For the last few of my building’s monthly game nights, only two of us showed up. Before he moved out of town in mid-December, my game-playing partner invited me to his apartment for a meal and a last game of Scrabble.
The invitation for that evening was issued spontaneously during his workday, so he had no time to tidy up. His place was clean but cluttered, undoubtedly reflecting the fact that he and his partner were packing to move.
I felt more relaxed and comfortable than I do in spaces where everything is in its designated place. After returning home, I felt better about my own abode than I do when I come back from someone’s spotless and beautifully decorated home thinking, “I should do more . . .”
Usually what comes to mind would be a big project that I don’t want to put myself through, at least not now. Like hiring a carpenter to transform my den with a built-in desk, drawers, cabinets, and shelves. Since the tabletop-on-file-cabinets desk and the shelves there now work fine, I kick that idea down the road.
I know a new area rug is needed in the living room and new flooring in the bedroom, but those will have to wait while my cat — the reason new flooring is needed — is with me.
The message of a book called House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live, by Winifred Gallagher, sounds sensible to me: Getting your home right is not about how it looks but about how you feel in it.
Most of the time, I feel good at home. My condo works for me. What didn’t work, I fixed by adding storage and lighting. My place meets the standards of comfort and convenience.
A few months ago, Brooklyn resident Helen Holmes wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine defending her messy apartment. “Those aggressively maintained personal spaces — whom are they actually for?” Holmes asked. Their purpose, in her opinion, is to project the model female identity: “When I see the uniformly immaculate and insidiously similar rooms . . . I see the trickle-down effect of a world that coaches girls always to accommodate and impress.”
So, we make our homes beautiful — or feel bad when they’re not — because we’re concerned about other people’s impressions. Holmes’s conclusion is to remind us that the way a home looks “says nothing about the worth or the competence of its occupant.” It’s your place, she says, so do what you want.
Gallagher was focusing on decorating and Holmes more on cleanliness, but it seems to me that their bottom line is the same: It’s your judgment and feelings, not other people’s, that should matter. I agree except for this: When guests are invited, it’s considerate to clean the areas they’ll be in.
But what if people arrive unexpectedly? Last week an article in the Chicago Tribune offered tips about how to clean up in a half hour if friends phone to say they’re dropping in shortly. If they arrive without calling a half hour ahead, are you going to pretend you’re not home? Since they’re friends, presumably you’ve confided your insecurities, so why should you be embarrassed for them to see your home as it is?
My condo isn’t the kind of mess that Holmes described. Usually it’s picked up because I would feel antsy in a disorderly environment. When you live in a place that has no rooms to close a door on except the bedroom and the bathroom, however, it’s hard to keep the public places looking neat all of the time.
I wanted to tell my Scrabble partner how good his untidied space made me feel, but I feared offending him. If you hesitate to have people over because your home isn’t a candidate for House Beautiful, consider that you might send some folks home feeling better for it.
I'D TRY OUT SMARTWOOL IF . . .
A few friends endorsed Smartwool socks since I wrote about searching for socks that will last. Someone once gave me a pair of Smartwool socks. Alas, one member of the pair disappeared into the socks abyss before I’d worn it much. Figures that an expensive sock would vanish while my drawer is full of cheaper brands. Maybe the sock attached itself to another item in the dryer and will turn up someday.
ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATIONS: 45TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“[Trump’s trade war] is killing us. I just feel so betrayed. If we fail because the company is being harmed by the government, that just makes me sick.”
— Pat LeBlanc, a Republican who voted for Trump and the chair of EBW Electronics, a Michigan company that makes lights for the auto industry