Something Clever.

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

A scarf brought home from a family trip to the UK

"Something Clever", he says. That's what my husband, the Hobbit, always says when describing the type of home furnishings item he'll find acceptable. This scene plays out over and over again in our home:

  1. I start getting that twitch to make a change in our home (this is that uncontrollable Kate energy we've discussed)

  2. The discomfort inside me grows and grows over the course of a couple days (okay, sometimes hours. sometimes minutes.)

  3. I can't stand it anymore! I have to approach my husband and tell him what needs to happen here: I need to paint this room, or we need to get rid of this dusty old thing and replace it with this thing, or we need to drive to an antique shop three hours from here because I can't stop thinking about those huge and heavy farm equipment wheels that I really really want to hang on this big blank wall and we'll need to borrow my dad's truck and probably just stay there for dinner and the night since its 6 hours of driving and then god-only-knows how we're going to hang those heavy things(!), or I need to buy these NINE standard 20"x24" bathroom mirrors and dive into a DIY project to antique them with bleach and paint thinner and hang them up where the huge heavy tractor wheels are hanging right now ... you get the picture.

  4. So I approach my husband with the idea. "I think we need to replace your filing cabinet (for this reason and that reason)". He looks up from behind his newspaper. "Okay. But I want 'Something Clever.' " I take this to mean whatever I want this to mean, and I go for it with a surge of energy and a big smile on my face.

  5. Sometimes though, I pause. "What do you mean, 'Something Clever'?"

  6. "You know, something clever. Something unique."

  7. Then I get irritated because he has no idea how hard-to-come-by- those "Something Clevers" can be! I don't have that kind of time! I don't have that kind of patience!

  8. And so it goes.

The beauty, however, of his phrase "Something Clever" is that it has given me creative license. As long as the new piece tells a meaningful story or reminds us of a special day or contains a bit of magic, it can stay. It doesn't matter how "weird" it is. As long as the piece has some character, it can be displayed proudly on the the living room wall. This means that everything in our home is either meaningful or functional. This means that I've discovered that I can spend 4 months in a row at home during a pandemic without ever wanting to leave because every room makes me smile. Every item reminds me of a faraway land we've traveled together, or a fun moment, or a person that I love.

When the Hobbit and I first moved into our current home with our newly blended family, I was overly concerned with this house becoming a home that we would ALL love. Blended families are tricky. I wanted our house to be a magic house for all seven of us, as different from one another as we were. This is no small task. I set the intention, followed my hunches, and never looked back.

Case in point: The Powder Room.

It was early days in our new home when my husband, admiring a photo I'd just captured on my iPhone said, "We should hang that in the bathroom". Then he said it again with another candid shot. And again. And again. Again. And. Again.

I disliked the idea. It rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to put up some fun wallpaper in this little powder room. And besides - he said it about every single picture he saw. I didn't know what to do with this. But I kept thinking about my intention to create a magical, special space for all seven of us.

Finally the Kate energy took over. The Hobbit was out of town on business. I rolled up my sleeves and began filling the powder room walls with all the pictures from our vacations. All the new memories that our blended family had created together the past two years. The only rule for my little gallery was that I wouldn't overtly include people in the photos. Sometimes you'll see the back of someone's head or a silhouette, or a teensey tiny picture of a group of people so small you have to squint to make them out - but that was the only rule.

The gallery walls have expanded over the course of these seven years in this house, and pictures now cover the four walls from floor to ceiling. And it's not only pictures. There's the menu we stole from an overpriced steak joint in Chicago, running and laughing all the way down the block. There's the postcards my daughter sent us from her study-abroad in London last summer. There's the artist-branded paper that a painting purchased during a family vacation was wrapped in (yes - not the art, I framed the crinkled wrapping paper). There's a little number 3 (our favorite number) from the ceramics shop we stayed above during our trip to Florence last fall to visit my step-daughter. There's the 3 handwritten notes that my son left scattered around the hotel room in Puerto Vallarta to notify us: "Sky went swimming". There's a tiny little map of the town that the old woman behind the front desk handed my friend and me when we first arrived at our hotel in Greece. There's the painting of the dock from a family trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, painted by our youngest daughter in art class when she returned to school that fall.

New guests to our home emerge from the powder room all wide-eyed and confused, as if emerging from the wilderness. I love their reactions. I've seen people stand outside the powder room door for long stretches of time, staring, mouths agape. One grown man confessed he was brought to tears. But mostly they react with a smile and twinkle in their eye. And I didn't do it for anyone's reaction other than my kids and my husband. It has become one of our anchors. It's one of those magic-house things that the seven of us now share. It's one of those magic-house things has helped us blend and gel into a powerful family unit.

There's Eight Years of our lives on those walls. Is it pretty? No. Is it stylish in any way? No. Is it clever and magical and meaningful and weird? Hell Yes.

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