The night we moved into our new apartment with all of my old furniture stacked up in the new living room, leaning on each other at odd angles, looking down the small footpath we left for kitchen access, how formidable it all felt. The feeling was how did I acquire this much stuff, how did it all fit into that tiny apartment, and how would it all fit here?
Soon, the size of the space revealed itself– after the assembling, the organizing, the putting away of things, the place felt suddenly empty. Too empty. The too-emptiness belied a lack of personality. What’s more, pieces of furniture that were once desperately needed (a kitchen counter, some storage shelves, a bunch of small rugs that covered the linoleum floors throughout) lost their function and felt immediately out of place.
I’ve never been into home furnishing. My deep fear is to be owned by the things I own. The nicer they are, the more care they need. Caring for things, whether they are people or cars or furniture, is mentally and physically taxing. That’s the same energy which may be needed to make some big changes in my life. In some sense, my fear of nice things is a fear of stagnation.
Anyhow, I got rid of all those things that no longer have a place here. After all, they were furniture native to the old space, a space, incidentally, that transformed so quickly back into the non-specific thing it was the minute we emptied it of our stuff that it took my breath out. And now, I sold a bunch of those old things, and now, I’m filling the apartment bit by bit with things I find on craigslist, and thinking a lot about what makes a good living space.
I’ve learned at least that good “decor” is exactly not that. The best living spaces are functional, not decorative- they are good precisely because they say something about the time you spend in it. Larisa pointed out to me these two websites. Both sell clothes, both try to do it by making an appeal to lifestyle. The latter does a poorer job than the first. It photographs attractive models wearing expensive rugged clothes sitting on a log or next to a boat or walking in the woods and asks you to buy “the look”. This is a kind of old-school advertising that is starting to miss its mark with my generation. Contrast this with the first website whose focus is not the models or their looks, but rather a set of simple moments. The entreaty is not imitation but assimilation. Not, buy these clothes to be more interesting, but rather, give our (expensive) clothes a place in your already interesting/beautiful life.
I realize there’s a similar thing going on with furniture. That there’s a real trap in buying a furniture set on a showroom floor, the way my parents have done for years. It solves the “problem” of furniture, my mom would say, for a whole room. So you get a couch, a coffee table, two side tables and a rug. A TV goes on the opposite wall. What do you do on this couch? Well, obviously, you watch TV. But the problem is, my mom doesn’t watch TV. The living room has become the least used room in her house.
You know what my mom likes to do? You would never know it from her house. She likes to cook, and knit, and talk on the phone, and take walks, and listen to audio books, and swim, and garden– boy does she garden.
I’m trying to approach furniture and “decor” from the opposite direction. Imagining first the kinds of things I would like to be able to do in my house– read in the sun, read in the bath, work at a big desk, eat on the floor, play music in the living room, grab a hat and mittens on my way out, yoga on a comfy rug, piano in a corner, etc– and finding the furniture that fills those needs.