My mahster baathroom

When we bought our first house in Pasadena, one of my massage clients at the time said "Congratulations!" and then, without missing a beat, "Tell me all about the master bathroom!"  Actually what she said was "mahster baathroom" with a slight British accent which was totally ridiculous as she had never traveled outside of California. (Say what you want about Madonna and her accent but at least she actually lives in England.)  While I was used to my client's fake accent and her chummy way of asking about my life, I was stunned by her basic assumption.  For, you see, our new house was quirky and lovely and sunny and perfect and.... TINY, with one weensy bathroom that could not rightly be called the master anything.

We loved that house, including its tiny bathroom.   But when we later planned to move here to Virginia, with two children and a dog, we had lived through several rounds of houseguests - and stomach bugs - so knew we wanted at least two bathrooms.  Buying our current house from far away was challenging;  I spent many, many hours squinting at real estate photos on my computer screen trying to figure out how a certain room really looked, how it would feel to walk through the space and make it our own.

Our new home was clearly right for us from the beginning.  We were looking for something bigger than our old house but not too big, close enough to town to walk easily but on a quiet street, preferably a cul de sac.  We found it and snatched it up and didn't really think too much about why the seller didn't post photos of the master bathroom.  We knew it existed, we just didn't have photos of it.

I was tempted to call my old client and crow, "I have a mahster baathroom now!"  But then I would have had to actually pick up a telephone and we all know that's just a crazy thing to do unless a gun is pointed to your head.

What we discovered was that our new mahster baathroom hadn't been touched in the 30+ years since the house was built.  Luckily, it was built with the cheapest contractor grade materials which were starting to disintegrate!  The toilet rarely flushed properly, the tiles were crumbling in spots, the sinks and shower head and tub were all bizarrely - uncomfortably - low to the ground as if they knew we would be bringing in two little ankle-biters who would rule our lives.

We began fantasizing about remodeling the bathroom from the moment we moved in.

We started the actual process a year later with budgets and savings accounts and architect-designer friends and many, many bathroom magazines.  The actual, honest-to-goodness remodeling began last week.

Here is our bathroom a week ago, Monday 8 am, right before a sledgehammer smashed its beige blahness to smithereens.

And here's where this post starts to go off the rails.  Because, you see, when I look at these photos, I see a perfectly functional bathroom.  Boring and blah but basically functional (mostly) and all the little crumbly issues could be dealt with in spots and we had gotten used to stooping over the sinks and under the shower head and not bothering ever to take a bath because the water only covered the back 1/4 of our bodies.

If we had just accepted it as it was, then all this money we are spending to make it nice and modern and fulfilling of every capitalist middle class fantasy would be free to donate to someone without a job and a comfortable house, someone without any bathroom, master or not. 

I have been haunted by this post by Catherine Newman which I read right after the new year, ie.  right after we had signed the contract to actually start remodeling our bathroom.  
 "We stretch to give, and I hope you do too. There are some good resources at the end of that piece about how to find organizations to give to, although we give everything we give to Partners in Health, and I feel good about that choice. And every year, it comes down to the same question: build a mud room, or give it away. And every year I think that people need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need a better place to keep our boots. 
I'm all about "tax the rich," "eat the rich," and occupy everything. You know my politics. But with respect to the developing world, upon whose backs we have amassed much of our nation's wealth, we are the 1%. Even if, yes, you trip over a lot of shoes and coats and backpacks when you walk directly into our dirty kitchen from the muddy outdoors."
After I read that post, I couldn't get it out of my mind: People need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need - a new master bathroom.  When it's stated like that, how can you ever purchase anything "extra" for yourself ever again?

I can't help it, I am trembling with guilt over our master bath remodel.  Which is ridiculous, I know.  Is there anything less tragic than middle class, liberal, privileged guilt over their freaking bathroom remodel?  Perhaps a long winded blog post about a master bath remodel?  Jeezus.

I really have one of two options as a reasonable adult:  I can insist we forgo the new modern bathroom and give the money to reputable charities or I can enjoy the remodel, grateful for my good fortune, and accept the reality that I am enjoying a luxury that few in the world can afford. 

I seem unable to choose either of these options.

I'm remembering this post too, which I found last year on (in)significant detail, by mimismartypants.
"My brain does a serious push-pull when it comes to larger questions of how to be in the world.  Specifically, stuff.  There are things I want.  I want a remodeled kitchen, with an extremely kick-ass stove.  I want to put a skylight in our stairway.  I want to make over the upstairs bathroom with an extremely expensive shower.  I want lots of new shoes, an upgraded iPhone, new pots and pans, an Xbox with Kinect (embarrassing, but true), a few sessions of personal training.  I want a long interesting vacation to a foreign country.

Then I start to freak out about the cost.  And not just the cost as in our personal budget, but about whether remodeling the bathroom or buying an Xbox is more or less the same as kicking a poor person in the face.  There are people in the world who will watch their children die of hunger, and I am thinking about dropping fifty bucks on an All-Clad saucepan?  Really?

And sure, I could send fifty bucks to a hunger relief agency, and I do that periodically, although the charity budget has to be split several ways because everything matters!

It does not change the fact that I still want the saucepan."

This is the rub:  I could have insisted we not remodel, given the money to charity.  But it would not have changed the fact that I still want the saucepan.

What do you all do, if and when you have extra money?  Does it go into home improvements of the practical or enjoyable kind?  Does it go into long term saving?  Does it go to help people who have so much less than we do?


kate said...

It's kind of a specious argument though, because "extra" can be defined in so many ways. Is having cable really worth someone letting their child die from hunger? How about a car? Can you get by without a car, take public transportation and donate that money to charity? Where is the line between what you need and what you want?

My personal philosophy is to dedicate a certain amount of money to charity and to increase that amount of money as I make more, etc. And then I spend my not-charity funds in various ways, which could include a bathroom remodel or a vacation. If I get my hands on extra money, it could go either way, depending on what moves me, but I don't really feel guilty about spending money on myself.

Sarah said...

Oh, that post got to me too! It was an untimely read as well: we had just taken out a large sum from our savings to finally do this add-on (including a maahster baathroom!) that we've been talking about for five years and finally feel we actually need (I know, I know "need"!) rather than just want.
It is hard. It is icky, to look at pictures of dying children and then plunk down thousands of dollars for more square footage and an extra deep tub.
On the other hand, as kate mentions, where do you draw the line? Is having a second car ridiculous? Private school? Eating out, ever? What are and are not justifiable expenditures compared to the poverty faced by others at home and abroad?
I don't know. I just know that I feel strongly enough about wanting an extra bedroom and bathroom for our little family (especially as I'm still in the thick of this, the week of the chain reaction stomach flu!) that I can live with the guilt, I guess.

Stephanie said...

Would you believe that JUST TODAY I contacted the first of manymanymany contractors who will be working on the garage demo/rebuild/mudroom/entry project we've been hoping to do? So the timing on this post is canny.

Here's what we do: certain percentage of net income to charity every year, and we're increasing the percentage a point per year, too. I'm not saying that's "right" or "enough," but I think part of the solution is having A Plan, like, here's how much we feel we should spend on mortgage, travel, savings, charity, etc. and sticking to it. The amounts, of course, can always change.

That reference to Partners in Health, though - I read the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which is all about the man who founded that organization, and I tell you, for weeks after, I thought, What am I even DOING with my life besides driving around suburbia in my expensive jeans? So I get this. I really, really do.

d e v a n said...

Oh, that could be said of so many things in life though...
I can't remember the last time we had "extra" money but we could certainly do a little better at giving to those less fortunate.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

kate- First of all, I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to look up "specious" because I'm never sure of the exact definition. So. There's another strike against me!
I like your philosophy and I wish I could easily embrace it.
Sarah- Oh! I've missed your remodel! Have you posted about it? Must go check out your blog!
Stephanie- This is our problem: we don't have A Plan. We give money in spastic bursts, based on being moved by a specific plight or political issue and holidays/birthdays always bring a spasm of giving. WE NEED A PLAN. CLEARLY. Also? Please post about your remodel!
d e v a n- Let's both start A Plan!

kate said...

To be clear - I didn't mean YOUR argument was specious. I hope I didn't offend you. I just meant that it's not exactly a question of deciding between yourself and other people.

I struggle myself with trying to reign in materialistic tendencies - not only in myself, but also in my kids.

Kathi said...

Find comfort in the fact that you are providing a team of people with a job and helping their suppliers pay their employees. In this economy that is a good thing. Can't wait to see the pictures when it is all done!

scattered everywhere said...

I agree that having a plan is a good idea. I can't remember who I heard this from, but someone I know would make a list of all the charities they liked. And every year, they would pick who they would donate to, and that was pretty much it for the year. I'm sure there were valid and worthy organizations that arose after the big decision was made, and I'm sure some exceptions could be made in those cases as finances allow. But anytime they received calls from other agencies asking for donations, the answer was easy. "We've already decided on our philanthropic donations for the year, but if you send some information, I'd be glad to consider you for next year." We get an annoyingly large amount of those calls and I've used that response. It works well and stops them dead in their tracks. ;-) But I digress.

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to upgrade your bathroom. If you are feeling such guilt over it though, then choose nice but modest materials so it's an improvement over what was there but not over the top. And donate the rest of your budget to the charity of your choice. Win- win!

Shannon said...

I so relate to your struggles with this. I finally had to make peace with the fact that I will always feel guilty when I compare myself to the millions of others in the world who have so little. At one point it left me so completely paralize that I was utterly useless to anyone, so I decided that it was better to do what I could and still live my life (and it is a pretty modest life raising two kids on one income) in relative comfort so that I was still useful. I give an annual donation to an international aid organization as well as a small donation to several local women's and children's charities and offer a kind but firm, "I have already donated to my chosen charities but all the best to you in your efforts". It may not be enough to save the world, but in relative terms, I feel like I am doing my little bit financially, and will invest myself more fully (with my time) as soon as I have some time to give. I realized that for myself, trying to solve all the suffering I saw around me was impossible and debilitatingly depressing, so if I can help one, two, or even three people have a better life in some way, then my existence will have made some positive difference. I know it's not enough, but it's something.
ON another note... just want to share with you my latest discovery, in case you haven't found her yet: Glennon Melton's Huffington post article "Don't Carpe Diem" and her other article called "Friendly fire." They made me think of you. Her blog is called Momastery and is amazing. Another sensitive, kindred spirit sharing herself with the world.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

kate- You didn't offend me! I just think I didn't do a good job summarizing the content of Catherine Newman's piece.
Kathi- I do think it's a good thing to not be hoarding any "extra" money. We should be investing it for the future, donating it or spending it to support the local economy. And yes, I will post pictures when (IF EVER) it is done!
Shannon- Thank you for your reasonable perspective on this post AND for the idea that Glennon's posts made you think of me. Her writing is so lovely, I take that as a huge compliment!

Gina said...

I've thought about this issue a lot but have neither firm conclusions nor a plan. As Kate said, our middle class/upper middle class American life is so wealthy compared to the way that most other people live. But, quite frankly, the problems of poverty will NEVER be solved by philanthropy. For example, there is plenty of food for everyone on this planet to eat (and then some) but it is distributed inequitably by a corrupt system. No amount of donated money will change that.

We donate sporadically to charity - both in time and in money and talk with the kids about it, but to be honest it is not a significant part of our budget. In this economy we don't feel that any of our money is truly "extra". And I refuse to feel guilty for wanting the best for my children. That's what any parent the world over wants.

I honestly think that we can help the world just as much by being politically active, helping to build support structures in our own community, and living a more simple life. At our house the debate usually centers what we can eliminate buying/using that might exploit people and the environment rather than what money we can donate.

And a bit off topic, but I love you a little bit for saying "But then I would have had to actually pick up a telephone and we all know that's just a crazy thing to do unless a gun is pointed to your head." I feel exactly the same way - which is why I currently have 11 unheard voicemails on my phone.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Gina- Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! It's given me a lot to think about and I agree with a lot of it. Philanthropy alone will not change it (though might some philanthropy be working toward permanent structure change?). I also think that we as a family can focus more on how we chose to live and how it affects others locally and globally.

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