A look back at 2016 At Home, and lessons learned — part 1
Every year about now, I review my columns from the past 12 months and ferret out the best moments. Then I share the highlights, one for each month, in two installments. This year, as I began the process, I needed a defibrillator. Together, we’ve been through a wedding, a funeral and a new book, and that was just the first six months.
However, sandwiched between the milestones lay smaller moments. Altogether these moments, large and small, which we all have, define life. I share some of both types below.
IN JANUARY, as a bride about to say “I do,” I said a lot of “I don’t.” When planning my wedding, I bristled like a porcupine at self-serving wedding vendors who kept saying: “This is your day, so don’t hold back.” As an older and wiser bride, I know this: The more moving parts you have, the more stressful your day will be. The more of a production you create, the more contrived it will seem. Simple is divine. Elegance is restrained. New parents, new grads and about-to-be
marrieds get bombarded by propaganda coaxing them to dole out dough for products and services ranging from unnecessary to inane.
The Lesson: Good taste does not have to come at a high price, and often doesn’t. Don’t fall prey to predators.
IN FEBRUARY, while on tour with my just-released book, “Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go” (Sterling), I came across these stomachchurning statistics: America has more storage facilities than all the Starbucks, McDonald’s and Subways combined — 53,000 in all! The rest of the world only has 10,000. Not units, facilities! According to the National Self-Storage Association, America has seven square feet of self-storage for every human living here. Over 90 percent is rented.
The Lesson: Americans have a problem. We buy too much stuff, and don’t get rid of enough. The chief reason people rent storage units is because they are avoiding tough decisions. Face the emotions, then let go before it costs you.
IN MARCH, I was rudely reminded that if something is meant to be, no amount of optimism or denial, or even the powerful combination, which I have a black belt in, will change it. On the promise of Florida blue skies, DC and I planned our wedding: an outdoor lakefront ceremony, photos on the dock at sunset, passed hors d’oeuvres on the patio, then inside a historic home for dinner. I had dialed in every detail down to DC’s sterling French love knot tuxedo studs.
Two weeks before the wedding, the event coordinator asked: “What is your rain plan?” “Rain plan?” “In case it rains.” “Our plan is it’s not going to rain.” Though I thought it an utter waste of time, the week before the wedding I reluctantly met with the caterer and coordinator for a plan in case of rain.
And rain it did. Like a waterfall. And it was perfect.
The Lesson: Regardless of how you envision your outdoor event and despite how nice the almanac indicates the weather will be, have a Plan B.
IN APRIL, I issued a stern warning to older parents: The kids don’t want your stuff ! And I received a standing ovation from adult children everywhere. The topic of older parents foisting furnishings onto kids surfaced at one of my book appearances. A woman in the audience said she wanted to give her “wonderful” bedroom set to her daughter; only her daughter didn’t want it.
“What should I do?” she asked.
“You don’t give it to her,” I said, which detonated quite a discussion. Parents, it’s not that your grown kids don’t love you. They just don’t love your furniture, china, collectables, handmade Christmas ornaments or silver tea set. Ouch. Yes, I know you paid good money for these things, and your kids should be more appreciative. But your kids want to create their own homes using their own style, not yours.
The Lesson: When downsizing, ask your kids what they want. Believe them. Get rid of the rest.
IN MAY, I discovered the best way to make surefire color choices. While I have often used an area rug, a piece of art, or fabric swatch to inspire color in my home, a color expert told me why this method is foolproof: Trained artists select and combine — or curate — these colors.
For amateurs, combining colors is triple-black-diamond difficult. The skill involves pigment, hue, value, tone, undertone, tetrads, triads, cool yellows and warm blues. Artists who curate color know what goes together.
The Lesson: If you find a fabric, pillow, painting or rug you love, let it lead. Curated color palettes are worth latching onto.
IN JUNE, the woman who taught me the meaning of home, my mom, died. She was 94 and lived near me in an assisted living center, where I got to see her often, until one morning. A nurse called: “Your mom has gone home.” Mom. Gone. Home. The words “Mom” and “home” are as interwoven for me as sunlight and air. But the word “gone” was hard to hear. Like many mothers, mine defined home. From her I learned that home is where they will take you in at any hour; where predictable patterns — the smell of morning coffee, a dog asleep by the front door, roses from the garden on the table, a full cookie jar — assure you that whatever happens out there, life is safe in here; where loved ones will listen to your half-baked ideas and tell you what they think; where someone will hang your goofy art and awkward photos on the frig; where you can find food for your body, mind and soul; where coffee and conversation can resolve most any problem; where you can let your hair down, prop your feet up, take your armor off, put your pajamas on and drop your cares. The home I grew up in was so warm and welcoming my friends used to stop by even when I wasn’t there and long after I had moved out — because of Mom.
The Lesson: What a home looks like matters, but, despite what my columns say, what a home feels like matters more. A home should feel like the center of your universe with a magnetic pull just as strong.
Join me next week for lessons from the second half of 2016.
foolproof color combos: Using colors that designers have combined into one textile, like an area rug, is a safe, easy way to inspire color for a whole room.