Project Renovate My Life: Cultivated Contentment

Lana Wilkens

When my husband and I began a home renovation project a year ago, we both knew it would be tough. We both knew it would take longer than the contractors said, and we both knew it'd be fun. You see, we have a history of creating unnecessary challenges for "fun." We are not "home-renovation people." Our kind of fun was the short-term challenge of living differently. It seems we do best in spontaneous and counter-cultural situations that would probably make most people miserable. About 8 years ago we went three months without electricity on purpose, ate the same items all the time and tried to go everywhere on foot. We called it, "Project Derelict." A life of poverty or homelessness doesn't have a three-month window, but we desired to attempt understanding in the only way we knew how. We even got some rum one night to warm up in the winter. But that was back when we had one kid and now we have five and longed for adventure. Thus, "Project Renovate My Life" began. 

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Little did I know how appropriate the name of our project was. Over the course of that year the following changes took place: new job, 9 different living situations during demolition, new church, and a new baby. I could literally turn this experience into a chapter book with recipes and tips for roughing it with a smile, but to summarize I'll take three topics and tell you one lesson I learned in each area.

#1 THE BASICS - Laundry, Dishes, Cleaning, Cooking
It's amazing how much time these basic tasks take if you cannot complete them with modern appliances. Imagine a pie that represents weekly time. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that it's a mulberry pie because I love those! Then section out the slices of time it takes for all those basic life tasks. Next, take a look at said's gone! You can see the whole tin pan underneath except for a tiny sliver that you'd give to a baby and call it a "piece." All our time was snatched up by those menial tasks that make motherhood cyclical. And you know one of the lessons we learned? 

Lesson: Allow people to be generous. It's okay to ask for help and it's okay to jump at the chance for help right away. When you express the need to shower at a friend's house when you go over there for dinner, they are happy to let you! When you are out in your coat/mittens/scarf doing the dishes in the driveway and you ask your neighbor, "Could we please wash our dishes once a day at your house?" she says, "Yes!" and gives us the key. When a friend offers to let you wash your clothes at her house while your kids play in the backyard, or to wash them for you?! You let them! So many times people offer and we say, "I've got it," or "Thanks so much for offering, but we're okay." Maybe you are 'okay' but letting people express generosity benefits everyone.

#2 ROMANTIC TIME - Spouse Time and Dates
Before we got married we planned times to be together. After we got married, we had to plan times to be apart. Being together was our default. I thought that was the end of it but as it turns out, after having 5 kids, we've started planning times to be together again. Dates used to feel kind of silly and now they are essential, if for no other reason than to stare into each other's eyes amid silence. I learned the value of dates and what constitutes as a date.

Lesson: Dates can count as anything you do alone. Anything. Time together is time together. As simple as that sounds, it's easy to miss. There were times when a date happened in our ugly/half built home. That super attractive, floor to ceiling black tarp was part of our date lives for a while and I kinda miss it. Not really. But those times of having to snuggle in the same chair because that's the only one that fit in our make-shift living room/kitchen, became a pleasant memory. And then there's sex. Did you know that sex is free? Well, we conceived our 5th child during the renovation. I've heard people say, "I could never undertake a major renovation and live in the house. It'd ruin my marriage." Because of the renovation, we didn't have much to do without a TV, internet, kitchen, working bathroom or computer. But, we found something to do, and it helped our marriage. 

Yes, we homeschool our kids (ages 9, 7, 4, 3 and baby). The idea of homeschooling my kids while we moved around every two weeks was laughable. Idealistically, I planned all kinds of ways to use the suitcase full of school stuff I'd packed. In reality, I used maybe one or two things. We spent so much time outside. You guys, homeschooling is free! We learned from nature, from one another and cracked open books at the library. It's easy (especially if you homeschool) to feel behind. I always ask myself, "behind what?" 

Lesson: A laid back academic year is not wasted. I want my kids to learn compassion, frugality and contentment, among other values. Those things take time and there is only so much time in a day. I'm grateful to have taken some time to learn how important those lovely intangibles are because they make life worth living. 

Now we're back into the swing of things. We have hot water, a kitchen (which means we have a stove, a sink, and a dishwasher), two bathrooms and space to play. Our house is half the size of our last one, but after the year of renovations, it feels like a castle with an open floor plan. Life is good. But honestly, it was good before. Cooking in a crockpot 3-4 times a week, letting my toddler play with the never-ending contractor dust, and "bathing" in the splash pad worked. My kids most often say they are thankful for food to eat, a house to live in and their brothers and sisters. Each family is unique and for us, we had to ask ourselves some tough questions during all this change, but it led to an intentional way of life, rather than living life by default.

Lana Wilkens is a Houston-born transplant to Oklahoma. She attended the University of Oklahoma, graduating with a BFA in Studio Art and paints/draws when inspiration stikes. Raising her 5 children takes most of her time, but when they are sleeping she frequently sneaks away to eat something sweet, to take late night walks in the park across the street with her husband, or ponder/write about what's most important. You can find more from her on her blog