So, not all of the things my 40 year old self would tell my much younger self are life-changing, epiphanic wisdom bombs. But if I'm older than you and you're reading this or, no matter your age, if you're planning on getting married and/or starting a new life with someone,
let me share this one very essential little nugget with you that no one shared with me:
Back in the year 2000 I was in love and newly engaged and excitedly hit the stores with a very unenthused- to-be-registering, minimalist fiancé to scan gun the daylights out of home essentials for our wedding registry. Weddings have changed a lot since Y2K and honestly, for the better.
I salute you, barn wedding having, non-tux renting, cooler people with digital wedding albums. None of that was around back then so we had it all: the over posed non-digital photos, the red rose bouquets instead of a handful of wheat and artichokes, audrey hepburn gloves for inexplicable reasons, the formal attire and unity candle, yada yada. I wouldn't change any of it because it was beautiful day, we were surrounded by friends and family, I married THE ONE and everything about it screams the era in which we were married (which will give our boys something to tease us about for decades to come). I mean, at 5 ft. tall maybe I could have worn a little puffier dress and veil? Ok, maybe I'd change that....
If I had that scan gun (or mouse) in my hand today, I'd scan much differently. So please, younger and/or soon to be married friends, learn from our mistakes. Since it's Spring, and wedding bells are in the air, and both my sister and sister-in-law are booked solid through the end of summer, please take note of point 2 on my list of 40 things I've learned at 40:
2. REGISTER FOR NEUTRAL TOWELS (and plates, while you're at it)
I don't care if your bathroom pinterest board is chevron, charcoal and jadeite...I'm telling ya, think of the future you, in your bathroom and don't fall for the classic blunder. I thought we nailed it with our sage and salmon selections circa early 2000's combo (see our linen cabinet photo above) and now, as I fold those blasted sage and salmon towels weekly (or pick them up off the floor because my sons are immune to hanging them up after showering) I want to go back in time and scan my own eyeballs. The towels are nice. They're good quality. They've held up for almost 15 years so we have a hard time justifying replacing them. But they're so so dumb.
Pretend like you're dressing for a safari and then choose towels in the shade of the pants you'd wear on said safari. A nice pale camel color. A subtle linen gray. Imagine a honey caramel Indiana Jones hat and scan THOSE towels. And let me tell you something: don't fall for stark white no matter how awesome they look next to white subway tile in the west elm catalog: you'll think you can bleach them but they'll only fade to a sad yellow with mascara stains and Lord knows what else in a few years. Go click on that killer egyptian cotton, non-attention drawing, thick, absorbent neutrally shaded towel and enjoy it for years to come in every bathroom, through every trend, in the laundry basket, on the floor, next to every shower curtain. Trust me. This is a mountain I'll die on.
Emily Henderson, as always, has good advice on this as well. For years engaged couples have had hopes of people just giving them honeymoon funds. Or gift cards. But most people want to leave that stuff up to you and want to possibly give you something you can enjoy for years to come- something wedding gifty. And if you don't point them in a general direction then inevitably they will give you crystal. The kind of crystal you never wanted, like heart shaped crystal wedding frames or obviously re-gifted lavender colored pillar candles. Even if you register they're still going to give you those things (or at least they did in 2001) but you might actually score a few killer bath towels that you'll have to look at for a long time and might still like.
CREATE A CANVAS RATHER THAN MAKE A BIG STATEMENT
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if people are going to spend money on you, the things you'll still love, keep, use and appreciate will most likely be the very classic, basic things you chose. My now husband was so disinterested by the wedding registry process he proceeded to scan every wall clock he could find (none of which we still have or still work) and our first condo looked like we were running a clock shop after our wedding- even in the half bath, we knew what time it was. We registered for most things at Target and a few things from a nice store (Crate & Barrel) that we worried, back in the days when people didn't really shop online, most people would not be able to access. And while we were so appreciative of people throwing us showers and giving us gifts we became a little overwhelmed in all that registering and ended up with choosing a lot of quantity over quality. A lot of wall clocks and who knows whats. You can actually tell a lot about a couple by their registry. He loves keeping time, I love salmon and sage apparently.
GUESS WHICH THINGS WE STILL HAVE?
When I reach in our cabinet for our set of champagne flutes from Crate & Barrel that our good friends and co-workers Amy & Norma gave us, I think of them and toast to them and their thoughtfulness and friendship. From the photo you can tell a few fell victim to our over exuberant toasting. When we serve dinner nightly to our family on the very basic white diner style plates, also from Crate & Barrel, that my wise college roommate Amber urged me to select (she also helped me choose the puffy dress, but ya win some ya lose some) I can imagine us continuing to share meals on them (with all the chips and scratches) for life. Instead of scanning so many wall clocks and getting carried away in the towel department, making a super basic but long haul kind of list would have served us much better. So what if we had to flip burgers with a fork and didn't get 4 spatulas....one full nice set of 8 million thread count sheets would rock. Quality over quantity. Basic over bold in the beginning. Foundations.
But really, this is about much more than wedding bell paper wrapped gifts and cabinet filling and wedding planning. Everything is spiritual. As Rob likes to say "This isn't always about this". Your home, no matter how humble, out of style or hip, rented or owned, is sacred. And you are beginning to create a sacred space...TOGETHER.
MY MOTHER IN LAW'S HOUSE IS COMPLETELY STARK WHITE Not just white person white, yes, that, but I mean like white carpet, white sofas, white walls- white everything, white. The first time she poured me a glass of cabernet there I was afraid to drink it inside. But the reason she loves the snowy color palette is that each season she adds a different accent color to the house. A springy set of throw pillows and flowers in April, kelly green taper candles on her fireplace and coordinating hand knitted blankets over the backs of chairs and sofas to match in the winter. Yes, she's Martha Stewart, not intimidating at all. (She's also one of the top selling realtors in Charlotte so she knows a thing or two about making a home more inviting). What I found very shockingly stark the first time I saw it I now view as pretty genius because it allows her to reinvent her space, express herself and make it new and exciting throughout the year. Although I'm still afraid to sip vino in her living room I love the versatility and variety the environment she has created offers....
THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF MARRIAGE CAN FEEL VANILLA And guess, what? That's ok. You're most likely doing something really right if it does... It can feel like all power bills and grocery lists and toothpaste tube debates. Perhaps it even feels a little sterile and nothing like you both imagined. But with every argument you work through and every counseling session you make the effort to attend together you are stretching and sweating to build that blank canvas. You can do this. And at only 14 years of marriage we are learning that the most romantic, most heart stopping and amazing moments haven't been found in our wedding album, exotic vacations or times when anyone was around to capture them.... they were on a Thursday, in our first year of marriage, when I spent the night on the bathroom floor because my birth control pills sent me there and awoke in the morning to find Scott had brought in pillows and spent the night there with me. Or on a hot summer's Michigan evening when we laughed (and almost cried) ourselves to sleep on a mattress in the basement of an old fixer upper that needed so much work we couldn't even live in it for months and wondered together what on earth we had gotten ourselves into as we stared at the spiderwebby floorboards and water pipes above our heads. Or one early morning over coffee when we heard our younger son with a speech delay actually say a few words strung together that made sense. No one else was there. There are no photographs of that moment. And we welled up with tears and raised our coffee mugs in a toast. And that toast wouldn't have happened without the basement dwelling and bathroom floor sleeping. It's incremental. It's bland before bold. It's a slow, slow burn, baby. I think if we spent more time on canvas construction than statement making in the early years more marriages would survive...
I'll leave you with this, one of Jack Handey's deep thoughts:
If you ever teach a yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep the students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we BUILD to that.
Stretch that canvas and embrace it's vanilla-ness. For the love of all things, don't register for bold colored/print towels. And take your sweet time before you try to yodel. This is what I shall write in every wedding card from henceforth.
Now, who wants to trade some sage and salmon Target bath towels for some caramel colored fluffy ones?