I sometimes wonder how my house would look if I’d had unlimited money and access to top designers and latest products. Probably very good. I also wonder if I would have got quite so much happiness if I’d done it that way rather than the bit by bit acquisition and change that has happened over the last years.


I think of my friend who has created a beautiful designer apartment and the agonising that she went through over every shade of grey and every centimetre of space. And now that she has created this wonderful shell, she has to go through the anguish and agony of finding the exact right curtains and furnishings.


There is nothing right about my home and yet it makes me very happy and people usually respond happily in it. I was somewhat constrained by my resources when I first moved into my house, and sensible things like rewiring and getting a bathroom had to be what I spent money on. For the rest there was quite a lot of making do. Through the years I’ve had cupboards built, done various things and acquired lots of bits and bobs as I’ve had more to play around with. But there has never been an overall style plan. And I’m pleased for that because I get such a kick out of “making a plan”. When I look around my house there is very little that I actually chose as part of a greater plan. In fact there has never been a greater plan. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given furniture from my family – and I love the old, beautifully made things. Many of the other things in my house I’ve got because they were functional and/or cheap and/or quirky. I never get rid of gifts, even if they are really something that I would never have chosen. Many of my things are from second hand shops, charity shops or scrounged. I take it as a challenge to integrate everything into my house in a way that remains pleasing. I love finding bargains that can be pressed into service, transformed with paint or used in some way. These things delight me.


Here are my latest finds:



Adam and Eve cost me R20 at a church sale. The little house picture appealed to me because the artist was a cheerful friendly woman who was selling her work for the first time and was very pleased to have made a sale. I bought the frame for a bargain at the same  fair. The third picture is of a carpet that I bought second hand and fills the space better than the last one, which is now in my therapy room where it looks good. These are a few examples of things that would never be part of a planned and stylish home, but nevertheless work for me and give me a degree of happiness that is out of all proportion to the money spent on them.


I’m not knocking beautiful homes where lots of care and thoughtfulness and money has gone into creating them. Indeed I admire and am inspired by them. Maybe my delight in putting together such a mishmash of odd objects is because I am mean, and creating something out of very little is what pleases me. But I don’t think that is all. There is something about being able to integrate all sorts of objects in a way that sits comfortably and is pleasing. This for me is a good metaphor for how it is in the world. Some people do seem to start off being very well resourced in all sorts of ways, and their lives seem to run along a smooth appointed track. For most of us, however, life gives us all sorts of things that we would never have gone out of our way for, and some things that we would much rather have avoided. I guess it’s our job to integrate this whole mixture of the unplanned and unexpected, the beautiful and the quirky and sometimes the horrible and ugly. Can we hold all these disparate things in a way that feels comfortable and delightful especially when they don’t go to plan?

3 thoughts on “On making do, being mean and being happy

  1. Another way of looking at the objects you chose could be as nodes or as rungs in a ladder you climb up, things you hold on to, markers that give meaning or structure. The other day I wrote a longish letter to my brother and sister about what I had done that morning and it was largely about naming those things I had touched or used that held meaning for me. They haven’t replied, maybe it seemed too odd or too personal.

  2. That’s a nice way of looking at it Jay. I’d like to know more about those objects that hold meaning for you.

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