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Living up to the impossible standard

August 2, 2011

Many women mull over photos in fashion magazines and say, “I wish I looked like that.” Women convince themselves that they don’t look “right” and put themselves through rounds of stringent dieting and plastic surgery so they will look the way that the magazines tell them they ought to look. But Nature never intended us to be whippet-thin with grotesquely protruding breasts.

Similarly, when people read home decor magazines, they form the mistaken belief that other people inhabit elegant, lovely, “real” homes with gleaming floors and vast, soaring spaces filled with expensive and elegant objects, whereas the readers merely inhabit rude hovels in comparison.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Are our living environments (and our bodies) not valid and genuine? In the course of my work as a homes journalist I have frequently encountered people who say “oh no, my decor isn’t worthy of being featured in the paper.” I’m always incredulous when this happens, for if their decor wasn’t worthy, I would not have approached them for an interview. Why does this substantial minority of home owners feel so apologetic about their living environments? I lay the blame on the unrealistic expectations caused by home magazines.

I  have virtually no interest in houses that are luxe, glossy, new, or professionally decorated. I like the funky, the unique, the unexpected, and the surprising, and based on my feedback, the reading public apparently enjoys my formula. The interiors I enjoy most are those containing an eclectic collection of objects such as items found at thrift stores and repurposed; items made by hand; objects that have traveled down through time with a story accompanying them; objects that are bright and colorful.

Homeowners do not need to invest a lot of money in creating a welcoming and attractive decor that makes the living space feel upbeat and loved. A particular peeve of mine is owners who needlessly refinish ordinary wood floors. Unless floorboards are actually cracked,  severely discolored or splintering, refinishing is simply a needless expenditure. Wood surfaces are intended to be walked on and used; they are not supposed to look like the reflective dance floors in 1930s Fred Astaire musicals. If owners and their families need to shed their shoes at the door for fear of marring the perfect gloss on their floors, perhaps they are expending needless energy on surface appearances  the same way that many women worry about whether they’re using the right kind of eyeliner or foundation. The gloss of a floor is transitory; it is certainly attractive, but it’s expensive to achieve, and if its maintenance inhibits your ability to enjoy your own living quarters, then it’s simply another self-imposed burden. Is your house all about maintaining the gloss on your floor, or is it about providing a welcoming and relaxing living space for you and your family? Don’t let your floors hold you hostage!

My advice: simply enjoy your house, and feel free to let down your hair and live inside it. Fill  it with objects that you find pleasing and appropriate to your budget, and don’t worry about  the  style du jour in the magazines.  Never ignore a structural or mechanical or water problem. Invest your money wisely: whenever you need to do repairs or additions, never choose the cheapest bid because you will inevitably be sorry later; you get what you pay for.

Lastly, don’t look at your house critically and obsess about whether it measures up to the magazines. After all, it’s your house! All that’s really necessary is that it should make you feel good to live there and spend time there.

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From → Houses

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