My Most Meaningful Decision (or How I Went Completely Insane and Loved Every Minute of It)

by Maxwell Tielman


Photo by Daniel Kanter.

Over the past few weeks, the Design*Sponge team has been recounting each of their own most meaningful decisions in the domestic realm. Amy discussed her efforts to live in the moment and create the home that she wants now. Grace recalled her struggles to regain her confidence and sense of self at home. Now it’s my turn and, if I’m being quite honest, I’m not sure exactly where to begin. Not because I haven’t made any meaningful decisions or because I can’t recall any particular moments, but because my greatest decision about my home life was, in essence, about making decisions. Over the past few years, I have made a number of wildly impulsive, gut-fueled, life-changing decisions—each of which was made on my own, solitary volition, oftentimes in direct opposition to the advice of my friends, family, and colleagues. And you know what? I have not regretted a single one of those decisions. Not a single one.

“That’s all fine and good,” you might say. “But what am I supposed to take from that? You make AWESOME decisions. Good-for-freaking-you. So what?” Making rash, foolhardy decisions on the off-chance that they might work out is a total crapshoot—not particularly good advice and not really the best way to govern one’s life. So, allow me to back up a little bit and reframe my point.

I think that the moment I began making my best decisions, no matter how seemingly impulsive they were, was the moment that I began truly understanding myself. I know that’s totally Eat-Pray-Love of me to say, but it’s the truth. Up until recently, I allowed people’s ideas of who I am and what I should be doing with my life inform many of my decisions. I followed advice given to me based on other people’s lives, on other people’s paths, and other people’s good fortunes. What I ultimately realized, though, is that other people’s advice, no matter how well-intentioned or clear-minded, can often have the same effect as an ill-prescribed medication: what might work for some people might not work for you. At all. Eventually, after more than a few ill-prescribed decisions and life-paths, I came to the rather simple (but nonetheless monumental) realization that it was I who knew myself best and who knew what made me the happiest. In short: I learned to trust my gut.

A little less than three years ago, on February 13th, 2011, I met my boyfriend, Daniel. After dating my him for roughly four months, I went with my gut and decided to move in with him. Although many a nay-sayer (and my therapist) told me that we were moving wayyyy too fast, I knew that it felt absolutely, unquestionably right. I boxed up all of my things in my tiny, Clinton Hill apartment and moved them to our new fifth floor walk-up in downtown Brooklyn. I have not once regretted it.

Less than a year later, in January 2012, Daniel and I were walking down Atlantic Avenue and saw a puppy adoption truck parked in front of the neighborhood vet. We walked in, decided to take a rambunctious pitbull for a test walk, fell in love within the course of one block, and took her back home with us. When I told my friends and family that Daniel and I had just welcomed a gigantic, over-energetic pit baby into our lives, many of them reacted with the same wide-eyed vexation, as if to say, “giiiiiirl, you crazy.” And perhaps it was a little bit crazy. We were two students in our twenties living in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. But you know what? That little nugget has made my life happier and more fulfilled than most of the other “good” decisions I’ve made in the past. NO REGRETS. BOOM.


A few months after adopting Mekko, Daniel and I were walking her down the street when a woman approached us with a horrific, mangy mess of a dog. She informed us that she had just found the dog a few blocks away and was trying to find its owner. She needed to get back home to her own dog and wondered if we might be able to take over. We obliged and, really, really long story short, we ended up with dog number two—an adorable, elderly stray that needed dental work, neutering, and more than a little TLC. As many of my friends were quick to inform me, it was insane. But clearly, insane is my jam. That little stray got cleaned up and turned into this cutie pie, a tiny bundle of fur that will cuddle up to me no matter where we are. NO REGRETS. BLAMO!


Then—in rather quick and disorientating succession, Daniel and I decided to get engaged and buy a house in Kingston, New York. Depending on who you asked, we were either maddeningly, nauseatingly in love or out of our damned minds. Probably a little bit of both. Still, if you ask me, I will tell you that I’ve never been happier, that my life has never been fuller, and that—surprise, surprise—I have no regrets.

While many of these life changes have happened at breakneck speed for me, getting to this point of gut-trusting decision-making delirium did not happen quickly. It took me a long time to realize that what seemed to work for my friends and colleagues didn’t necessarily work for me. What people my age wanted wasn’t necessarily what I wanted. It took more than a little introspection and self-acceptance to come to the understanding that I was a twenty-something guy that would rather stay inside with my knitting and dogs than go out to party—and that was okay. I’m was a twenty-something guy that got more excitement out of the dishwashing/dog-walking/dirt-digging of domesticity than living the so-called single-and-fabulous life. I knew, deep down, that I wanted to build a home and a family and once I finally accepted that, I was able to let go of my inhibitions and be the crazy, out-of-control homebody that I’ve always wanted to be.

While not everybody is in the position to drop everything and go utterly, domestically nuts, the real lesson here is less about the specifics and more about accepting what makes you as an individual happy—even when that isn’t what your peers expect of you. To put it plainly: Haterz gunna hate, you gotta do you. THE END.


Photo by Daniel Kanter.

Suggested For You


  • Adorable home and fiance aside, those pups really take the cake :) Looks like your go-with-the-gut mentality leveled your life up pretty quickly! Congrats all around!

  • Your decisions are all so wonderful- all about love! I have made the same breakneck speed ones before with no regrets. So happy for you & your man & your dogs!

  • I love the resounding positivity in this post. I’m holding my own hand on the path to making more confident decisions. I used to be great at it, but somewhere down the line I fell off the wagon. Thank you for the reminder (and for the laughs)!

  • Life isn’t set in stone, you can change your mind (and haters gonna hate on that too), but you can’t get time back. DON’T WAIT. I’ve lost too many loved ones over that past few years and while I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, you never know what life will bring. Live the life NOW. You are an incredibly positive example and an inspiration to me… thank you!

  • Max, Daniel, Mekko, & Linus! My favorite family of the design blog world! Thanks for sharing, Max.

  • Thanks so much for your post, Max. In the past year or so I have started following my gut too, which has led me to move in to a new place with my boyfriend after dating for “only” 6 months, take on fun and exciting jobs and hobbies, and drop old “friends” who were holding me back with little to no regret. I’ve always been a very type-A “have a socially acceptable plan for everything” person, and to become more impulsive has been scary as hell but also exhilarating. It is so encouraging to see someone else follow a similar path. Either we’re not crazy, or there are enough folks like us out there to make crazy seem more normal.

  • What a beautiful family! I love this series, it’s made me think about spaces and life in a whole different way.

  • I agree with other commenters: these posts are great. I can identify with parts of each. I made a decision to move in with a guy I’d known for about 5 months. And even though that arrangement quickly became untenable and I had to move out, I really don’t regret it. Of course, I did question my judgment — I think that what I really, really wanted was change. And I got it. If I hadn’t given up my rent-controlled apartment in Berkeley, I never would have bought a little house in SF (another impulsive move) and gotten acquainted with an interesting (“transitional”) neighborhood. So, even though I wasn’t as lucky (or smart) as you were in my choice of men, I ended up getting a lot out of my gut-level decisionmaking.

    The important thing (for me) is to make my decisions work — in some way, shape or form.

    End of lecture!

  • Thanks to all three of your for these posts–probably my all time favorites. It is always so heartwarming to see people living lives they love and making big decisions that work out well.

  • thank you thank you thank you! your timing with this personal introspection and the resulting joy it brought you was just what i needed. bravo for finding you and, ultimately, true happiness.

  • I’ve been reading Manhattan Nest since very early on, so it’s very interesting to read the other half of the story! I am intensely jealous of the house and the puppies :)

  • I love this, thank you so much. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the decisions we make are, by nature, the right ones for us, and sometime it’s best to just go with your gut rather than agonizing over it for ages. Because if you’re true to who you are and what really makes you happy, everything will turn out fine, one way or another. Thank you for bringing a smile to my day!

  • I myself have had to learn to make decisions, and to know that I will have to live with whatever the decisions bring with em’!! Then to be ok with the whatever.
    Sometimes I have questioned myself for taking risks, but now more then ever I understand it is well worth it!
    I like the real people behind these posts….and this story was real good….especially the doggies part. I have a 6 month lab puppy, and she is the most rebel puppy I have ever had….but I love her with all of my heart, and my life is so rich with her!!
    Yeah for all people that have animals!!

  • ” I was able to let go of my inhibitions and be the crazy, out-of-control homebody that I’ve always wanted to be.”

    This. This has been the most important realization of the last few years, for me, and summed up so well! I’d rather curl up with the cats, dog, adorable husband, and assorted books than go out and party (with people. Ugh, crowds…). And I like my home to suit that.

  • Max – beautiful post. As an out-of-control knitting/spinning homebody myself, I can definitely relate to that point where you just own up to that fact. Congratulations, and I hope things only get better from here!

    …and if you ever want a knitting buddy around the corner from the D*S offices, don’t hesitate to hit me up!

  • “I was a twenty-something guy that would rather stay inside with my knitting and dogs than go out to party—and that was okay. I’m was a twenty-something guy that got more excitement out of the dishwashing/dog-walking/dirt-digging of domesticity than living the so-called single-and-fabulous life.”

    Yes yes YES! And infinite yesses to your adorable dogs.

    Great piece, great advice. So happy for you guys, and totally loving this whole d*s series.

  • As a fellow go-with-your-gut decision maker, I love this post. Lots of people prefer to think things over and deliberate and consider things like logic, but I am right there with you. I also moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) after dating for 5 months, bought a fixer-upper and moved to the Hudson Valley after only seeing a handful of houses and not really considering the commute, and you know what? It has all worked out. Keep up the insanity.

  • What a refreshing & positive thing to read, especially after getting over years of questioning my own domestic impulses and goals. Thank you!

  • Oh, Max. This is wonderful. Thank you! You’re so right. Sometimes the best decisions we make for ourselves are the “wrong ones.” So happy for your happiness :)

  • I am 59 years old, and my life has been one incomprehensible-to-others gut leap after another. A few didn’t pan out, but most did — and even the unhappy ones (husband #1) led directly to the good ones (husband #2). of course, the good ones can lead to sorrow (husband #2 dies), but also incredible joy (daughter). The past is gone, the future is unknowable. What matters is what you do with the life you have, in the moment you have it. Right now, I’m living in Rome with an incredible view of the Aventine Hills, my beautiful 19-year-old daughter rockin’ it at university, money in the bank and all my teeth. A long and interesting road brought me here. It won’t last forever, something else will happen (I certainly hope) but it’s pretty good right now. Go for it, Max!

  • Just…YEAH.

    I echo other commenters who enjoy these ‘personal’ posts. It adds much depth to the design information and inspirations Design Sponge offers up.

  • Ever since you (all of you at DesignSponge!) started sharing more about your personal lives, everything has become so much better. It’s not just that I like reading about people, I think it’s good to know that design is not some sort of monolithic presence unrelated to anything else in your world, but it is an integral and important part of your lives – as are your families and pets :D
    And frankly it makes you more relatable and a bit … less scary. You’re not just those designy hipsters anymore, you’re almost … real humans!! :D

  • Daniel, this could not have come at a better time. I have been unhappy where I am for so long and I know it’s time to make some seemingly crazy changes and calculated risks. In the direction I want to go, everything seems dead set against me. How did you summon up the 30 seconds of insane courage you needed to just take the leap?

  • super uplifting story that I needed to hear right now! thank you so much for sharing.

  • Such a beautiful story, really brightens my day! Thank you for giving the stray dog a chance!

  • Great post! I can relate to this. I have pretty traditional and protective parents but in the end, I realized that they only wanted the best for me but that their best was vey different from mine and if I am going to regret anything, I’d rather they be my own decisions about my life than someone else’s. And so far, so good *fingers crossed*

    I’ve been reading Daniel’s blog for a while and it’s been wonderful to see how his and your lives have changed. I’m so happy for you, for the both of you.

  • Love this post. I think some people are born knowing this and the rest of us have to figure it out. I took me longer than you (30’s), but once I found the path my life was so much happier, because I chose to make it that way. Everything here was very well said. Congratulations on your happy, lovely life built on crazy ideas. It is the best kind to have.

  • Truly beautiful story.I loved the first picture of you two boys on the couch.I have three little dogs, I call them my puppies, even though they are 15 14 13respectfullt.They are my best friends. I wish you and your lovely family much koy .

  • Truly beautiful story.I loved the first picture of you two boys on the couch.I have three little dogs, I call them my puppies, even though they are 15 14 13respectfullt.They are my best friends. I wish you and your lovely family much joy. All my puppies are rescue dogs.

  • I laughed pretty hard at, “insane is my jam.” I feel you on that. Loved all of this. Such an adorable family you have. Your puppies are so stupid cute. I totally needed to be reminded to trust my gut. Thank you.

  • This makes my heart melt, Max. I’m a complete advocate, for dogs — especially when it comes to strays, or pups who have been mistreated.

    My husband and I have two of our own. Caspian, an American Bulldog/Blackmouth Cur mix (who has become the baby we’ve never had); and Bella, a mixed breed that we adopted last year, after hearing that she was observed being thrown out of a moving car, when she was a small puppy.

    It’s awesome, when I see random examples of dog-compassion (or any other kind of compassion, for that matter), from other people. Clearly, you and Daniel are a couple of good eggs!

  • I love it that you got it so young! I’m 66 and finally got it a couple years ago. You go guy!

  • Thank you. I needed this. Have taken up crazy-domesticating rather than doing the “single and fabulous” (despite my own parents’ disapproval) and couldn’t be happier. You do you, man.

  • I looooove this. Good for you to get to the point of trusting your gut while you are as young as you are. More the the point….trusting your gut and being free of guilt.
    I am a good deal older than you and while now, with hindsight (and two grown sons!!!), I realize I have always been trusting my gut….I see how I have punished myself for most of my life for doing so. Now that my sons are on their own and I have more time for myself I finally realize that I have to drop the guilt. All of the love and acceptance I have given my sons I can now give myself. I wish it could have come sooner. But whenever it comes it is to be cherished. More love and freedom all around!!!!!

  • Congrats! Being on a similar “insane” trajectory myself (although I’m in my 30s) – met a guy, decided we wanted to get married/start a family after 4 months, got pregnant, moved in together and got married in August (2 years and 7 months later, with an 18-month old daughter – I’ve learned to celebrate trusting my gut too.

  • So true Daniel – I’m only just realising this for myself. It’s all about the gut. Thanks for putting my feelings into words.

  • Holy Carp! I’ve been dealing (read: REALLY friggin’ struggling) with finding/accepting/being me lately…THANK YOU for this beautifully written post!!! It has been so very inspirational to me and made me want to FINALLY give up all of my “what everyone else thinks I “should” be/think/do hang-ups. Really grateful for your words!

  • When I met my husband, we had both just come out of relationships and moved into ours at “breakneck speed” as well. Our families thought we were crazy, but almost 13 years of marriage and 3 kids later, I think following our gut was the right thing to do. No regrets either when we decided to move overseas, or to come back, or any of it really! Glad you found what makes you happy. That little voice inside your head is rarely ever wrong. Great post – thanks for sharing!

  • As a fellow twenty-something guy who is trying to reconcile how different my ambitions are to those of my peers, I really related and was inspired by this post. I hope I can brush off my hang ups and live life as fully as you are.

  • Such a great post. You kind of have me rethinking my extremely cautious, well-researched life.

  • you inspired me…I am way too worried about doing things the “right way” blah blah blah…..I sometimes forget to just live and be happy…..those are two luck pups btw!

  • I just like you. and your dogs and your sweet honest heartfelt story and knowing all of this makes me happy. thank you.

  • I love that I recently listened to you on After the Jump so that as I read this I could hear your voice telling the story! Super adorable and inspiring- thank you for sharing!!!!

  • I love this post! This is exactly the type of fresh inspiration I’ve needed lately. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Good for you! Pitbulls are seriously the best dogs and it’s so unfortunate they get a bad rep. So snuggly, loving and loyal – love them!

  • This is hands down the best read all week. Thanks so much for sharing. And it is so so true that what works for others doesn’t work for me. I’ve had so many people ram down their advice and opinions on me it was suffocating. And a side note – I’m so glad doggie #2 found a home with you. I have a senior dog and it just breaks my heart that senior dogs have one of the lowest rates of being adopted. “Insane is my best jam” — this should be quoted, designed and framed :)

  • This really hit home for me as I sit in our packed up Manhattan loft. We close on a house upstate today that feels so right. I trust my gut, but it’s a huge change for us. So much of my identity is wrapped up in my lifestyle making a change is scary but I know it has to be done. You’re right about this: hatters gonna hate. Trust your gut and do what you gotta do. See you upstate!

  • Great post. Trusting your instincts is usually the right move, from answers on the SAT to choosing a spouse. BTW, how do you like Kingston NY? I visited there last summer, mainly to go to a brewery, and I thought it was kind of a great town.
    I could live there.

  • Hello sweet young man and family. You don’t know me. But I will give you a brief over view. I am 59 years old and have two grown beautiful sons, two grandsons and one beautiful daughter in law. Making decisions for yourself is the best gift you will ever give yourself and your family. The life you have been given is a gift. We are on this earth to do one simple thing……to Be Happy. A family is what you make it, design it with love and care. Never mind what others say….continue to love and enjoy your little family . Love and best wishes. Gabrielle from Rancho Cucamonga California. P.s. you write very well.

  • This wonderful Design*Sponge Family understands and shares how the process of self-discovery/home/life are so closely connected so beautifully! I take from this too, that through acceptance of ourselves, our self-determination is the door that opens us up to sharing, love, and moving outward from that space within.
    Our lives are made up of opposing factors, we always have to choose, and choosing from that true heart place will always be right!
    Max, your home, family, choices, are beautiful and inspiring, and just exude HAPPINESS! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Love this. So honest, sweet & true. Exactly what I needed this morning, w/ a cup of coffee and puppy in my lap. Best of luck to you!

  • Love this!! I know exactly what you mean. I think life starts to “take off” when you trust your gut and make the decisions that are in your heart. Nothing to be ashamed of and no need worry about the haters. Your confidence is inspiring and it will pay you back in “compound” confidence and happiness. YAY for you!

  • I’d like nothing better than to move to Brooklyn and be friends with you, Grace & Amy. You guys run a fabulous publication and I’m so happy that you are all finding success and happiness in your lives. Thank you for sharing these wonderful posts with us, strangers on the internet, and making us feel so welcome and closer to home.

    • charlotte,

      thank you so much. i feel so lucky to work with max and amy and people like you, who we all consider our extended friend network :)


  • Yes! It can take a long time to realize that trusting your gut is the way to live your happiest, most well-intentioned life. You are so rad, Maxwell! It melted my heart to read about dog number two. I’m a huge fan of living without regret and you capture this so well! Happiness to the four of you.

  • Ah. Trust your gut. Every time I do, it works out – my gut is right. Every time I drag my feet and try to be what others expect, I end up miserable and filled with regrets. Thank you for this post. And all your others. I love your you perspective on things.

  • I love this! I’ve been fielding a little unsolicited life advice myself lately and it can take moxie to say “thanks, but nope” and trust your gut. Best of luck with all future endeavors/doggie adoptions/etc! haha

  • Max, my brother is going through a similar journey in his life. Not trusting his instincts has had some bad outcomes for him. I’m so glad that you were able to do what’s best for you. Wonderfully writting!

  • You’re an amazing writer with a fabulous voice… And what a great post! And to sound VERY “Eat Pray Love”, I started making decisions for me about 5 years ago when I moved to Greece, then Spain. Along my journey, I met a fabulous Irishman, who decided to move to the US with me after just 4 months of dating. (that was 3 years ago)…and we were married just last week! (not too far from Kingston, at Cragsmoor Stone Church/Brotherhood Winery.) It’s been the most amazing years of my life. Truly. Cute dogs up next! What a fun story to share! Thanks!

  • You both (and your doggies!) are frigging adorable. Your post was great-thanks for the inspiration!

  • Thank you for this beautiful and personal essay. Trusting your gut is a very hard lesson to learn, but once you’re there, it’s total freedom.

    If only some (or none!) of these decisions had worked out, they would all still be wonderful, necessary, honestly-made decisions. You have to do what feels right at the time, take a leap, and accept that circumstances change. Bonne continuation!!

  • Thank you for this honest and personal essay. For an about to be divorced mom of 2 kids who decided to set up a design business ( and finally let her creative self truly out) instead of a stable career in nursing, who just bought 2 puppies because it felt right, who finally stuck up to her mom, who has finally at the ripe old age of 40 learned to trust herself above all others, then I feel a real connection with the writer. Kudos for you for learning these things about yourself in your 20’s!

  • Love reading about your personal sides, makes you seem real people I’d be so pleased to be friends with. Has any one asked how you and Daniel met, if you don’t mind me asking.

  • Your site is one of the ones I look at first before I start designing. Its nice to know you better… May I ask, did anyone ask how you and Daniel met?

  • Ok, I’m loving your last line, “haterz gunna hate, you gotta do you”. That’s something I will be quoting! Love your story, good for you!

  • This is so great – trusting my intuition and going with a gut feeling, no matter how crazy, is something that I always pretend to do, but not something that I’ve actually been able to embrace in a practical way, for fear of being silently (or not so silently) judged by the people that I love and care about. I need to keep your words in mind and strive to just do me.

  • Blammo!!! I’m in love with you, your sweetie pie doggies and your house! Oh and the fiance too! But in a, let’s all hang out and drink wine kind of way. ;)

    So glad you’re impulses are leading you in the right direction! My life has worked that way too.

  • We’re probably around the same age, but I’d love to be like you when I grow up! You and Daniel seem so cool.
    To be honest, I’ve knowingly let people brainwash me out of following my gut. It’s been a struggle to rediscover (self doubt and all that jazz). Hopefully I can find it again someday cause Id love to find my “jam” too :)

  • YAY! Guts + Love = Your Heaven on Earth.

    Remember growing up how we all just wanted to “fit-in”? Yeah – that was sooooo over-rated! Isn’t it just amazing the twists & turns your life takes when you jump on the wild ride of “Be True to YOU”? Love how the universe gives you everything you need.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story – and sending your good vibes out into the world! Now, that’s my kinda jam :)

  • Max, this was possibly my favourite design*sponge post of all time. I completely, whole-heartedly relate to this and I so appreciate that you wrote about it! I am going to bookmark this and re-read it whenever I need reminding that I’m on the right path for me…


    Ps. Can you please let me know where Mekko got his red jacket? I love it and want to get one for my black lab Remy. :)

  • My first time on Design Sponge and I know it was because I needed to read this!
    I just met an amazing guy… Things are going fast and I feel it’s alright but I still fear the reaction of the people around me! Thanks for sharing your own experience! Made me realize that I need to listen to my voice and not let it be drowned under other people’s voices!

  • Max, clearly you’re a domestic god and all but you are SUCH an amazing writer. I never start a post you’ve written without reading right to the very end – couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. Hope you write a book one day.

  • love your post and love you have the guts to follow what is right for you and your family; good luck with your future decisions!

  • Your post has inspired me to embrace the homebody side of myself… no matter what the “haterz” say. THANK YOU.

  • WAY TO GO. What a great story. You are lucky to have discovered such a sure internal compass at such a young age. I feel like a lot of people don’t figure this stuff out until their 40s! Here’s to quiet Saturdays spent in front of the fire, curled up with the pups and your loved ones.

  • Thank you so much, Max. I’ve been reading what you and Daniel have been kind enough to share with us for years, and I loved this beautifully written reflection. You guys are fantastic writers, amazing dads, and inspiring to me in many ways. Just thanks.

  • Truly touching because it’s all about love, all the way!! Love for yourself and for your beautiful family and kudos to you for finding the essence of life in your twenties!!! Hope I run into you in Kingston this summer.