Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Machine of Want

I lurk around Get Off My Internets from time to time, and today I read something really good (besides all the sassy "oh no she didn't"s and comments about fat jealous losers, I mean). It was in a thread about a blogger I read and someone was critiquing their use of blueprints as a design element (ie: printing out images as engineer prints to produce a thin, imperfect, large image to use in decorating). The poster said she was "so over it" as a design element and this comment provoked an interesting response, reproduced in part below:

 "The internet and extensive blog reading can really skew our perspective on what is actually overdone. I don't know one person who has a large format engineer print hung in their home as art. So, if I were to do that, it would certainly not be overdone in my corner of the world. But [...] blog readers have become over-saturated with oversized prints as art, which leads some of us to start to hate the idea. Or to be "so over it." 

This attitude just perpetuates the short attention span that bloggers contribute to, as well as the quick overturn in trends and desire for more, more, more, faster, faster, faster- [...] Our consumerism isn't limited to materialism any more. Now we consume ideas. We love them, and then are over them just like that. It's not healthy, in my opinion. Can't we just enjoy a good idea without soon spitting it out and waiting for something new to enjoy? And it's also fascinating to me that we can be already be sick of a home fashion trend that most of us have only seen in an online setting, and have never even been exposed to in our actual real world." 


 The figurative 15 minutes of fame for trends is getting more and more literal every day. Whether it's a youtube clip, a celebrity, a DIY, or a meme, the space between "have you seen this?!" and "So over it." is getting smaller than one tiny hand.

By the time it's a Halloween costume for suburban youth, the world has already moved on. They want something new even as most parts of the western world are still discovering the old thing. The quoted comment is right on - I have literally never seen one person I know use washi tape, antique globes or antlers in all of their decorating* but I feel like I've seen it all before. Because I have, just never in real life. And when I do see those things, I assume it's someone who's trying to be trendy instead of just, you know, liking certain things in their house.

The other day I was at The Boy's parents' house and noticed his old room now has a desk with a vintage typewriter on it. I thought "wow. I knew Mrs. S was on the ball design-wise but that's pretty hipster of her." And then I realized it wasn't a specially-purchased retro typewriter, it was just a real, functioning typewriter that they'd owned for a few decades. And I felt dumb for assuming that they'd buy it for the kitsch factor instead of just displaying the item they'd used during their university years.

I don't have Pinterest. I probably will never have Pinterest. Because I have a "bookmarks" folder. I don't begrudge anyone who uses Pinterest the right to "pin" -it seems like a good way to highlight a great deal of things you're interested in or gather together quotes you find funny -but it's not for me. While I might pretend that I'm using it as a way to gather good ideas for DIYs, recipes, house decor and the like, I know what it would really do. Feed the big, fat, want machine that grinds away inside of me, always. It's the one that online shops when I'm nowhere near a pay day, the one that closes Facebook in frustration when someone's on vacation while I'm at work (not that I read Facebook at work, she says). It's the part of me that can only be happy when I'm reaching forward, and not in any meaningful way, just in the acquirement of more stuff.

 And stuff doesn't have to be literal stuff. It can be memories or experiences, too. It takes a lot to admit this in public but honesty is a good thing so, here goes: I am jealous of you. I may not even know you but I want your house. I want your pets. I want your fireplace full of candles and your trip to Disneyland. I don't even like Disneyland. But I wish we'd gone there together. I want your gourmet dinner. I want your boyfriend that can pick you up and swing you around. I don't really want your kids, but I want the happy parts of raising them. I want it all. I'm Veruca Salt.

And the rational part of my brain knows that it's foolish to covet - nobody's life is perfect**. But it's easier to make people believe it is but what we share online and in person. And let's face it -many people carefully construct their online personas to only show the most exciting, funniest "highlight reels" parts of themselves (except for those who take Instagram selfies of themselves crying in order to garner sympathy - I don't know what that's about).

 My life is pretty great - I consider myself really blessed, even if things aren't perfect. I have a house, a great family, hilarious and caring friends, a sweet and funny boyfriend, a good job. All my needs (and a good healthy chunk of my wants) are taken care of. And yet when the aforementioned boyfriend and I were chilling on the couch last night, chatting, I admitted that my big fear is that it's not enough. I'm not enough. When I invite friends to my house I'm afraid it won't be neat enough, big enough, fashionable enough. I want my house to look like magazine spreads and blog features when, in actuality, it just looks like what it is - a smallish house where two slightly messy young professionals live. When I confessed to The Boy that I was worried people wouldn't like our place he looked at me like I had one tiny hand and said "Are you kidding? Have you seen how people live?"

Which, you know, is good advice.

Because, again, no one I know actually has a home like a Martha Stewart spread. And those acquaintances that have something close get there by living in sprawling 2000 ft sq. houses in the suburbs because that's how they afford nice things. And I would rather live in my perfect little house downtown than there. Which is sort of a metaphor for all my wants. I may think I want what others have but in actuality, I'm happy with what I have. People can travel the world without it diminishing my trips. People can have a great week at work without it making my job worse. Friends can decorate their place without it tearing down the walls of my own. To paraphrase something my mom always used to say - "Blowing out your light doesn't make mine burn any brighter.

I can be content and still strive to be better. I should just focus on being better where it counts - and not on getting those scrummy Missoni throw pillows before anyone else. And I should also focus on never saying "scrummy" again.

It doesn't mean I won't strive for other things in my life but by spending life trying to be more I end up enjoying what I have far less. During my daily blog readings, I ran across exactly what I needed to see today, via Becoming Minimalist. Today's post was entitled Wanting Everything is (Almost) the Same as Wanting Nothing. A particularly key passage:

"When our desires run unchecked, our list of pursuits grows. And too frequently, the most important desires in our lives get lost in the shuffle. The more we pursue at any given moment, the less likely we are to achieve any of them. Consider how… 
§ the desire for comfort or pleasure contradicts our search for growth. 
§ the desire for worldly success interferes with our opportunity for significance § the desire for wealth keeps us from accomplishing generosity. 
§ the desire for material possessions limits our ability to live out our greatest passions. We would be wise to limit our desires—to keep our pursuits focused on the most important and most beneficial to our lives and others. Then, each of our limited resources could be wholly directed toward them. And the opportunity for their accomplishment would increase dramatically. […] 

May our desires be few—but well-placed." 

Amen. It's a hard thing to do, but I will try to focus on what's important and what's just noise. I don't need to be cutting edge, I don't need as much as I think I do. Except to ride an elephant. I need that. I bet it's awesome.

*name the song, win my love
** maybe Beyonce's


  1. This is a very wise post - I really enjoyed reading it. (Found you in the NaBloPoMo soup!) My husband is constantly torn like this - he really wants to be a minimalist but has an acquisitive nature that makes it very difficult. Keep practicing, I guess! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Diana- much appreciated! I sympathize with your husband - I'm a bit of a magpie, always attracted to something new and beautiful - but invariably I feel a little empty and a lot stressed when that thing makes it back into my home and I have to find a place for it. You're right about the practicing, it really is the only way. Good luck to him!

  2. I think you're perfect. For what it's worth. :)