Enlightenment through Kitchen Renovation. No-really.

July 10, 2017

Usually I don’t expect much out of home improvement projects outside of the anticipated improvement-which is gratifying in and of itself. The process can be equally demanding and rewarding, as expected. Nothing too surprising. However, my recent endeavor proved to be more than just transforming my kitchen into a better kitchen. I wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that it was eye opening, humbling, challenging and…enlightening. 

The other day my husband and I were standing around our kitchen, once again, surveying the humble space and commenting on how much nicer it would be if we put some work into it. I’m not talking about touching up paint here and there or putting in new cabinets, I’m talking about WORK-demolition style. We stood in the exact same spot dozens of times over the years, saying the exact same thing which goes something like this:

 Me: You know, we should take up this kitchen floor to find out what’s underneath. We should tear a wall down or something, let some light in.

Husband: I can do that. Seriously, I will. Just say when.

Me: Go for it! Tear a wall down!

Husband: Really?

Me: No, probably not today, we have too much going on to devote to chaos in our kitchen.

Fast forward a month or two and repeat for five years.

The Right Time Will Never Arrive

There was always  some lame excuse why it wasn’t a good idea to do the hard work our kitchen desperately needed.

It never seemed like the *right* time.

What if we tore down the walls-right along with the floor-removed all appliances and didn’t know what to do next? What if I were hopelessly stranded with an unworkable kitchen and disaster zone in my house? Our backup plan was largely non-existent, in fact, there wasn’t a back up plan.

Much like home projects, I always thought I needed some sort of plan before embarking on self-improvement projects. What if after I began renovating myself I couldn’t put myself back together in an acceptable sort of way? What if I was all wrong? Then what? Shouldn’t I have a backup plan in the event I didn’t turn out how I wanted?

This is exactly how I felt about renovating my kitchen.

Then, I was enlightened.

My husband has lived with this kitchen far longer than I have. I married into the kitchen. This kitchen has been around for over 100 years and is now in my life to teach me something about myself. It’s like my own private life coach.  I’ve tried to ignore the fact that the kitchen exists outside of when I need to be in there cooking, which I don’t do much of anymore because in September I made my husband throw the ancient stove away. It was the kind of dirty that can’t be cleaned.

This is what happened:

Me: I can’t clean this stove. I don’t even want to clean it. Let’s just throw it out. I’m going to cook everything in a crock pot-easier to clean (note: I have made a total of maybe three things in a crock pot).

Husband: Okay, where should I put it?

Me: Just throw it in the front yard with the rest of the crap we’re throwing away.

After adding the stove to the growing mountain of discarded crap, the oven door proceeded to fall off. which I understood as a clear sign that I was moving in the right direction. Sometimes my life is guided by these kinds of signs.

I compared the front yard to my life at times- full of random, useless, broken, clutter of which I was insanely desperate to rid myself of.

I wanted a clean slate after moving back home from living somewhere else for nearly two years. I had grown to appreciate a more simplified life during that time. I hadn’t realized just how suffocating my life had been until I started over somewhere else minus almost everything I identified with and a lot of my *stuff*.  Throwing the stove away was an intentional effort parallel to my need to clear debris from my own life. When I remove something from my life that is keeping me stagnant, I  experience an initial sense of loss but I soon adapt and learn new ways. When the stove was gone, I had to learn how to make meals without it. And I did. Eventually my friend loaned me a hot plate because I discovered that there are some things I can’t cook in a crock pot. But, I still learned how to cook more creatively and mindfully, and I needed more of that in all areas of  my life.

There are no Shortcuts

Much like my kitchen, sometimes I too, need a little work. And there are no shortcuts, I have tried. I have tried dodging the dirty work, hiding those frightful bad habits like I hid all the ugly dishes and plastic containers with no lids  in the darkest recesses of kitchen cabinets. It takes time to inventory what no longer serves a purpose. But upon removing those things, the possibilities for transformation are endless.

Despite our kitchen’s many flaws, I have the best memories of preparing holiday meals with over four or five family and friends cramming in the tiny kitchen to help. I learned how to make the most of our small space. Those were the good old’ days, and they were fun, but the time to create more memories in a bigger kitchen has arrived.

Comparatively, I have great memories of wonderful moments in my life being exactly who I was at any given time, but when I begin to feel stagnant and crowded within myself,  I am motivated to move towards change.

Countless times I have stood at the narrow kitchen door, envisioning a bigger, brighter and more creatively useful space. I imagined tearing down walls and sandblasting the hideous linoleum off the floor! While standing there again the other day, I thought about how much this kitchen and I have in common. It may sound silly but that thought really struck home when we literally began tearing down the walls! It was exciting and scary at the same time! What would it look like? What would I find beneath the terrifying linoleum? How could I make it more functional, creative and simplified at the same time?

What if I regretted it?

Another important thing I learned is that I will never know unless I take action.

It happened like this:

Me (pulling at the nasty linoleum again): We really should just do it. We need more space in here and look at this disgusting floor-I can’t even clean it.

Husband: It’s not going to be easy and it will be a mess. A big one.

Me: That’s okay. Life goes on. We still must live our lives regardless. Might as well just do it

The next few hours were bedlam as cabinets were torn from the walls and even the walls themselves were torn from the walls! I think we felt we needed to reach the point of no return so as not change our minds.  As more and more things went into boxes or the trash, I wondered how we managed to accumulate SO MUCH STUFF. Why did I have dishes I never used and lids without pots and cooking utensils I’ve never even seen? There were only TWO of us!  Why do I have two tart pans when I’ve never cooked a tart in my entire life? And I don’t even have an oven! That’s two tart pans too many! Why do I need this stuff? I didn’t! I never would have known just HOW much I didn’t need had we not taken everything out.

When I look in the closets of my own life what do I find hiding there? Outside of those pesky skeletons (they’re on their way out), I find too many commitments, one too many *projects* I can’t finish, neglected self care, needless worries and obsessions, unrealistic expectations and oh so much more.


Over the next couple of days more and more of the walls came down and guess what happened? LIGHT! Light happened! One of my biggest complaints about our little house is the lack of natural light. It was built with very few windows, but when the walls came down the sunlight found its way through the kitchen!

We had space! We no longer felt *trapped* in our kitchen and I felt like I could breathe with all the air flowing freely through the house. What an enormous difference tearing down walls makes!

Yet, this is just the beginning.

There is much more to do. Despite not having a *real* plan or knowing exactly what is going to happen next, I don’t regret it one bit. Even if wires are hanging out of the walls like snakes.

Here are the top nine things my kitchen has taught me: 

  1. There is no *best* time to start. A first step is all it takes to begin the journey.
  2.  Throwing things away is hard but necessary.  Why is it so hard to dispose of something I only see when I’m moving it out of my way? Much like personal *baggage*, why continue kicking it out of the way forever?
  3.  I need LESS-all the way around. Having more of everything requires a lot of energy.
  4. Sometimes the risks are worth it but I will never know if I don’t take them.
  5. Creating beauty is always possible.
  6.  Empty space allows room for new potential. Creating more space in my life involves letting go of things, people, habits and even ideas that are harmful and self-limiting. I am free to invite new experiences, people and healthier habits into my life
  7. Things don’t need to be perfect for me to be happy.
  8. There is light at the end of the tunnel. This kitchen is challenging. Life is challenging, but there is HOPE! And it’s all an adventure.
  9. Tearing down walls lets in more light. In my personal life, when the walls come down it opens my life and heart up to amazing experiences and people!

I look forward to this journey.

P.S. Zen Music to stay centered with! Every little thing helps the process!