If a roof, some paint, and an accoutrement of furniture makes up the skeleton of the house, the décor is the glue. But I hesitate to use the word ‘décor’. It’s not inclusive enough of everything it contains. Let’s call it the minutiae instead.
minutiae – the small, precise, or trivial details of something.
I hope you will agree that trivial things are no triviality. In making home, they are the difference between raw dough and strudel. To the people who say ‘all you need are the basics’ – pah! Live that sad, empty lifestyle if it floats your boat. We, however, know better.
It’s the small things that make a place feel like home. As evidence by some houses – and everyone has likely been in one – which contain nothing but furniture and walls and a roof. Perhaps a painting here or there, tastefully chosen by an interior decorator and displayed between two urns filled with plastic grasses. Most people will readily say the house is beautiful, and looks like a piece of modern art. But they will also not hesitate to say it feels cold, empty, and not at all like home. May I present to you that this is because they A) do not have enough stuff, and B) don’t even have the right stuff to begin with.
I’m not suggesting clutter or hoarding. The solution to under-eating is not to start over-eating, after all. A home should neither be starving nor obese – it should simply be full.
Let us take a fictitious meander through a fictitious house (which certainly exists many times over in your own town). As we wander up to this house, walking down freshly-poured concrete sidewalks put together in neat, two-dimensional squares in between a clean lawn, mown to a shorn, perfectly-even height, and trimmed at the edges of the sidewalk to be perpendicular to it. There is a small, planted tree near the entryway, and under the tree, a carefully partitioned garden area, containing no ‘garden’ but an even layer of fresh mulch. We haven’t talked about gardens yet, but obviously something is amiss.
We walk to the front door, where we realize, first of all, that this home does not have a name. Now, it’s granted that homes take a while to acquire a name. Some take years. It was only after much though, deliberation, meetings and minutes, surveys, and soul-searching that our mobile home came to be called Willow Wood – but once it had a name, you could feel the difference in the air. Now this home which we are ringing the doorbell to has no name, and it is patently obvious the house feels unhappy about the lack of attention.
We step inside and meet our host – he is a single, young bachelor with an engineering degree who doesn’t appear to be home very often. There are no coats draped over the back of the couch, no plants or paintings on the wall, no sheet music left out on the… well, no piano either. No knick-knacks from last year’s road trip proudly displayed, no doodles stuck to the refrigerator, not even a book on the coffee table.
We suppress a violent shudder because it doesn’t do to be rude.
We are given a tour of the place, and the bachelor forgets to offer us a drink (but he is new to homeowning and hospitality and we must forgive him). Every room is the same – white walls, white ceiling, off-white carpet, and bare as a granite tomb. But then we are shown to the garage, where many men shine brightly. This one is between “Okay” and “Aha”. He clearly has a woodworking hobby – hobbies are good for homeyness. We look around for a while, admiring the knicks and knacks and assorted tools, when… ah, what is this? A soapbox! I take a break from the tour to stand atop of it a while and give a sermon on a subject I am most passionate about.
On the Phenomenon of What Shall Hereby Be Known as the Bachelor Effect and It’s Dangers to Homeowner, Home, and Nation
The Bachelor Effect. That’s what I call it, anyway. It’s when someone owns a home or rents and apartment and fills it with nothing at all (doesn’t even own a cookie sheet!) and the only furniture is some hand-me-down they found in their coworker’s grandmother’s nephew’s attic.
In my opinion, this effect arises from the hyper-exaltation of marriage. Now, it’s true that most single people would like to have a partner, and I’m not saying anything against that. But I dare say that most single people hoping for a partner have this notion that until they find a partner, there’s no need to make a home. ‘The bare essentials will do’. Not only that, but our culture places such a high emphasis on the home being equated with the family that not only do we not feel obligated to make our house a welcoming place – we feel downright guilty for doing so. Surely that shows we’re content on our own and don’t need a spouse – surely that brands us as too independent to work well with a partner – doesn’t it just feel wrong to own a Kitchen Aid with no children to bake cookies for?
Frankly, it’s too much silly talk to handle. The culture is wrong (and it so often is). There is no reason why a single person should not have a beautiful, comfortable, inviting place to come home to. And there is no reason why that place can’t be Home. I’m not talking about some existential Place where you Belong more than anywhere else. I’m only talking about the place that you come home to, can let down your walls and be yourself in, relax, and invite others to enjoy the haven you’ve crafted. It’s neither rocket science, nor illegal, and there is no excuse for your coworker’s grandmothers’ nephew’s couch-in-the-attic to be a part of it. (unless it is, of course, a Very Nice Couch that suits you)
Here is another anti-cultural idea: Homemaking Men. It’s been so ingrained in our minds that homemaking is a feminine thing, that imagining a man making his house or apartment into a comfortable and beautiful place to live makes us stiffen with unease. This has GOT to stop. Next time a guy-friend of yours shows inclination to buy a painting or a vase or a curtain, I beg you, instead of mocking him, try telling him it’s a beautiful piece and will go well with the ambiance and leave him be.
Now, whatever singlehood you find yourself to be in, by the power invested in me by No One In Particular, I hereby give you permission to make home for yourself. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Out of breath from my sermon, I disembark the soap box, only to find that everyone has already gone, so we will now turn our attention to 4 things that I believe are of utmost importance when creating homeyness.
Your Own Essentials
These are different for everyone. It may be a stuffed bear you won at a carnival when you were 7, or it may be an ancient Aztec artifact that you hang on the wall to remind yourself of your own mortality. For some, they might need an art table and shelves of paint and brushes. Other people might just want their inexhaustible supply of whole-bean coffee and their favorite mug. More often, it comes down to a myriad of things that add together to make a place feel like it’s yours.
For me, a big part of home is the books. And I’m not talking about the bookshelf that every home should have in it. I’m talking about books on top of the refrigerator, books tucked behind the microwave, books used to hold a lamp on the couch side-table, books under an oil lamp on top of the piano, books piled on and under the bedside table, books in the bathroom, books by the entryway in case of emergency, books packed away in the shed, books, books, books, and more books. Without them, I feel as lost as an astronaut who forgot his training and didn’t attach the tether on right before taking a stroll that evening.
It’s books and it’s kitchen supplies. I must have a caste iron skillet, a wok, a dutch oven, a French rolling pin, and a Belgian waffle maker. I cannot possible live without them. Not to mention the pasta-maker and cookie press…
Light is a rather big issue for me, and I could talk about it for days if someone let me. One of the greatest irritations for me in the world is when a blue-spectrum room light is left on at night instead of turning the warm under-counter lights on instead.
During the day, our minds are hardwired for blue-spectrum light. That’s the spectrum of sunlight. It tells our bodies to be awake, to go do exciting things, to be productive. So when it’s daytime, I like to have bright, white lights on in every room. It does wonders for motivation and alertness.
But during the evening and night, or minds are hardwired for the red spectrum. Candles, lamps, roaring fires – all small, localized light sources that leave the rest of the world in sleepy shadow. The yellow-orange tint tells us we can relax now – the day is over.
I use candles whenever I can. I much prefer their sleepy, mesmerizing light. Sometimes you need more, however, and in this case Christmas lights really do the trick. Hang some up along the ceiling or along a wall, and it’s hard not to feel completely in paradise. At the very least, putting soft lightbulbs in lamps and under-cabinet lights will make all the difference in making a place feel homey.
Admittedly, I would freeze to death in a sauna, so perhaps this advice isn’t for everyone, but for me, if a place is cold, it makes me feel cold and empty, too. It’s a small touch, but keeping the thermostat at 70 degrees does wonders. Many people try to save money here, but in my opinion, it’s money well spent.
What would home be without food? There is nothing so homey as a home-cooked meal (even a quick one) and hot chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I cannot extol enough the importance cooking has for the soul. It’s hard to cook as a single. I understand that. I once went six months without cooking anything more than a boiled egg. One of the best ways to circumvent this is to have people over. It’s a good way to get yourself in the kitchen, and while you’re at it, might I suggest tripling the recipe for leftovers to eat the rest of the week? Except for burritos. Do NOT triple a burrito recipe. They multiply, and you will end up with sextupled burritos, which last for three weeks and quickly get to the point of ‘if I eat another bite of this I am going to both figuratively and literally die’.
I’ve one last thing, and that’s about the power of Making Do. You might not have a house. You might not even have a trailer. You might have a room, and you might share that room with three other people. I remember my college years… er, months. It’s hard to make home in a place that is built to be temporary. But that is no match for us! Life throws a lemon at your face, you dry it and make a wall hanging. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and the lemon rots instead of drying, so you have to throw it away and start over, but still, you try. You win some of the battles, you lose some of the battles, but you keep making do.
And a haven made of making-do is nothing to scoff at. It might be the strongest haven of all.