Last week we got a sale flyer in the mail from Lowes. The front page has a big picture of a beautiful wall that is made entirely of huge windows, with the words “never stop improving.” As far as life lessons go, that’s a good reminder. But context matters. When it comes to ourselves, our empathy for others, our health, our relationships, etc., I can definitely get on board with the idea that we should never stop improving. We can strive to be better people, to take better care of ourselves and the people we love, to be more patient, to learn new ideas and skills – there are always ways that we can improve ourselves and the world around us. That’s what makes life so awesome.
But when “improving” is used in the context of “home improvement”, I think it’s perfectly ok – and probably preferable – to be content with what we have rather than constantly seek to improve. I would also say that applies to any other physical possession (cars, clothing, toys, technology, etc.). It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that we should always be upgrading our physical surroundings. Getting a nicer car, buying new clothes even if the ones we have are still perfectly good, or replacing counters and floors and sinks just because the ones we have no longer look like the ones in the current magazines and home improvement stores.
There’s nothing wrong with home improvement. We’re currently in the middle of finishing our basement, which is definitely improving the usefulness of our home. Instead of a big concrete cave downstairs, we’re going to have functional rooms. We’re excited about that. But the rest of our house will stay largely as it is until if and when something is no longer functional. Maintenance on a house is of course an on-going project – there’s always something that needs to be repaired, however minor it might be. But the idea of “never stop improving” in the context of home improvement was likely written with more in mind than just encouraging people to re-caulk their windows.
The problem with “never stop improving” when it comes to physical possessions is that it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of constantly needing to buy the newest gadget, jacket, car, sink, etc. Unlike personal improvement (say, for example, adding a walk around the neighborhood to your evening routine, or taking specific steps to be kinder in your interactions with other people), buying things rarely provides long-term improvement in our happiness
I say rarely because some purchases do indeed add to our overall satisfaction with life. My VitaMix, the cordless drill we recently bought, our house… those are all examples of things that I’m really glad we have. But things like that add to the value of our lives without having to be constantly upgraded or improved. For each of us, there will be different items that fall into that category. I’ve been using my VitaMix several times a day for more than three years now, and it’s hard to imagine my kitchen and food prep routines without it. Yet other families might be entirely uninterested in having one and find very little use in it. The key is to direct your purchasing power towards things that will actually provide benefit to you (in whatever way you define that, since we’re all different), rather than the things that are simply the newest style or current gizmo.
I’m not saying that we have to ignore marketing or shun buying things. Just that we should be conscious of our thought processes when we feel like we want something new. Do we really want it, or are we being convinced that we want it? Will it really improve our lives, or will we be left with an empty feeling a few days/weeks/months down the road, and need to buy something else to get that same good feeling again?
As for home improvement, do what makes you happy (assuming you can afford it). But please don’t feel like you should be constantly upgrading your home to look like the current magazines. That’s a never-ending process, because they keep moving the goal. Instead of constantly changing the structure of your home, you might find it more useful to focus on keeping it clean and clutter-free. I’m looking around our kitchen right now and I see lots of stuff on the counters. I know that I love the look of the kitchen when there’s nothing on the counters, so as soon as I finish typing this, I’m going to tackle the counters and clear them off. I know from experience that it will make my kitchen look fresh and new, and it’s a lot less expensive than a new tile back splash.
On that note, check out Declutter Daily. I promise you’ll want to clean your counters too. And that part about not needing a new tile backs plash? Totally true. Clear off the junk, scrub the grout on the tiles that are already there (or whatever you have), and all will be well with the world.