sweet Home Alabama always seemed to come on the radio.

They laughed it off, because nobody should make a huge decision based on Lynyrd Skynyrd. But it seemed like a sign—and they ended up moving to Birmingham.

It’s been eight years and they’re still there.

I don’t really believe in signs, exactly. But I do love hearing about the happy coincidences that make you wonder whether the universe is trying to tell you something—whether it comes in the form of email, or a song on the radio, or something even more off-the-wall.

Even though I say I don’t believe, I still keep my eyes open for good omens. It’s the writer in me. I can’t help it.

Has there been a time when you saw the sign—or something an awful lot like one? Tell us about it in comments. 

P.S. Of course I believe in books finding their way to you when you need them—but that’s in a category of its own.

I’m not waiting for the next house.

moving-day-photo

I had a little meltdown back in February about the state of our old house.

I suddenly realized—after living in that house for more than a decade—how little I’d actually done to make it mine. We’d done a lot of fixing up, but there was so much I hadn’t done to that house. When it came to shaping the space I wanted to live in, I kept waiting for that moment when I would know exactly what step to take next, what style I wanted to pursue.

That moment never came. Because I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to end up, I didn’t even begin.

Stupid perfectionism.

I was so disappointed when I realized what I’d done. I didn’t even realize I’d been waiting.

paint-colors

But then a couple of things happened.

• The Nester’s book came out a few weeks after I had my revelation, with its anthem of “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” It helped reinforce what I’d already realized: that you hone your style by experimenting, learning from your hits and misses. In theory, I believe in failing forward. It was time to apply that concept to my home.

• We were house hunting this spring, and ended up finding something much quicker than we expected, while my regrets about the old house were fresh.

• Then the universe gave me another kick in the pants when we moved out of our old place.  We were dismayed by how many projects we had to wrap up to make it renter-ready. One painful example: almost ten years ago we installed ceramic tile in the kitchen, creating a one-inch height difference between it and the adjoining living room. I’ve been minding people to “watch the step” for ten years.

After we moved out, Will put in a little transitional piece that eliminates the tripping hazard and makes it look a million times better. It cost twenty bucks and took less than an hour.

What had we been waiting for?

We’ve been in the new house a little over a month now. (When I say “new house” I mean new to us. It was built in 1960 and has lots of deferred maintenance.)

We want to live in it for a few months before we make any huge changes (like, the kitchen), but we’re getting to work on the basics immediately.

fairy-door-2

First, the fairy door. I did this the day we moved in.

twinkle-lights

Because it was spring, we tackled outdoor stuff next: planting jasmine on the arbor and hanging the twinkle lights. (And digging out the poison ivy. Ugh.) With lovely landscaping and no boxes in sight, the patio is the best room in the house right now.

cornices

Choosing paint colors came next. I love painting: it’s cheap and easy and instantly gratifying. I’m terrible at picking colors, but thankfully I have friends who are geniuses with a fan deck.

I rolled a few samples to hone in on the right shades (with lots of feedback from friends with good taste). I painted the living room last week (after taking down those cornices—another no-brainer), the dining room over the weekend, and I hope to finish the family room today.

I’m not sure exactly what the next step is: we need to find a few foundational pieces and rearrange the living room. We need to pick accent colors. We need to make a giant IKEA run.

I’m not terribly decisive about stuff like this. (Who am I kidding? I’m not terribly decisive about anything.) But it’s not stressing me out anymore. I’m just happy to be doing something to make this space ours.

And this house feels a little more like home every day.

Now excuse me, I have an accent chair to go pick up.

Encouragement, commiseration, tips, and warnings welcome in comments. 

P.S. Stop waiting for the next house, and slow design for a fast age.

They are watching you drive (and walk, and read)

Last week I posted this on instagram:

they are watching you drive wathcing-you-drive-text
Our new car insurance company offers a substantial discount if you allow them to monitor your driving habits for a few months via a device that sits under your steering wheel. The savings is substantial, enough to make me consider it. But it sounds a little Big Brother-ish, and I won’t do just anything to save money.

But then I found out that I would have access to the information.

And I realized that I’ve been voluntarily wearing a device that tracks my activity for almost a year, and I love it.

You get what you measure. When I started tracking my steps, I started moving more. I love having this data on my activity and my sleep, and—one year in—I’m thinking about using it to track what I eat. (Anyone have experience with this?)

If my health insurance company were monitoring my how I move and when I sleep, I would feel differently about it. But I’m measuring it voluntarily because I’m the one who gets to use the data, and it makes me healthier.

Last week we talked about how digital reading produces a treasure trove of digital data. Depending on what kind of device you use and how you get your books, publishers and book sellers can track what you read and when, when you speed up and when you slow down, and the exact point at which you abandon a book entirely.

This is awesome, and kind of creepy.

I would love to see my complete e-reading history, complete with titles, times, and highlights of favorite passages, for the same reason people love to review their scrapbooks. I think having the information would also make me a more careful reader: is the book I’m about to pick up really worth my time?

But I’m not sure I would want anyone else to see it, and I definitely don’t want writers to write different books because of the data. Readers speed up when Mr. Darcy shows up in Pride and Prejudice, but does that mean Pride and Prejudice should have more Darcy scenes?

(NO!)

When you measure safe driving, you get safe drivers. When you measure activity, you get more steps. When you measure reading … well, we’re not really sure yet.

Technology, knowledge, and invasiveness. The possibilities are vast. The question is who gets the information, and to what end?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences in comments. 

P.S. A Great American Novel, on sale for $1.99 today.