Style Over Substance?

“You have to know that your real home is within.”
— Quincy Jones
One of my favorite ways to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon is curled up on the couch with the real estate section. I love to scan the ads and let images of the listings take shape in my mind.

If the description is even halfway decent, the visions I conjure up are beautiful. So much so, that every once in while, I’ll have to go check one out. But when I do, I’m almost always disappointed. Lovely labels like “quaint and charming” often translate into “small and tacky,” “fixer-upper” usually means “total disaster,” “well loved” means “worn out,” and “truly unique” means there’s literally one person in the world who would like it — and you’re probably not the one.

But once in a while, there’s a place that not only lives up to its ad, it far exceeds expectations — like the one with the open house that I couldn’t resist.

The minute I pulled up, all my skepticism vanished. It was like something out of a fairy tale. Birds chirped on the porch, sunlight danced off the pond out back and poured into the house through every window. It was being sold partly furnished, and there wasn’t one chair, shelf, or lamp that you’d want to replace. It seemed perfect. So, why the quick-sale price? In fact, why sell at any price?

Turns out it was a fire sale. A married couple took years to build it, but as the building went up, the marriage burned down. According to the realtor, both had come to see the place as a monument for their misery, so they wanted to get rid of it and get on with their separate lives.

Life is often like that house — the façade doesn’t reflect the story behind it. In other words, pretty on the outside, messed up on the inside. Given we’re a culture that increasingly emphasizes style over substance and celebrity status over community service, it’s no wonder we’ve lost our way a bit. We tend to worry more about what people will think of our clothes than our character. We expend more energy working out our bodies at the gym than we do working on our values and priorities; deciding who we want to be; what we believe in; and what we want our lives, our words, and actions to mean. In short, we spend more time furnishing our houses than our souls.

The good news is: It’s easy to change that. The great musician Quincy Jones has a beautiful house, but he has spent much of his life away from it, on the road.

A house, car, boat, suit, or job may or may not live up to its description. Who cares? The question is, What would an ad describing you say? Are you who you want to be? Is your inner life as well tended as your outer façade? “Your real home is within,” Jones reminds us. Furnish it with love and care.