My wife is suspicious of Chip and Joanna Gaines. “Are they really married?” she wonders aloud while passing me an open bottle of grocery-store white wine. “They seem too rehearsed.” We’re new to watching a show like HGTV’s Fixer Upper and the Gaines’ chipperness is jarring. We’ve been parents since 2017, married since 2016, and New Yorkers since 2005. We’re preparing to move to Portland, Maine and — eventually — buy our first home. To say this fact makes me and my wife anxious is an understatement, like saying Chip and Joanna Gaines are upbeat.
The thing is, though we have mixed feelings about Fixer Upper, even city slickers like us are forced to admit one important thing: The Gaines excel at making the process of shopping for houses seem joyful. They are optimistic about everything and rarely discuss mortgage rates. I’m too cynical about valuing aesthetics over reality to binge watch Fixer Upper, but I’m open to micro-dosing a little positivity.
Though we’re both old enough to remember when AOL was still a dial-up internet service, neither my wife nor I have ever owned a home. When real estate agents lists all the things that need to be done to one prospective house, our eyes tend to glaze over. Remember when Dan Aykroyd tells Bill Murray all the money he needs to spend to fix the car in Ghostbusters? I’m Bill Murray, the house is the car, and my wife is… let’s just say…Dan Aykroyd? And that’s where Fixer Upper becomes helpful.
On one memorable episode, a couple was encouraged to buy a dilapidated shack infested with ants, broken doll heads left by cannibals, and a poltergeist. The Gaines thought it had good bones (and I thought it literally might). Then the house was transformed by the strange alchemy of Crate and Barrel aesthetics, low-sodium elbow grease, and pure will. The whole thing felt a bit fake ⏤ like that moment in She’s All That where Rachel Leigh Cook removes her glasses and everyone notices she’s beautiful ⏤ but it also drove home the idea that the house you buy isn’t the house you live in forever.
I found that very reassuring.
The comforting thing about the Gaines is… Joanna. Why? Because she actually talks about money. In the gross shack episode, the couple ends up saving a bunch of money on buying the miniature Munster’s house because they’re willing to invest the other money in repairs. This obviously saves them a ton of money on interest and house payments, which, if you’re planning for the future is a huge deal. Chip isn’t super involved in that discussion but remains handsome throughout.
There’s nothing shocking here and nothing shocking on Fixer Upper ever really ⏤ other than the Gaines uncanny ability to make every house look like the backdrop to a mid-budget romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon⏤ but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t help. The notion that homebuyers are purchasing a canvas, not a painting is very powerful and also, ultimately correct. My wife and I, amid our panic, found this all very buoying. So we’ve kept watching. And when we felt like we weren’t going to be able to continue our hunt (too tired, too disappointed, too confused by the economics), we’ve looked to the Gaines for inspiration. They supply exactly that. And we’ve learned that being just a bit pinot-grigio drunk made the chipperness of the show considerably more palatable.
My wife and I finished the bottle by the end of the Fixer Upper about the shack. The next morning, when we started to look at houses again, we didn’t skip past the ones that said they needed some work. We haven’t bought a home yet. Will it be perfect? Certainly not. But it will be our home and we will have all the time in the world to fix it up. It’s will be our Ghostbusters car, our Rachel Leigh Cook, our Munster’s House. It’s going to be gorgeous.