Home Making. verb. The process of creating a space that feels like home. Not to be confused with the stereotypical image of a woman who bakes and does laundry.
I’ve been hanging pictures this week. I am settling into a new apartment, and arranging, and rearranging, and doing creative (code: weird) things like hanging lockets from walls is part of my home-making ritual, the way I mark my territory. I ponder whether there is too much white clustered together, and whether those similar shapes need to be separated, and if I’m doing it right. While browsing Pinterest for inspiration and trying not to be overwhelmed, I see The Nester’s motto: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”
This is reassuring. No recent college grad, on a teacher’s salary, with an inclination towards vintage quirkiness, is going to have the perfect apartment. The perfect gallery wall does not exist: buy all pieces to coordinate and it looks factory-ordered (and costs an arm and a leg); use what you have and there’s always one awkward space that messes with the symmetry. The pursuit of a perfectly clean kitchen is futile, because snacks are too important. But none of the clumsy nail holes or crumbs on the floor mean that the spaces where we live aren’t beautiful.
As I sift through the memories I left in my old apartment when I moved out last week, this mantra feels right. That space was far from perfect. But moments in it were beautiful.
My roommate was living hours away when we were searching for a home, so I toured the apartment myself. I was leaving four years of dorm dwelling and had low standards. I knew nothing about apartment hunting, other than to turn on the taps to see if the water would run and that my budget was barely anything. Thus, we lived in a basement with a charming view of a garage. Laverne and Shirley, the 70s TV characters who yelled out their basement windows at passersby, would have been proud. Then we hung pictures and turned on lamps and put down rugs. It started to look more like a home. When we invited people in, it began to feel like it.
Two girls came over almost weekly. We navigated 1 Corinthians and graduate school decisions and job applications. We sometimes missed meetings, sometimes rushed through on the way to other obligations. But sometimes we curled up in our usual spots (them on couch, me on chair) and had treats and the conversation went deep and when they walked out the door, I felt known and loved.
My family camped out at the apartment sometimes. It wasn’t ideal for getting ready for weddings, with one tiny bathroom counter and no place to set a straightener but the toilet. But we moved around each other, made space. We sat on the floor when seating ran out, passing around pints of ice cream, or chips and salsa, or chocolate pretzel bark, and we laughed. My parents stayed the night once, and seeing my mom tucked into my bed and my dad’s air mattress taking over the living room made me smile.
I hosted dinner for friends in our apartment once. I started cooking in a frenzy after school, and the boyfriend ran late with the appetizers, and I scorched the green beans because of bad advice on the Internet. But we used a tablecloth and arranged the dishes. When they were empty, we lingered, laughing, around the table. We went out for dessert and returned, glowing, not bothered by the dirty plates and pots.
When the boyfriend came to visit, we stopped at the apartment. After dropping him off again, I returned to my room, saw the pictures of us together, and cried. The hard conversations ricoched around the living room and lodged in my chest. But the middle times were golden. We ate peach and strawberry tart, after midnight. On the couch, our feet touching, we talked of eternity and of lives worth living. The fish sauce we used while cooking pad thai made us run for windows and fresh air, and laugh.
In transitions, I am always restless to feel settled. I want to hurry the work of laying down roots and carving my name. But this work cannot be rushed. Making a home requires more than a trip to Ikea and a frame hung just so. It takes time, and good luck at thrift stores, and love.
It takes the picture of your family, that time at the state fair when you laughed yourselves into tears at the karaoke stand, in a dollar store frame. It takes the chalkboard with the quote selected for the season. It takes the mirror leaning up against the wall where you checked your hair before leaving for weddings and birthdays and school. It takes the forks and spoons and knives you put in drinking glasses because you couldn’t find a sorting tray to fit in the tiny narrow kitchen drawers and you couldn’t bear to jumble them all together. It takes ignoring the weird smells in the hallway but saying hi to the one man who smokes every morning when you leave. It takes the phone calls from that chair, those people on the couch, that hug while the pot boils on the stove, those celebratory dance moves around the kitchen after phone calls with job offers, those shoes kicked off by the door, those pages read under that blanket.
It is imperfect, and it is beautiful.