I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve re-read a book. I am only in the middle of the one I am reading right now and I already want to read it again (and I will as soon as my husband reads it). I’ve needed the wisdom contained in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown my entire life. I instantaneously latched on to two main ideas in the book. First, the mistake most of us are making, “A millimeters progress in a million different directions,” and, second, what we can do differently, “One decision to settle a thousand more”.
This week we are celebrating our 5-year home anniversary, so while reading Essentialism, I’ve been reflecting a lot on our home journey. As I eagerly lap up every bit of advice on doing less to achieve more, I realized in one area of my life I’ve already adopted the way of the essentialist–in my home.
There are thousands of decisions to make when creating a home. It feels exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. There were a handful of key decisions we made in this house that made every decision that followed easier. It wasn’t easy to make some of these decisions, it often wasn’t as quick as we wanted, but our home is much better off because of them.
If you can make a few tough decisions now and be intentional in your home, you will love and enjoy your home more down the road.
1. Do Nothing for One Year
As I rocked my son Jax to sleep every night, I stared at tan walls I despised. But then I looked at him and knew I could never get these precious moments back. The walls could wait.
Whether you have a newborn baby to cuddle or not, the best thing you can do for your home at first is nothing. You might be thinking, “But I finally own the place and can do whatever I want. Why would I wait?” I get it. We moved fast in our first home, too. Fortunately the changes we made worked out at the time, but we sold that home in less than two years to move across country. Who knows if those changes would have stuck?
We learned our lesson the hard way in our second home. We moved just as fast at first and made mistakes. Nothing worked for us and we ended up redoing everything at around the three year mark.
In our current house, we knew the best thing we could do was nothing–at least at first. It turns out we took a year before we did anything. It was the best thing we could have possibly done. We took that waiting time to really get in tune with…
- What we wanted to change
- Why it was important
- How we wanted it to be different
2. Choose a Whole House Color Palette
We were exhausted and sweaty, when I looked down at José from atop the ladder and our eyes connected and in unison we said, “Never again.” We had just finished repainting the 12-ft. tall walls in the living room of our second home for the second time. The first time we got the color wrong. We vowed to make better color decisions going forward.
After a year of waiting in our current home, we knew the number one change we needed to make throughout the house was color. Instead of going room by room like we had done in the past with mixed results, we created a whole house color palette. This is a prime example of my Essentialist nature at home. We took the time to make “One decision to settle a thousand more.” By evaluating a lot of options once and choosing a palette, we haven’t made a new color decision since. The palette is already decided. When we need to a pick a color for something new, we pick one from our palette.
It seems minor, but we wasted hours upon hours agonizing over colors in our second home, where we repainted every room at least twice. Not to mention all the time we spent living with colors we hated. Now, we don’t even think about color anymore.
3. Quit the Nonessentials
When my husband José was deployed while we were engaged, I toiled away my evenings building him a TV stand. I couldn’t find one like he wanted, so I decided to make it myself. I even bought a router to make slots in the wood for the shelves. In the end, it turned out wonderful, but I hated every minute of making it. I hated the feel of sawdust on my hands, the frustration of pieces not lining up perfectly, and how hard it was. I thought it was just because it was my first time and it would get better as I gained experience. I dabbled on and off building things for the next 10 years and how I felt about it never changed.
It took me a while to come around to this decision, but quitting do-it-yourself projects (DIY) last year changed the way I feel about creating a home. I stopped spending time learning new skills and pretending to like wood-working. Instead, I decided to stick to what I am already good at and enjoy–decorating. I realized I was only pursuing DIY projects for some invisible “I built it myself badge of honor”. I wasn’t good at it and hated every minute of it. Building my own furniture was not essential to loving my home.
Until I quit DIY, I was making “A millimeters progress in a million different directions.” I was surrounded by half-done projects, others I had given up on, and some I couldn’t bring myself to start. I felt like I was going in circles. Since quitting, I’ve regained focus on what we really want for our home, and in turn I’m finding a lot more time to enjoy my home and family.
Your nonessentials might be different than mine, but the same principle holds true: stop doing things that don’t add value.
4. Pick a Priority and Go All-In
A few years ago, José was away on a business trip and I took a few days off work to do projects around the house. I wanted surprise him by painting the guest bathroom, install shelves in the laundry room, organizing the pantry and a list of about four other projects. Even with the boys in daycare and no distractions, I barely got the bathroom painted and the shelves installed. I foolishly thought I could tackle seven projects at once. While the first coat of paint on the shelves dried, I would tape out the stripes in the bathroom and paint a first coat in there. Then I would do pull everything out of the pantry. Leaving the pantry disheveled I would paint coat two on the shelves. After the first day, I realized I wasn’t going to finish anything, so I scaled back my plans and focused on completing just the bathroom and the shelves. It would still be enough to surprise for my husband.
In our first two homes, we constantly bit off more than we could chew and I carried some of that into this home, too. We spread our resources thinly over many projects, instead of focusing on one that mattered. You don’t get anywhere if you’re going in a million different directions.
During our year of doing nothing in this house, we compiled a long wish list of projects and the first chance I got. The first chance I got, I tried to tackle them all at once, all by myself. I took vacation days to try and complete all the projects. It was clear to me after my first failed attempt, I didn’t want to take vacation days to do home projects. With two demanding jobs and two small boys underfoot, the only way we could get anything done, was to choose one thing at a time.
We developed a practice of prioritizing what is worth our time and money. If you’re curious how we pick our home projects, I share my favorite part of the process in the Make Your Home Happy Workbook (a free download).
5. Stay Selective
One night after a particularly long day with the kids, he told me to go out and take a break. I went shopping and bought a vase that had all the right colors, but was all the wrong style. And I bought it for all the wrong reasons. I was tired, sad, and crabby. I thought a vase could cheer me up. It was only $12. It made it one week on the mantel, before I stashed it in the coat closet. José didn’t notice at first, but then one day he found it and pulled it out. He asked, “You don’t like this vase already?” It was that word “already” that was so incriminating. I’d never hidden anything from José before. He was pointing out how quickly I fell out of love with things, but the truth was I never loved it in the first place, which is why it wound up in the closet and later got donated.
I stopped spending money on a whim and started being more selective. I made it my goal to only buy things for my home that I never want to replace. That philosophy is the theme of my first book, Free Decorating.
In Essentialism, Greg Mckeown references a great philosophy from legendary designer Dieter Rams who said, “Less but better.” To achieve better with less you must be selective.
I have several sets of selective criteria I apply to my decorating decisions. For specific projects, I call them success criteria. In a broader sense, I constantly use three filters for everything I do or bring into my home. First, does it fit my style? Second, do I love it? Not like it, not appreciate it, but love it. Third, do I have a place and purpose for it? An item could be functional or beautiful, but it has to have a point.
I’ll be honest, I sort of just happened upon most of these decisions. There simply came a point where I had to make a choice, snuggle with my newborn baby or decorate our new home? Risk color clashes or choose all the colors at once? Continue unhappily DIYing or admit it’s not for me? Start a million things or finish one thing? Buy lots of stuff or spend wisely on things I love? Now, after five years creating this home we love, I can say without a doubt on all of these decisions we made the right choices.
I want to hear from you, what is one key decision you made when you first moved into you home that paid off for years afterward?
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