Lessons from a Color-Blind Senior Citizen at the Paint Counter











You all know the drill: it’s time to pick a paint color. Cue the internal groan. Trudge to the stack of swatches. Tape a bajillion on the wall. Come back and visit them in every possible form of light. Compare one to the next. Repeat 85 times because it needs to be *perfect* and this is, you’re told by countless experts, how to do it. Hem and haw and refuse to make a decision for weeks because you don’t want to waste money—and, ironically, time—redoing it.The life of a person who cares what their house looks like, right?

And yet.

There I was, standing at the paint counter at ACE Hardware, waiting for my gallon of flat Simply White to be ready. An older gentleman approached the counter with a coupon for a free quart of paint, and, when asked what color he would like, he replied, “Brown.” I smiled a little to myself, finding humor in his oblivion to the thousands of Benjamin Moore color choices laid out in a rainbow behind me, a rainbow that had sucked me in even as a child, enchanting me with its fantastically immense variety of hues. Just “brown”? What was that? He obviously didn’t do what every “How to pick the perfect paint color” guide tells you to do.


The worker kindly showed him that rainbow of swatches, instructing him to pick out which specific brown he would like. A few seconds later, the man reappeared at the counter with his chosen swatch, at which point he was informed by the worker that the “brown” he had chosen was not, in fact, brown.

It was purple.

So back the man went with the worker, who selected a few brown swatches from which the man grabbed one, thus ending the quest for “brown” paint. It took him mere seconds.

As I stood there taking in the whole scene, I thought how freeing it would be to have that kind of contentment about a paint color. To simply walk up to the counter and ask for brown, without taping half a million swatches to the wall, without googling images of said brown, without needing the perfect brown to be called something like Mink or French Press. Just brown. And to even be content with it not being brown at all, but purple.


And then I thought, Benjamin Moore carries nearly 3,500 paint colors, not including the shades blended for annoying customers like me who ask for it mixed at 50% strength. And dear old Ben is just one of countless brands of paint, each with their own versions of Mink and French Press. At what point did we begin needing hundreds of thousands of choices for our wall colors? At what point did things stop being just brown and start being Chocolate Truffle and Timber and Autumn Dusk? At what point did I decide that it was okay for me to spend a whole lot more than mere seconds agonizing over decisions that don’t actually matter?

I walked away from the paint counter with my Simply White—because just regular off-the-shelf white was not acceptable; I had to have that extra ounce of black added to the gallon—and asked the Lord to not let me forget what I witnessed with the older gentleman. I prayed that I would have the same kind of contentment with the choices I make for our home, not constantly wanting to change or scrutinize or worry about them being “perfect.” I prayed for constant reminders that neither perfection nor happiness actually comes from the “perfect” color or chair or curtain fabric.  A fleeting feeling of perfection and happiness, maybe, but it doesn’t last. It’s not supposed to. This is just stuff of the world.


This is not to say that I’ve stopped caring what my house looks like. No, I have been blessed—and cursed—with a critical eye, and I doubt I will ever give up on trying to make our home beautiful. This house is a creative outlet and hobby for both me and Rick, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not just a matter of “finding balance” with things like hobbies; it’s a matter of prioritizing. Because I can balance a 16 pound bag of cat food, two gallons of milk, four shopping bags of cereal, and my man-eating purse all while attempting to unlock the house door, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Something will always demand the brunt of my strength. And which of those things wins when they all go crashing to the ground?

See, I want to pick my just brown and move on with life. This goes for every house choice, not just paint. At the end of it all, I want to be able to say a lot more than, “Well, I sure did have some great-looking walls in my house after I painted them 42 times each, and I once spent a lot of marvelous days staring at pages and pages of fabric options.”

Because let’s face it. That’s lame.

The new drill: it’s time to pick a paint color. So I pick one. And am content with it. And learn how love and thankfulness and joy look with those walls as the backdrop.

And with that, “just brown”—yes, even “just brown”—can be perfect.


  1. i am sorta like that old man... usually quick with my color choices! i narrow it to a few then select the one with the coolest name. yep.

  2. Wow, I LOVE this post. Choosing contentment is sometime so hard, but it is EXACTLY what the Lord has been teaching me over the past two years of living in this extremely imperfect home. Thanks for this encouragement!

  3. Excellent. Thank you.

  4. This was a great post. Very inspiring and a great reminder to concentrate on what we focus on. Thanks for posting this : ) I needed that reminder.

  5. LOVE. My philosophy is kind of on this and the opposite ends of the spectrum. I LOVE the idea of finding contentment in what you have and not "needing" things to be perfect or an exact shade of brown that's technically not purple, but also wanting to take time to make decisions (financial decisions) on purchases that I know I'll want for the long-haul. In that case, I think patience is your friend. But I kind of love this old man with his "just brown." Fantastic post, friend!

    1. Yeah, much of my paralysis comes from the financial impact of getting stuff for the house. I think it's when I'm not doing anything else all day, though, or waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it that it's time to take a step back and readjust priorities. :)

  6. I love old people. I can't wait to be one. Seriously.

    I'm totally an old man when it comes to color. Other finishes, I need to use your words of wisdom. Cute post! :)

  7. Awesome! You are so on point -- since when did paint-color selection become such a life & death choice? I guess we bloggers fear the mocking of our peers should we choose the incorrect tint for the way the light of the moon hits the wall through the oh-so-wrong sheers... ;) (I mock the mockers...)

    Enjoy your last few weeks of "freedom". (Actually, taking a baby to a hardware store full of old people choosing paint can be quite a hoot!)

  8. Love this so much! It's easy to get wrapped up in the little decisions, because comfort and beauty add so much to making a house a home. But you're right, it is just stuff, and it's not eternal. Good reminder.

  9. I just bought more samples of paint for my house and I still can't decide. My thing is I don't want to pick the wrong color because I really don't want to paint it again if I don't like it. I love the end result when a room is painted but getting there is not an enjoyable experience for me so I'd like to do it once and have it be right. But this post made me think ya just pick a stupid color and stop being a baby about it and do it. Fine! :)

  10. Wise words, Erin! The Little House is a hobby and outlet for Kevin and I, but it is great to be reminded that while working on it is fun and relaxing, we need to be mindful that is only temporary (especially the next time we start to argue over whether to use a 5/8" or 1/2" trowel to lay the thinset) In the end, does it really matter?

    Thanks for the perspective!

  11. Anonymous8/12/2013

    You know, hubby and I have not had our own home since we sold ours so he could use the proceeds to start his own company in 1999. We took that gamble because the economy was soaring at that time. But things didn't turn out like we planned, his company closed and we're still renting. You learn to creatively decorate within the wall colors, flooring, kitchen and bathrooms you have. We constantly change, repurpose and move furniture and accessories around so that our home is never the same and it's never boring. I've learned that there is more to making a house a home than just paint.

  12. This is so true and really resonates with me! You truly have the most thoughtful posts, truly impressed.

    I'm actually probably not exactly a "true blogger," because paint selection is something I don't have the patience to dwell on. I rarely (okay, almost never) bring paint swatches home. I do sometimes google the images I'm considering in the paint aisle, but I've painted enough to know that if I hate it, it only takes another coat of paint.

    With that said, I've never been SO calm about it that I've just said I wanted brown. =) So I have a ways to go.

    1. aww thank you, Kim! :) And YES the last two rooms we painted (nursery and family room) all I did was google images. No tape. No swatches. It was FABULOUS. (And bonus, I like the colors.) Now to make myself not spend so much time picking out stuff like fabric... :P

  13. The Lord has already answered your prayers, because in October He is giving you and Rick your constant reminder that the perfect colors don't equal contentment & happiness. (And the bonus is He is also giving you something else to keep busy with all day, and for which you'll wake up at night...)

  14. So cute. Little old men are funny.
    I am horrible with selecting paint colors, and your mama is so right!

  15. Definitely needed this today! Contentment is one of the hardest things for me. I'm a planner so I'm always thinking ahead about what to do next, buy next, it's all about the future. So much so I sometimes forget to live in the present, so thanks for that! :)


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