Look at your home and see yourself
I tried to sort through the mess in my house recently. Even by my standards, it is too cluttered ‘ packed to the hilt. It seems to have lost all design sense; artistic standards have been ignored for far too long. It was time for me to get the Goodwill sack going, the trash bag in hand and to wade in.
I have always said with a bit of pride, ‘If you saw my house, you saw me.’ Our first home was an apartment on the second-floor sun porch behind Melba Hickman’s along Capitol Avenue in Corydon. It is the big red brick house that Glenda Cromwell lives in now. We climbed long stairways and had to pull open five doors to get to this honeymoon heaven. I was enrolled in Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and Frank was a struggling new lawyer. Our apartment was decorated with wedding gifts, books and more books stacked on Melba’s antique furniture. I experimented with our new cooking gadgets until I had a paper to write or a test to study for and then left the kitchen a shamble until after the cramming was over.
Our second home was on the third floor of The Corydon Democrat building right downtown. It was time for babies now, and I was ready to create my own home in the most affordable and interesting building in town, one that was owned by my father-in-law. Here, we walked up two flights of stairs carrying construction materials as we made the apartment livable for our new family. Here, I got the bug to restore old buildings that has been with me ever since. Our furnishings were all redone old cast-offs from our families that I covered with paint and fabric. Our one new piece of furniture was a dresser from Keller Manufacturing Co. that had been classified as a ‘second,’ which meant it had a blemish but still worked just fine. I remember taking our clothes out of the boxes that had served as a dresser and putting them in this new treasure. I wondered if anything would ever look as elegant.
In about 1963, Bill Doolittle, the band teacher in Corydon, moved to Louisville. He had built his home here from trees that were cut down on his property. It was in the woods, a little quirky and ready for a lot of family and pets. It was just a great comfort zone. The heavily-paneled walls took beatings well, the open floor plans made for big play areas and the windows offered wonderful views. One could just do most anything there with nature, friends and a sewing machine. Everything in that home was serviceable and sustainable. Colors were muted and meant to provide background for activities that changed with the years.
When Frank became lieutenant governor, we moved to Indianapolis. Realtors took us to many conventional and socially-desirable homes, but it was an old Victorian house in a neighborhood trying to revive itself from years of neglect that won our hearts. I owned one Victorian table when we moved into our inner-city dwelling. When I left, we had three floors filled with this ornate furniture. This was a time of ‘fix up the old beat-up stuff’ as we fought crime and rebuilt the neighborhood. The house was filled with junk I found, repaired and displayed in an overabundance that would have found favor with any Victorian lady. At this time, I was working with families from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development projects as well as the urban pioneers to build a community garden. I was growing from an empty-nest housewife to an organizer for the Indiana Main Street Program.
When we lived in the Governor’s Residence, there was no money for decorative upgrades, but there was a need to make it accessible to all people. After getting estimates from reputable decorators with expensive bids, I redid it with items from thrift stores and donations. We hung the walls with rotating shows of work done by contemporary Indiana artists. The formal gardens became day-camp areas for kids. It was used and reused as the ‘State’s Living Room.’
When Frank died, I was ready for a little freedom from the public eye. I found a Spanish eclectic home that was in shambles and bought it at an auction. It now is filled with goofy stuff from my travels and trips to junk stores. When faced with culling out the place for a more serene look, I am immediately defeated. Each thing I pick up to appraise brings smiles and memories to me and so gets kept to serve as entertainment for yet another day. This home is filled with the exciting and interesting artifacts of my life. It is my story, and I am sticking by it.
What does your home tell you and others about your life? Look around with new eyes and see where you are on your journey. It is, after all, YOUR life and YOUR home. Have fun and show off your personality, likes and needs. And when it gets too cluttered to make you comfortable, go take a walk until you get over it.
Then, when you feel up to it, look around the broader surroundings of your neighborhood and town and see what you learn about yourself from them.