What we were talking about is how quickly houses fall apart when no one is in them. See: Oldest House, which was bank-owned before we got it.

And I said that, as much people need houses, houses need people. If houses were living, we would see it as a symbiotic relationship.

And he was like, uh huh. And then he went back to what we were really talking about, which was: floors. And he (as in, the floor refinisher) told me what I now know to be true, because I have done my research on wear layers and sanding depths, which is, of course you can save these floors. It’s just a question of how much work you want to put into it and how much money you want to spend.

In case you are wondering, my answer to both is always “as little as possible.” But the houses are always like, “tons of it!” and “all of it!” Which is why, sometimes, this relationship is less symbiotic and more parasitic.

These time-eaten, painted boards of Oldest House are a quandary. Oh, the rabbit hole of research I’ve gone down. In case you were wondering: if you want to get the paint off, sanding probably isn’t wise, in case the paint has lead, which means chemical strippers or heat methods, and all of the variations of each. Then there is the question of how to prep the floors after stripping for finish and what finish to use. If you want to paint, you better think through which color you want (and do not—do not—start researching how the north/south/east/west sun exposure impacts particular shades of white, because you might not be seen for days) and how to best prep the floors and what type of paint will work best on this particular substrate, because pine moves and many durable floor finishes don’t (did you know you can still get linseed oil paint, which is both amazing and expensive?). And if you are going to put new wood floors down over old wood floors, well, what direction? Perpendicular to old boards means parallel to joists, which is usually a no-no, and then there’s the possibility of laying down another plywood subfloor first, which raises all sorts of door/height issues, and then there is the question of whether you’ve chosen the best profile for your wood (shiplap, tongue and groove, square cut) and given that profile and the floor you are going over, whether you should screw down or face nail and if so, how often?

So I talked to another guy who knows floors, and explained my conundrum—the three options of stripping paint and refinishing, or just painting, or putting new floors down. And he said, well, I guess if I was you I’d start with the least permanent thing and give it a go till I gave up and went on to the next thing.

I’ve learned this lesson before. After my undergraduate degree I spent six years wondering whether I should go to graduate school in psychology, finally decided to do it, and then on day one of statistics class realized that what I’d really done was spend six years forgetting how much I hate statistics and how much that is part of psychology. So I quit. And finally shaken free of psychology, a few weeks later I applied to a creative writing program on a whim, which was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I may or may not be saying that because creative writing doesn’t involve statistics at all.

I’m glad Oldest House is reminding me: that messy action can trump introspection. That there are times when failing is necessary, a way of earning the right to move forward. I guess if I was you I’d start with the least permanent thing and give it a go till I gave up and went on to the next thing. So here we are at the start of it. Let’s see what happens.

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