Saturday, March 12, 2016

Keeping a Home Beautiful on a Small Budget

This post was written by a woman with many children. Her blog is no longer active but I thought many of you would enjoy her words on keeping a clean and tidy home since many struggle in this area. She doesn't have much money but she has learned to use it wisely and is efficient in keeping her home beautiful; for a clean home is a beautiful home and it matters not at all how much money you make!

When I had a household full of little children and had almost nothing in my hand, I learned that order came first. Having things clean, even if they are old and worn, is so very important to one’s sense of well-being.

I remember how over-joyed we were to live in our first “house” {we had been renting apartments before this}. It was so spacious–with our own yard. It was just cheap enough for us to afford the rent every month–and this meant that inside it was not “new” looking. Whoever had rented before did not have a handle on cleaning. The stove was 20 or so years old and had grease and grime caked in every nook and cranny. The cupboard fronts were a definite “soil brown” around the handles.

But I had learned from all of the run-down places we had lived before just how a little cleaning and order could transform even the worst of hovels–much how Christ takes and transforms the worst of sinners!

Not having the extra money for expensive cleaners, I used what I had. I did have some baking soda and some dish soap, along with a rag and an old toothbrush. So I mixed the baking soda and the dish soap together into a paste and tackled all of that greasy grime. The toothbrush helped me to get into even the small cracks.

Before long, that whole kitchen was above respectable–with a large bay window looking out to the backyard–I dare say it was pretty, at least to me. It was not the latest and greatest–it was old and out-of-date, but it was blessed. My dear children and I spent so many hours in that room–with meals and homeschooling–it became a very special place to all of us indeed.

I remember watching a documentary about a mother living in a hut in Haiti whose husband had either died or abandoned the family. Even without a pan to cook her food in, the camera showed her carrying her baby about on her hip as she swept her dirt floor with a home-made broom–everything she owned was neat as a pin–I would have felt very comfortable visiting with her there. Being poor, or at least feeling poor, is not an excuse. We must overcome the evil of this world with good–especially when dealing with the filth that has been unleashed because of the fall of man.

Bathrooms are also extremely important. If the toilet looks dirty and smells, it makes the whole house seem out of order. Where there is hard water, it sometimes takes some Lime-Away to cut through the deposits at first, but afterwards just a little maintaining can do the trick. The whole porcelain unit needs to be scrubbed and disinfected–including the surrounds at the bottom. I try and use bleach on these areas on a regular basis to keep odious bacteria to a minimum.

I developed the habit early-on of maintaining the bathroom every time I used it–I often only had a few minutes between my other responsibilities to my family, so I used what was in the room instead of hunting all around for cleaning supplies. I got so good that I could clean a whole mirror spotlessly with just a little water on some toilet paper. I used some toothpaste on toilet paper to scrub the ring around the tub, and even gave the toilet and surround a quick wipe {sometimes I used a little mouthwash for its disinfecting properties}.

I have also learned over the years to get rid of the “eye-sores;” those things that make your eyes ache every time you see them. Among this list are piles of worn shoes, stacks of mail and other business, drawers with clothing sticking out of them, toys that are out-of-control, rows and rows of partly-used bottles of shampoo and other solutions, beds that are never made.

For one thing, we don’t use dressers for the most part–we hang up everything except for small items and underwear. This has done wonders for our clothing–it keeps them from being shoved behind and under so that we never see them; it keeps them nearly wrinkle free and always presentable; it provides us much more space in the bedrooms; it keeps things looking neat and tidy. Today you can find many closet organizers–some are available at quite reasonable prices–the main thing is to be creative.

My grandmother had the most fascinating house, especially for a child. I used to spend hours and hours just looking through her things {she used to call this “prowling”}. She had lived through the Great Depression and so was prone to collect and keep things around, especially crafting supplies and antiques. Even though it was great fun to me, it was a horror to look at day after day. It was also a major operation to prepare for guests, and the weight of it all caused a lot of frustration and anxiety.

When we refuse to throw things out {or give them away to someone who could use them} we are actually wasting more time, energy and money than we are saving. Unless the things we save are actually useful to us {or are a family heirloom}or if we hold on to them indefinitely they are more prone to ruin {dust, moths, water damage, etc.}, and we may not even be able to find them at the time we need them most–so we will have to go out and buy new anyway! There are exceptions to this: seasonal clothing, seasonal decorations, children’s clothing and the like. I use the “six-month rule” for pretty much everything else; if I have not required an item in the last six months, I probably don’t need it.

A lot of our effort in saving things actually is rooted in a lack of trust that God will take care of us, even if the future should turn bleak. Along with being frugal, we must learn to always trust in His provision. Giving to others, however, ensures that we have treasure stored up in Heaven, where nothing can touch it. Also, if we plant seeds and help meet the needs of others, God tells us we will reap a harvest that will bless us in our times of need.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. {Matthew 6:19-21}

Keeping inventory of what one has and using it up, buying only what one needs, and keeping from impulse buying of products we don’t honestly need will keep us from warehousing a lot of half-empty containers all over the house. If the shampoo is mostly gone, adding a little water to it and shaking it will ensure that it is completely used–then the bottle is tossed–hurray!

And sentimentality needs to be kept in check–we can’t keep every little scribble our small children make; by now I could have filled a couple of garages with all of the incredible things my children have created! Except for a few fine examples for our memoirs, we need to remember that the greatest things, the things we can all cherish for the rest of our lives, are the acts of kindness and love we give to one another, and let God keep these for us. Often, at the end of life, these are the things that matter most–not even jewelry or family heirlooms survive such things as flood, fire, or war. Keeping this perspective will free us from a lot of the weight that sentimental clutter piles on us.

Along with order and cleanliness, there must be beauty and comfort. No matter what my means, I must attempt to create an environment where people can feast their eyes and rest their bones. The venerable attitude of the Proverbs 31 woman applies here. She is described as being at the business of beauty and comfort for her household. She was “gathering goods from afar.” There is a reason that women like to shop–it‘s a large part of our gifts and talents as females. Of course, this is often perverted by our own sinful tendencies and can become a monster that can ruin us. But, in the right place and time, our skills at spying out deals can greatly benefit our families and friends.

With God’s blessing, even $5 worth of goods bought at garage sales can give us all sorts of amazingly creative possibilities. Old curtain valances can cover worn table-tops. Sheets can become curtains. Washing old pillows and sewing covers for them from cast-off clothes is another way to spruce things up {even if we don’t have a sewing machine–hand-sewing is not only cheap, but therapeutic, especially while sitting watching a movie with the family}. I received as a Christmas gift this year–a fantastic reading/sewing LED lamp–that I can hang around my neck for just such a time as this!

I love buying stoneware–a piece here and there–and putting them all together; lots of times sticking to a certain color-scheme, such as blue or gold. Everyone seems to have a set that has pieces broken, so I can usually buy them up for a song.

Even if you don’t feel naturally “creative” God is, and He will help and guide you. I once had a friend who had grown up in the streets of LA; definitely not from a nurturing, Christian environment. But she became a devoted Christian with a family. I was so very blessed when I entered her home; so lovely in every way, with wall-paper accents, her furniture all in order and well-maintained, cute aprons hanging merrily on the side of her kitchen {this was a rented house; her husband was in the Army}. When I complimented her, she was quick to tell me that she had no idea how to keep home, but she had relied on the Holy Spirit to guide her. My favorite homes I have visited were first neat and clean, then filled with the personalities of those who lived there.

A pastor and his wife once had us over to eat. This couple and their five children had returned from the mission field not too many years before, owning only the clothes on their backs. The wife had scoured yard sales and purchased wicker furniture, repainted it, and recovered the cushions to match. The coffee and end tables had a rectangular piece of hunter green contact paper placed in the centers to cover the scratches and then were embellished with flowers, etc. We ate at a long table covered with a pretty flat sheet that had been saved for special occasions. All of the rooms were neat and clean. More than this, the children obviously loved the parents, and vice-versa, which made for a delightfully peaceful environment.

Last year, when we thought we were to move closer to my husband’s work, we visited many houses. The most charming was a home that was full of creativity; there may have been even a few mid-century-modern pieces there, but it was obvious that the mother who lived there was not driven by self-importance. She had filled each room with the beauty that was from her heart. It was an older house, but so much care had been taken that it was more impressive than even new construction. Everything said to us, “Come and sit a spell!”

On the contrary, we also visited a vacant home that was full of pretension; the entrance boasted a vaulted ceiling and real wood flooring making it seem cold, with every sound reverberating throughout the building and that’s what it was, a building and not a home. But that was not all. The master bedroom measured approximately 20 feet by 30 feet, and at one end was the most ostentatious bathroom I have ever seen. It was divided from the rest of the room by a 3-quarter height wall of late 1940’s glass blocks, and behind these was a tub the size of a small swimming pool, and a shower that was bigger than some kitchens I’ve cooked in, with spraying nozzles mounted in every direction! It made us wonder if the house had been built for a family of penguins! It had a definite “style,” one that had since been abandoned for the next series of new ideas, so that it just seemed plainly repulsive to us.

Bringing the outdoors inside is a wonderful way to reflect on God’s beauty. Using real or silk plants and flowers is a good way to begin. This Thanksgiving our son, Ryan, walked to the nature preserve by our house and put together a huge show of fall grasses, etc. arranged neatly in an old flower vase and placed it in the dining room. At the close of this last summer, he also gathered Russian sage and made one wreath for the dining room, then made another with sage combined with peppermint and lemon balm from our own garden for my office. The girls also have lemon balm and peppermint hanging in small bouquets on their walls, and a bird’s nest filled with “eggs” {small, smooth stones} that was found abandoned in our yard on their desk.

Having children around, especially small children, does limit some of the types of furnishings, colors, etc. that can be utilized. For one thing, we do not have white carpeting or white couches! Our coffee and end-tables corners are all rounded–no sharp edges for small ones to fall against!

We have purposely chosen fabrics and coverings for our furniture that are well-suited to a lot of traffic. Leather is always well-wearing, if we are careful not to allow sharp objects around it. Dark, repeated patterns seem to keep wear and dirt from showing up, making things look newer much longer. Putting covers on arm rests will help them to last longer. An industrial-type carpet with area rugs is a way to have longer-lasting carpeting.

So many of the items I see every day were not bought at all; many were found, given to us, or were created from what we have had on hand. And, of course, we have also needed to buy the best of what is available, within our budget; often not our hearts’ desire, but we have learned to be content and thankful, which makes everything we own {stewards over} covered with the beauty of godliness!