Capturing the Essence without Going Nuts

We live in a culture of excess. Over the top. Hyperbole. It’s a challenge to maintain perspective, or what my grandmother referred to as a sense of proportion. Blowing things out of proportion was not a cool thing when I was growing up. Yet it so easily happens. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon…

I recall planning a kitchen renovation. I’d made the work space more convenient by moving the fridge and putting a portable cabinet beside it. The arrangement worked so well that I wanted to replace the portable cabinet with a permanent cupboard. The existing cupboards were 1970s dark brown, so this was a good chance to improve their appearance. Replace the doors? Replace them entirely? Since I was doing that much, it seemed a good idea to replace the old stove (still working, but dating back to when the house was built).The countertops were 1960s gold. Update them too? The window shades—yuk. They might as well go.

By the time I worked my way through the possibilities, there was a plan for new cupboards with an upscale European cooktop and oven, as well as a large cut-out in the wall adjacent to the stairs, a door from the eating area onto the deck, beautiful translucent pleated window shades, and a potential bill of $25,000 (in 1986 dollars).

I seriously considered going ahead with this plan. Then my sense of proportion kicked in. When I really thought about it, none of these changes had improved the functionality of the workspace—it was already as good as it could be. About that time, there was a family development that required additional expenditures. Spending $25,000 on a kitchen reno didn’t seem the best choice, all things considered.

Instead, I thought about what could reasonably be done, given what I had. That led me to abandon the ideas that involved construction. The dark brown cupboards and white walls became ivory and chamois thanks to a few cans of paint that I applied myself. The countertop was changed to a harmonious colour, and a tile backsplash was installed because that was something I’d always wanted and never had in any of the five houses I’d lived in. I decided that roll-up bamboo shades from IKEA would suit the room—and me—very well. When I moved out of that house 11 years later, the 35-year-old stove was still working, and I was happy. The kitchen looked good, functioned well, and I’d achieved that without going into debt.

When we live in a consumer culture, it’s easy to go nuts. There are so many pretty, flashy, intriguing, enticing, innovative things to buy. The antidote is to be centered and resourceful. When we’re centered in ourselves, we know what’s really important and are able to assess what fits for us. When we’re resourceful, we can interpret what’s important in ways that do the job authentically and reasonably. That is conscious spending. It gives us peace.