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 landscaping, 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. 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. So I went looking for ways to make a cool bed for summer nights. Bedding aficionados pointed to linen (as opposed to cotton) sheets, because they’re light, airy, breathable, absorbent and soft, but expensive. I found some on summer sale. Then I sought out more ways to make a cool bed for hot nights: Replace the heavy down comforter with an all-cotton or linen quilt or coverlet. Cool it on the dark colors, which absorb more heat. Use lighter layers. 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 cluttered, toys-everywhere mess. Two working parents, long commutes, two kids under 4 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. The transformed house sold the 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. 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 an unusual decorating idea back 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 his 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.
Lesson: If you’re going to sell an unusual house, play up the novelty rather than play it down, the listing agent told me. “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, I asked: So what can we do? We can drink! Roll in the bar cart. Like a party on wheels, 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, or a simple selection of wine or hot cocoa after an evening of non-caroling. Cheers!
In December, like so many other Americans, I stood helplessly by as the pandemic caused my holiday plans to dwindle from seven visiting family members to none.
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.
May your 2021 be full of breathable bedding and a well-appointed bar cart or two.