It’s a rare Saturday with zero plans in my busy household, and I’ve decided to deep clean my tiny kitchen. I’m scrubbing the old laminate countertops, hoping my sponge will lift the yellow curry stain from months ago, when my 4-year-old walks in looking for a snack.
“Woah, look how clean everything is!” my type-A, neat freak kindergartener declares before biting into a sweet apple.
I respond with a muffled and motherly reply about the kids keeping it that way, my head stuck into the deepest corner of our oddly shaped cupboard.
Our family of five, two adults and three young kids, live in a tiny 1,000-square-foot rental home, the walls closing in on us as our family ages and grows. A few months ago I wouldn’t have considered organizing or deep cleaning. I was adamant that we’d be moving into a newer and better home, eliminating the need to care too much about our current residence. My partner and I have discussed and debated the pros and cons of staying or leaving ad nauseum, but we have failed to convince ourselves that moving is the best option.
The smallness of our home is one reason why I’d love to move, but I also find myself irritated by the outdated features, too. There’s nothing Pinterest-worthy about our townhouse, with its dingy and yellowed linoleum floors. No amount of elbow grease will lift the dirt left behind by decades of past tenants and their imprint on every faux tile. The kitchen is without a dishwasher, faded laminate cupboards are peeling from age, and our bathtub barely fits one adult.
I’ve been slightly unhappy with our home since we signed our lease nearly three years ago. After months of fruitless searching for a suitable rental, desperate to move out of our basement apartment, I knew that the price was unbeatable and we had to take it. Three years is a long time for the seeds of discontent to grow into thick weeds that choke joy and gratitude. I have been functioning with a mind full of weeds for too long, and for a long time I thought that the solution was to simply find a house with nice flooring and more square footage.
My mindset shifted quickly after an uncomfortable encounter at a cafe. While nursing a latte and enjoying a rare moment to myself, I overheard a conversation happening beside me. The words “home,” “move,” and “unhappy” floated over from the table next to me, and I instantly perked up. The woman was talking about how frustrated and irritated she was by all the ways her home didn’t work for her. She was desperate to move, but unable to. I listened to her continue talking about her dilemma, and I realized how ungrateful and entitled I must sound when I complain about my somewhat small, slightly outdated, but perfectly habitable and functional home.
I returned from the cafe and talked to my husband about the conversation I overheard. It was like I was listening to myself, and what I heard didn’t sound great. The honest truth was that we couldn’t afford to move, and even if we could, we were already spending a mind-numbing amount on rent in our current home. Not only that, but we pride ourselves on living a more sustainable lifestyle, where material possessions and financial success don’t define us. Moving to something bigger, better, and shinier would be antithetical to living a sustainable lifestyle, within our means, content with what we have.
What we needed wasn’t a new home, it was a mental shift in our ingratitude toward the home that had sheltered us for nearly three years. After identifying and shining a light on my toxic mindset, I felt the shift in my own discontent. In place of the choking weeds of ingratitude, I allowed new seeds of hope and purpose to take root. I didn’t want my joy to come from the four walls that surrounded me, but from the people who shared those walls with me.
One of the ways that we embraced our home was by allowing ourselves a new beginning. We’ve been waiting months to move, and with that hope we had placed a desire for something new and fresh. Instead, we’d need to create newness in a place that felt familiar. I started by purging, Marie Kondo style. Then I proceeded to find systems of organization that would help our family to stay clutter-free. And finally, I just embraced the joy and chaos that living in a small space with a big family brings.
Finding a way to embrace the imperfections of my home released me from the constant need to measure my worth through aesthetics and keeping-up. The linoleum didn’t change, but my heart did, and that’s worthy of celebration.