Decorating with Meaning: A Different Way to Look at Your Space

| August 6, 2014 | 2 Comments

From where I sit, I can look around the room and know that I am part of something good.

On the wall to my left, there is a brilliantly-colored painting, a gift, made by a local artist who does an amazing job at capturing animals in their natural habitat. The subject(s) are a cluster of barn swallow chicks huddled together on a wire, fluffed out, their eyes bright with wonder and apprehension.

On the wall ahead of me is a New Mexico landscape painted by my husband’s late mother, a quiet adobe house alone against a blue sky.  We didn’t get along as well as I’d like when she was alive, because I was too preoccupied with wishing she was more like me and less like her. The painting reminds us both of love of beautiful things, and keeps her in our minds and hearts every day.

To my right, at eye level there is a trio of wildlife photographs taken by a friend in Montana: a weasel, a badger, and a red fox, the latter peering out from under a curve of red rock. Below it is a piece of furniture made by a local woodworker out of reclaimed wood, a long narrow table that holds up birthday cards and family pictures.

On the wall is my newest jewel, a light switch plate made by a gardening friend who dabbles in mosaic glass work.  Turning on the lights is no longer just something I do reflexively.  I stop to notice a spiral bead, or the way a fragment of red glass catches the last ray of sunshine before dusk.  Other objects with a soul are all over: the raku vase I bought from its potter on a terrible, stormy day; a glass jar full of shark’s teeth from a rare family reunion at the beach; even the woolen hat on my head, knitted for me by a friend’s mother in Mexico (yes, it gets damned cold in parts of Mexico).

I don’t know when it was that I stopped wanting to buy things the way everyone else buys things.  When picking up one of 40 identical prints of Nighthawks at Bed Bath & Beyond was fine. It’s not as though I have a huge art budget to spray around — I am modestly middle class at best, and have to save up for all of these little treasures. But somewhere along the way, I stopped filling spaces with “ooh, that’s shiny and fits the space nicely”  and started instead decorating with meaning, connections, experiences.

An organization I follow, the Center for  New American Dream, has a tagline that just zings right to my core (and makes me super-envious I didn’t think of it first):  More of What Matters.   And the extrapolation of that is no less powerful:  Less of what doesn’t matter.  Shifting the balance of what we do, what we consume, and how we spend our lives to things that mean something. Things that connect us into other circles of life, weaving our experiences with other peoples’, supporting them as they support us, and doing a lot of smiling in the process.

This is the kind of thing we can all build more of into our lives whenever we find ourselves at a decision point, if we just pause for a second in life’s blurry pace and remember we have choices:

  • I’ve had a sucky week and I want to relax and entertain myself tonight. Where should I go?  Chain restaurant, or the cafe owned by the married couple in my neighborhood with the Pyrenees and the toddler?
  • Who should I spend my time with?  Is there someone or some thing that would lift me up more than parking it and watching (even) more reality TV?
  • It’s my (husband’s/wife’s/son’s/mother’s) birthday today.  Should I go to the mall, or should I look for something handmade and beautiful on
  • I need a new pair of shoes.  Should I research buying something made in my own country, supporting a small local/regional producer instead of yet another pair made by teenagers in a city-sized plant in China?

Lest you think this is some of quiz, there’s no right or wrong with any of this.  It doesn’t matter to me what anyone else chooses, and it shouldn’t matter to you either.  Visitors will note there’s plenty of plain old mass-produced stuff in my home still, though it is slowly disappearing through attrition.  (And I haven’t yet found an artisan microwave oven or a handmade laptop.)  But I can share something I’ve noticed: When I was younger, and surrounded myself with lots of Things made in factories, it did not save me from myself.  I was driven to buy what everyone else bought – usually objects vigorously marketed that gave people a certain desirable impression about me.  All the clothes and electronics and store-bought consumer goods in the world didn’t stave off the craving to go buy something else, to feed the self-deception that just a little more retail therapy would solve my depression, fix my relationships, get me out of the job that was killing me.

But sitting here in the quiet of the end of my day, with a cup of good coffee, a snoring dog, and just a few things that truly matter all around me, I feel connected to my community, my family, my friends — I see and feel my ties to my past (good and bad) and my present, which even on the worst of days makes me optimistic about my future.

Look around you.  What do you see that matters?  How can you get more of what matters, and divest yourself of what doesn’t?



Category: Art, Celebrations, Entertainment, Products (Green and hedonistic), Sustainable

Comments (2)

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  1. Stacy says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  2. Stacy says:

    I know when it quit mattering to me, at least. When I bought ALL of the Sh*T and it made no difference whatsoever in the quality of my life. Give me an EXPERIENCE any day! And an “experience” can be a fancy dancy coffee pot that we saw in Brussels that makes me think of that person (and our trip to Europe) every day when making my morning cup a’ joe. Experience is definitely the way to go!

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