Last week we kicked off our summer essay series with a question that can be sometimes be uncomfortable to discuss: What do you splurge on? In a time when budgets are tight, talking about spending isn’t always the easiest or must upbeat subject to discuss. But it’s a topic that’s been on my mind because of comments and discussions I’ve seen online lately.
One of the hardest things to balance in our community is our love of handmade high-quality work with our desire for lower price points. And while I understand and share the hope that everything can be in my personal budget range, I also have spent enough time listening to the needs of independent designers to understand why their work doesn’t always fall in that budget. The cost of raw materials, ethical labor and quality control are high and that means that if I want to continue to fill my home with things that matter to me and are produced in a way that support all hands involved fairly, I may not be able to buy everything I want when I want. (The Of a Kind and Lizzie Fortunato girls explained this indie/budget issue brilliantly on air this year).
So for me, filling my home with things I love is a slow, steady and deliberate process. I find that slowness is something that both defines and refines my aesthetic over time and allows me to make decisions that are based more on long-term happiness than short-term gratification.
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I find, however, that the slowness I am used to is something people seem to question me about the most. Someone once asked me, “What am I supposed to do, just live with an empty wall?” I thought the answer to that question was simple and straight-forward, but it wasn’t. The question itself got at a bigger issue which is the need/want/desire to have every corner of our homes filled, decorated and “finished” immediately.
For a million reasons, I’ve never been someone who was able to move into a space and have it finished within a month. I’ve lived with empty corners, empty walls or unfinished ‘projects’ more than I care to admit, but that “wait until it’s right” quality has ultimately saved me a lot of money over the years and allowed me to save up for pieces that are handmade or of higher quality.
I know it’s not easy or comfortable for everyone to have a wall above their dining table that’s undecorated, but for me, that’s not the end of the world. As long as a home is functional, the “decorating” part of it can be done more slowly.
When Julia and I started to build our home together, I became aware of how slowly I can move when it comes to “finishing” a home. Julia is wonderfully adept at making quick, but carefully considered, decisions that are all about finding simple but functional ways to get a home up and running quickly. Thanks to her motivation and energy, we were able to find affordable basics from Ikea and The Container Store that made our kitchen more usable, organized all of our books and got all of our entertainment equipment (tv, computers, etc.) up and off of the floor (and away from Hope’s puppy teeth).
While I felt the urge to slow those decisions initially and wait until we bought found the perfect storage solutions, I realized why it was important to embrace speedier spending when it came to building a functional home. By sticking to affordable stores (she introduced me to Gothic Furniture which is now my go-to affordable bed source) we were able to get our home up and running with the basics (beds, storage, etc.) that would allow us to have a clean, functioning space without putting a huge dent in our bank account.
But now we’re in the fun (for me anyway) part of actually decorating our home- deciding what we do with all the extra spaces and aspects of our home that aren’t 100% necessary. For me, that’s where “splurge” or higher budgets come in.
For me, major spending (which I categorize as anything over $250 and not required for living)
is about a few things: staying true to our shared desire to have a home filled with things that are made by people we know and love or at least are tied to something or someone we care about.
A lot of times that means we decorate with hand-me-down pieces from our families that have history and meaning to them (our dishes are the ones I grew up eating on and our table is Julia’s family’s Passover table) and sometimes it means we save up and spend on things that we know are going to add years of happiness to our lives.
Those pieces, the ones we save up and spend on, aren’t defined into certain categories. I know most people want to see/read lists that define where it is “ok” to spend, but I think that list is different for everyone. For us, spending on a great sofa, rug and kitchen were worth it because those are the parts of our home we use the most. But that’s not true for everyone. For some people, a beautiful dining table, chairs and chandelier are the wisest “splurge” because that’s where they spend the most time. Ultimately, the wisest splurges are those that both reflect the way your family truly uses its home and what they believe in.
To circle back to the initial question of “…am I supposed to just live with an empty wall?”- I’ve come to the conclusion that living with an empty wall can be the best thing you can do for yourself and your budget. If you take a deep breath and live with it for a while, you can make a more carefully considered decision about what you want to go there and why. Do you want to fill that space because you want to be “done” decorating? Or because you have something special that you’d like to see every day? For me, an empty wall has become a sort of calming space in our home, a space to let my eyes relax a bit and not necessarily need to take in an extra gallery wall or display of some sort. But I understand that not everyone feels that way- to some people it will always be unsatisfying to have an empty space in their home. When that happens, try filling that space with something you already have, reimagined. Use inexpensive frames to frame your children’s artwork, hang treasured copper baking molds or add a cork board so you can have an ever-changing arrangement of inspirational clippings. The bottom line- an empty wall isn’t a need for panic, it’s an invitation to stop and think about what you truly want to see every day and why. That may lead to a save-up purchase or it may give you a chance to display something you forgot you have in a whole new way. xo, grace
We splurged on handmade cutting boards not only because food is Julia’s passion & work, but because we both love to entertain and they’re handy (and beautiful) ways to display snacks and food for guests.
We also splurged (sort of, it was under $250) on having our long wooden bench upholstered. I’m in love with the fabric.
Our dining room got a special visit from Sara and Thor Jensen and their wonderful children.
The view from our dining room into the living room. Clean, simple and a few empty (!) white walls that will one day (or maybe not) have things on them that are special to us. Until then, they’re uncluttered and calming. Photo by Sasha Israel for Bon Beri