An old friend of mine recently* posted this quote on his Facebook page:
“The best lives are often well-edited, carefully curated lives.” – The Minimalists
My immediate response was, “This sounds like the mantra of a control freak.” Being a bit of a control freak myself, I feel like I can say this with confidence. The quote immediately conjured images of someone wrestling with the idea of what a particular throw pillow or end table says about them. Inevitably this would lead to someone whittling down their book collection to only the titles that make them look witty, smart, and hyper-intelligent. No mysteries or chick lit here! Is that a scrap of junk mail that didn’t make it directly into the recycling bin? Burn it!
Ugh. Doesn’t that sounds exhausting? Even maddening? There’s a reason why the apartment from American Psycho looks like this:
Obsessive minimalism is, to me, not that different from hoarding. Your life is all about stuff–accumulating it or getting rid of it. Either way, when you let stuff take over your life to that degree, it seems like a symptom of something bigger.
That being said, I try to control the amount of stuff that comes into my house. It’s a habit I acquired when I was living in tiny apartments. For everything that comes in, something else has to go out. My boyfriend recently bought me an immersion blender. Even though I had expressed my desire for one of these contraptions, he was worried I might not like it because he knows how I feel about too much stuff. I reassured him that I loved it, and then dug my regular blender and small food processor out of the cupboards and put them in a bag to take to Goodwill. This seems reasonable to me.
But that original quote also got me thinking about the role that decorating our homes plays in our lives. On the one hand, it seems like a totally first world problem, right? I mean, who cares what color your walls are or if your otherwise working kitchen is out of date? There are much bigger problems in the world. And there are plenty of people who don’t care about any of that. They live with the builder-grade beige on their walls, and don’t notice that no one likes light oak cabinets anymore. They lead perfectly happy lives.
But from the earliest days of human kind we painted on our cave walls and started creating beautiful things. At least some of us have been driven to beautify our spaces–whatever that means in your time and place–since human beings started walking upright. But is this just another kind of obsession with stuff?
There are people who will redecorate at the drop of a hat. (I am grateful to them, because I often buy their stuff on Craigslist.) They need the newest, biggest TV and a couch with the most modern lines and fabrics. Everything has to be stainless steel, and every visitor to the house should be bowled over by the sheer amount of money that the tile must have cost.
I have never been a person who has to have name brand clothes or fancy cars. I drive a nine year old Subaru, and my wardrobe consists largely of the same t-shirt in multiple colors. (I do, however, confess to a love of sweaters.) Yet, I take great interest in the interior design of my home.
There are a lot of reasons for this. I wanted a house the way most women my age want to get married. I wanted a place that belonged to me, and that I could work to turn into the kind of calming space I’d always wanted. I also spend more time in my house than most, because this is also where I work. It’s important that it’s comfortable, and organized, and easy to care for. But there’s more to it.
Your home is the biggest canvas you have. I’m a writer, not a sculptor. I’ve never been particularly good at drawing, but I can paint a wall, buy a duvet cover, and restore a dresser. I can hunt down a bargain on Craigslist. I can assemble all the elements that go into a middle-class American house in a way that is pleasing to the eye–or at least to my eye–and use it as an outlet for creative energy. To me, home design and architecture are, in many ways, the most practical outlet for a creative person. Most people cannot afford to support a painter or sculptor by buying a piece of art for hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars. But everyone needs a place to live–and everyone wants it to be clean, comfortable, and pleasing to the eye.
*I found this post in my drafts. According to one number I adjusted, I must have began writing it sometime around 2015.