As I think we all know (having just been forced to hit the pause button for a while) it’s no longer about only making a house look “pretty.” For many it’s the “pretty” that’s the problem. The saying “all dressed up and no place to go,” seems to come to mind.
Whether we know it or not, if you’re upwards of your mid 40s (gasp), then you, like me. were probably deeply indoctrinated into the social norm that came with a time when, in fact, it did take a village—to establish boundaries, (rigid though they may seem today.)
You pitched in when your neighbor needed you (which today sounds cringingly evasive).
You did try to keep up with the Jones’. Not in terms of one-upmanship, but in terms of the “norms” of the times.
Those were the days when people wrote and actually read books about manners and edict so as not to offend or be, in any way socially inappropriate. And yes, that also included all aspects of lifestyle.
The rules were clear:
Reciprocate, after someone has opened their home to you. Follow the same formula as everyone else. Cocktails in the den. But only one. Canapes, so no one drinks on an empty stomach but not enough to ruin the supper. Diner finished by 9:00. Wrap-up conversation till 9:45 as one slowly sauntered back to the front door because one never, ever outstayed one’s welcome. One also never roamed the house at will, unless invited…and everything “company” saw was carefully curated to tell the story of appropriateness and family friendly pleasantness. While it all sounds very “Stepford Wives”-creepy now, there was an oddly filtered yet calming predictability to it all that infused the style, the food and the very layout, design and maintenance of the home.
As I look back now knowing those house schematics very well… the big question is, how could a modest income average sized family in a typical suburban neighborhood, even HAVE formal rooms reserved only for company ...AND a clean garage where one actually parked their car?
Were those in the 50s and 60's actually living far more intentionally than we do today?
Sure, maybe the subliminal underpins were a bit rigid (if not downright pretentious in their own weird way) but still? That level of nesting discipline was rather staggering from today’s perspective.
In a pre-Amazon, Home Shopping Channel, one credit card per household age, no one seemed to impulse buy, so kitchens only had one “junk” drawer, Kids only had so many playthings and when they didn’t fit in the toy box, they were edited. Bathrooms held only the drugstore essentials and closets were always organized.
Was this total annal retentiveness or was something bigger at play here?
Maybe it wasn’t pretentiousness. Maybe it was actually about pride, living within one’s means and with a kind of shared deliberateness that lifted the simplicity of organization to an artform?
It took me years and many a household set up, to deprogram. Call it, lifestyle rehab!
For so long, by default, I continued to follow the protocell that was no longer necessary. I still had the separate kitchen so that no one saw the host(ess) having to enact the 5 second rule. I had the company-only living room that practically had a velvet rope at the entrance. I had the guest towels, the coffee table books, and the fancy soaps in the “power” room. ---all standard issue of a bygone era.” Thing is, I kept perpetuating all this year after year and certainly well after I’d already THOUGHT I’d kicked these formalities to the curb. Why?
It wasn’t about figuring out a new room plan. I’m an experienced designer for heaven sake. It wasn’t even about “change”. Homes are fluid and I’m always tweaking all the time.
So, what was it?
While I certainly had the permission to break the old mold, I still had an emotional hangover from the conditioning of those days.
It wasn’t until I finally started to question and be willing to unpack my fragmented belief system, that I finally got down to the surprising truth of it all.
Frankly, deep within. I missed the boundaries, the pseudo politeness of it all—the comfort of “predictability” and I guess, even the accountability to neighbors.
I mourned how putting one’s best foot forward had a kind of sweet innocents about. I guess it seemed like when the “formalities” were abandon, so was a kind of “consideration” and even “respect” that seemed to vanish with it too. Something I was inadvertently trying to keep alive under my own roof. Yet, the sobering truth is, that we “are” indeed how we “live”. The physical interior always matches the mental one. So something had to change.
Once I fully understood how it wasn’t just about the “pretty,” but the “pride” too. I was finally able to let go. It wasn’t about lovely things alone. It was about a much deeper pyridine shift.
To force a total new kind of accountability on myself, I decided to write a book to help me rediscover how organization actually could become an artform. By the time it was done, I moved. LOL!
Once I began to really and truly purge, I was so shocked to discover just how many square feet of space I’d devoted to things I longer cared about and places I never spent a moment in. OMG! I discovered I could live so much bigger in a half of the space. Better yet, I now could have far more expendable income. I no longer saw “smaller” as a restriction. Through new eyes, with a little courage and vision it could embark on creating what I really wanted… a veritable jewel box.
That way, I could actually now rationalize fabrics I’d have never splurged on before. I could afford to build inexpensive floor to ceiling shelves that took up only 13 inches of floorspace and once painted the same new gorgeous (space defying) wall colors, looked completely built in. With this new Room Recipe, I now had more storage and flexibility then I’d ever had before because as I wrote in that new book, “if you can’t build out, build up and wall-to-wall.”
I could then afford to hit the consignment stores for quality one-of-a-kind pieces. --Things so better made with a kind of pride in detail already built in, that harkened back to that innocent age I’d missed.
I found gorgeous baskets and weathered containers that peppered my many shelves, room-to room, and hid the stuff I didn’t want to see. But now was now, well organized and at arm’s length. I even took boxes of cheap plain mirror tiles and with a bit of thin molding (to cover the seams) I turned two shelved floor-to-ceiling walls into what looked like a massive set of French windows that doubled the space and the natural light, plus showed off the back sides of my new and special objects. In the end the effect felt like there was another entire room beyond.
OK! Great dress rehearsal. So, I moved again!
This time I knew exactly what I was looking for in a possible new space to live. I could see it finished in my mind with a new bag of visually space-stretching tricks at my disposal, and a far greater respect for every single square inch. (Information I’m now trying to share here and in our new Video View Mail segments).
As a result, I was now finally ready to abandon the idea of “company” all together. As I wrote in my last blog, I no longer reserve space for ghost guests because no matter the fantasy, the truth is, that I love my solitude more then I love entertaining and my cadre of friends now feel the same way. Them’s the facts Jack! (In the old days, you’d get a knock on the door if neighbors hadn’t seen you in a week. But today, all that’s changed and that’s just fine with me).
Now I’m living in a jewel box space literally a fourth of the size I once did. Everything I see looks special, because it is special. And my golden rule is “instead of, not in addition to.”
We can still have all the old triggers that can be satisfied---
the eye-candy and touchstone elements that transport us to where our hearts really want and need to be. All we have to do is know where the hell that is?!
It’s a process of lifestyle clarity and it’s not for sissiesy. It takes time to tell ourselves the truth, take mass “approval” off the table and reengage our inherent creativity.
So, it’s no longer about size, or just the “pretty.” it’s about developing a true distaste for clutter and needless things. It’s about knowing how to purge correctly and what we’re willing to take enough pride in to maintain, rather than resent or hide in the old out-of-sight-out-of-mind way that got us into trouble.
Oh, and one more thing…I can clean my entire place in two hours because I have it down to a science. Well not DEEP clean, but just enough not panic if one evening, for some ungodly reason a fantom ghost-guest does show up. After all they’ll be reasonably sober and gone by 9:45. That’s my new lifestyle clarity and I’m sticking to it!
Bye for now!