What Did I Do With It?

by Sheila Connolly

I recently came back from a trip to Ireland (yeah, yeah, I know—you’ve heard it from me everywhere. Yes, I do have a life on this side of the Atlantic, but the glow from Ireland hasn’t worn off yet.). I spent two weeks patching and filling and painting my cottage (and I hung my curtains! They fit!), with brief interruptions to get food and look for a few more pieces of furniture and do some minimal sightseeing and talk to friends. It was lovely—and it felt more like “normal life” than like a vacation.

Grass and hedge to come shortly!

I’ve lived in my current Massachusetts house for fourteen years. I lived in a house in Swarthmore for fifteen years before we moved. So the past thirty years have been pretty stable. I haven’t acquired a lot of new stuff like furniture, and the things I have bought or inherited came along one or a few at a time. Each more or less had its own place.

Then I bought the Irish cottage last year. Fifteen hundred square feet (four rooms plus small kitchen and bath), plus half an acre of land, in a different country. It was a blank canvas, and I got to make all the decisions about it.

by Avril McDermott of Union Hall–a view of the County Cork town Eyries

What I discovered about myself surprised me. The first thing I bought was a water-color painting from a local artist (who I learned about from a Facebook friend). Then I started adding furniture, piece by piece, from a variety of sources, mostly second-hand. What I ended up with was nothing like anything I had bought in the past. An Art Deco drinks cupboard? I fell in love with it (and it makes great storage, for more than drinks). A set of figural lamps, the likes of which I had never seen anywhere else? One of them has a windmill that turns, and is supposed to include running water to turn the mill (I haven’t dared tried that yet).

I outfitted the kitchen first—not hard, since it’s about the size of a closet—and its dominant color is red, which I’ve never used in a house before.

The whole process was very liberating. You think you know yourself, know your own tastes, right? Nope. There was someone else lurking inside me, just waiting to be let out. And apparently she likes Art Deco and the color red.

But another thing I noticed when I was staying there was that I kept misplacing things. How do you do that in a place that has only four rooms and little furniture, and nowhere to hide things? I don’t know, but I did. I would put down the hammer somewhere, and then spend five minutes looking for it. The same thing with my endless shopping list. What does that mean? That I’m losing my mind? My short-term memory? Or that the pathways in my brains have been scrambled, and I’m still in the process of rebuilding them to fit a new place, in a new set of circumstances.

And then there are so many things that those of us who have been settled for a while just assume are there when we need them, like tape and paper clips and pencils. Oops, not yet (I can’t explain to you how thrilled I was when I opened a drawer and found I had pencils!). I was starting from scratch, and I haven’t quite filled in everything yet. And yet, all the big pieces are in place. I’ve simplified!

I figure it’s good for me. It helps to shake ourselves up now and then. Like in writing. We Wicked Cozies know we can write books, and do it regularly. But what if you want to try something different? Without worrying whether it will sell or not? Sometimes you have to clear your mind and try something new—and if you’re lucky, it will give you a new vision, a new perspective. And something unexpected. Recharge the batteries, rotate your perspective ninety degrees, Change is a good thing! And it can be a lot of fun.

Have you tried any significant resets in your life (by choice)? How did they work out?

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35 thoughts on “What Did I Do With It?

  1. Love Carol’s comment! Better wee people than the aging process! Did the same thing this weekend, helping son declutter the college pile–we know we just saw those power strips somewhere!

  2. That’s a great connection to make, Sheila, between starting fresh with a house and doing same with a new kind of writing. A friend who moved into a new house a year ago also used red accents in her kitchen – it’s so warm and cheery.

  3. I love your new furnishings!

    As for not finding things, my theory is, if you’ve got a lot on your mind, you can put things down so absent-mindedly that the memory of doing it never makes it into your long term memory. How else can I explain finding a half eaten apple in my medicine cabinet? (Years ago, and not repeated!)

    Or it’s the wee people.

    • Love that long-lost apple story. One of the more poignant examples happened in our Swarthmore house, built around 1875. I was cleaning out under the porch one day and found an old liquor bottle tucked up against the foundation, buried but not far down. The thing is, it wasn’t empty. Apparently someone a century ago felt the need to hide it from someone and never came back for it.

  4. I’m right there with you, about to move into a new place. The first home we’ve ever lived in that was less than 100 years old. Unfortunately, because it’s on this side of the Atlantic, I know we’ve brought too much of the old stuff…more decluttering and weeding out ahead!

  5. I love the liquor cabinet! Just my style. I have a Heywood Wakefield(Gardner Massachusetts) dining room set from the 50’s and a small desk that is deco. Also love the size of your cottage and the ability and courage to really simplify. I look around and can’t imagine what I would give up as unnecessary! It took more than 40 years to get real book cases!

  6. Ah Sheila, tis the little folks playin’ wit ya. Have ye not put out a bowl of cream for them at the back door yet?

    If you’ve been listening to my drivel for the last 6 months or so on FB you know that we used part of the wife’s inheritance to “upgrade and refresh” our apartment. We tore up all the carpet, padding and tackless from the living/dining room and the hallway all the way to the back of the house. THEN we had CertaPro come in and repair all the cracks in the walls and ceilings and paint the place. THEN we had “The Beast” installed. There’s no way you missed the photos of the seven foot tall, ten foot one inch wide behemoth (two 39 inch wide bookcases, one with glass shelves and mirrored back, and the center unit at 45″ wide to hold the tv and electronics) that I’d posted photos of.

    My loving spousal had her AHA moment when she came home from work and realized why I did this in a specific order… Once the beast was in I could call the carpet people and have them finally install the carpet we’d ordered months before.. So yeah I kinda, sorta get what you were going thru. LOL LOL One day I’d love to take a trip to Ireland while you’re in residence and get to see the place.

  7. I love the pictures and your adventures. As a military wife my life was full of resets. And for fun I’m writing a light romance — think Hallmark movie. It’s been so much fun.

  8. Love the drinks cabinet! And the figural lamps, so charming.

    I’ve thought about the idea of taste many times, wondering what I would have chosen, if I’d not had to also consider husbands’ (two) choices, or financial constraints. For years we either had stuff from our first marriages, or hand-me-downs from various places. I bought antiques inexpensively, either from stores or yard sales, but I would really love to just start over and see what happens.

    We’re building a new home in the next year, if all goes well, and I have half a mind to ditch everything and start fresh. Lottery tickets, please!!

    • Wow, you get to start from the ground up! Enjoy the process–it really is fun. You don’t have to look at every piece you like and ask yourself, “how will that look next to Great-Aunt Emily’s credenza?”

  9. I love the drinks cabinet too. And what a surprise in Ireland; I’d expect all very old stuff refurbished. At any rate, I’ve moved 35+ times and losing stuff is par. I’m sure some neuropsychologist could explain it in prosaic terms but I’ve found when I’m in a new environment, habits don’t work anymore. I think it has to do repatterning one’s brain tracks to adapt.

    • That sounds about right. You have a mental map set up in your brain, and it’s hard to replace it. I know I can be doing something in the kitchen, and I turn to get something and go on autopilot, until I remember I was heading for the refrigerator, not the silverware drawer.

      The second-hand furniture business is alive and well in Ireland, with a very odd mix of stuff. But active–people are dropping off stuff and taking off with something else all the time. I’m sad that my favorite dealer has lost his lease and doesn’t know where he’ll end up–I’ve gotten a lot of stuff from him, at a fair price. There’s another guy in the next town over, but he’s a bit pricier. And there’s a St. Vincent de Paul shop that I swear had a table that was my mother’s, except that was a couple of thousand miles away. Ah, the thrill of the hunt!

      • After 11 years, I still reach for the light switch on the wrong wall in the bathroom. Somethings in the brain just don’t learn!

  10. I am pretty much a stick-in-the-mud and DON’T do resets by choice. My resets tend to be husband died/ job dried up/trailer falling about ears/opportunity available if you grab it NOW. Getting by. There is a GREAT deal to be said for accepting life as it comes.

    • Most of the changes were due to my husband’s education/job, which took us to North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania and finally Massachusetts. There were certainly plenty of enjoyable experiences in all of them. But it’s been only recently that I declared where I wanted to live (or at least visit) and made it happen. That’s why the furnishing decisions were such a surprise to me.

  11. Funny you should ask this question today. On Saturday, my final roommate moved out. I’m finally in a position where I can afford to live on my own, and I’m really looking forward to the freedom. Of course, I’m trying to figure out for sure what I want to do to the second bedroom in my place now. I have to sell the bunk beds I’ve had in there, and I want to move the upper bunk from my room in there so I have a twin bed if someone comes for a visit. But then what? And now I have no excuse for not cleaning out the junk in this place that accumulated in the 14 years I’ve lived here. It’s mostly mine, but I have some stuff my former roommates have left behind over the years that I’ve never known if was an old roommate or a current roommate.

    But all that sounds like a lot of work. I think I’ll just go read for a while instead.

  12. I was a nurse for 30 years who studied writing and write in the side and now writes full time. At one point I wrote screenplays and learned a lot about dialogue that way. But despite having fun with those, I realized the books I enjoyed reading most were mysteries, and switched to those. Never been happier!
    And I don’t think if red as a favorite color, either Sheila, but set against the white, those bright pops if color bring that kitchen alive and just suit it~

    • I did seem to fit, and then I kept finding cute red utensils. It’s also amazing how much a fake oriental rug with a dark red background can change a room–it looks bright and warm. I never knew.

  13. I love your new place, Sheila. And I love the idea of starting all over. I’ve did it once many years ago and am still happy about it. More recently, after being retired for 7 years, I needed to go back to work for 3 years before collecting full SS. My hubby and I had owned a business for 14 years and I did some of everything. But many of the skills were not transferable. Also, at 63, employers figured I was too old to learn anything new and too stuck in my ways. If they only knew! So, in my supposed dotage, I got a CDL with several endorsements and drove a school bus. Talk about a reset! It was great, but I’m glad I’m back to being “retired”. I now have two former employers who just won’t let me totally quit. I love it. But, no, I don’t miss the kids at 6AM.

  14. This summer I used my kitchen counter sticking-out part as a higher writing desk (or it can use my taller pub chairs) to Change It Up. I found it to be too much of a Vacation Desk and every time I used it, I didn’t feel “serious.” No, really it screwed with my concentration. There was a different view and orientation that I liked but was itself, distracting. Go figure. Just moved my laptop back to my little desk between the kitchen and living room. I feel smarter already.

  15. Oh Sheila – this is a momentous decision you’ve taken in your life – a great and wonderful reset. Outstanding and brave. I think you will be very happy with the warm red in your kitchen on those damp, kind of raw Irish winter days. And I suspect that the liquor bottle you found hidden in another of your old houses was secreted there by a drinker with a disapproving spouse or parent. You can honor the memory of that secret drinker with your new drinks cabinet – out there in the open! Thanks for this piece and for all your fun FB postings of this lovely new adventure of yours!

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