apartment progress: can we skip to the good part?

February 8, 2022

My dad has been reglazing and painting the twelve-over-twelve windows on my parents’ house on a five year schedule for the past thirty years. He does it for himself, and my mom, and for the nearly three-hundred year-old house I grew up in. He’s never had someone take a camera to the project and it’s a project without an end in sight anyway. Every five years the cycle begins again: front windows, side windows, rear windows…or something to that effect. It’s a private act of stewardship and care that, on some level anyway, offers a bit of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. It’s maintenance not makeover, and if he didn’t give us regular updates on his progress, the work might go unnoticed altogether.

As I was painting trim in our home office this week it occurred to me for probably the millionth time that the small progress that I was making was also probably not enough to register with anyone who doesn’t live here and certainly not enough to get noticed by anyone looking through the small-screen of the internet:

Erin, get a grip,” I can imagine people saying. “You have painted your white trim white. Again.”

If you’ve been on the internet in the past six months and have even a vague interest in home improvement—or the algorithm thinks you might—you’ve probably been subjected to a video that pairs the soaring, poppy “ah ha-ha-has” of AJR’s song The Good Part with a before-and-after video of someone’s home improvement project. At this stage I’ve probably seen a thousand of them. With the press of a palm, a smelly (I’m guessing) old garage is turned into a studio replete with built-in custom cabinetry and brass hardware. Brick fireplaces get repointed and plastered and hung with abstract art, windows get replaced wholesale, decrepit kitchens become streamlined visions of efficiency with nary a formica countertop in sight. The videos are addicting and with reason, skipping to the good part of any project, no matter how big or small, is something I’d like to do on the regular and there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of warp-speed project completion eye candy.

But here’s my semi-regular reminder that the good part isn’t always a dramatic reveal. (And off-screen, sometimes the dramatic reveal is not so good at all.) The vast majority of my work happens slowly, with a brush-in-hand and a butt-in-chair that’s at odds with the algorithm’s thirst for drama. The expectations we have of online content creators, and by extension ourselves, don’t give us room to celebrate the little wins, the small improvements, the comfort that one tiny change can bring. Progress doesn’t have to happen all at once, indeed, it never does.

So, at the risk of repeating myself, on this mercifully sunshine-y February day, I’m writing from my newly arranged home office with trim freshly painted in a different shade of white and the desk moved 18-inches to the East. From the other side of the screen, you might not catch the differences at all, but inside these four walls, they’re as clear as day. I’m already feeling like I’m at the good part. A good part, anyway, one of many, in a work in progress.

PS. Here’s my take on the aha-ha-has.

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  • Reply Emily February 8, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    I have a similar ritual in the spring with touching up paint scuffs and window trim. Just me in my home maintaining ♡

  • Reply Sarah February 8, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    Recognizing the tiny improvements is so essential, because patience is h.a.r.d.! While picking up a vintage plant stand (itself in an interim position as nightstand), I scored a $20 bookcase that’s banged up but serviceable and very needed in our house. But then I had to clean it. While wiping it down, knew I was going to need to change water and wipe again. Then it was clear it needed some airing out. After one day, the airing was obviously working really well, so it’s airing outside again, and we’ll finally, three days later, be able to put books on it tonight. At least until summer, when I’ll actually sand and paint it. One fairly small piece of furniture, and probably months til it’s “done,” most of that spent just waiting. Flexing my patience muscle is the hardest exercise!

  • Reply Haley February 8, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Amen amen amen

  • Reply Dallas February 8, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    Honestly, I’m in the process of furnishing and decorating an entire room and doubting my sanity COMPLETELY. What you’re describing is… so much more thoughtful and less antagonizing for your soul and even mine to read. I love this space.

  • Reply Madeleine February 8, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    Oh gosh, so happy you said this (and live the friendly reminder, too). For years and years I scoured and found inspiration in the warp speed videos, and of course they ARE fun and addictive – they are designed to be. But my experience is that I often feel like my own home improvement life is stalled, lacklustre, so darn budget-constrained. And I don’t even post on Instagram – literally no one cares or is even curious what my home looks like! I come to your page for the specific reason of human-design comradery. To slow down. To be reminded that being intentional and thoughtful is what I actually strive for. To each their own, but those are my design values. I can feel myself get stirred up and envious, nay jealous, of quick flips and expensive overhauls. Hard as I try, it is a feat to stay in one’s own lane when one is bombarded with everyone else’s highlight reel. So I come here to reset. Your eye and design is beautiful and inspiring, without a doubt, but your blog offers more than eye candy. Your work is truly unique, your offering important, in this online world, Erin. Thank you. Carry on. One re-paint and 18 inch move at a time.

  • Reply cathy February 8, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    I really like your take on this. We, too, are surrounded by mostly-secondhand furniture. I love it. And sometimes the best home improvements are so small you think “Why didn’t I do that sooner?!” because they make such a dramatic difference.

  • Reply Mackenzie February 8, 2022 at 6:25 pm

    As a fellow apartment-dweller, I always enjoy these kinds of posts 🙂

  • Reply riye February 9, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    So true. I just caulked a new splash guard in my bathtub and feel like celebrating. The small things really make a big difference. 🙂

  • Reply Diane Erickson February 15, 2022 at 7:25 am

    Once again Erin thank you for affirming how even the smallest changes in the form and function of our homes lead to huge gains in the ease and satisfaction we find living there.

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