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I was posed an interesting question recently. Said my examiner, “If you had to pick one purchase you have made that cost a good deal of money, but constantly contributed to the joy and fullness of your life what would it be?”

I had to think for a minute or two. I am teased for my frugality, but being frugal as a rule often allows one the occasional splurge – and certainly we have had a few, mostly centering around the restoration of our home and garden. Somewhere in that nine-year mess of plaster and paint and hundreds of nursery pots was the answer – I was sure of it – but what was the project?

When you take on the restoration of an old house, you are usually faced with a small amount of money and a disproportionately large amount of projects. These are often jobs that you will never be able to “sell-on” to another buyer in the far-off future. Discerning homebuyers expect that wiring shouldn’t require the use of porcelain supports and will be able to handle more than two floor lamps and a small toaster; and a weak stream of brown bath water dribbling from rusty pipes just doesn’t cut it.

And then, there are walls and floors and ceilings and cabinetry, not to mention plants and trees and fences. Every single job highlights four others in equal need of attention. Eventually, the money slows to a trickle, priorities are shifted…and yet you had such plans for a working fireplace, or a bathroom addition, or clapboard siding ….or…a deck.

That was my special something I decided, standing there, musing over garden walls and slate floors and light switches that switched, not sizzled. A deck. And not just a deck but a deck that fluidly connected our lives in the garden with our lives indoors. Six years have passed and I wouldn’t replace it with the zoned climate system we once considered, nor put the money back against the rapidly dissipating home equity we borrowed from to fund it.

My love affair with my deck begins in the early spring. Cold frames hold great colonies of four inch pots, waiting for warmed soil and a sunny Saturday. As the season progresses, tarps are lifted from ancient tables and chairs, lettuce seeds are liberally distributed in washtubs, window boxes are installed and prepped with the first pansies.  The first glasses of Sauvignon Blanc are raised in toast by happy friends shivering in the lengthening evenings.

Summer brings more plants and more friends. The hammock has been stretched and usually hosts a child or a dog, or a husband playing hooky from seasonal chores. Breakfasts are enjoyed in the sunshine and dinners are enjoyed under the stars. How sweet my little town looks in the evening, all lights and steeples, rooftops and towering trees! Citronella candles are lit and unreasonably chilled guests that wish to stay inside are mercilessly teased until they grab a spare cardigan and conform.

But autumn doesn’t bring an end to our lives on the deck. A low fire now burns in the fire pit, wire hangers are bent and endless marshmallows are roasted. My husband and I often find ourselves laying in the hammock under a blanket when the children have gone to bed, staring at the night sky and wondering where twenty years have gone – and where the next twenty might take us.

In the winter, the deck acts as an extra refrigerator, storing pots of broth that need to be canned the next day, or for beverages earmarked for a Marti Gras party in deepest February. A plastic tote holds hundreds of pounds of wood pellets for easy access, and a large tub of parsley fights the good fight until late January. On a mild evening I wrap up and watch the winter sun set over the Virginia ridge and say a quiet thank you for the blessings in my life.

The actual cost of our deck doesn’t begin to reflect the amount of joy it brings us. Yet there are other splurges we’ve made that did nothing more than empty our pockets and forever symbolize the fleeting fancy of desire. But how does one discern the difference between them before the check is written?

Ask yourself whether a proposed purchase reflects the type of person you are, or merely who you wish to be. There are plenty of empty, lifeless decks spotted through suburban neighborhoods that attest to self-delusion; and indeed many other expensive toys that, for some reason, didn’t fundamentally change the nature of the person who paid for them.  Before you slap down hundreds, or thousands for that matter, on that ‘one thing’ that will change your life – remember that true change comes from within, and our best purchases only expand the lives we already lead.

Eleven years ago at the beginning of a devastating layoff, my ‘deck’ was a $150 glider rocker with which to rock my newborn daughter to sleep. It still sits in the family room and makes me smile when she climbs into it now with long lanky legs and pink fingernails. Your ‘deck’ may be a fabulous $15 camel hair coat you found at a yard sale, or an $800 patio with a few pots and a reading chair. Take a few moments to think about it, and then contrast that purchase with one of those impulse buys that didn’t quite change your life, but made a large dent in your bank account.

It may just make you think before you swipe the card next time.