The little chair sits in the corner the the nursery. It is upholstered in bright orange. And I love it fiercely. I love sitting in it. I love snuggling my baby girl enveloped in its faded yet cheery texture. I love this tiny room in this smallish house filled with my people, all six of them.
Two years ago, before the orange chair entered my life, the contents of my life fit in an old white Ford Explorer. Five years before that, the contents of my life fit in our trusty black Hyundai minivan. We sold nearly everything we owned to move our family of (then) five overseas. It felt like freedom. We were setting off on the adventure of a lifetime, not for a second doubting that we’d find everything we needed when our feet hit the ground in our new home in a new country. I wasn’t sure what our living space would look like, but I was up for the challenge of creating a new version of home for our family of small children.
Then, we unexpectedly found ourselves back in America, homeless and jobless, with three slightly older kids who didn’t even remember what our life here used to look like. This time, I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge of creating a new version of home. I definitely was not up for recreating what our physical space had once looked like. It all seemed so exhausting.
I got married young. At twenty-three, one semester into grad school, I had no idea who I was, what I wanted in a home, or what my style looked like. I spent about zero time wrestling through our needs vs. wants or how our home could express our values. I never once considered how our physical space and the stuff of it would shape my one-day kids. I did what I thought I was supposed to do and picked up that heavy-duty gift registry scanner at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, empowered to ride a cultural wave of thoughtless materialism and desire for a home full of pretty new things. Over the years, I started paying more attention to what we brought into our home. I noticed the tension all the things created in me and as I sought to be a good steward of the resources in my care. I paid attention to how much time it took to care for more house than we actually needed. When our lives shifted continents, I was relieved to let it all go. To be free of the house and the stuff and the constant pressure to have more and better.
Back on American soil once more, I faced another do-over in creating our family’s physical space. There isn’t a cultural precedent for creating gift registries for major life transitions; white-knuckling that registry scanner and letting it lead me trancelike down the colorful aisles of Target wasn’t an option this time. Feeling not a little overwhelmed at basically starting from scratch and more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t even know what shiplap was, I sought refuge at an unassuming thrift store. That’s where I stumbled upon the old orange chair. It was love at first sight. I had never been an orange person, but something about that warm hue combined with the texture of the upholstery captivated my imagination. I wondered what kinds of stories this chair could tell, what kind of people once belonged to it. Then I pictured myself sitting in the orange chair, snuggled under a blanket, book in hand, one of the kids sprawling on a rug at my feet. That $8 chair rattled something free inside me. It got me dreaming again, even a little excited. With my mind and heart engaged, I began to visualize what our family needed to make this new space a place of belonging and becoming, a place that would reflect our family values.
Inspired by the orange chair, I found myself drawn to the smallish, the cozy, items that had a story before they found their way into my family’s story, hand-me-downs, and family treasures. Choosing to fill our home with the orange chair and other castoffs affirmed our faith in redemption, declaring to my kids that there is beauty in the discarded and value in the forgotten. As I began collecting the things of life in a way sparked by the orange chair, I recognized that we were set up perfectly to try on minimalism and say no to the accumulation mind-set that had characterized our physical space abroad. In that season, we battled fear of getting rid of things that we’d never be able to replace locally. This time, we stumbled into simplicity accidentally and are staying by intention.
As the orange chair passed the threshold, urgency to unpack quickly consumed me, as if filling dresser drawers with our few items of clothing was a declaration of rootedness to this new space. We claimed it as our own, our family’s space of belonging and becoming. We filled it with orange chairs, faded quilts, used books, blanket forts, a hammock in the bedroom and Legos in the attic. We filled it with laughter, meals at the table, and many beautiful messes.