Most people who knew me in the past all tended to mention the letters OCD one or twice during our relationship — especially when it came to my home. Yep, I’m the one who organized my own 30th birthday party at home with a tight, eight-person limit. When everyone arrived I handed them an agenda and a two-choice dessert menu. I kind of took the fun out of it for my guests, but I had a great time. And clean-up was a breeze. It was a lifetime of moments like that led me to be a chronic planner and constantly exhausted.
Then I left New York City. I didn’t have a specific reason for deciding to move back to my hometown. 9-11 happened. I left a longterm relationship. My big corporate days were over. I was just finished with the city, so off I went, back to the oldest town in West Virginia on the Potomac River with all its majesty and all its mud.
I learned to live with calling everyone older than me “Miss Janey” or “Mr. Scott.” I learned that when a bird flies close to your car it is not a legitimate reason to swerve into the other lane. I learned and accepted these things and more. But what was the hardest thing to get used to were the apartments and homes in my small town.
All of the choices within my budget range were strange apartments made from dividing old homes in a sad state of disrepair or starter homes with lots of Formica and beige and no sense of character. I really didn’t have a choice and over the course of five years, I lived in several almost-good-enough spaces that I convinced myself I could rescue. But I couldn’t. Nothing I did solved the problems or made things “perfect,” so I became hyper vigilant about how my pillows were placed and if my plants were showing their good side. If my Mom stopped by and looked at a book on the coffee table, I’d bite my lip until I was able to place it in its spot again. It was not the happy country life I dreamed of. Once again, I found myself on the proverbial hamster wheel.
Then, during a particularly dark and grey winter, I began to walk in the freezing cold just to get out of the house and away from my obsession to fix my uneven floors. I began to notice things like the mysterious wild rose stem that had bloomed by the river mid-winter, the amazing patterns in the concrete of the boat ramp (made by years of pick-up trucks backing their boats into the river), and an old tree whose branches were vertical. I realized the world, even nature, wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t perfectly symmetrical. It didn’t look like a page I’d torn from House Beautiful. All of these walk-stopping moments began to add up and I felt myself being released from the shackles of the perfect and the planned. Most of all, I felt thankful to have the blindfold taken off.
When I’d arrive home from my morning walks, I’d smile when I encountered my crooked floor and wonder what’s underneath and who laid the foundation. I’d admire the hill in my yard that was too steep to mow and the wild things that grew there when I didn’t go at it with a borrowed weed-wacker. I’d giggle at the avocado-and-margarine-yellow tiles that made my backsplash look like a drive-in bathroom.
My favorite imperfect thing came in the form of the bathroom door in my 1950s bungalow. (Quick back story — I chose the home I live in now because the dark wood doors with crystal doorknobs reminded me of my grandparents’ Indiana cottage. I literally smelled Grandma Margie’s Avon perfume when I saw them. The doors were lovely, despite the tile color combo and the unmowable hill.)
But there was the issue of the bathroom door which suffered from a really bad paint job in the least desirable shade of peach. It wasn’t a trend-worthy salmon with a touch of coral. It was the soft peach that had its moment in the 80s. It was as bad as peach could get. To top it off, someone had taped something on the door and then ripped it off, taking some of the peach paint with it. What was left was a jagged scar that revealed the dark wood below.
I stared at it every day and fought the urge to strip the paint or go glossy white. One day, while unpacking six years of random papers from my NYC days, I came across an early Very magazine that I’d picked up at my favorite newsstand back in the day. A painting of Twiggy by one of my favorite artists, Karen Kilimnik, graced the cover and I was overcome with the desire to “frame” Twiggy with the jagged scar left by the tape removal on my bathroom door.
I did, and it was perfectly imperfect.
I now see the wood, the peach, the scar and art. All memories of the past: the good, the bad and the ugly. I had made it my own and I loved it. Five years later, I still do. And my house is now a beautiful mess in all of its Grey Gardens glory, a collection of things I love, which are totally imperfect like me. —Caitlin
Caitlin heads up our business team, where her three-letter skills and planning power have found their home.