View Full Version : I Own Therefore I am

10-9-11, 3:19am
Is it important to you that your material possessions are a reflection of self?

My daughter recently went off to university and told me many of her peers have a generous budget from their parents in order to decorate their flats/rooms. One friend told her she was replacing the carpet in her room because she couldn't live with maroon carpet and another was planning on changing the furniture because it was too ugly.

I used to care about clothes and home decor because I felt they had to reflect my taste. Now I treasure functionality above all and if any given item serves its purpose then I am more than happy to keep it around. I wouldn't change my very comfortable, yet ugly blue sofa for one more aesthetically pleasing. I think I am in the minority here and that many first world folks are much more aesthetically sensitive than I am. It's probably a combination of cheapness and practicality that makes me this way.

10-9-11, 5:59am
As far as student accommodation goes, that level of redecoration seems a little extreme! Whatever happened to plastering your room in free posters from the student union?? Why would parents be willing to make that kind of investment in a student property (replacing carpets is so expensive!).

Although I do not like to have a lot of possessions and cannot stand clutter, it is important that the things that do surround me are more or less to my taste. For example, I live in a rented, furnished flat with lots of beat-up furniture and decor that I consider ugly. There's no point in going overboard and changing it since it's not my flat, but it makes me feel more comfortable to jazz up the place with things like photos I've taken, colourful artwork, nice cushions and bedding etc.

When we first moved in, I was hell bent on changing almost everything - right down to the scratched-up kettle that came with the flat. But over time, I started to care less and less and now find myself prioritising functionality over aesthetics in many cases. I do not see the point in shelling out for a new kettle when the one I have works perfectly well, even though it's been used by countless previous tenants and is not pleasant to look at.

10-9-11, 7:20am
It is important to me, in a weird sort of way - also the lack of certain stuff.

Several years ago, we had a really quick sale on our house and rented a townhome for a short time before moving here. I unboxed essentials for the kitchen and office only, left everything else packed. It was the most depressing time for me! I kept saying that you have no idea how much your stuff defines who you are until you no longer have it or can see it.

I eventually adapted and gradually got rid of more clutter. Now I have just what I want and use. I don't need or want the latest gadgets or colors or whatever 'they' say I can't live without. I'm perfectly happy with things that are still functional no matter how old they are.

But as an artist, some of the things I have created are important to me - especially the pieces that were originally in a trash pile and now have new life and purpose.

10-9-11, 7:53am
I am visually sensitive to my surroundings and understand how people can dislike the way a room is decorated. If I wasn't so frugal then perhaps I would be more willing to go out and replace things that aren't too my taste. So I guess it isn't so much that I am against having aesthetically pleasing things so much as I am against being wasteful in order to have aesthetically pleasing things. Mira, having lived in rental places for the last decade I know just how you feel. Initially I felt I had to decorate my way around the less than attractive belongings, because I didn't feel they were to my taste. And I guess that is how those kids in university must feel. Now I don't care our belongings aren't particularly attractive and if people come in and feel the place is ugly, well, so be it. It just doesn't bother me. Marianne, I agree our things probably do reflect who we are somehow. Even choosing not to purposefully decorate is in itself a reflection. I think we all nest to some degree and in all our many moves there are some belongings I have to put out in order to make the place feel like home. Even if it is just my shoes by the front door.
To me, another surprising aspect to this is when I have looked into buying or selling homes. I'm taken aback when someone looks at a home with a fairly new kitchen/bathroom/etc., but instantly proclaims they cannot live with it because it is not to their taste. It seems so wasteful to me to tear out a perfectly new, functional kitchen because it doesn't meet aesthetic standards.

10-9-11, 7:59am
And Mira, what is it about kettles? They seem to come out with new aesthetically pleasing designs, but not improved, every year. Do people change their kettles just because the newer ones look nicer? Hmm, maybe everything is like this. Manufacturers know the population is aesthetically sensitive and they keep producing newer versions of things we have in order to get us to spend money.

10-9-11, 8:50am
There isn't much way around that. I've often thought about it. Think about clothes for instance: Even if you decide that you are going to pick up a random pieces of an outfit and put them on in protest of not wanting to identify with material things, even wearing random stuff says something about you.

Even spiritual leaders all have their "branding": think of the habits of the clergy. I once read a fabulous article in the New York Times Magazine about status symbols. It said that priests have very little ability to express themselves in their clothing, so they pick their cufflinks very carefully to express who they are.

In terms of furnishings and cars, etc, I look at it as more of a continuum than an either/or: If one end is picking things purely on the basis of personal functionality and comfort, and the other is picking things purely on the basis of showing off to the Joneses, I think we're all somewhere inbetween.

What interests me also, is how standards of taste change so quickly. You'd think that if Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty, there would be some kind of standard, or constancy. But, I'm living in a house in which the original owners found beauty to be avocado shag and metallic Peter Max wallpaper--and that was not long ago. I've never thought ornate decor was beautiful, but tons of people do, including kings and queens. Way back in the day when I was a teen and my greataunt offered to buy me my first thing for my "hope chest" (for those who may not know, women used to have a chest where they'd stock up on housewares and things prior to marriage--prior even to having a prospective spouse, ergo the term "hope chest."). So what did I pick? A lacy tablecloth? No... A crystal sugar and creamer? No... Nope, I knew right away what I wanted--a cast iron frying pan. I still have it, and I still love it.

10-9-11, 9:01am
It's amazing how far a can of paint can go! Even on old beat up dressers and chairs and stuff. I think it's important for your daughter and her friends to 'claim' their space and make it theirs, but I've learned from too many moves, it doesn't really take much money. Just creativity. Too often I think people, especially young ones, just don't know where to start, thus the replacing the carpet. It's far cheaper, and more fun I think, to find a used colorful area rug to simply put over the old one, or on the bare floor.
I can understand the girls wanting to feel like the space is truly theirs, however temporary. No one likes to feel like a transient. Going away to college is an exciting step out into the world. I think if nothing feels like yours or reflects you, then you just don't care. And that feeling may spill over into your studies and relationships.

10-9-11, 9:02am
For anyone into dumpster diving, moving out day at colleges is a treasure trove of tons of the items student "had to have" for their rooms - but are no longer wanted or needed.

10-9-11, 9:15am
In my world, I would say functionality comes first, but it also has to look attractive to me. I don't want to go into the living room to relax, for example, and cringe at that ugly chair in the corner. Once I buy something however, I am loathe to get rid of it, even when its served its purpose and the piece is now way past its prime. hence the oversized sofa that we bought when we had a cavernous living room in our last housel and is now sitting on the 3 season porch and primarily used by one of our cats. I am not the type of person who would get rid of perfectly functional appliance in order to "upgrade" to stainless steel because that is currently in vogue.

10-9-11, 11:14am
Herbgeek, I guess it is always some matrix between functionality and appearance for all of us. Like Catherine said, it's a continuum which is a great way to look at it.

Creaker, the other night my daughter stopped to help a homeless man digging through the garbage. She asked him if he needed food and they ended up in a conversation about how wasteful we are as a society. He told her he often finds almost new electronics (flat screen tv, computers) and is able to sell them to make money. This is in an expensive neighbourhood in London, but it seems terrible to me that people just throw those kinds of things away. Funny enough he handed my daughter a pair of jeans with tags on them because he thought they would fit her. They did fit her and she happily took them home.

Peggy, I agree a lick of paint, or some posters as Mira suggested would go a long way towards making the place feel like theirs. These kids aren't doing small changes - they are remodeling. They obviously have more generous parents than me. I told my daughter to pretend she's camping. :)

Catherine, you are quite right - there is no way around this short of living on a deserted island. I think about this a lot for some reason, probably all the marketing messages and consuming I observe around me. I'm always wondering what it is that drives people to spend their money. I also wonder about universal aesthetics. Sometimes I think new styles aren't aesthetically more pleasing, but because they are new to our eyes they seem more aesthetically pleasing. The emperor's new clothes. Anyway, Peter Maxx wallpaper sounds pretty cool to me. :)

10-9-11, 5:05pm
I think your daughter should spend more time hanging out with the homeless guy and less with her hoity toity "gotta redecorate my dorm" classmates -- she'll probably learn more from him than she will in most of her classes, and she'll pick up some good frugal tips along the way!

I am not totally a minimalist, but like to keep things simple. We moved into our apartment 2.5 years ago and I STILL haven't hung anything on the walls. Have family photos I want to frame and hang, but haven't gotten around to it yet. The extent of our decorating is a fleece throw for the couch (more for snuggling than decorating, actually) and some throw pillows (also more for comfort than decoration, but I did try to get patterns that coordinated with the couch). Most of our furniture was left by the former owners. We bought some nice barstools that match the style of the counter well, a stand for the TV equipment, two mirrors, a pair of bedside tables for our bedroom, and a bunk bed for DS's room. Oh, and computer chairs. everything else is as we found it, even the not so comfortable dining room chairs. We were going to buy new chair covers for them a couple of weeks ago, but then felt that they were too expensive and that what they had wasn't quite right for what we wanted.

I learned a lot about my tastes when we were looking for apartments. Contemporary decoration in China is all over the map. Lots of pseudo antique european gold and filligree. Yuck. When we walked into our nice, simple, neutral toned apartment I knew I would be happy here. It had been purchased and decorated by an American family, and is exactly right for our tastes/lifestyle.


10-9-11, 9:36pm
One of the things that has intrigued me for years is the human desire for body ornamentation. It's been done for centuries... And, the ornamentation of cooking pots, clothing, etc. What is this desire to beautify ourselves and our surroundings? I love it. My home is comfy, colorful, quirky, and was very inexpensive to furnish like this. Painted wall in many colors, (my kitchen/dining area is one big space and has two shades of green, & yellow & terra cotta on the walls), Goodwill finds, imagination, crazy use of found objects and interesting fabrics all combine to make a visually interesting and expressive home.

10-9-11, 11:37pm
I don't think you have to be wasteful to make a comfortable home that suits your taste. Even when I was in my tiny first apartment I had pictures on the wall, thrift store baskets to hold things, etc. I don't thrift and yard sale as often now--my new community isn't as conducive to it--but back in my early days on my own I had a lot of fun with it. But I wouldn't do it for other people--just because it makes me happy to have a pretty, comfy home. Once a friend came to visit and his compliment was, "Your home is so comfortable." I was absolutely charmed...that's exactly what I was going for.

10-10-11, 4:48am
I agree lhamo, in being so fussy about their surroundings I am finding these kids a bit too particular. I'd prefer the homeless man too. :)

AmeliaJane, I would find that compliment very flattering as well. I aim for comfort too. Sometimes I look at the perfectly decorated interiors shown in magazines and am surprised at how uncomfortable they look. No shoes by the front door, no books on the table and god forbid a teacup left sitting on the counter. I live in my house and it looks lived in.

Redfox, I find the urge to decorate ourselves and our surroundings interesting too. It's obviously been with us from the beginning and is part of our being. I'm all for nesting and making a home, but there is such a huge industry built around it.

10-12-11, 1:31am
One of the things that has intrigued me for years is the human desire for body ornamentation. It's been done for centuries... And, the ornamentation of cooking pots, clothing, etc. What is this desire to beautify ourselves and our surroundings? I love it. My home is comfy, colorful, quirky, and was very inexpensive to furnish like this. Painted wall in many colors, (my kitchen/dining area is one big space and has two shades of green, & yellow & terra cotta on the walls), Goodwill finds, imagination, crazy use of found objects and interesting fabrics all combine to make a visually interesting and expressive home.

This is intriguing to me as well. What kicked off my interest was getting involved in making jewelry when I was traveling for my job and didn't have the space for other arts and crafts that I enjoy. I had always thought of jewelry as being rather useless, but at one time it was used to identify the tribe to which a person belonged. Maybe that's why people nowadays are encouraged to dress accordingly when they're being interviewed for a job - so they'll look like one of the tribe. This might apply to living spaces, too.

10-12-11, 1:46am
As for my own decor, functionality and a lot of space are the uppermost priority. I'll buy a black coffeemaker over a more fashionably styled one in white because the black one won't highlight all those ugly, inevitable dribbles. Most of my wall-to-wall is a speckled beige which blends quite nicely with cat fur. (My cat is a black and white tuxedo, so tweeds, muted plaids, and colors in the middle range between dark and light are my first choice for any sort of fabric, whether upholstery or clothes.) Clutter makes me crazy as does overdecorated space littered with knick-knacks, purposeless items like empty vases, layers and layers of "window treatments" (gag, I so dislike that term), et cetera. My most cherished compliment came from the cat-sitter and her family who think my house has a Zen-like quality. I'm not Buddist, but do think of my house as a sanctuary where peace, privacy, and quiet should reign.

10-12-11, 12:45pm
I'm crazy about fashion, color, texture, decoration, jewelry, artifacts, art, craft, interior design, and even "stuff." I don't love that thing where students buy a lot of items at the beginning of the school year (often using someone else's money) and then jettison it all in a dumpster at year's end. Not at all.

10-12-11, 2:44pm
redfox, you love the same colors that I do. I have pretty much been true to them for years I always gravitate to them no matter what I am looking at. Those colors just feed my soul! If I am around these colors, I am good. I also love leaves. In dishes, prints, bedding, etc.

I wonder how that defines me.

10-12-11, 7:59pm
This is a very interesting topic! I have always felt like I was unusual. It seemed to me that the homes of friends I go into always have nicer, MUCH nicer stuff than me, and that the people care more (usually women) about that kind of thing than me. I'm actually an artist, so you'd think that I'd care more about my surroundings, but I don't! I am a bit cluttered (this has improved) But I've never ever bought any kind of furniture new. Always second hand couches or chairs, tables etc. I did paint my little bungalow's walls when i first moved in here 8 yrs ago a rather dark red and green color with a few gold bits of decoration, but haven't bothered with anything since. Things like matching curtains (or any kind of curtains) just doesn't MATTER to me. I could not STAND the thought of paying big money for stuff like home decoration. In fact for curtains I just used material thrown over a rod and it works real good. What is up with the whole window decoration thing? Sorry, dont mean to be rude to other people's choices. For me, never having to spend money on this kind of thing is good. Also, if you don't have expensive 'stuff' in your house it means you can be more comfortable when lazing around! You don't have to worry about messing things up. Perhaps this is the reason behind it for me. The house i grew up in was MUCH fancier than how I live now and my mum would put plastic over sofas and carpets. My parents had a few valuable antiques and furniture was polished and cutlery was cleaned every week (silver) So praps my attitude is a hold over from these times!

10-13-11, 4:34am
Lol Margerymermaid, I feel much the same way and I'll own up that at least some of it is a result of laziness. :)

I think it's as Catherine wrote - it's a continuum. The calculus between practicality, frugality and aesthetics is what decides where we lie on the continuum.

Jane, despite being zealously practical, I'm much like you in loving clothes, color, texture, etc. I just manage to limit how I indulge myself and I've taught myself to be happy to enjoy things without having to own them. I admire a beautifully decorated home as much as anyone else, but I just don't feel the need to have one for myself. I went through a phase where I was caught up in that kind of stuff, but luckily I came to my senses.

Jemima, I hate things that have no purpose too. Aside from pictures on the walls, I want all the things in my home to do something.

10-13-11, 5:27pm
Is it important to you that your material possessions are a reflection of self?

No. I'm a minimalist with very few material possessions - just the basics for a comfortable existance. Although, maybe it's my lack of material possessions that is a reflection of my self. So in that case... then it's "yes" :-)!

As for you daughter, I think that you may be able to use this time as a teaching too. Give her room for self expression yet guide her to more frugal and environmentally correct ways to find that self expression whether it be thru a thrift store or garage sale finds to decorate her room. Just seeing all the stuff donated to the local second hand shops depresses me for days. All that "stuff" just bought (and the enviromental impact to produce and ship it) and then tossed out - well tossed to the thrift store at least. Not everyone functions the same way - your daugther may need something to define herself with that you or I don't. While I'm happy with my all white walls and minimal decorations (get claustrophobic with too much color and texture and "stuff") I realize that for other's it's important.

10-13-11, 9:15pm
Well I totally broke my rule just today when I went and bought CAT FURNITURE! I have the money right now, so I bought one of those tall cat tree thingys! They are so ugly, but I don't care. My two cats have already been enjoying it. I won't buy myself new stuff but go and put down big bucks for my cats. It ALMOST matches my dirty beige rug. But as you say Acorn, you like things to have a purpose, and I agree. So at least the expensive cat 'furniture' will be used!

10-14-11, 5:49am
Lol, Margerymermaid. Well, the cats need to be comfy too. :)
Something like that is just practical in my eyes, it isn't an aesthetic issue. Like Spartana wrote, it's depressing to see so much stuff in the thrift stores. Well, I guess it's good because people like me are happy to reuse things, but it also seems so wasteful.

Redecorating a room, or just changing curtains because you feel like a change shouldn't be a leisure time activity. In the past i swear there wasn't so much focus on constantly changing your home. People seemed to buy one set of furniture and stick with it until it fell apart. There seemed to be less change just for the sake of change.

Spartana, my daughter is the queen of 2nd hand shopping and being on a tight student budget I told her it is up to her to prioritize how she spends her money. If it is important enough to her that she be able to decorate than she will have to manage to do so within her means. It is really eye opening how indulgent some of the parents are with their kids. One of her friends changed ALL the furniture in his room. I told my daughter that even if we had the means to allow her to do so I wouldn't indulge her like that.

10-14-11, 8:42am
I am another one who likes to have my space reflect my taste. I love colour. I live in a place that is dark and colourless all winter and I get a little depressed when the world is so relentlessly black and white. Colour in my home cheers me up.

I don't have a ton of knick-knacks, though. I have a bunch of little kids and knick knacks and little kids don't mix. :)

Since we moved into the house I grew up in I have gradually been shifting from my mom's style to mine. There's nothing wrong with her style, she has great taste, it's just not me. My lastest effort is the living room. I've painted it blue from a kind of dark wheat colour and now I am adding accents. I gave away some very lovely paintings my mom had to a close friend of mine who loves them and I am replacing them with family photos. I know this is supposedly a no-no in decorating, but I like seeing evidence of people's lives on their walls. It makes me happy. I am sewing some throw pillow covers for my mom's old throw pillows and a banner for the walls. I think if I just left things the way they were I would always feel like I was a kid living in my mom's house.

10-14-11, 10:29am
Stella, I remember that you moved back to where your family is. Are you living in the house that you grew up in? I hope it holds great memories for you. I remember when you were on here posting about all of your babies being born. My how time flies!

Anyway, it seems that you are making your home be a reflection for your entire family and you have no idea how wonderful that is.

I grew up moving around. Most of my memories are centered around the house we lived in for about 4 years when I was 9-13. Both good and bad. When I dream about my childhood that house is usually in the center. Now, even at 56, I seem to find it hard to live in a house without feeling like I am just keeping it for the next person. ( I have moved numerous times as an adult, too). About the time I get my "touch" on a place, it seems that we get this idea to move. I don't think we will move again until we have to have assistance (my earnest prayer!!) to live on our own.

I guess I am making headway because even tho the house hardly holds the 6 adults and soon to be 3 babies, the kids seem to want to come to mama's. I am learning to mix homey with messy. But the house is so small that it doesn't take long to tidy up. We are gradually finding a home for everything and trying to keep things there. Organization is not just an option, but a must.

As far as the house goes, I think it definately reflects the direction that I am going. Rustic simplicity is a new decorating style that I have embraced. There is a lot of inside/outside living that all meshes together. The guys stay mostly outside, and migrate in and out and I think that they are comfortable here. I hope so because this is where my grandbabies will make many of their memories.

10-14-11, 9:45pm
I thought about this today as I browsed an on-line realty site. There were a couple of places I would have been attracted to if the current owners hadn't mucked them up (totally subjective, I know) with garish decor. Hot pink paint on exposed beams? Maybe Christo could make it work...http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-scared007.gif (http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php)

I'm totally visual; I admit it.