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Routine Modifiers : Decoding Decor

A couple of friends have asked me if working in an art gallery has affected my journey toward thoughtful minimization.  I thought that was a great question, and one that was more difficult to answer than I expected but worked through.  While I was an undergraduate, I spent half of my time studying art and visual communication, and half of my time studying English.  Neither of those fields of study are known to produce humans that are particularly conservative in their habits.  I, for one, enjoyed my luxuries – and I had quite a few of them, before my journey toward living more simply.

Before life at Sunrise Spot, I was surrounded by stuff: possessions heaped into piles and shoved into corners and onto shelves, forgotten and collecting dust.  In my previous Routine Modifiers post, I referenced Wendell Berry’s thoughts on stuff and I will stick by that citation; he is an incredible inspiration and worth taking a look at if you haven’t heard of him.  I was Example A of a person who had so many things that I couldn’t begin to tell you what I had hidden away in any particular nook or crannie.  Thank goodness for finally reducing my mess and choosing a more purposeful, sustainable, and altogether more thoughtful lifestyle (there were so many inspirations that finally aided in my life-changing decision, but if you are on your own personal journey and looking for that first stepping stone, I do suggest reading Mike Burners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas? [review here] – a quick, insightful read on our own carbon footprints as we amass our belongings, even the food in our fridge).

While I am working toward a more practical lifestyle, my friends have noticed that I do still buy things.  I do buy articles of clothing at boutiques and consignment shops, I do still pick up a newspaper at the local coffee shop, I do still use store-bought kitty litter instead of a DIY concoction (if you are a kitty momma/poppa and you’d like to try your hand at DIY litter, take a look here).  While most of these things filter back out of Sunrise Spot – the newspaper leaves in the recycling bin or compost pail (depending on the earth-friendliness off the inks that the paper uses), the kitty litter does go to the landfill in a biodegradable paper bag, and, while I cultivate my more thoughtful wardrobe, some of my clothing does filter into local thrift stores.  My home decor is another component in which I bring things into Sunrise Spot while filtering out the unneeded fineries.

What I have discovered is that I have recently passed through a crossroads in my life.  I have begun to leave things from my youth and college years behind and begin again with a more developed and reliable levelheadedness.  I no longer need the glass animals I kept on my windowsill that I was once so fond of.  I can do without the 13×19 paper-thin posters of college dorm rooms past.  The books on my bookshelf are no longer just the untouched mementos of old English classes but writing that I enjoy reading time and time again.  Now that I am well on my way of purging the unused and unloved decor from Sunrise Spot, I can pick-and-choose the art that I find truly beautiful.  While I dutifully stand by my little apartment, its wall space is limited – as anyone living in a tiny apartment will quickly discover – and therefore I have all the more reason to be a bit picky about what I bring in when it comes to decorative artwork.

Back to the art gallery: two women came into the gallery yesterday and were ogling the Noel Bailey collection we have on display (if you haven’t heard of Noel’s work, check it out here – he’s a local Vermont ceramics artist and his work is stunning).  One of the ladies went on at length about how much she adored Noel’s mugs but her husband has a strong aversion to the work as a whole.  I sympathized with her predicament and told her a story of my own that I believed would inspire her defend her own sentiments:

I am currently saving money for a piece of work in the gallery by local photographer Victoria Blewer.  The triptych is worth quite a bit of cash and would take me about a year to save for while still having money for the day-to-day necessities.  The color scheme is at odds with almost every other piece of artwork that I have.  Yet, Victoria’s triptych speaks best to my heart.  While it isn’t the practical choice, or the affordable choice, or even the choice that Sawyer might agree with, the $800 triptych – I feel – will bring me happiness every single day.  That is why I’m saving my pennies.

The lady appreciated my story (and my “eye for artwork”) and ended up leaving the gallery with a Noel Bailey mug wrapped in tissue.  A couple of hours later, the same woman emailed the gallery with a thank you and a photograph of herself already using her purchase.  In my experience, when you live simply, beloved objects become exponentially more precious than they did when you lived more lavishly.  It doesn’t have to be a piece of art – it could be a book that you adore but couldn’t find amongst the clutter of unreadable books on your bookshelf, it could be swapping out that expensive blouse you bought for a long-forgotten occasion and haven’t worn since for a tee shirt that you wear regularly because it makes you feel beautiful and comfortable.

As a soon-to-be Interior Architecture graduate student, I have found that it is a well-known fact that our homes – to a certain extent – reflect our personalities.  We fill our spaces with art and photographs and furniture that we like, that we think our friends and family will enjoy, and what we believe might impress upon both ourselves and our visitors who we are as people (for an interesting look into the psychology behind our stuff, take a look at Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You).  To look more deeply into my desire for Victoria’s triptych to be hanging on my wall: perhaps it is the knowledge that Victoria hand-colors each of her photographs to create a surreal or nostalgic feeling, or maybe it’s because with my move to Pennsylvania rapidly approaching I would like a piece of home from a Vermont artist to take with me, or maybe it’s the particular shade of blue photo oil she used, or the picturesque agrarian idea of birds on a wire.  I think that my desire is a combination of all these things, added to unknown, subconscious attractions to the piece.  I do know that it would make me happy, every single day, if it were hanging above my kitchen table on the blank white wall I’ve been saving for the perfect piece of artwork.

IMG_6013Sure, I have decor that wouldn’t pass in any Museum of Fine Art – but I love it.  I am particularly attached to the Hilary Glass print that Sawyer gave me early on in our relationship, and the Zoe Tilley Poster illustrations that I have both been gifted and have collected on my own.  They are lovely, they make me happy, so they remain among the lucky few that furnish Sunrise Spot’s limited wall space.

I know that my personal aesthetic leans toward soft, monochromatic or analogous color schemes that draw in vast amounts of light.  I have very few pieces that utilize bold primary colors, but those couple of pieces are eye-catching and I tend to keep them in our living space to keep the space’s atmosphere positive and animated.  IMG_6000The less energetic pieces are spread throughout Sunrise Spot to maintain a sense of calm that I cultivate.  The more white, the more light.  The more light, the better.  The art that I find appealing may not work for you, so I won’t spend (almost) any time on how to pick out decor for your own home.  That is a personal journey.  What I will suggest, however, is avoiding the panicky trip to a big box store in search of a space-filler.

I’m the first one to admit that I have succumbed to the whimsical promises and alluring atmosphere that the box store shoots out to us via promotional email, coupons in the mailbox, or cleverly placed digital advertisement.  But I’m getting smarter.  I’ve realized I don’t need the newest, springtime version of last fall’s lacquered ring dish that I so feverishly bought only six months previously.  I don’t have to resort to the instantly accessible, forsaking my values, simply because it’s available right here right now.  I have found that, in the pursuit of a more purposeful, simplistic lifestyle, the right now option is often outweighed by the perfect option, even if I have to wait a little while, save up money, or pay a steeper price for a locally-made item.  Working at the art gallery has taught me quite a few things and a handful of those lessons are about local businesses, entrepreneurship, and eco-friendly crafting.  Among these things, I have found that locally-made, locally-sourced things – whatever they may be – are far superior to box store purchases shipped in from halfway around the world.  Crafters take pride in their work, spend many many hours making sure that little issues that might arise with their products can be fixed or altogether avoided, and you – the purchaser – know exactly what went into the products’ creation.  I feel significantly happier when buying a locally-made bar of soap for the restroom sink than I do buying a bar that has traveled all the way from Timbuktu to be on the shelves of the closest box store.  Doing my part in respecting and replenishing our greatest resource (the earth!) gives me great joy.  In short, always look at the labels!

Obviously, wall decor doesn’t need to be strictly framed photographs, artwork, or illustration.  IMG_6011I have a bold red retro kitchen clock hanging above our closet door in the living room and has the most audible ticking either of us has ever heard (we actually love it).  In one of my recent posts, I shared a photograph of three simple monochromatic Jess Polanshek illustrations on my kitchen wall.  IMG_6004Jess usually creates prints in 8×10 sizing or larger, but I wanted something small for the wall next to the restroom door, so I purchased three of her cards, cut off the backs, and double-sided taped them to the wall for a simple solution to having a bit too much empty space.  I can’t get enough of our newest addition to our walls: our key & mail holder with a little hanging mason jar I have filled with Farmers’ Market flowers.

IMG_6018I have also dedicated one of my summer/fall Brixton hats as an above-the-door hanging in our bedroom for a little pop of color and three-dimensionality.  I have discovered that spending a bit of time coming up with creative solutions to decor/lack-of-decor issues gives Sunrise Spot its own eclectic feel; we truly feel at home in our space.

So to answer the initial question of where or not working in the gallery has affected my journey toward a simpler life: yes, in a wholly positive way.  Working toward decorating my little apartment with beautiful local artwork gives me the opportunity to find the piece that I love without sacrificing my ideology.  It has helped me “break up” with box stores and quick-fixes and taught me that the perfect option will come along if I have enough patience to wait for it.  There are times when I still jones for a quick trip to Bed Bath & Beyond or TJ Maxx, but I know that I can rely on myself to find responsible alternatives now.  Thank goodness for routine modifiers!  If the product isn’t perfect, there’s no reason to spend my hard-earned money on it.

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