Addiction and Recovery

House Beautiful*

I ran into a friend the other day who said, “You’ve been quiet online lately; where ya been?”

It’s true. I’ve gone a longer stretch than usual between posts – not that you’re counting – but I have a good excuse.

We’re moving.

Now, before you start worrying that I’m off on another geographical cure (see That Time I Moved Three Times), I assure you that this is a grown-up, non-impulsive, completely healthy change of residence. We are moving a half-mile away from our current house, to a house that is bigger and more accommodating of our 8,000 kids. We will be staying in our community, the kids in their school, our jobs status quo. We are simply getting a new (and, in my opinion, much nicer) mailing address.

So my house is currently a mess of half-packed boxes, garbage bags full of giveaways, other garbage bags full of trash I need to take outside, and the requisite magnatiles and legos my children insist of strewing around the place for a “shabby-chic” look. My current state of mind matches this house exactly – a mess beyond reason – which is why, along with homeschooling and work deadlines, the blog has taken a temporary backseat.

That said, there is only so long I can go without getting itchy for contact with my invisible yet loving readership, which brings me to the laptop today while my son and Siri look for Yugioh cards on the interwebs.

So about this house. Yes, it’s all terribly exciting, but it’s also terrifying and stressful as all hell. Even when there’s nothing concrete to do (ha, ha) the anticipation of the move loads every minute with tension and anxiety. One friend told me that to get through her move – TWO BLOCKS OVER – she took Ativan every day.

I would if I could, honey.

On the flip side, It’s our first home purchase ever, so it’s a big deal for everyone in our family, each for our own reason. Hubby is jazzed to be a homeowner, and to give his real-estate hungry wife the most bestest present ever. The boys are excited to have a bigger place, with a bigger yard, that doesn’t look ready to be condemned. Number one is getting his own room, which in kid terms is like Beyoncé tagging you on Instagram. As for me, I am happy to have more space and guest rooms for entertaining, and to be able to design a house exactly the way I want it, so that it reflects my personality.

There’s also the darkly delicious feeling that I have finally arrived.

Where to exactly, I’m not sure. Adulthood? Legitimacy? The American Dream? Who knows? But I’ve apparently been brainwashed by my consumerist culture to feel that I’ve won my ticket to the big leagues, when really, I’ve just accrued a shit-ton of debt.

But perhaps the best part about buying a house is all the stuff for the house I now get to ogle and (sometimes) purchase. Houzz has become my new best friend, as have Wayfair, World Market, and Hayneedle. Oh, and Etsy, of course. After I get the kids to bed, I escape for hours into the world of beautiful, spangly stuff with which to fill my future home so that it looks like a real, together adult person lives there. (In my fantasy, my children either don’t exist, or are under the care of a stern Scottish nanny who scurries them off for dinner in the children’s wing.) The beautiful things and the idea of myself owning them is as heady as any drug; for the first time, I deeply understand the debtor’s need to accumulate.

This is ironic because I am a compulsive purger. Every three months, I sweep through my house and toss out anything that has not been of use in the last 15 minutes. My husband likes to joke that he once came home and found one of my children in the garbage.


And yet, there I am online each night, finding new stuff to put in the empty spaces I’ve just created. It’s like living a double life: purging all day and acquiring all night.

A few years ago, I watched a documentary called “The Queen of Versaille,” the story of the Siegels, a billionaire family that loses it all in the economic crisis. The most fascinating scene took place early in the film when Jackie, the matriarch, goes to Walmart and proceeds to fill eight carts – eight – with toys, games, and other kid-friendly stuff. Of course, she didn’t even notice the price as she handed over her card. When they got home, the bags were promptly emptied into an enormous room that was already packed with toys. As for the bikes they’d just bought, they were unloaded next to a row of perfectly good bikes leaning against the wall, waiting to be used.

It was the first (and last) time I thanked the Good Lord for not making me rich. If She had, I can almost guarantee you that I would be guilty of the same mindless accumulation. Because it’s not about the stuff itself, but about the dopamine hit of acquiring the stuff, and other people knowing that I can. It’s the same reason my mother would blow hundreds of dollars weekly at Old Navy or Bed Bath and Beyond; getting stuff is addictive. Once the high wears off, the only thing to do is get more stuff.

And so the cycle continues.

I can’t say I’m going to tear myself away from my beloved home design sites any time soon; they provide a nice distraction and help me blow off steam during these oh-so-stressful days. And yet, not being able to buy everything I want makes for a space in which I can pause and remember why we’re buying this house. Is it to fill with beautiful things, or to fill with family and friends and laughter and memories? No one is saying we have to live like ascetic monks – beautiful things exist for a reason – but the centerpiece of my home is the family that will live in it.

Let’s pray I make it there in one piece.

*The house in the picture is NOT the one we’re buying. Would be nice, though, wouldn’t it?

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