Back when it was beginning to get cold last fall, I became somewhat obsessed with The Trials of Van Occupanther by Midlake. It has the most perfectly northernly winter-ish sound to it, and I listened to it for a week of mornings on the bus before I eventually got around to making out the lyrics (for some reason, this tends to take me a while).
When I did, the song “Bandits” really stood out to me.
Did you ever want to be overrun by bandits;
to hand over all of your things and start over new?
While we were out hunting for food
our house was being robbed.
I caught an apple and she caught a fox,
so I caught a rabbit but she caught an ox.
So upon our return, we found everything gone
which for us was no loss
and we started over
with a rabbit and an ox.
My brother left a comment on the last post that there have been “times when I’ve secretly hoped that my apartment would burn down.” While I do not at all mean to downplay the suffering of losing all your possessions in a fire or tornado or hurricane, I know exactly what he means. When it comes to getting rid of things, I think that we would all prefer a clean sweep — like pulling a bandaid off quickly — to slow and painful sorting and decision-making. (For another look at this issue, see this excellent article by a former high school classmate.)
The problem we encounter, however, is that it generally doesn’t happen that way. There is rarely a quick fix to the amount of belongings we have accumulated: we have to open all the cupboards and closets, pull out dusty boxes, unpack the contents of crowded shelves, and choose what to keep vs. what to give away. This is such an upleasant prospect that I, for one, tend to put it off until some majorly stressful event like moving leaves me with no other choice. And we don’t even own a house, so the magnitude of our problem is a lot less than that of someone who’s been living in the same place for twenty or thirty years. (For example, I think it’s fair to say that several members of my family dread the day that my grandfather’s house comes into our possession because it is just so full of stuff. And all of it has a story and a sentimental reason to be kept, and it’s going to be a very emotional ordeal to sort through everything.)
In contemplating my desire to accumulate and the reasons why I think that I need everything I have, it’s way too easy to blame it all on advertising. I mean, it works — hey, that’s a photo of a fabulous CB2 vase that I never knew I needed! — but it’s certainly not the sum of the problem.
In my life, I think that I bring a lot of this attitude upon myself because of my ongoing obsession with design blogs. I spend way too much time looking around and planning out my next apartment purchases, even if they never actually end up happening. I love checking Apartment Therapy multiple times a day because I know that every time I do I’ll get new eye candy. Sometimes I come away with cleaning or organizing tips, but more often than not I just want something…something nicer than, or in addition to, what I’ve already got.
And if the blog world doesn’t do it to you, how about your favorite magazines? I think that Martha Stewart must own four or five large warehouses full of antiques PLUS all of their proper antique-y storage devices. Sheesh, the lady doesn’t just collect pretty pillowcases: she has stack after stack of Irish linens that have been perfectly pressed and stored on their own wooden hanging racks in the attic of one of her houses that is regularly aired out for freshness and exposed to just the right amount of sun. It’s probably a little unfair to start making fun of Martha’s foibles since a) it’s easy and b) I do enjoy quite a lot of what she does, but yikes! Have you ever really contemplated the kind of maximalism (not to mention perfectionism) that she endorses? Who can live up to that?!
In the end, I always end up at the tension between diagnosing my problem and actually doing something about it. It’s easy to say that I own too many dishes or read too many blogs and much harder to take that extra step of doing something about it. (Or not doing something that I enjoy and don’t want to give up.) I don’t want to stop reading my favorite set of blogs because I don’t want to fall behind — as though I’m so fashion-forward! — and lose touch with what’s en vogue in the world of furniture design. Stating this makes me feel kind of ridiculous, but it’s true.
What to do?
What do you do?
Are there any examples you’ve seen of acheiving a nice balance in this area? Of keeping enough things to fill and decorate a simple little apartment, but successfully saying “this much and no more” and sticking with it?
If so, please share!