Earlier this year, when our team was gathering to talk about our plans for 2014, we each discussed feeling happy and proud about the longer form posts we wrote in 2013. The online world moves so quickly and changes so rapidly, but we each felt so connected to the things we talked about in those essays and the feedback we received was so personal and meaningful to each of us. So we decided we definitely wanted to continue them this year, but with a bit of a different focus: mindfulness.
I think blogs often get a bad wrap for being ‘mindless consumerism’. I understand that some people see products and feel that all blogs do is tell people to buy buy buy, but for me, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel like discussing design (new and old) is inspiring in the sense that it teaches me something new and gives me the confidence know the difference between when I can and should make something myself or invest in something that’s worth my money. But I realized that we don’t often take time here to discuss the ways we make mindfulness a part of our everyday decisions- how we choose to buy and not buy things for our homes. So for this first essay series, Max, Amy and I will be talking about what mindfulness means to each of us and how we practice it at home.
For me, mindfulness boils down to this: making calm, quiet decisions that not only feel right, but that reflect who I am in this very moment. I made a personal resolution when I moved last year, to never buy something without a precise need and purpose for it, and it’s lead to such a sense of freedom that I could never go back.
Click through for the full post (and photos from my home) after the jump…
Years ago when I lived in Park Slope, I was faced with a “good” problem: A slightly larger apartment than I was used to and not enough furniture to fill it. So I spent a lot of time buying ‘things’. Anything, really. I wasn’t buying expensive things; I was buying cheap box-store things and thrift store goods just to fill the space. But then I ran into this odd feeling- I couldn’t stop buying things. I realize now that I was unhappy and buying something gave me a momentary sense of happiness that distracted me from other issues I needed to deal with. I remember one day walking into a small store and not finding anything I liked and feeling this panic that I needed to buy something so I could go home and spend time finding a place for it. That’s when it hit me: I was buying mindlessly- and with an almost frenzied state of being. I was buying without purpose and to fill a void. It was at that moment that I decided to put down my wallet and try to figure out what buying things- and decorating my home- really meant to me.
Answering that question- why we buy the things we buy- can yield so many different results. Changes in life, changes in work and changes in who we are. But for me, choosing to examine my buying habits more deeply lead to some major life changes that required years of processing and understanding. But also lead to clarity.
In the spring of 2012 I was living in Greenpoint in a fairly empty and calm apartment near our office. For the first time in years, I felt such a sense of calmness and lightness at home. For me, calmness had always come from getting a room just right. Having all the right pieces to fill each space and knowing I’d gotten it perfect. But in this space, I owned practically nothing. I’d given away, sold or left behind so many of my belongings in a desire to start fresh and it felt liberating. When I adopted Hope a year later, nothing had changed in the apartment- except for a lot of new dog toys. I realized I’d lived a whole year without buying things for my home and I was completely happy.
I kept that sense of calm minimalism when I moved to my current apartment, and thankfully Julia shares the same commitment to clean, minimal living. But we’ve had to buy and build a lot of things to finish our home so it was a functional space that worked for us. In that buying process, mainly done at Ikea and The Container Store, it would have been easy to get caught up in the mania of large-store-shopping, but we kept level heads about us by going with a purpose, a precise list and only getting what was on it. At the end of the day we came home with exactly, and only, what we needed. It gave us a chance to fill “holes” in the room with things we already owned, loved and hadn’t gotten a chance to showcase yet. I never expected that buying fewer things would lead me to rediscover the things I already owned, but it has. Old flower pots became details on our bookshelves and beloved family tableware got a special spot on the dining room credenza. My favorite part is that paperwork that is special, but often hidden, has become meaningful artwork to us. Our marriage certificate, playful, but meaningful ‘adoption’ papers we created to celebrate Julia’s role in Hope and Turk’s life- all of these things that would be relegated to drawers or folders are now filling empty space in our home with a purpose and real meaning.
Now when I look at new designs online or in a store, rather than feeling buying envy, I try to learn something from what the interior has done. Rather than seeing something beautiful as a list of things to buy, I see it as a chance to learn a skill (maybe how someone paired patterns well, or a bold black paint color) that I can apply- with my own two hands and what I already own- at home. I still buy things every now and then, but I make sure that I go through a few steps first. First, I have to Pin or save it for at least a few days to see if it’s just a momentary desire. Second, I have to know exactly what I would do with it in my current home (no saving for ‘one day‘ spaces). Third and last, I have to think it would add a sense of meaning to my home, not just decoration. Is it made by someone I respect and admire? Does it remind me of a person, place or time that means something to me? If it doesn’t have some special significance or make my life better in a real way (i.e: making it more functional and practical), then it doesn’t come home. It’s sometimes hard to pass up my favorites (old textiles and ceramic), but the overall reward is a home that is calm, clean and decorated only with things that have meaning and story.
I know it can be hard to know all of these things by just skimming a blog, but I hope that my experience can be helpful- or at least interesting- to anyone reading who things that design, home goods or decorating is a purely consumerist activity. For me, creating a home is about making a space that welcomes you and the people you love gracefully and with warmth. Buying and making things are often a part of that and I think mindful decisions should always be what leads to any home improvement or change. I would love to hear what some of you do before buying or making something- I think there’s so much to be learned from the way we each make our homes feel like a special place. xo, grace
My favorite piece of artwork I own, a Sam Kweskin photograph, is the main visual impact in the dining room. No gallery walls, no large groupings, just one simple piece.