Defining Success

by Grace Bonney

I woke up at 5:45 am this morning in a little town outside of Woodstock, NY surrounded by the people and things that mean the most to me. Julia and I are taking a two-week working vacation up in the Catskills and we brought the whole (pet) family with us – including our friends’ dog, Fluffnut. I’ve been wanting to unplug and get away from everything, but the reality is, these days that’s pretty impossible. So rather than overworking and pre-loading content to take a few days off from the computer, we decided to go somewhere quiet that has WiFi and access to the things we need to keep working. Julia’s working on a cookbook and I’m working on my normal posts and some big-picture business planning, but we’re both happy to be working away from our normal noisy neighborhood. The dogs and cat are pretty happy to get away, too.

As I pulled my laptop onto my lap this morning, I kept getting distracted by an issue of People magazine sitting on the counter. It’s my go-to impulse buy at any grocery store and today a short interview with musician Ed Sheeran caught my eye. At the end of the interview they asked him what success looked like to him. His answer struck a chord (no pun intended) with me. He said, “I think the meaning of life is family. If I can have a wife, kids, animals and a house – that is success.” I found myself nodding and then staring out the window a bit, realizing that my own personal journey has been about coming to the same realization. It took me a while, but these days, I find that defining success means focusing less on tangible things and more on the intangible moments that teach us something about who we really are and what we really want.

*Photo above by Casey Stark from the #dscolor feed on Instagram

Read on to hear the four questions I ask myself every night to stay in touch with what matters most…

When I started Design*Sponge 10 years ago, my goals were simple: to find a place to talk about the things I loved and to find a few people to share that conversation. The site grew beyond anything I could have ever imagined and that has been one of the greatest surprises, and gifts, in my life so far. I never expected to be running a business 10 years later or be managing a business that supported friends and co-workers, too. It’s been a great and ongoing challenge to balance the business and editorial side of my job, but it’s a challenge I feel honored to have.

That said, I find that as I grow older, I crave fewer things and the things I do crave come from a place of heritage, tradition and slowness. Instead of seeking out more and more varieties of things, I want fewer – and I want those fewer things to be functional and personal. When I tell other bloggers and friends about this desire for less and less, I find people share the same sentiment, but also share the accompanying feeling of dread. Dread that comes from a place of worrying that that my desire to have less is bad for business.

We all work in a community based around the idea of NEW and what’s the latest/hottest/coolest something. Searching for those things used to excite me and then it kept me up at night worrying that I wouldn’t find that thing fast enough or before someone else. So I naturally found myself turning away from so much product coverage and writing more about what it took to create a space (rented, owned, small, big – it doesn’t matter) that felt like home.

While sifting through emails and comments related to our reader survey last week, many people wrote asking for more (and more frequent) trend coverage, product roundups and greater numbers of posts about items that are under $25. I sat with those requests for a long time. They resonated strongly because they echo so much of what the internet is about right now: demanding more and more and in smaller, bite-sized pieces. I read and re-read each request and tried to get at the core of what people wanted. I sat down and thought about hiring someone to just cover trends and products and then I caught myself doing that slide so many of us recognize – the slide into what we think we’re supposed to do to make everyone happy. It’s a slide that often comes at the expense of what makes us happy.

Then it hit me: I have to find a way to make these requests and that content fit within the lens of what we believe. I will never be able to make everyone happy, but if I can work harder to give people more of what they want, but presented in a way that best expresses what our site believes in, we’ll have a better chance at making both ourselves, and readers, happy.

The definition of success that’s easy to fall into is one that produces the biggest results: the most readers, the most pageviews, the most press and the most financial success. But the one that really matters to me these days is one that focuses on how I feel when I settle into bed each night. Am I proud of what I put out into the world today? Have I been respectful to and appreciative of the people and things that mean the most to me? Am I able to support myself and contribute to my family’s well-being? Am I, along with my family, happy and healthy? If I can say “yes” to all of these questions, I feel that I’ve reached the sort of success that means something to me. Sure, I regularly have days where I can’t say “yes” to all of these – or any of these – but the closer I get to having all these bases covered, the closer I feel to attaining the sort of success that matters to me.

There’s nothing wrong with striving for “more” and “better,” but the question I find most helpful to come back to over and over is, “Who and what do I want by my side when I’m 85?” Will it be endless stacks of magazines and inexpensive ombre vases? Or will it be a sense of peace and quiet and someone to share it with? Chances are, it will be a little bit of both (I will always love vases). For me, success is about a constant balancing act: Working towards gleaning out the things that don’t make me feel happy, calm and whole and slowly adding things, people and moments that make me feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. – xo, grace

What does success mean for all of you? Has it changed as you’ve gotten older? Does the success you’ve achieved feel different than you expected when you aimed for it? What are the things that make you sleep well at night? I’m curious to know the core questions and touchstones we all set for ourselves to stay in tuned with what matters most to each of us.

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  • I filled out your survey and am definitely guilty of checking boxes for more, more, more. but while checking those boxes i also hoped for a comments section at the end where i could explain myself, so i guess that’s what i get to do now. i love designsponge exactly how it is and also how it has morphed over the years. it is a daily reprieve for me, so much so that i find myself judging how busy i am by whether i was able to check designsponge that day or not! if you ask me if i want more of one of my favorite things i’m naturally going to say yes, but i am so happy, and will remain loyal, with whatever you decide to do. Also, i love your personal definition of success. it rings very clear with me also these days. i’m finding myself making tough emotional and logistical decisions so that i can keep working towards the same end goals – being surrounded by those i love, centered and at peace with myself in this world.

  • I really liked this column, because it resonates with where I am these days. I think back to my 20’s and 30’s though, when I was creating my home(s) – rental spaces and then my own house. As I was filling up my spaces on an always limited budget, I felt hungry for things – there were a lot of needs that needed to be met, and cost was a big driver in my decision making. Yard sales, Goodwill, Ikea, Target, things on sale, were all good. It was really rather astonishing how much stuff I could acquire on a tight budget, and I filled up a (small) 3 bedroom house. Then I got married and we had to combine both of our household goods, and I feel like I’ve been purging for the last decade and the need to simplify has completely over-ridden the need to buy more. So it really feels like I have traveled along this arc of needs. And I think you will always have readers at various places on that arc. Not everyone is where you are today, but many people will get there one way or another, at one time or another.

  • My definition of success has definitely evolved as I’ve gotten older. In my early 20s, success meant a job making six figures with a good benefits plan. It only took a few years for me to figure out that money and stuff don’t necessarily correlate with happiness. My salary is less than half of what it was when I was 22 years old, and I feel infinitely more successful because I love what I do and make a point to appreciate all of the wonderful people and good things in my life every day.

    As an interior designer and college educator, I constantly stuggle with how to reconcile my views on material consumption and living more simply with my clients’ needs and wants and what I teach my students. But, it’s an interesting struggle, and I enjoy the process of searching for what feels right, and what feels right is always evolving.

  • My main values are freedom and adventure. So success is having the time and resources to do the things I want in life. Working for myself has freed me from punching the time clock and allows me to focus on what excites me. And I can go out to work in my garden whenever I want! Woo-hoo!

  • Grace,

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful & authentic essay. I was one of the people who filled out your survey and requested more content like this, and less product roundups. I love how D*S is evolving, and in my opinion becoming more mindful, personal and heartfelt.

    I just got back from walking up to the community garden I help out at with my coffee cup in hand, doing a bit of gardening and sitting amongst the beauty of growth. Success for me is being able to do that every morning; have my coffee and visit the garden in peace.

    I have been working hard on building a healthy life for myself that consists of being able to spend my time as I choose (for the most part), take on projects that I believe it, spend time with those I care most… Collecting moments and not things.

    It’s a HUGE transition for me. I am a natural consumer and get distracted by what is bright, shiny and new. At the end of the day what is most important to me is sharing my life with those I adore, and enjoying even the simplest of tasks.

    You truly inspire me Grace. Thank you.


  • I’m an old soul that likes to drink. How I like to party has changed kind of like my view of success. Going all out, having tons of friends, staying out late, focused intently on how to make the next buck, having a constantly overflowing schedule was suppose to be fulfilling. It left me with a heavy moral conscience. I’m working on my success one tiny baby step at a time. I equate it to happiness, you have to work at it everyday by asking yourself what truly works for you.
    p.s. I like the depth of quality in the articles at design sponge. The articles aren’t screaming at you with a giant banner that begs for attention like a ploy. I appreciate that it isn’t another BHG with articles listing mass consumption and cheap prices. I like peoples homes filled with all sorts of found, collected and handmade character.

  • Thank you for this post! I too have been contemplating these very same things. Sometimes that amount of information coming in ends up making me feel depleted, most likely from a sense that I cannot fill up fast enough on the next big thing. I have been trying to make my kids the priority every day, even though sometimes work demands pile up. Your nightly questions may be added to my checklist before I go to bed. Thank you.

  • What a good and inspiring read. And I actually like DS is not focused on buying things all the time. It is the articles that keep me coming. Please don’t change too much! And I love the newsletter for catching up after a busy week!

  • I’m another survey completer who also asked for fewer product round-ups and more personal essays. I just can’t take in as much “the five pink these” or the “10 best those” posts from anywhere any longer. I’ve unsubscribed to blogs and sites that are primarily round-ups. I have neither the space nor the energy to take it all in and then consume it. I suppose I could keep chopping and changing up my space (and I do that on occasion) but it just doesn’t fulfill.

    I’ve blogged for a few years now and have turned my site more into a portfolio site with a journal attached. Can’t even say the word “blog” any longer! I was posting 5 days a week and now maybe do 2 at most. What fulfills me is community and connection.

    I “show my work”, behind the scenes and finished product. I also co-host instagram challenges with a calligrapher from across the country. We’ve never met but we host them every few months and have both met so many artists & photographers & creatives as a result. I love the interaction and comments.

    I like reading DS because I feel like there are real people behind the posts with real opinions and real homes. I like that you write essays like these that speak to your own creative journey and growth. None of us are finished products.

    Maybe it’s being in a longterm relationship. Maybe it’s having been around the block a few times. Maybe it’s being a mom to an 8 year old. Whatever it is, I need traditions and a slower pace and real connection with friends & family. I adore travel (NYC 2x a year plus Toronto, Hawaii and other places as well) and the “new” but even those include traditions now.

    When I’m 80 and looking back, if I can say that I was the best partner and friend and mom that I could be, if I can say that I also took some good photographs and made some music and had some laughs – that’s success to me.

  • I love what you’ve writen here and coudn’t agree more. As my husband and I move forward to new job challenges and family challenges, it’s the moments where things are simplest that we’re happiest. Give me a sunny day in the back yard with a good book and the dogs running around and there’s just about nothing else I want. We’re spending our time and money more on experiences than things and that’s another piece of the puzzle for us. I have a red ceramic penguin on my bookshelf that makes me smile every time I see it, not because it’s a rare item or worth anything really, but because it reminds me of a fantastic trip we took together. I want to share moments not stuff with him, and having a job that allows me the financial stability and flexible schedule I want and need to make those moments is success to me.

  • I really love the creative ideas that DS brings to the table that don’t always have to revolve about going out and buying new STUFF. (Because that’s what it is on other blogs, just stuff.) I love it when artists are interviewed, when we get a peak into someone’s home to see what makes it unique and the kick-ass biz ladies are awesome! So, keep doing what you do.

  • YES
    When I close my eyes and I imagine my ideal life, it’s in a light packed very empty place with great cactuses.
    And then I open them, and I am in front of a screen with 193837 tabs open, and a lot of mess everywhere. Clearly there’s a missmatch :)
    To me success is being really quiet.
    No promotion, no social media hecticness. Shhh. Everything laid out for as long as you want it to be. Those who need you have already found you.

    • Maria

      You nailed it. “To me success is being really quiet.” and “Those who need you have already found you.” resonate so strongly with me.


  • I am very impressed with what you have shared. I am assuming that your are considerably younger than my 55 years and yet you are recognizing what I believe took we baby boomers more than half a lifetime to recognize. In fact for most of us (people in our 50’s and early 60’s) we are just now finding the drive to simplify, breathe, enjoy the moment and let go of the “shoulds” that have dominated so much of our workaholic lives. It warms my heart to see younger people find this place so much earlier in their lives.

    As a young attorney and mother in the 1980’s there was little time to breathe in the crazy world of litigation. Now, I would say that I have evolved into a very different human being. I relish every moment I can get with my incredible daughter, my husband and my much adored Australian Shepard “Buddy”. I watch sunsets, I read novels and I have less and less “stuff”. Bravo! and I am sure that there will be a way to produce results inside of enjoying life. If not…it just isn’t worth it.

  • One of my main drivers, for better or for worse: Do the people I love, know (properly know) that I love them and what have I done to make sure they know?

  • Maybe I am just oblivious to trends, but I thought most of your posts were trendy or showed trends! Isn’t wallpaper in? And black? And minimalism? I love that your blog shows different types of trends, current and long lasting, through different types of articles! I too was hoping for a comments section, I wish I could have explained some of my answers! If people want trendy pieces you recommend, I recommend the design sponge Pinterest page, I found the most perfect mug for a friend’s birthday the other day.

    As for success, I love your definition, I am at a young point in my career and currently stability is my goal! I also have just moved and the last place I lived way really tough for me, I used to focus on being happy, but now, my goal is to be whole! I loved your definition, it’s great to have role models for what the arch of success looks like!

  • Grace-You have inspired me once more. I shared this article on my Facebook page too because it was so good. I was just asking fellow bloggers how to get more followers and several very good and gracious suggestions were given to me. I had to ask myself, do I want to do something forced and out of character just to get a certain number of people? Do I need gimmicks to get me noticed? I came to the conclusion that I would rather have people read my blog, Facebook page, whatever because they are genuinely interested in my viewpoint on interior design and possibly look into working with me in their own home. That is success to me.

    Thank you,

  • I so appreciate you writing this post and acknowledging the paradox at play here. I also filled out the survey, and requested more product coverage. However, I completely agree with your sentiments on commercialism, so I wasn’t thinking about the round-ups (they do tend to be a bit shallow by their very nature). Rather, I would love to see more highlights on beautiful, quality pieces, whether handmade, limited edition, made in the USA, etc. For me, it’s about the artistry and creativity; what’s new, what’s possible, what pushes the boundaries of what we expect.

    I know you’ve moved some of your product roundups to Pinterest in order to shift your blog focus, but there’s no place with greater emphasis on MORE than Pinterest; it’s overwhelming to me. Over the years, I feel that I’ve not only come to trust your personal perspective of design, but since it’s part of my daily read I’ve become influenced and shaped by it as well. That’s why I wish there were more product spotlights that include a small blurb to acknowledge the people and process behind the work (I’ll never forget this one: http://bit.ly/1rUYNH5).

    Also, when we’re talking about small, independent artists, don’t forget that on one side of the equation is indeed a consumer, but on the other side there may be a passionate person who’s version of success lies in the act of creating. Supporting them is supporting their success, and I believe that’s what Design*Sponge is best at.

    • Hi Melissa

      Thanks so much for your feedback. We are indeed embracing that point of view with products now and ONLY write about them with that context. This is the current format we’re using: http://www.designsponge.com/2014/06/brendan-ravenhills-gran-barrel-light.html

      I agree that showing something without some context and story connection is less valuable for everyone. I’m hoping that we can strike a balance between continuing to showcase handmade/indie makers (which has been our focus since 2004) and showing things that are functional and affordable whenever possible.


  • Thanks for the article. I normally flick through the picture but found myself reading today. It really resonated with me. Keep defining your own success away from any other one expectation

  • This is absolutely beautiful, and a wonderful reminder to focus on what’s really important. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • thanks so much for this post, grace. i am finding myself feeling increasingly lonely and at the same time the most successful i’ve ever been. but if there’s no one to share that success with, how can i even call it that? it’s been something keeping me up at night for a while now, and i’m trying to take steps to find someone to share my life with. but at 55, i’ve found even when i put myself out there (i.e. online dating) – i get no response. and i mean none. it’s a depressing fact, and i’m not sure how to cure it. anyway, i’ve got to figure out how to make this situation better, otherwise all the hard work i put into the blog each and every day seems for naught. but, regardless i did enjoy reading this and knowing i am not alone in feeling that less is more (i just need a little ‘more people’, and less ‘stuff’). ;) xo

    • victoria

      you’re never alone. i know you weren’t talking about friends per se here, but you’ve always got one in brooklyn cheering you on :)


  • I don’t think you could be more on the money, Grace. I think many of us long time loyal DS readers are in a similar place/stage of life and have also been online for long enough that we are deep into decreasing the noise to signal ratio. Quality over quantity, and all that jazz. I read most blogs via RSS, and to be completely honest, I completely skip over product list type posts. Space and money are at a premium in ones life – not to mention environmental consciences weigh heavily these days – so cheap items and trends aren’t really part of my lifestyle vocabulary anymore.

    I love the content on creative business tips, profiles of creative entrepreneurs and artists, lifestyle and “opinion” pieces, and absolutely still love the house tours! Who doesn’t love to immerse themselves in someone else’s cozy home for a little bit.

    Keep it up and trust your gut, you know what you know!

  • I love this! One of my top (maybe the top) favorites I put on the survey was the essays. I know they are a lot of work, but they are always so thoughtful and interesting. (Max and Amy’s as well as yours.)

    Thank you for everything you do–you continue to evolve and always come up with the perfect balance.

  • Dear Grace,

    Thank you so much for this piece. Like others, it really resonated with where I’m at in my artistic and personal life: at 25, I’m an old soul who never felt like my values and idea of success lined up with everyone else. I think that creative people might struggle with this more than others: our paths don’t usually follow the measurable conventions of others’ lives. Please continue listening to your inner voice: the personal essays and opinions on DS (along with the house sneak peaks) are a big part of why I keep clicking back. Thank you for verbalizing something so profound, keep doing what you do!

  • I completely agree with your thoughts and I’ve been very happy with the increase in personal essays and overall editorial direction Design*Sponge has been taking of late. Increasingly I can’t handle reading product coverage in blogs and I’ve also been taking steps to streamline the objects and routines in my daily life to only what is meaningful and beautiful. I’ve started asking my own list of four questions when considering a purchase: Is it handmade? Will I be supporting an American artist? Will it fill a need or enrich my life? Will I still love and use this years from now? The barrage of trend and product reporting in many blogs crowds out the mental space I’d like to allocate to my own creative endeavors. In the survey I indicated the columns I most enjoy are the personal essays, “A Day in the Life” features, and Sneak Peeks–all of which showcase the personal creative choices of a variety of artistic people. I second the suggestion of a previous commenter that it might be possible to integrate product content in a manner that still aligns with your values by providing a platform to bring exposure to individual artists and craftspeople whose work is handmade in America, sustainable, gives back to the community, etc. I know I would enjoy reading more artist profiles and educating myself about products that aren’t made in overseas factories so that large corporations can profit. Thank you for this honest and heartfelt post. I think many, many people echo your sentiments.

  • I think success for me would be: making a living off of my artwork while being a mother and a wife. But it’s such a struggle to get to that point. I just want my soul to be content.

  • This is such an interesting post, Grace. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me happy as a design entrepreneur and ironically it is not really the designing. I enjoy the partnerships with my clients, being their cheerleader and becoming part of their team. Successful design solutions seem to be the by-product of this positive relationship—a place where we both feel comfortable and are able to share open and honestly. I’ve finally learned relationships that don’t fit this model, aren’t going to be a good fit for my business. Prior to working for myself, design was so much more about the aesthetic. Making something beautiful, creating something unique. Sometimes it was even about what a client “wouldn’t” let me do. Today, I actually enjoy being flexible—it adds a fun twist to the whole process.

  • when i was working on my MFA and looking for direction for my thesis, i made a mindmap of how i wanted to live my life in hopes that my subject would show itself. (it did and i explored the printed postcard for my thesis.)


    success is looking at that mindmap and finding even more relevance and value to those importances. success is also raising three children who value time over money, who prefer the lack of stuff to strings attached to it, who tend to their own moral compass and who want to garden with an animal by their side.

    i am broke as f***, but i have no debt. living within your means is success. following your heart is success. living a creative life and opening your mind to new identities is success.

  • Love this article, really resonates with me. I imagine that the notions of striving, quest, achieving, pioneering, chasing the dream are even more ingrained in the American psyche than the British, but even over here there is the glorification of busy, success, fame….and it has got me wondering for a while. Sometimes a happy life can be the absence of all those things – the treadmill of never-ending busyness, striving ever harder to succeed? I agree that the the most privileged thing is to be able to enjoy your home and family in peace, having the time and material comfort to enjoy being with the people you love but also to live life with a sense of purpose beyond accumulating stuff? Purpose and pleasure – that sounds like a good combination?

  • What a reassuring read, you’ve hit the nail on the head! Although I love my home in general, for a long time it didn’t feel quite ‘right’ and I couldn’t work out why… I now know I need, and want, LESS… less ‘stuff’ and the stuff I do want, I want to be solid, durable and well made. I want the feel of real materials, wood that will age, solid fixtures, less plastic, less chipboard. I want quality things that bring joy when used and I’m prepared to wait & pay a little more for it. Mass consumption and our disposable culture is also just not sustainable…

    I also just had a quiet country break and although us big city dwellers are not supposed to admit it, I loved getting off the treadmill of urban life for a few days!

    For what it’s worth I think your plan sounds perfect, you CAN’T make everyone happy but the reason so many people visit and comment is that they appreciate your eye and the style of the site and however you go forward, the majority of us will still love it, staying true to yourself will always result in better quality and more interesting outcomes in my opinion!

  • I needed this post. Success and attaining the “right” kind are things we’re so consumed by, it can be easy to forget the truly important things. Great reflection for a Wednesday morning.

  • I also asked for fewer product round-ups in the survey. I know they are popular, but sometimes they feel a little off to me for what you’ve expressed as the blog’s purpose.

    I would really love more process photos from artists. I like the studio tours, but what I really like is getting the full story, start to finish, of how just one thing gets made.

    Thank you!! Good work and good luck with your strategic planning.

  • I am in my mid-seventies and have followed DS for at least five years. I have always looked for beauty, whether in things, culture, personality, nature or thought. Seeing DS grow and become more open to your own stories (it has always been personal) has been useful to me. I very much appreciate where you are now. Success for me is to love and be loved and I think I am actually there now. I look forward to the next steps.

  • Grace, I come here everyday, because I really like what you and your team have to SAY. I love that you share your thoughts and show how people live. And I have gone through major changes in the last five years that have caused serious reflections and helped me to become a little quieter. Despite all these changes, I still look for beauty and the moments that define success for me, but now they are just in the form of the lines on my husband’s face, or the changes in my son’s eyes when he sees me. I no longer need 12 beautiful pillows or 15 serving dishes when I have them around.

    Thank you for this post.

  • Oh, so many great comments here! I love this discussion. Very much agree with the commenter that said people are in different stages of life when they visit this blog. I, myself, am just coming out of the “fill up the house!” stage – you move in and have NO furniture and cannot IMAGINE spending over $1000 on a couch. Are you supposed to sit on the floor while saving up for that huge item? No, you make your home feel lived in however you can. So I get that that group is interested in prouduct roundups, etc.

    Success for me is being able to spend time at home. I LOVE HOME. And it took me a long time to find ‘home’, in a residence and in myself. Success is having a job that I love. It pays very little to work at a veterinary hospital (depsite people who think that vet fees are exhorbinant – no one goes into this field for the money!!!). But spending the day helping people help their pets is SO rewarding.

    It seems there’s a move toward authenticity in blogging, at least here, which I appreciate. Some of us can still remember the initial days of blogging, when content wasn’t dictated by ad campaigns and people said what they wanted to say. I love DS’s essays more than any other posts here. Kudos to you all for taking that risk and showing your selves – it would be much easier to hide behind top 10 posts and paid product reviews!

    I’d love to see content about HOW to simplify your home. How do you decide which ‘things’ to keep and which to part with? When looking at a bookshelf, how do you arrange it so that it feels balanced? How do you decorate when you ARE saving up for that big item? Just live with an empty space where the item will go eventually? Eh? I also love ideas about how to use items in a non-traditional way – currently My dining room is turning into sewing space bc we never, ever use it for dining!


  • This was so gratifying to read, Grace. You touched on something I think about a lot – how as a designer can my success in business depend on consumers buying my products, while I have so much doubt about consumer culture myself? The answer (so far) is to create products with integrity, that tick off all the boxes that a previous commenter listed: “Is it handmade? Will I be supporting an American artist? Will it fill a need or enrich my life? Will I still love and use this years from now?”

    For me, success in business means being part of a change in the design industry in which it becomes easier for designers to manufacture ethically-made, environmentally-responsible products at realistic prices. And it also means being respected by like-minded peers in the design community.

    Success in life means having a beautiful home and being able to provide for my family. It’s nice to have the opportunity to remind myself of these goals.

    I’ve loved reading Design Sponge over the years and watching it evolve. It is truly one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking design websites I know.

  • I should probably define success for myself as living in the moment and creating more memories. But being able to do that raises a lot of money questions for me. Can I afford to be a stay-at-home mom, or, can I afford daycare? Both of these things are ridiculously expensive options – neither is really “good” from my wallet’s perspective. Mixed in with that are questions like can I afford a staycation, or, can I afford to visit family? Again, both options are expensive (my staycation will make me more aware of just how awful my backyard is, and then of course I’ll want to fix that and spend $$$ at Home Depot, but travelling is expensive too). I guess the big message for me is that I’ve got to do more with less than my parents had (lower salary, worse job market, higher home prices). So, although I want $25 options for my house, what I probably really need is $5 options, or even no-cost options. There was a D*S article a long time ago about perfectly folded shiny tin containers / boxes. I appreciated their beauty much as some people would stare at a pretty painting, but that kind of beauty is not obtainable for me right now at home. I can’t afford to buy the pretty thing, only look at it, although voyeurism nice in its own way. When I was twenty, I thought I’d be the breadwinner – my reality changed when the market crashed and I realized that making a lot of money isn’t really an option for me unless I suddenly become a Type A powerhouse (not happening) or get an MBA or JD (also not happening). Success for me has become complicated. I appreciate the little things more now than ever (like my son’s smile or walking the dog), but at the same time, it’s more difficult for me to obtain even these simple things (b/c looking at my son’s smile means I’m not teleworking and answering client emails, and walking the dog means that I’m not at the office).

  • I missed the survey, but had I taken it I would have been one of the people who wants more product roundups. It seems to me a lot of the more of-the-moment and inexpensive items you used to cover have been relegated to the newsletter. But those product roundups rarely have the same level of thoughtfulness or style as your old coverage, and the fashion pieces in particular tend to skew sort of juniors department.

    I have sincerely enjoyed some of the longform essays that you and your team have been writing the last year or two. (In particular, your posts about how websites and ads have changed or your thoughts on social media and one of Max’s on books stand out in my memory.) But there have been other posts (Max’s post about driving comes to mind) that, however well written, seemed to me self-indulgent. I couldn’t figure out how on earth they related to what I thought to be the purview of d*s. It’s not that I think you should never write about non-design stuff! But there has seemed to be an increasing focus on self-betterment or something that sometimes comes off as didactic, as well as some digressions that sincerely puzzled me, like that series on types of flowers or night sky constellations.

    This is your site and your vision of course you have every right to shape the content in whatever you wish. I appreciate all the thought that goes into your work, and it’s great that you guys have made room for essays and other new features. In writing this comment, it occurs to me that what I haven’t liked about your “new direction” is that it often feels very *heavy*. You’ve hung on to old features that always seemed to me most aspirational (like the house tours) (which I enjoy, don’t get me wrong!), and largely replaced the content I found more relatable with thoughts on How to Live A Good Life. As you allude to in your post, reading bad magazines or picking up a cheap vase doesn’t mean you’re shallow–it’s all part of a balanced life. Your old approach to product coverage walked that line in a way that I really enjoyed, and I miss it.

    • Kim

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I am indeed struggling to find a balance between product coverage that was the original theme of the blog with posts that are very much about living a good life. That line in fact (which was House & Garden magazine’s old tagline) is what I focus on most these days. So I completely accept and understand if that sort of content doesn’t match what you’re looking for right now, but I will definitely work on trying to get more of the character we post in essays into product content. The tough thing is, we’ve done so much research (down to insane little details) and no one reads the text in product posts anymore, no one. I’ve tried so much to make it personal and it seems people who want the products just want the link and price (which is we we moved that to Pinterest) and people who want text want a bit more substance and story. It’s a balancing act for sure and I really appreciate your feedback. I’ll definitely take that into mind and keep working on making all content have the same soul as the essays.

      (Just a note: Max’s post was related to our theme of taking risks and doing something that scares you. We had discussed that theme in relation to design -picking bold paint color, etc.- but wanted to expand it to be more personal.)


  • Grace, thank you for this. Your words are well put, and like many, I resonate with a lot of what you said.
    I’m finding myself (in regards to wanting “stuff”) reminding myself of that phrase “don’t have something in your home unless you find it useful or beautiful”. I’m a high school art teacher, so the summer is a season of making things and cleaning things out. I have so much stuff. so. much. Whenever I get the chance to weed things out and reduce, there’s more room and less worry about hitting a particular standard when it comes to home decor and design.

    I have found that (somewhat too serious of a thought but helpful) moment when I’m reminded that when I pass, I can’t take these things with me. Both of my parents have so much stuff…and as young people, some get into the same trap of “more is better and bigger is better and…and…and…”

    When I think of people I really admire (like, REALLY admire), it’s not the young 20-something with the decked out studio apartment in NY which I am totally jealous of…it’s more likely my old mentor who collects river rocks who have laughter like liquid gold, or an old friend who vows to only have 10 things in their bedroom (true story – only the things) and can literally fit all her belongings in her trunk of a small car.

    The less I have, the more I have room to breathe.

  • A very inspiring essay and one I wish I had read half a century ago. I was someone who was always trying to march in step with the masses and failing miserably. Now well into my senior years I am drowning in “stuff” I have absolutely no use for and no one to pass it on to. My advice to those young enough to chart a path, Be careful what you wish for lest it ends up consuming you.

    I always love your essays Grace, and as you more and more show homes of people who are making do with found or inherited bits and pieces, I applaud those who have the sense to do so. Your tastes will change greatly as you mature so you are very wise to be using your creative imaginations instead of your credit cards.

  • I loved every bit of this essay and reading what others had to say. Thank you for sharing it. I particularly loved your reference to craving things that come from “a place of heritage, tradition and slowness”. Wow. Yes.

    Success, to me, means accepting where I’m at and also continuing to search for and strive for what is most authentic and true for me. I’m an “achiever” by nature and I’m not where I necessarily want to be in life. But I’m now trying to meet and enjoy the present, because where I’m at – in all its goodness and shortcomings and successes and failures – is pretty darn great. Sometimes I can lose sight of that, so when I pause and appreciate what and who I have in my life (rather than what and who I don’t have), that is my best version of success. I don’t want to stop improving or creating or building what it is that I want for myself and those I love. But I find success is most rewarding when it is actually a deepening and strengthening of what I already have.

    I didn’t take the survey, but count me as an absolute fan of your new direction. I love the essays — I’ve been thinking a lot about the blogs I read lately, and those that I most enjoy are those that represent true, authentic, honest voices. And I absolutely put you and what you are doing in that category. To be fair, product round-ups have never been my thing, so while I understand why many people might miss them, I feel most connected to your current direction. I also love the interactive nature of your instagram challenges, as well as posts like this that ask us all to think and reflect and share. I consistently leave here feeling engaged and inspired. Thank you!

  • I haven’t read this in a while, but thanks for sharing your struggles with the blog – grace. you have absolutely great taste, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more. thanks for sharing your life, and your loves and your struggles and when you get to your success, know that we will be cheering crying laughing with you too. :)

  • Leslie–

    I really appreciate your comment. In fact, I bookmarked this post with the intention of reading your words over again the next time I read yet another impassioned screed on lazy, navel-gazing millennials. I’ve always driven myself excessively hard at work and before that, at school, and my own mom, who is in her early sixties and is also a lawyer who raised us in the 80s and 90s while supporting our family, is constantly telling me it’s not worth it, as long as you can pay rent every month just let yourself enjoy life, have more fun. Success will come anyway. That message is so hard to take on board when I’m receiving messages left and right that I need to work ever harder and longer to keep up in this brutally competitive economy. So thank you!

    Wonderful essay, Grace. I was one of the survey-takers who wants to see more and more content like this, so please keep it up.

  • Hi Grace,

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a great two-week stay! I totally understand how New York (City)-based placed, people, and products are the main focus in Design Sponge. :-) But, as someone who made the move from a big city to a small town a few years ago, I especially appreciate D*S’s little trips elsewhere for home tours, city guides, and the like. Indeed, places like Brooklyn are major centers of creativity but smaller areas offer other aspects like greater tradition and crafts[wo]manship. :-)

    Next, one more thought on people wanting more product round-ups: I rarely buy things I see online — in fact, I have only bought one item I’ve ever seen on Design Sponge — but I like your product roundups because I totally trust you all to recommend beautiful pieces from trustworthy sources. For me it’s a celebration of the quality and the makers rather than a reason for me to suddenly consume more. I imagine many other readers feel the same way!

    Finally, success to me is having good health (when possible!) and being able to support myself financially and emotionally. Oh, and have some free time to spend with friends and family, to travel the world, and to pursue creative hobbies! I love my work, have a happy relationship, and have my own home; however, I don’t feel those aren’t requirements for success but rather side benefits due to mixture of luck and hard work.

  • Thank you for this.

    I didn’t fill out your survey, partly because I really resonate with where you’ve taken d*s and didn’t feel you needed to change anything. Know that what you wrote above has permeated into d*s. There is SO much out there already – products, sponsored posts, curated “life” photos. I’m so over it. Give me personal essays, history, family, friends, home any day.

    As for me, what does success look like? I’m figuring it out. We just had our second kiddo, sold our house, moved across the country to a state we love so my husband could take his dream job. It sounds amazing, but I’ve been trying really hard to accept my job as the caregiver of our kids as my 9 to 5. That job doesn’t necessarily feed my love for design, interiors, and art. What it is is all about family, my family. And even though I would LOVE to buy a house right now it just isn’t in the cards. However, I’ve made this beige rental condo our home filled with heirlooms from my parents and grandparents. Even though they are gone I feel their presence daily because it’s their belongings that make it home. And you know it’s literally just been in the last week or so, but I think I’m finally totally accepting it. You would think it would take less than three years (the age of my oldest) to come to this conclusion. I guess I’m a slow learner.

  • i don’t buy things often and am not driven by the need to consume but when i need or want something, i look here for advice, sometimes coming back to find that item i had seen months previous. for example, the ilia lipstick i cannot live without now. i appreciate your voice, your taste, and count on it often when i want to make an informed decision about a product i need or desire.

    that said, i enjoy the voyeuristic pleasure of looking at products and homes i cannot afford. i like seeing product roundups, even when i am not in the market for new things. i enjoy your particular selection of beautiful things and places and that is a large part of what i come to ds for.

    that said, i like the personal essay bent the site has evolved into for the most part, and especially your posts and honesty, grace, and agree completely with melissa that seeing products that are well made, lasting, and made by creative types are what i mostly want to see.

  • Grace, thanks for this post. I am presently in the process of defining my concept of success and examining my value system.

    In my present working environment and even family, success is defined by high salary, rank, output, material possessions and achievements. If one doesn’t follow the norm, your value as an employee and as a person is questioned. This is a struggle for me since I’m not highly competitive in nature. Several colleagues and I got severe illnesses as a consequence and a few even left the job.

    I observed that social media has also become a platform for many to brag about their ‘success”. New car and home, travels, job promotion, shopping, dining, tons of friends, etc. As one research found, sub-consciously this medium of expression elicits envy, insecurity and triggers low self-esteem.

    At present, I define my success as having good health, sleeping peacefully at night, being able to splurge in simple pleasures, in the company of few but true, loyal, supportive and trustworthy friends, maintaining a harmonious family relationship even if dysfunctional at times, working best according to my abilities and skills live in authenticity.

  • Thank you for a(nother) thoughtful post! To me, success is living in the present. Being present with the people I love. Being present while doing the dishes. Being present when making art. Living wholely. And being grateful is a key to that, I think. Above all, knowing that the people I love all know that I love them is success to me.

  • Success for me used to be how fast I could be promoted to the next grade level in my Federal government job, and being able to buy a house and all the things I wanted as I made more money. Then I got sick. I now live on social security disability and my days of buying $1500 pairs of earrings are over. I’ve struggled about what success means to me now. My Mom died last year, and I finally realized that a successful life is having family and many friends. I now have neither, since I moved away from the big city to come home to rural North Dakota to be with my mom after I got sick 5 years ago, I realized that all those friends I had were more superficial then I thought. Since it’s only me and my dog now, I have to start the process of rebuilding my life and finding new, good friends and hopefully someday, a husband. I no longer care about money and all the trappings of success, I just want to be surrounded by people who truly know me and love me. It’s taken my mom’s death and reaching 50 to come to these conclusions. Wisdom does come with age, but I wish I had realized the importance of friends and family many years ago, instead of worrying when my next promotion was. I could’ve enjoyed the love of my mom, and dad, if I had come home sooner. Such is life. Sometimes it takes unexpected life changes to see what you should’ve seen long ago.

  • I remember reading this post back when you first wrote it but just re-read it following your 2014. I love everything about what you’ve written and for the last six months since reading this, I’ve asked myself that question – am I proud of what I put out into the world today? That one little (big!) question prompted me to rethink my career Grace. I’m feeling much happier about the direction of my life. I never said thank you so I’m doing that now!

  • Being a sister to three other sisters, that all happened to be cheerleaders in their growing years, what comes to my mind when anyone wants to know the meaning of success is them cheering loudly in our home:

    S U C C E S S …..that’s how we spell success, do we have it
    Yes Yes Yes!
    ………….. S U C C E S S!

    I have had the whole deal from the fairy tale wedding the 2.0 perfect children, the house in the country, travel, love, good family and friends and now at 50+ I realize that success is confidence, because at every part our lives we must head into the new and when we take chances and follow our hearts we make success because we tried to do something and did it! So I still have to remember that cheer as I approach the changes of middle age with confidence:
    S U C C E S S that is how we spell success, do we have it Yes Yes Yes!

  • I love this, so thought provoking! I completely agree with your points, I have recently found myself to be appreciating the ‘small’ things in life, but I’m realising that these are actually the big things that matter most!
    Hannah x

  • Have you ever seen the “It all Goes Back in the Box” video on you tube? If you haven’t you might like it. To me, success is being the best me i can be. This has to do with loving deeply, making good choices and having a deep spiritual connection….using my life to make a difference for good. PS: Always loved the title of the musical, “You Can’t Take it With You”.

  • Hi Grace:

    My personal success is knowing that I have taken care of the needs of my family, that I have provided joy, happiness, and encouragement, appreciation, and a smile each day…

    It is going to sleep each night with confidence knowing that I have not compromised my personal integrity.

    My business success is receiving a special email or letter from a dear customer, and reading of how my work and products have changed or impacted their lives, or the lives of their loved ones…

    Knowing that I am able to share my story and inspire others and to bring something special into the world to change it for the better no matter how small the change may seem.

    I have followed DR for the last 6 years and have always been so inspired.

  • Love this post. You don’t need a survey to see what your readers want: your intuition is always spot on. And success? I haven’t given that word much consideration since I was 24. Living your best life is all about being content, creating joy and being inspired.
    Thanks for sharing your contemplations.

  • good thing we’ve been able to grow up “together.” Your insights and comments are better than any $25 vase. My favorite part of your blog is how your are transforming your home, from a very human perspective. I am always guilty of thinking that I am never doing quite enough or that happiness or success has to be more than what i have accomplished. But Ed Sheeran’s comment said to me, YES, it is enough! I have the family, the home and the animals, and that is pretty darn good and pretty darn successful, and i am proud of years of hard work. I agree with Patty, above. you don’t need a survey–just keep doing your thing!

  • Really great post and so true. I remember hearing that your time is the only finite resource you have, and since then I have tried to frame things I buy or work on in that way (would I buy this cheap $30 thing, or would I rather spend an hour hanging out with my husband?) and I have re-evaluated a lot of things this way.

  • Oh, wow. This resonates with me deeply. I used to think that my happiness + worth in life depended on “success”, which to me equaled living in New York/LA or overseas and working a high-stress, high-power job somewhere. A title meant success. And that works for some people. But I’m human, not a title, and life is so much more than work. Even as just a 20 year old, I am developing the same mindset—which is terrifying because it makes me feel like I will not succeed at all—that I need need to keep pushing and straining and making others happy, and after I have some sort of partial success I can finally settle into this mindset later in my life. It’s a battle of wanting to please others and yourself, a battle of figuring out what I want and what society makes me desire.

    Thank you for sharing and starting such a great conversation. Truly, “What will I want when I’m 85?” is such an important question. Not that we could ever know what our future self will want or who they will be, but it sheds light on how important family, relationships, well-crafted and meaningful material possessions are.

  • The best definition of success I know comes from Maya Angelou: “Success is liking who you are, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Great post