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The Meaning of Things

by - Friday, November 28, 2008

With all this talk about “recession”, one would think that limiting discretionary spending is at the top of our To Do list. I mean, HandyMan may be in a precarious position working as an architect. With lower economic growth, there is less spending on building and expansions. I could be in the same boat… I work as a Project Manager and my work could be offshored to India or other low-cost delivery centres if needed. So naturally, with these possibilities looming I’ve questioned our need to forge ahead with the bathroom and guest bedroom renos we’ve got planned.

I’m sure many of you are the same. “Do I really need to buy that” is a question that crosses my mind regularly, especially in these heady days of holiday shopping. Surprisingly though, I’ve found that even in my circle of friends the level of spending hasn’t taken too much of a downturn. I know quite a few people that are undertaking renovations right now. Have they scaled back plans? Not really. What they have done is consciously chosen to make this investment, rather then spend the money on something a bit more superfluous, a bit more impermanent. I guess its that whole “cocooning” effect – when the world outside seems like a big, scary place, where better to retreat than “Home”.

People also seem to be taking their time to make more “meaningful” purchases too. You can see it in the appeal of vintage, hand-crafted, repurposed, restored, or green products. Our collective excessiveness over the last few decades has really taken a toll on our planet, our resources, our future generations, and our pocketbooks. We’re realizing that everything has consequences – and that’s a good thing. Like, I could go to my nearest big-box store and buy the cheapest, ready-made, ready-framed, poster art. But what if I instead dropped by the dusty neighbourhood thrift store and found a vintage poster from the 60’s? Or dug into my boxes in storage and found family photographs to arrange into an art wall? Or shopped on to buy an original, limited edition print? It just “means” more. And in these times when prosperity and material goods and financial security seems more fleeting, isn’t “meaning” one of the few things we can hold on to?

My wise dad said to my sister once about her young son, “Don’t give him toys, give him your time. Because when he grows up, that is what he will remember.” Its true. It is sometimes the thought and intention behind a thing that is most important, and not the thing itself. I’m sure some day I won’t remember what my kitchen handles look like, or the pattern of the tiles in the bathroom… but I’ll remember the time that it took HandyMan and I to build those rooms together, side by side. I’ll remember how we bickered, and strained our muscles, and worked quickly to get it all done before our baby arrived. I’ll remember how building a room meant more than the sum of all the shiny fixtures and tile put together. And I will love looking around my finished/unfinished house and recalling all the stories that each piece of furniture or decoration tells. I hope when you need to retreat from the craziness outside, you too will find the same comfort and meaning in your own homes.

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