I like to imagine that if you step into my home office, you might feel like you’re coasting into a tropical sunset. The walls are a peachy pink — not Millennial pink, but a shade infused by golden sunlight. Playful, bright. There are paintings of beaches, a plant or two, a shelf of books. It calms me. Or it would, if there weren’t two huge, otter-shaped patches of exposed drywall greeting me every time I sit at my desk.
In a frenzy of home organization brought about by too many hours scrolling through DesignerGram (the home design corner of IG), I ripped a stick-on bulletin board off the wall — and, subsequently, a chunk of the wall itself. After some halfhearted attempts to repair it, I shrugged and moved on. Now, every time I glimpse the exposed drywall, I think, “Hm. Should get to that someday.” It would be one thing if this haphazard wall situation was an anomaly. In reality, my whole home is kind of falling apart.
There’s the front door handle that jiggles precariously in my hand every time I open the door. And the screen with a hole in it. And the kitchen window that flies up with the gusto of a mansplainer during a corporate retreat. Frequently, when we’re outside, I see bunnies darting from under our deck with such piquant ease that I think there’s a good likelihood they’ve colonized our backyard. So what I mean to say is that there are dozens of small, annoying things in our home that seem to be broken — or at least half-working. And I’m in no rush to fix them.
After all, many of the spaces we see online and in glossy magazines are perfect because they are painstakingly created to reflect a specific image. These idealized images are crafted purposefully. As many Instagram creators acknowledge, the life outside the frame often includes Cheerios on the floor, closets overflowing with winter coats and board games, and rooms that are anything but finished. Having worked in design media, I also understand the vast amount of effort and, sometimes, money that can go into a curated photo. I can appreciate the artistry of a social media masterpiece — but I don’t necessarily aspire to it anymore IRL. After all, like most fictions, Insta-worthy spaces tell only part of the story.
Growing up, my home was no Home & Garden wonder. It was hopelessly cluttered from generations of immigrant hoarding, often dusty, and piled with random things that didn’t work (answering machines from the 80s, dishwashers, electric tea kettles). But I was happy there, despite that. Or maybe because of it. Truth be told, we were not a home improvement family; if anything, we were a home deterioration family. We used our home, and we broke things in it, often coping with the inconvenience for a few months until we gathered enough money for repairs or replacements. I didn’t know any differently back then. A home, to me, is meant to be in a state of flux.
I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, about a house that is literally crumbling around the inhabitants. I’m talking about exposed gaps in the brick, through which icicles form in winter. This, of course, mirrors the family’s own dysfunction and inevitable uncleaving. After I finished the last page, I considered the weird, broken things in my home with apprehension and a bit of a hypochondriac’s sense of foreboding. Does that ancient watermark mean that our ceiling is going to cave in? I hear scrabbling in the walls, along with a tiny yet audible squeak. Is this the night my face will get eaten by squirrels?
The truth is, I don’t often notice these small annoyances, unless we have guests over (or unless I’m reading some mildly dystopian domestic drama). After a while, they become part of the wallpaper, so to speak. I know I could spend a few hours at a hardware store one weekend (literally, a waking nightmare for an un-handy person like me) and resolve most of these woes. But what I prefer to do if we have time to ourselves, without school or work or family obligations, is to actually bask in the luxury of unfettered freedom.
I could spend a few hours on the phone with a screen replacement company … or I could get out the ice cream sandwiches and draw chalk rainbows with my kid. I could replace the handle to the cabinet above the washing machine that swings like a pendulum every time you look at it the wrong way. Or I could take a really long bath while propping up my laptop to watch the new season of Selling Sunset. To some, these choices are trivial, or even irresponsible. But to me, they are the small decisions that help pivot my overanxious mind away from all the things that are flawed in my home, to the things that are actually perfect to me — my family and our love for each other.
What I’m saying is that so many of us live in imperfect spaces. And we don’t just survive in them — we thrive. Some of us are lucky that the broken things in our home are relatively minor, if annoying to a perfectionist’s eye. And even though we could fix all the little things (there are just so many), sometimes we don’t. Life is composed of thousands of daily, minor exchanges. This for that. Time borrowed from DIY repairs means an influx of time for hobbies and dinner parties and long speculations on the bunnies that are definitely, definitely taking over the backyard. And I feel confident that I’ve come out winning on those particular exchanges.
Of course, when big things are broken, like the air conditioning, or the washing machine, we address them. (By which we mean that we pay other people to address them, because, as I said —I’m not handy.) But the little stuff? I’ll let it fly for now. Maybe eventually I’ll get out my spackle and hunt up the old can of peachy-pink paint from the basement crawl space. But for today, I’ll open that kitchen window with the broken spring and breathe in the fresh air. For all our domestic faults, one thing my family does inarguably well is the act of living in our home. After all, what is it they say? Home is where the broken shit is.
Thao Thai is a writer and editor based out of Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her work has been published in Kitchn, Eater, Cubby, The Everymom, cupcakes and cashmere, and other publications. Her debut novel, Banyan Moon, comes out in 2023 from HarperCollins.