I did not expect improving my basement studio to give me a mental and emotional battle.
Here’s how it started. Last summer, while I was working, I got a hammer and started hacking away at the tile that framed out our basement window. I thought, if I just get started, then I’ll have to keep going because it will be a huge mess. If I just get started I can work on this a little at a time, in phases, and I won’t have to work in this ugly place anymore. So I began Phase 1: Get rid of the copious tile, paint the part of the basement where we work the most, and (ask Nate to) build the shared desk we’ve been wanting. We finished Phase 1 in a few days. And that was nice, for a while.
Come November I was getting real sick of looking at the blue ceilings (every ceiling in our house was blue when we moved in), the unfinished everything, the dark paneled wood of the staircase and the relative dysfunction of our undesigned space. I wanted a place I could invite people. I wanted a place I could feel good, a place I could take pretty pictures. So I started again. I’ll just do a little at a time, I thought. I painted, and painted, and painted, an hour or so at a time over several weeks...and did not seem to get very far. I told myself I'd finish it by the end of the year, and I didn't.
Then in January, I had a pivotal moment reading You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Here's the revelation that made the whole book worth reading for me:
“The moment it gets hard or expensive or puts you at risk of looking like a moron, if you haven’t made the decision, you’ll quit. So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable”.
Woah. These 2 sentences shifted something in me so powerfully. She called me out. I realized that I wasn’t honoring my decisions. I wasn’t following through, and I was calling it responsible. I was second guessing so much in my decision making as a business owner and artist that I wasn't producing what I actually wanted to produce. And I was jealous of the people who were making the exact things they wanted to. I had no idea how they were doing that-- how they were ALLOWING themselves to do that. I realized that if I made some real decisions and stuck through without stopping when my mind started to question things, I would see some real results that I wasn’t seeing. I had already written down what I want to do this year and why- or rather what I had decided to try to do until it got uncomfortable. One of those things was finishing my studio space. When I asked myself why I wanted that, the answers were clear to me and I truly liked my reasons. I could see the value of a better space. But I still wasn’t really making the decision to actually do it. I was getting held up by discomfort.
So, I decided to make the decision. I would really and truly for real real finish this space. I set right to work- adjusting my calendar, telling people I wasn’t going to be available for this and that, making space, getting the supplies I'd need. Right away, I was shocked by how hard and uncomfortable it was for me. Here are some of the thoughts that kept challenging my decision:
There were moments where these thoughts took all the energy out of me, and sucked away my vision so I couldn’t see where I was going or why. I was so surprised noticing how often these things were slowing me down, like hurdles in my path. One day, close to tears and at that point of fixing up a space where it’s worse than when you started, I was feeling stupid and defeated. I felt like I was spending time Nate could be using to generate income for our family, and he would make so much more money with this time. I felt like he didn’t see the importance. I felt like quitting, but instead I tried on some new thoughts. “That’s okay if no one else sees this as important. I don’t need them to, because I see it. I know this is important, and I made a decision, and that's enough for me.” I stopped with the paint roller in the air and said out loud, “I promise myself, I’m going to finish this. I promise I’m going to finish this to the place where I can look around and not see a bunch of things that I want to change. I’m going to finish this until it’s complete in my eyes.”
As I got closer and closer to finishing, I still battled those thoughts about wasting time, but I started to notice the power of those thoughts diminishing, and being replaced with a new nemesis: Comparison. I could see that this basement studio of mine, that I love and that feels like luxury to me, would be nothing compared to some of what I saw on Instagram: Photos of a basement that looks nothing like a basement, with wood flooring and detailed moulding. Another of someone’s studio with floor to ceiling black steel-framed windows facing tree covered hills. I felt defeated by comparisons. What’s the use? I can’t show this space to any interior designer, or people who work in high-end spaces. This space is embarrassing.
But then Instagram, always a complex character, gave me some gifts to restore my vision. First, Jersey Ice Cream Co. I discovered them years ago via Design Sponge but hadn’t seen their work in a while. Their style consistently resonates with me. It’s creative and eclectic but thoughtful, intentional. They appreciate old things and imperfect things and texture but still use some minimal and modern touches. Their style feels connected to the past and not overworked.
The second gift was Grace Bonney’s couch, posted right on her IG feed with a giant rip from her dog in the background. I respect her design eye and business practices so much, and that couch rip felt like validation that I can be myself. If Grace and Tara and Percy can show the beauty in imperfections, so can I. If they can be free to like what they like, so can I. And I like imperfect, down to earth stuff. Don't get me wrong, high end finishes and luxury elements are amazing too. But they're not right for the house I live in, or my family, or me. I like my studio with the patchworked lumber the previous owner used as a baseboard around only half the basement. I like that there are some splatters of paint and stain I can’t get off the floor, and a basketball hoop for my kids.
These tiny examples of imperfect spaces were enough to get me out of my funk and so I could push to the finish line. When my deadline came and I called it finished, I was so happy with the results. My family loves the space and our use of it has increased. My husband raves about how much the environment has changed his day to day work experience, how he feels more professional. And I feel like I know better than ever how to actually do the things I want to do. This whole thing was another exercise in my life of building trust in my own ability to make decisions that bring life, even if no one else can see it at the time.
What about you? Do you wait for other people to validate your decisions? Is there something you really want to do and see the value of, but you've been stopped by the discomfort it causes? Give yourself permission to really decide. Don't waste your time going half way. Go get the best "Afters" your life is capable of creating.