I am grateful for a place to live.
For the first 6 years of my marriage, I lived in my in laws’ home. When my mother in law first showed me through their house, the morning after the wedding, I asked politely, did you just move in? She said, no we’ve lived here for more than a decade. I remember how the walls were bare, no artwork. I noticed the absence of sentimental items. Everything was pristine. No colors except beige and pockets of maroon, her favorite color. I lived in a house that became my home for first years of my marriage. Objects were missing but there was a lot of love and care in that house. Mom and Dad always made sure we all ate together for lunch and dinner on the weekends, and dinner together on the weekdays. Dad never ate alone.
She explained years later that people make the home, not the stuff.
I hardly got to know my husband in my in laws house. It was the house he grew up in, comfortable in all ways. His mom, Dad and I had to wake up early on Saturday morning to do the cooking and cleaning for my mil’s parents who lived 5 minutes away. We spent the morning doing chores like making ginger garlic paste, cooking fried potato balls (waras), kitchuri, chicken soup, making fresh roti. My father in law was busy in the kitchen with us– making chutneys and cooking the family’s lunch while my mother in law focused on dishes for her father. There was total harmony. I marveled at how well they worked together each morning. I marveled at how my father in law never resented her for spending so much time and energy on her parents, but not on him or her own kids. He took it upon himself to cook the food for the family or to pick up take out while she did what she must do. Dad also did all the groceries and shopping for the household. He always said, you do things for the people you love. It is one of life’s most important lessons.
The people are what make the home, not the stuff.
When my mil became a grandmother, she built my kids doll houses – BY HAND- with recycled shoe/book shelves. She built my son a “boy house” and my daughter a “doll house” in her living room. She has made things easy for us to enjoy the space. There are no glass figurines, or sculptures. There is nothing for the kids to break, and nothing to put away when the kids come. The house is always perfect. I look forward to coming to her house because the kids are independent in that house, very functional and organized with the easy-to-reach-shelves full of kid toys in their respective boxes and bins.
After my first kid was born, we bought a house near my in laws. I wanted cork floorboards, eccentric lighting, and bright colors. I wanted a floor that I never had to clean. Many of the things I wanted – due to the reasoning of my husband who said that it would bring the value of the house down – I did not get. When we had to pick bathroom tile, I said I just want something not slippery. When I had to pick paint colors, I think it took me 15 minutes. The bathroom – why is it so absurdly large? What do people do in the bathroom that requires so much space? I had very little interest in changing anything in the foreclosed house. It seemed like the previous owners had put so much money into fancy wallpaper and fancy shades, but then they did not get to keep the house. Why would I invest in something that I did not own outright (it belonged to the bank)? I just didn’t understand what was the importance of decorating. Can’t we keep their wall paper? It looks fine, I said to my husband. He looked at me like I had grown antlers. Everyone puts a fresh coat of paint on the walls, he said. It’s just what people do. He was thinking about the resale value of the house, and how to maintain the investment.
The people are what make the home, not the stuff, I thought to myself. We have the people so who cares about all the stuff of the house?
It took me about 5 years to realize that indeed this was my house, despite my name on the deed. It was a strange thing. My dear friend came up from Florida and re-arranged many things to make the house make more sense. She ordered me a proper bed, instead of the mattress we kept on the floor because “the toddlers might fall off the bed” my husband said. She picked the art, hung the art, and helped me pick stuff out. She was the kind of partner I thought my husband would be, and took serious interest in this stuff that did not really interest me. Whatever she picked, I said, yes! And then she would ask, Do you really like it? Or are you saying yes because you don’t want to decide? I said what difference does it make? I will have something on the walls! I simply wanted to check it off the list of things to do for the house.
Making the house into a home is what I focused on.
Every week, I loved to light incense just like my father in law used to do at his pharmacy on Fridays. I loved to cook kitchuri and daal on the days that it rained like my mother did when we were kids. I filled the house with lovely smells. I liked to play songs, and music in my house. I put up post-its wherever I kept forgetting things. Making the house into a home has taken many years for someone like me. I didn’t realize the value of having such a space like this until the pandemic, when I started using the outdoor space more, and using the basement. I realized how much of what we experience is about having a safe, cozy place to come home to. I’ve had aunts who have saved and saved and saved and have yet to own a home. It is not a dream I knew I had until I realized it could disappear in an instant. I was content to live in someone else’s house for most of adult life – my parents house, my in-laws house, and to have my own space, I didn’t realize how much of a blessing it is until I left it for an extended period of time.
I left my home for about a month on vacation.
And I realize that all the little quirks of my house are what make it truly special. Having many places where books overflow, places to write and work in multiple rooms, having colors and artwork that make me happy. I am someone who literally lets the kids write on the walls. There is kinetic sand in the floorboards. And kid art all over the walls. I like the weirdness of it, the colors of my house, and if I could paint the outside a lime green I would! I’d also get rid of the fence and build a tree house in the oak tree. I don’t know sometimes why I collect so much “art stuff” in my house, for art projects that I don’t always get to do, but I know the intention of the art is always to make something for someone else. This is a homeschooling house, meant for the kids and I to play and enjoy. It is not really meant to host large parties (unless everyone sits on the floor). When the kids are older they might be embarrassed that their mom framed their artwork but for now, it is all I really want to see.
Having a loving shelter for our family is what matters most. I’ve seen the most spectacular houses in my time, but the parents did not stay together. I’ve lived in a very modest home, where my mother cooked for 100+ people in a kitchen the size of my closet yet every bite of her food is love. Life is full of these paradoxes, the ugly hidden inside a manicured lawn and picture perfect house or the beauty hidden inside a forgettable house.
The people are what make the home, not the stuff.