A funny thing happened when mum visited my new home. She had been pottering about in the kitchen for a while, and minutes after she walked out, I went in.
Seconds later, I let out a scream. "Mum! What is this black blob on the countertop?" She hurried in and peered at where I was pointing. "The blob" was the size of a five-cent coin.
"Oh, this. It's just soya sauce. I spilt a few drops when I was cooking just now. I was thinking of cleaning it up later."
But one look on my face, and she must have thought better of it. Wordlessly, she grabbed the kitchen towel from the sink and wiped it away. "Nah. Gone."
"Next time, don't wait so long lah before you clean it up. It's a white countertop, OK," I grumbled, "which I spent a fortune on," I reminded her tartly.
She cast an amused glance at me. "I don't remember you being such a neat freak in Ipoh." A knowing look came over her eyes. "It's different now because this is your house, eh?"
The role reversal took a while to sink in. Then both of us burst out in convivial laughter. Who would have thought that a home could actually help mum and I to bond?
Being a new house owner has taught me a few life lessons:
GO WITH THE FLOW
When I first moved in, all that white space was so overwhelming. Where should I put the dresser I had copped for a bargain? Steel hooks or plastic? So many decisions to make. And houses don't become homes immediately.
You have to grow with the home, and resist the impulse to fill it up immediately with hasty purchases to get rid of the feeling of emptiness. Because you won't. It's only with lots of patient window-shopping and price comparisons that you figure out where to get the cheapest low-fat milk, expandable folding clotheslines and toilet paper.
Gradually, I figured out where to put things. Like the pinboard for unpaid bills. The minute I laid eyes on it, I could see where it would go - near the switch next to the kitchen door. I go into the kitchen all the time, so I'll never miss important bills.
DON'T BUY WHAT YOU CAN MAKE
Buying this home revealed a creative bent I never suspected I had. I've cooked up all kinds of weird stuff, as my friends' happy tummies would attest to.
Because I was on a tight budget, I skimped on renovation, but I splurged on a decent aluminium-encased kitchen cabinet because I'm freaked out by rotting wood.
Boy, did it pay off! My chest swells with pride every time I wipe the countertop until it's sparkling white - and unbidden comes the thought: Mum would never call me a slob now, ha!
The glutton-to-cook trajectory may not be such a surprise to friends who know how picky I am about my food, but my crafty side took even me by surprise. Economics has much to do with it. I don't earn a chunky salary any more, so every ringgit is precious.
One day, I was ogling and drooling at fancy storage boxes in Ikea and they all cost lots. Then it occurred to me. Could I make these things?
I turned to Pinterest and, lo and behold! Containers made from milk cartons? Photo frames out of discarded cardboard boxes? Heck, sometimes, you don't even have to "do" anything with them, as evidenced by my egg tray-turned-jewellery box.
"Upcycling", I'm proud to say, is no longer just a hazy concept in this bunny's burrow. Which kind of makes sense, because wastage is anathema to the tight-fisted Hakka side of me. My new mantra is, don't buy what you can make. Give me all your mineral water bottles, milk cartons… and let Ms Wong here take a creative crack at them!
IT PAYS TO WAIT FOR THE RIGHT GUY… I MEAN, FURNITURE
The advice to buy everything at one go to save money in the long run is true for big-ticket items like the refrigerator and air-conditioner. But when it's an item that really means something to you, take your time. For me, the coffee table is the centrepiece of my living room, so I didn't want to get any generic-looking specimen on offer.
I'm glad I waited, otherwise I'd have no budget left for the wooden-and-glass table that I picked up at a most unexpected place: the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex, during its annual National Craft Day.
Upcycled out of an abandoned kampung house window, it's a great conversation piece that doubles as a distraction for kids. While the adults chat, the kids can draw on the garden stones and add to the collection I have displayed at the bottom layer of the table, or check out the ones already there!
SOME SACRIFICES ARE WORTH IT
Though I rant as much as the next person on social media, I make a concerted attempt to keep the tone of my articles positive.
It can be super challenging, though, when non-freelancers comment that a freelancer's life is so cushy and glamorous. Most people have no idea how tough it is to stay motivated, let alone when jobs slow to a trickle, clients are late in paying or writer's block won't budge from the doorstep.
One morning, I got up particularly depressed. Even though I had a dozen screaming deadlines, I just couldn't muster the heart to write even a sentence. After half an hour, I gave up and walked down to the pool area to get some sun and fresh air.
As I was sitting on the swing, I heard the sound of splashing water. I looked to the left and saw a flock of birds in the swimming pool. Drinking. Swimming. Sunning themselves.
A home I love. A nest where I feel safe. A resting place that comforts.
And, suddenly, life didn't feel so bad any more.