The downside of decorating comparisons

Do you ever wander around your home and think that it could use more pizzazz?

Browsing through an Apartment Therapy book recently, I thought about why my condo seems uninspired in comparison with the places in the photographs. 

To begin with, the apartments and houses have high ceilings, architectural details like molding and wainscoting, gleaming woodwork, and big windows with grilles. Moreover, the furniture isn’t from IKEA or the light fixtures from Home Depot. 

You don’t create homes like these from one shopping spree. The occupants probably hunted in home stores, antique stores, art fairs, flea markets, and specialty shops throughout their lifetimes. They curate the displays on walls, shelves, and tabletops. Decorating for them is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done project.

I live in a simple, modern apartment with no interesting architectural details and the standard 8½ foot ceiling. 

I’ve never been a shopper. Except for the couch, nothing here cost more than a couple hundred dollars. I didn’t inherit any pieces. 

HGTV and decorating books, magazines, and websites present us with visions of exquisite homes. I know a lot of people enjoy these sources of inspiration, but they can make me feel dissatisfied. I suspect that I’m not alone, so I’m going to share with other malcontents what I tell myself.

• The photos in decorating books are staged. I doubt that the homes remain perfect as they’re lived in daily. If they do, well, I’ll quote a book title: A Perfectly Kept House Is a Sign of a Misspent Life.

• Designers say your place should express you. My condo is low-key, laid-back, and informal, and so (I like to think) am I. So, the goal is achieved. “Your place is cozy” is the most frequent comment I get from people who visit, and there’s no praise I like more.

• My condo not only expresses my personality but also my values. I’m not into impressing people — or perhaps I should say that the impression I want to give is that I value simplicity, frugality, and not having more than I need. 

• Maybe all the condo needs is refreshing. An environment that never changes can seem stale after a while, no matter how well designed. Rearranging the living room furniture the last time I felt discontent did the trick. Or maybe it’s time for a deep cleaning.

• When I start comparing, I might compare myself with the thousands of homeless people who live on the streets of Chicago. I know that sounds like your mother’s reminding you of the starving kids in poor countries when you didn’t clean your plate, but it’s true: Those of us who have homes are blessed.

Filed under: Life lessons, Uncategorized


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  • This is very wise, Marianne, as usual. Walking around my studio doesn't take very long, but I think of it as different rooms. A walk-through closet (on the way to the bathroom) doubles as my reading room, thanks to what an ordinary person would use (I guess) as a linen closet. It's my main bookcase. Towel racks will do otherwise (and they don't hold books). As for reorganizing, that's for my shelves (for books and curios). "My" closet gets a bit crowded, while a second closet doesn't because it's home to my cello and my dad's violin, which I'm starting to learn to play. They need room in "their" closet, so that gives me some discipline.

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