Mind & Spirit

Personal essay: Stripping for a change

By: Vickie Reichardt

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

Personal essay: Stripping for a change

By: Vickie Reichardt
This story was originally titled "My Life as a Stripper" in the July 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

A daunting task

Sometimes the universe bestows valuable lessons upon us through meaningful, life-changing events. A high school graduation. A wedding. The birth of a child. A rainbow after a storm. Other times, though, it opts to hide those morsels of profundity in something as mind-numbingly tedious and spirit-crushing as stripping wallpaper.

To be certain, it's a task that may test your mettle – and your sanity – and may very well leave you gnashing your teeth in sheer frustration amid a sea of ragged paper shreds. But, despite its inherent odiousness, stripping wallpaper can, in fact, reveal all sorts of curious metaphors for living alongside those newly bare walls. (Assuming, of course, you can see anything through your stripping-induced haze.)

I know this because, for a recent and brief spell, I became a stripper. A wallpaper stripper.

Removing the past
My sister had purchased a home whose previous owners were, apparently, head over heels in love with deafening, obnoxious wall coverings that, shockingly, did absolutely nothing to enhance the ancient, filthy shag carpet that blanketed all the floors.

Every single wall of every single room and hallway had been papered in a different eyesore of a pattern – to such a degree that it felt as if the whole house was actually screaming at us. And, based on the amount of elbow grease and profanity that went into getting it all off, much of that delicious decor had evidently been applied a thousand years ago, with some sort of alien adhesive not unlike cement.

For three long weeks, inch by inch, wall by wall, room by room, we worked tirelessly. All that stubborn, grotesque paper was yanked, lifted, pulled, torn, scraped, steamed and picked off. Our fingers were raw, our patience as frayed as the burlap-textured atrocity that covered the dining room walls, but we did it. And, as our hard labour slowly gave birth to a pockmarked home brimming with freshly exposed potential, I began to realize there was much to be gleaned from our struggles.

In wallpaper stripping, as in life, sometimes the seemingly most simple, straightforward task can morph into a complex undertaking that requires far more effort than you'd initially thought it would. But you can yield stunning results if you just stick with it.

What's beneath it all
As you proceed, no matter how much you've prepared, you will always encounter obstacles. A deeply embedded wall plug. An unruly switch plate. A tiny, infuriating speck of paper that will not budge no matter what you try. Know that the smallest things will only cause the biggest headaches if you let them.

If you take the time to try, you can peel back a layer and find something beautiful underneath. But, as we discovered in my sister's kitchen, sometimes when you get rid of one layer of ugliness, all you find underneath is...more of the same.

And in stepping back to survey everything, it's very easy to become obsessed with perfection. Save yourself lots of time and energy, and accept that flaws add character.

But the most important lesson I took away from my exhausting yet enlightening stint in stripping hell is that clearing out old, unappealing patterns is a frequently difficult (but ultimately fantastic) way to reveal the blank canvas of possibility that might lie just beneath the surface.

Writer Vickie Reichardt hopes to hone her paper-stripping techniques before she meets her next unsightly wall.

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Mind & Spirit

Personal essay: Stripping for a change