Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Cottage Dreams (Why Not Now?)

Dear friends,

I have cottage dreams. There. I've said in public what I've been thinking in private and sharing with a few friends for quite some time: I want to live in a cozy little cottage some day.

It started several months ago with a vintage Emilie Loring novel, Where Beauty Dwells, that I brought home from my mother's house after she passed away last year. The main character is a young woman named Diane who lives in a New England cottage she inherited from her parents. The family had been wealthy but lost their fortune, and this is all Diane and her handicapped sister Merry have left after their parents' death. She's not only guarding this precious legacy with her life, but she's making the most of it with creative beauty and order while caring for her sister. 

Ever since I read Where Beauty Dwells, the country cottage life has appealed to me. Now I love to browse through magazines like Cottage Style and books like Karla Dornacher's Love in Every Room: The Heartbeat of the Home.

I've got my reasons for this fascination.

My house now
First, maybe it's because I live in a suburban ranch style home with the younger six of my 10 children, most of whom tend to be a bit messy. I am an aesthetic at heart, a very visual mama, but I tend to tolerate too much clutter. I get overwhelmed trying to get them to clean up after themselves, so I give up. My mantra is, "I will not curate your clutter," but I still do keep either trying to ignore it or shuffling their stuff around. I've always been a bit messy myself. I know that seems like a contradiction to my love for beauty, but that's my life. It didn't help that I spent the better part of 20 years either pregnant, nursing a baby, or both - and my homemaking habits suffered for it. Well, my youngest is nine already, and I don't have that excuse anymore. 

Now I may still have several years before I'm an empty nester and I do love all of my children dearly, but I keep telling myself, "Hang on, sweetie. Someday you'll be able to set something down and expect it to still be there when you come back, and you'll be able to clean a room and have it stay that way." I have visions of a tidy little cottage with everything in order. If it's small, maybe that means it will be more manageable for me and that I'll be more selective in my collection of stuff. Even now, when I'm thinking of buying something for the house, if I don't absolutely need it right now for raising my kids, it has to pass this simple test: "Will this fit in at my dream cottage?" Maybe I'll be able to focus more and live in sweet simplicity. Practically speaking, less space would also mean less money on utilities, property taxes, etc. Yes, a pretty little cottage would do quite nicely, I believe.

Another reason that cottage life appeals to me is that it seems so quaint and wholesome. I'm a bit nostalgic, and I love my inherited antiques and other vintage pretties like quilts, china, books, and lace doilies. I associate those more with cottages than my own house for some reason. I love flowers and trees, butterflies, and birds, so my cottage will need a sweet little garden with a white picket fence and just the right mix of sunlight and shade. I can see myself as an old lady, merrily puttering around, tending this and that, cutting fresh blossoms for the table, and sitting down for a cup of hot chocolate with family or friends.

The third appeal of cottage life is just the cozy factor. A cottage is small and intimate. I like quiet. I don't mind being in an enclosed space all by myself so I can either rewind or concentrate. I love the pretty rose colored rocker recliner in my bedroom, which I bought at Salvation Army. It's right next to my bookcases and my desk. I'm glad I have a lock on the door for when I want solitude or I have work to do. Yes, I do love people, too. I love hospitality. I love to teach and do public speaking. I can easily work a crowd of strangers. So I'm not shy. I just need to be by myself to recharge every day. Maybe that's a function of being a mother of 10? I think of the serenity of a cottage lifestyle. I like that.
So that's my cottage dream, but I don't want to wait 10 or 15 years until my last child moves out. I must think of ways I can weave the threads of my dreams into my life right now. It doesn't require owning a real country cottage. I can take the three reasons above and live out their essence in my current suburban ranch style home.

Let's take a look at them.

Tidy: I decided a couple of weeks ago that I can't count on my kids to keep the house as clean as I want it, even if they consistently do the chores on my chart. My youngest daughter loves to tidy up the public areas without being asked, but other than that, I can't wait on them to take the initiative. Even if they did, there are certain things I like to organize my own way. If it's gonna happen, I've got to make it so. I divvied up the main public rooms in the house as well as the master bedroom, put them in alphabetical order (bathroom, computer room, dining room, kitchen, living room, master bedroom - which by coincidence are the easily remembered initial sequences of BCD-KLM.) So each day, I go to that room and start organizing or deep cleaning. I may not get everything done, but at least attempt one chunk of it, like sorting the DVD shelf or spot cleaning the floor. I also try to make sure the kitchen is in halfway decent order every night - wiping down the counters, making sure all the food is put away, etc. I'm hoping I can keep up this momentum and resolve, because living in a tidy home is good for all of us right now, not just me in the future.

Pretty: I already have a lot of lovely things around the house, and for variety, I decorate for the seasons of autumn, Christmas, and spring/summer

The key to beauty, though, is keeping the house tidy (see above) and the garden weeded so I can truly appreciate the pretty stuff without the visual detraction of mess. I don't have to hold onto things that I don't love to look at or that don't serve a practical purposes. Big plastic bins are great for storing stuff out of sight, but in the more decorative areas of the home, I prefer beautiful baskets. They definitely fit my ideal cottage style.

One of mom's gardens
Outside, I try to keep my flower garden in good shape, not only because it brings me joy when I walk out my door, but also in honor of my mother, who was quite the green thumb. I always like to have a decorative flag outside, too, and fortunately I inherited a lot of them from her.

Cozy and Quiet: Our moderately large house is a given right now. We don't live in a mansion, but when our tenth child was born, we converted our garage into permanent living space, including a large fifth bedroom. With six kids still here, it's not feasible to downsize our living space just yet. 

However, the master bedroom can be the privacy-loving prototype of my cozy dream cottage. There I can surround myself with the things I lovethat are just mine: quilts, a needlepoint pillow, books, paintings, vintage photos, my own nature photography, stained glass, silk flower arrangements, crafts my kids have made, my desk with the wooden hutch, and my beloved computer. I can be more vigilant keeping my own space just the way I want it - especially if I can convince the kids to stop leaving their stuff in my territory. My bedroom can be my cozy and quiet "cottage" retreat for now.

So there we have it. Cottage dreams meet present reality.

What are you dreaming for the future?
What can you do now to make it happen?

Love in Every Home by Karla Dornacher

P.S. #1: I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I've just been enjoying my friend Amber's dreamy Facebook thread which started with a photo of a gorgeous ivy covered cottage. I pulled up a treasure trove of cottage photos on Google Images. Give it a try. But you may want to be sure you have some time on your hands to get lost in Cottage Land.  The photo at the top of this post is of a cottage at Hedgebrook, a retreat near Seattle for women who are writers. That's another dream, attending a writer's retreat in a place of beautiful solitude, but that'll have to wait until the kids are grown and gone, if I even have any travel money left by then!

P.S. #2: Related posts you might enjoy:

Beauty and Order at Home:

Room by room:

P.S. #3: Oh, it's well past midnight, and I've got to get my house ready for about 20 people coming for Thanksgiving in 36 hours! I guess I'm glad I don't have a cottage right now.

Love to you all!
Virginia Knowles


  1. This was great! The picture of the cottage is what attracted me to your post, and when I started reading, I thought, "Ooooh, is that her house?" Then I kept reading and realized that you have a few too many people too fit in that cozy cottage. Talk about cozy! That might be just a tad cozy, right? I got a kick out of your post. And love your attitude-why not cultivate coziness? I have to tell you, that after years of living for everyone else, once the kids moved out, Hubster and I bought a renovated bungalow and it's adorable! We love it! Your day will come, but until then, keep cultivating coziness! Visiting from Coffee and Conversation

    1. Thanks, Mary! I thought that cottage picture would be eye-catching!

  2. I loved the little cottage photo as well! A few weeks ago, I indulged a minor internet obsession by viewing abandoned castles & mansions. I'm not sure why they were so interesting to me, but later I found myself dwelling on the fact that every possession I have will eventually deteriorate into similar rubble. I use my imagination to enjoy my "little mansion" on earth, but I am really looking forward to the one Jesus is preparing for me. I have nine children, two teens still at home. Love & prayers, in Jesus, Cynthia

    1. Cynthia, you reminded me of another inspiration from about 20 years ago when I was reading Heidi to one of my daughters. She and her grandfather lived in a little mountain hut with barely anything, but such grandeur outside the door! My mantra then was, "Remember Heidi in her hut!" Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Lovely photo--thank-you for sharing your dream. I enjoyed the list of ways that you can make your home more like your dream right now. I am working at reducing clutter in a consistent way ( my husband and I tend to be collectors). It takes persistent effort!

  4. Yes, it does take effort, Carol! I think that was the crux of this post anyway - we can't always want what we have right now, but that doesn't mean we totally give up on the core essentials. There is always something we can do in the right direction. Thanks for your kind words!