Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
When my husband and I were house hunting 16 years ago, we visited a house that was so cluttered, even the staircase was lined with tzotchkes (Yiddish for knick-knacks or trinkets). I couldn’t wait to get out. Then we visited a house that felt inviting, complete with the warmth of toys, art and family photos. We felt so lucky to make it our home.
We gradually made it our own, decorating and renovating over the years. We don’t have fancy furniture; our home is warmed by treasured books, art, family photos and ritual objects. I never tired of hearing people say, “You have such a nice home” when they entered our house.
That’s why it was an uncomfortable jolt when we put our house on the market and began the process of “staging” our home. My son, stunned to hear that we were instructed to de-clutter, exclaimed, “But Imma (Hebrew for Mom), you are the quintessential anti-clutter person!” This was different. Upon realtor’s advice, we removed much of the furniture, art and photos that made it feel like home. After costly cosmetic updates, the countertops were cleared, and we began the daily routine of perfectly arranging coffee table items and bedding, refolding towels and arranging pillows to make each room “beautiful.” My son remarked, “It looks so sterile.” Indeed. In the effort to present a “perfect” image so that potential buyers could imagine making it their own, our house was no longer our home.
Our dedicated and skilled realtor guided us through the process, as well we needed it, and we are very grateful. But we couldn’t wait for the experience to end.
Reflecting on this with a realtor-friend, she attributed the emphasis on staging to the popularity of HGTV. Constant images of gorgeous renovations and “perfect” homes create outsized expectations.
Selling a house isn’t what it used to be, but this isn’t only about houses. In many ways, our culture drives us toward the elusive standard of “perfection.” It is soul damaging. If we embraced our own imperfections, we’d be more accepting of difference, and less divided as a people, a nation and a world. The drive to appear “perfect” blinds us to the abundant blessings all around us. Our imperfections are part of our beauty. We would be a healthier society if we embraced them.
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We’re quick to say it, but less ready to do it. If we bless life’s messiness as sacred, we can nourish our souls with true beauty. A teaching of our sages advises:
Rabbi Meir used to say: “Look not on the flask but on what is in it; there may be a new flask that is full of old wine and an old flask that has not even new wine in it.” (Pirke Avot 4:27)