One of the projects -- the many projects -- that owning a house has foisted upon me is getting rid of the wallpaper that all of the previous owners put up over the decades. My house is a 1940 Cape Cod, and though I don't know how many previous owners it had, they all seemed to be partial to wallpaper. That's not surprising; as my mother (herself a wallpaper fan) would say, "Wallpaper covers a multitude of sins."
Maybe so, though I think "sin" is strong word in this context. My house has imperfections in its plaster, which is to be expected. After all, it's a 70-year-old house, so why shouldn't it look its age? This is hardly a sin; it's just Life. My preference is for paint, which has three major benefits over wallpaper: 1) it's far cheaper, 2) it's far, far easier to put up, and 3) it's far, far easier to put up. Putting up wallpaper is so much of a job that it counts twice. I know people who would disagree with me on this point. I also know people who nearly got a divorce when they wallpapered their bathroom.
The owners from whom I bought the house ran to country decor, which I usually refer to as "Victorian floral cutesy sweetsy country darling precious," and they managed to capture all of that in their home design. THis was especially true of their wallpaper choices, which included lots of borders over wallpaper for a busy-ness that in some rooms made my eyes hurt. I expect that that the borders came from the Thomas Kinkade ("Painter of Kitsch') Collection and had names like "Victorian Violets Villa" or "Brambleberry Bracken."
Friends came over to start ripping the paper off the walls of my dining room and to drink beer. (One of the pleasures of tearing off wallpaper is that you can slightly buzzed when you do it because it doesn't really matter how it comes off, just as long as it does.) It took us a while to get the hang of taking off the paper, figuring out what the most efficient way to do it was. Robert brought a steamer, which is a cumbersome appliance that I'm unsure is worth owning. It's not as if it's good for any other purpose, though I would think that if you needed a deep cleansing facial, this baby just might be the ticket. I found on my own that the easiest way to pull off everything that would pull off, scrape off what I could after that, wet the wall a lot to the point of soaking, and then get the rest of it down to the plaster. Most of my paper has come off this low-tech way. I understand that my paper may be easier than most others, because this sounds too easy. In some cases, it's been very, very easy; the vinyl wallpaper in the kitchen ("Plumberry Baskets, Fruit Selection of Hope") pulled off in long sheets and the plaster was directly underneath. On the other hand, the dining room had five separate layers of wallpaper, and it took us the better part of the afternoon just to get to the last layer.
There is great pleasure when you work with other people on a project like this. Either saying "Many hands make light work" or "Misery loves company" appies equally well in this case. Even so, I've enjoyed taking off the wallpaper on my own in most of the rest of the house. Well, I ought to qualify that a bit. "Enjoy" is maybe too strong a word, but "tolerate" isn't entirely fair, either. I wouldn't say that stripping wallpaper is fun. I would say that once you get the hang of it, it's modestly engrossing work that thankfully doesn't demand a lot of you; you just do it, and it gets done. I've come to see it sort of as a Zen practice, though it won't be repeated as a Zen practice would. (Believe me, once it's off, wallpaper will never go up again.) It is pretty brainless, though to do it well, you have to pay some attention to what you're doing: scraping hard enough to get off stubborn bits of paper without breaking the plaster, soaking the wall enough to really get the paper off without drenching your feet in the process, getting a feel for how attached the initial layer of paper is and seeing if you can it all off in one fell swoop. It feels very Zen to me, too, in that though I've made considerable progress, I can't say that I ever feel as if I'm making any when I'm actually stripping. It goes relatively slow so that progress is incremental. I've been at this since the middle of June and the house is now maybe three quarters of the way finished. I do a little bit at a time, and over the course of the weeks, a lot has gotten done. When I finish a session of stripping, though, it's like I've done very little -- just a section of a wall, or the work around a pair of window, and I wonder where the afternoon went.
I would guess that a lot of home renovation is like this because a house is never a finished product; it's perpetually in a state of becoming. Once this project is done, then the painting will start, and I expect that I will do that in small increments as well. This is fine with me. It's a good reminder that we're all perpetually in a state of becoming, and it helps focus one's eye, as any good Zen practice should, on a big picture: these small, incremental tasks collectively add up to big changes. And then there is another project that is composed of small, incremental tasks. And then another. And another. With a home, you are never done. Instead, you are doing.