As has become tradition, the last two weeks of the year I glance back at the 50 home columns I've written, pull one takeaway tidbit of from each month and re-share them here.
This year brought no shortage of material. In the first six months I moved into a new old home, met Martha Stewart, moved my parents into assisted living and learned how to make a home smell great.
Here are the lessons from the year's first half.
In January, after eight months of living in a state different from my husband, I realized the many advantages of having a man around. For instance, when the garage door gets stuck, the sink backs up, or a towel bar falls off the wall, I'm the guy.
Stephen Fanuka, host of DIY Network's Million Dollar Contractor, came to my rescue. “A lot of people think DIY is just for men,” he said. “So we have a little more muscle, but you women are cleaner, more organized and more efficient.” I felt empowered.
Lesson: Know builder lingo. for when you do need to hire help. “If you sound as if you might know what you're talking about, you'll save 20 percent,” Fanuka said.
In February, while touring the New American Home, a showcase for the National Association of Home Builders, I came away with a bad case of toilet envy.
Kohler has a toilet that features a wall-mounted LED pad that looks like an iPhone. With a finger tap you can auto-magically raise and lower the toilet lid without touching it, heat the seat and play music. Plus, this smart piece of plumbing sprays, dries and has adjustable flushing. In March, I moved into a 130-year-old home. My job was to stage this historic lakefront charmer for sale.
I called Amy Hughes, features editor for This Old House magazine for moral support.
“Just because you live in an old house, doesn't mean you have to live in a bygone era,” she said. “Technology evolves.”
In a few days, I moved old pieces out, keeping some, and moved transitional and contemporary furniture and art in.
Lesson: Putting new decor in an old space, or vintage pieces in a new space, creates the best of both worlds — timeless appeal.
In April, I met Martha Stewart. I asked her:
Q. What's your best advice for people who want to live well?
You have to be interested, curious and passionate. You have to work at it. You can't slough.
Lesson: The secret to living as beautifully as Martha Stewart is to step it up and care.
In May, I gave my slightly musty house a fragrance makeover. I called on fragrance expert Helen Feygin, owner of Intuiscent, a fragrance supplier in Middlesex, N.J., for help.
“People often overlook their homes' smells, because we adapt. We must be mindful that when others come in, what you no longer smell will seem strong to them,” Feygin said.
Lesson: Home fragrance comes in many forms: potpourri, spray mists, electric diffusers, reed diffusers, candles and aromatic salts. Choose carefully and don't be cheap. The best smells are blends (mandarin bergamot and citrus verbena) that smell like nature.
In June, my brother and I made the tough call to move our parents into assisted living.
As they both turned 90, their living situation grew rickety. Mom took a few spills and was becoming forgetful. Dad was losing weight. My brother eventually convinced them they would be much better off — safer, happier, healthier — in a home with some help.
Dad warmed to the idea of a social life, cooked meals and no yard to maintain. But six months later Mom still wants to “go home.”
Lesson: After talking to experts, I learned this difficult decision boils down to five criteria: Safety (they've had falls, injuries or driving mishaps), health (balance, memory or stamina is failing), hygiene and housekeeping have slipped, and they're eating poorly. The right choice and the easy choice are rarely the same.
Join me next week for 2012 lessons from the year's second half.
Marni Jameson is a syndicated columnist, author and speaker. Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.