Last week, as I do at the end of every year, I looked back at columns from the first half of 2020 and pulled out half a dozen highlights, including lessons learned from relandscaping, housing a student, and sheltering in place. Now, here are my favorite moments from the second half of 2020, a year I am not sorry to see go.
In JULY, I downsized the family jewels with the help of a jewelry expert who works with clients in their homes. I wanted to streamline my jewelry collection, to keep what I loved and cash in or donate what I didn’t, but I had little idea what anything was worth. No item in a home is more contentious than family jewelry, the expert said. Family jewels carry the stories of love, commitment, milestones and celebrations. And, because they symbolize love and money, they are the stuff of legend, lore and lawsuits.
Lesson: Like most of our belongings, jewelry isn’t usually worth what we think it is. Misunderstandings happen when folks don’t understand the difference between appraised (or replacement) value and cash value, which is often 25 percent of the appraised or purchase price. Sentimental value is another matter altogether.
In AUGUST, when the nights were so hot, we slept like starfish, I went looking for ways to make a cool bed for summer nights. Linen (as opposed to cotton) sheets, said bedding aficionados, were part of the answer: light, airy, breathable, absorbent, soft, but expensive. I found some on summer sale. Then I sought out more ways to make a cool bed for hot nights: Put the heavy down comforter in the blanket chest until fall. Replace it with an all-cotton or linen quilt or coverlet. Cool it on the dark colors, which absorb more heat. Use lighter layers. In winter, we want thick bedding to trap the warm air in and the cold air out; in summer we want breathable bedding to let the warm out and the cool air in.
Lesson: Come summer, we need to change more than our thermostat. If your bed in August is the same as it is in January lighten up.
In SEPTEMBER, I fell into a no-win situation. My stepson and his wife had bought a new house, and needed to sell their current place, which was, candidly, a mess, a cluttered, toys-everywhere mess. Two working parents, long commutes, two kids under four, and two dogs had conspired to push housekeeping far down the priority list. They wanted my help staging it.
You don’t need a family therapist to tell you that having your stepmom/step-mother-in law bossing you around your own house, telling you to pick up your things, declutter, and generally pull the house together is not a recipe for family harmony. But they were game. We all pushed up our sleeves, and got to work purging, cleaning and staging. The transformed house sold first day on the market for full price to the first buyer who saw it.
Lesson: Showing beats telling. Although the quick sale was rewarding, far more gratifying were the texts and comments from the kids. “We had so much stuff, we didn’t know where to start. We never imagined our home could look so good. Now that it’s clean and nice, we can’t imagine living any other way.”
In OCTOBER, just when I thought I’d seen it all, I came across the King-of-Beers condo. The beer-loving owner had the uncanny idea to cover the walls and ceilings with Budweiser cans. The owner’s custom décor idea began to brew in 1990 when he looked at a towering stack of Budweiser cans on his dining table, and decided, obviously, he would use them to cover the walls.
When the condo went on the market, Anheuser-Busch sweetened the deal. If the new owner maintained the décor, the beer maker would provide a year’s supply of Budweiser. The property attracted six offers in three weeks. And that said it all.
Lesson: If you’re going to sell an unusual house, play up the novelty rather than play it down, the listing agent told me when I asked how one markets a property like this. “The United States is full of eccentric people,” he said. “You never know who is looking for a beer-themed condo.”
In NOVEMBER, as disease experts told us to cancel the caroling, the parties, and the traveling to see family, to cut out the Santa visits and the shopping trips, I asked: So what can we do? We can drink! Roll in the bar cart. Like a party on wheels, serving festive beverages hard or soft, hot or cold, bar carts aren’t just props for movie stars in the golden age anymore. They are back in homes with a twist.
Lesson: Move over martinis. Today’s well-conceived drink cart can serve up margaritas on taco night, a juice bar or mimosas for a holiday brunch, a simple selection of wine, or hot cider and cocoa after an evening of non-caroling. Cheers!
In DECEMBER, like so many other Americans, I stood helplessly by as the pandemic caused my Thanksgiving plans to dwindle from seven visiting family members to none. My plans for a big Thanksgiving dinner withered like the hopes of a jilted bride.
Lesson: When circumstances squelch a holiday plan, find joy in celebrating smaller. Put up the tree, play the music, light the gingerbread candle, and celebrate your blessings. My husband and I gave thanks for each other, for our beloved, if far-flung, family, for our health (but for the grace of God), and for a vaccine that we hope and pray will mean “next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”
Thank you for joining me on this journey through all things home. May your 2021 be full of breathable bedding and a well-appointed bar cart or two.
Marni Jameson is the author of five home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home — What to Save, What to Let Go and Downsizing the Blended Home — When Two Households Become One. You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.