Living With the Imperfect

by Caitlin Kelch

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.

My Peach door - hands down my favorite faux-pas in my home. Eat your heart out, stylists everywhere! P.S. I feel like this slideshow should have a warning like "The following photos contain unprofessional, graphic images of my home. This material may not be suitable for all readers." Just sayin'.
The entrance to my bathroom. I hear the words "Pass through the peach door if you dare" each time I enter. It's really fun to show guests to the bathroom, too.
The "library" view outside the infamous peach door. It always makes me smile knowing the library is so close to the john.
My bedroon vanity. Welcome to my fantasy that I'm a teenage girl in 1963.
This is a creepy, unfinished portrait of me by NYC painter Jeanne Owens from the 1970s. I love it anyway, and that tiger of mine was pretty special, too.
The usual state of my living room. Note my unnecessary pillow collection beneath my favorite, barely-standing table in the background. I'm always searching for one of the 10 pairs of glasses I own on my coffee table seen in the foreground.
My glorious mantel shot taken in March. Note the Christmas decorations hanging out with the crazy tiki mask guy.
Probably the least cluttered corner of my home and favorite spot of Rex, my dog. It's funny that my dog is the neatest creature in the house.
My view from my home office desk. Yes, that's my Grandmother's old nightie blocking the sun. I'm way too laid-back for an actual curtain these days.
The view I moved home for. I live on the hill above the boat ramp, so when I walk down the hill, this is my view of the Potomac River and the train trestle from my childhood.
My daughter Viola and I doing a dress-up photo shoot with Rex, who's donning a gold capelet. I'm looking chic in my argyles and clogs and my serious, sexy look. Viola is clearly the star. P.S. - because we live in West Virginia, we have full license to leave our Christmas tree up until February.

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  • Thank you for this essay and highly amusing view of your home, Caitlin. I’ve never been accused of OCD, but have also struggled with letting go of the need for perfection and control, which arise out of fear. Your house looks unafraid.

  • Nice to see a bit of ‘real life’ on a blog….! I’m sad to say we don’t have a tidy dog so virtually no corner of our home looks so tidy as your dog’s corner ;)

  • I love old and imperfect apartments and houses. And I love your home! I can appreciate all that clean line, clutter free and modern stuff that is popular now, but I am never comfortable in it. My favorite homes have lots of color and comfort and look like people are using their space. You know, like people actually live there.

  • Love this post! Last summer, someone mentioned the possibility of showing my home, to which I scoffed & remarked there was no WAY my house was mag ready or anything else for that matter…then, like you, I relaxed & decided that it may not be perfect, but it’s ours & we love it, so why not share it (if I was ever asked again). A home isn’t meant to be perfect, it takes time & work, and should be whatever happiness & comfort means to you, within your budget, not what you see in a mag. Or think it should be like for others to see. I’m so glad Sabrina asked to share our home on DS, it’s utterly solidified my view on this & the perfectly imperfect. A beautifully written story, thanks for sharing x

  • perhaps best post ever…the hyper stylized apartments always make me sad for some reason, this one makes me feel a huge amount of love, both exuding from your home and your writing, but also projecting onto us imperfect readers. Thank you!

  • Hi everyone! Caitlin here :) Not sure if you’ll check back on the comments but I wanted to thanks you so much for your kind words – seriously. For you to take the time to leave such love makes me teary eyed. I wish you could all join us for a picnic on our questionably clean floor and add more crumbs. xxoo caitlin

  • Right, I actually really liked about 99% of this post, but must you lead with “Everyone thinks I’m OCD”? This is a pervasive issue in the design blogging world–neat, organized people who derive satisfaction and joy from having things their way (who doesn’t?) claiming they’re OCD. Not to get all “Wikipedia defines it as,” but OCD is a debilitating disorder that often involves a person having very scary, intrusive thoughts they cannot control. It’s not always related to hoarding or cleanliness, either. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive%E2%80%93compulsive_disorder

    The closest description that fits what most design bloggers claim when they say OCD is actually OCPD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive%E2%80%93compulsive_personality_disorder

    But even that is extreme and not something to be trivialized by everyone who likes things neat and organized. I would say editors of design blogs should do better in editing out these unnecessary trivializing of serious mental health conditions and instead help the writers find a better way to describe what they feel.

    • Hi Emma!

      I completely understand and appreciate your comment regarding OCD, in fact, I was expecting it. While not going into my therapy history, clinical diagnosis and related mental health struggles, I wanted to let you (and all other readers) know that reference to OCD in my life has major significance and is truly debilitating.

      While the article focuses on my home, I can tell you that this affected all areas of my life – relationships, career, home, everything. Part of my therapy was, in fact, to take those walks as a non-medication attempt to get out of my hyper-vigilant thought patterns. In addition to my walks, I spent many, many hours going through flow charts on ‘checking the facts’ to confirm my emotions were just that – emotions, not facts. I still do this as necessary. Writing the essay was therapeutic also.

      Sadly, it runs in my family and has taken a life, so yes, it is serious and I wholeheartedly acknowledge that although I choose not to focus on it in my essay. Perhaps that will Part 2.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I knew that I was treating the issue with a lightness that would probably be be called out. I thought I’d cross that bridge when I came to it and here I am. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my condition with a little of the seriousness and depth it deserves. It feels good.

      And thank you for speaking out on an issue that is important to you and helping me find a way to acknowledge my issue in a way it deserves. This is the reason I loving working for and supporting D*S. It goes beyond design and bravely tackles issues most don’t speak of, let alone debate in a courageous way.

      – Caitlin

  • I really enjoyed this post. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my home is not magazine worthy, or the latest trend. I still have yellow daisy formica in my bathroom, I think it is cute. The arms of my sofa are all dingy, and the cat has done a number on one of my chairs with her claws. I see all the flaws, but all anyone else says is how homey and comfortable they think it is. Everyone likes The Burrow better than Malfoy Manor anyway. Lol!!

  • I truly enjoyed this essay and your home…my magazine collection from Sassy to Ikea catalogues are a collection of what I admire at the time in my life, so hooray to collections! ha:) I’m loopy from having my spring cold…but regardless. Love the human side of home displays!

  • LOVE this!! Some of my best friends have perfectly imperfect homes. I always wish mine looked that way, but my aesthetics…. but it could be.

    I try to make things perfect, while my friends don’t and I wind up loving their homes more.

  • How can I say how very much I love & appreciate you, especially your humor(which, of course come from me.)You always had a flair for design even when you room was only 5’x5′.I so miss your touches of “flair.” However, I am trying to incorporate my own. Love you so much!

  • This couldn’t have come at a better time as I am struggling with my kitchen refurb not being as I visualised. I try to appreciate the imperfect on a daily basis in order to work through my perfection issues. Thank you and I think your home is gorgeous. x

  • Love this post! Learning to love imperfection is something I’m working on too now that I’m married with two stepdaughters. I can totally relate to the part about biting her lip until she can put the coffee table book back in its place! I think I’m making progress though! The girls left their Pikachu and Rosalina amibo on our media console all week and I still haven’t given in to the urge to put them back in their “proper”place! Thank you for such a genuine and beautifully imperfect post!

  • Sweet post.
    Just what I needed to hear in a crappy apartment in Cali right now.
    I moved here from New England, so was used to having a lot of character in crappy apartments.
    A friend gifted me a frame tonight for one of her prints that I love.
    That will help make this place more mine.
    Thank you for writing.

  • I truly LOVED this refreshing article! Thanks so much for sharing yourself, your home and your humour.