When it was time for my siblings and me to prepare to sell the home my family had moved into when I was 12, I was given the task of overseeing an assessment of its furnishings, collections, and artwork. I met with an appraiser, and the two of us walked through the home, clipboard and pen in hand, ogling every painting, the antique hutch, Grandmother’s sterling silver pieces, the ancient ship’s lanterns — you name it.
A week or so later, I received a report with the estimated value of each item. True to what we’d expected, one piece stood out from the rest: an oil painting by an American landscape painter who was born in New York City and eventually settled in Connecticut. He was known for his peaceful country scenes of classic barns, stone walls, and rolling hills.
That large painting, estimated to be worth well beyond the value of each of the rest of the items, had always been a favorite of mine — and each of my siblings, too.
Fast forward a few weeks and my family was gathered together, all of us sitting around my parents’ old dining table. I gave everyone a copy of the appraised items. I then wrote numbers on little pieces of paper, placed them in a hat, and asked each person to draw a number. Whoever chose No. 1 would be the first to select an item.
Just before we began plucking the scraps of paper out of the hat, a sad silence filled the room. I was contemplating the fact that we were about to dismantle the home we all loved so much — but, more importantly, it was the home our parents had created, adorning it with their beloved finds and bedecking it with items that would eventually create lifelong memories for us. Taking the house apart was like breaking up bits of our mom and dad. One of my younger brothers opened up the paper that had No. 1 written on it.
“Well,” he said, “this is rather awkward. I mean, of course I love
the painting, but its value is well above everything else on the list. It doesn’t seem fair that I should get it.” We all chimed in at once. “But, but, but … you must choose what you love and what means the most to you! That’s the rule!”
And then I told him, “There’s a reason why you chose No. 1 and get to go first; perhaps you love it more than we do.” We knew that if he took the painting we all loved surely as much as he did, it would be in great hands.
Although that oil painting was a favorite among all of us, I wanted to see a different, less valuable (monetary-wise) painting hanging in my home some day. My fingers were crossed, and I hoped that by the time it was my turn, a large watercolor by a Michigan artist would still be up for grabs. Sure enough, it was!
“I’ll take this!” I announced, standing up and turning to what hung on the wall right behind me. The original work of art features a farmhouse surrounded by an uneven stone wall, a barn, and a mailbox, all amid a somewhat stormy winter’s twilight. The mailbox has a fresh green wreath (the best part!) hanging around it, the house’s windows glow with cheerful light, and the little door to the mailbox is open. Inside sits a small, wrapped package.
The painting had hung in an open area near that big dining table between the kitchen and family room. Everything from boisterous card games to casual meals to mail-reading to current-event discussions to lively happy hours (and picking those numbers out of a hat!) happened right at that table, near the snowy watercolor. I feel lucky that the painting now hangs in my home. Its value? Priceless.
As for that round table, it, too, is in my possession, surrounded by chairs that are often filled with family and friends as we play a card game, read a magazine, sip on a cocktail, or have a good old-fashioned chat. The tradition continues! And the watercolor hanging nearby? Well, it just might end up in one of my sons’ homes some day. When Kermit sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” the famous frog wasn’t referencing the cost of solar panels. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of authors hoping to change the Muppet’s mind. With The Lazy Environmentalist, Josh Dorfman lays out a resource-heavy guide to greening your lifestyle, from travel to pet toys. Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 150 Square Feet by Gregory Johnson and Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon both address rethinking your needs and improving your life by scaling back. Reading these three books won’t make you Al Gore, but it might provide a path toward a lighter, more eco-friendly lifestyle.