I feel silly, and embarrassed, to write that, because art museums make me nervous sometimes; because I gave up on being an art person in high school; because I remember the several-sizes-too-big jeans and baggy K-Mart tees I once wore; because I know how rarely I clean out the sink or even brush my hair; because for all my yearning for mountains again, mountains, Gandalf, there have been years since leaving my puppy-dog and pretty neighborhood when I didn’t take any walks just for the sake of walking and looking; because I know there are things more important than beauty, like equity and justice and peace; and because beauty isn’t a word that comes naturally to my tongue.
Of course, beauty is many things to many people. I know not everyone would agree that my apartment, with its weird, green linoleum countertops and the crooked, widely-spaced boards that make up the floors, is better-looking than the ones you find in the brand-new high rises or in the boxy, post-war apartment buildings scattered across this town. You might not call the many layers of old white paint caked onto the baseboards of my apartment beautiful, and I would agree with you if you didn’t, at least as an isolated feature.
But despite the built-in grime that comes with a rental like mine—built in 1858 and managed with minimal upkeep for maximum profit for decades, at least—for me, this apartment is pleasant, while so many newer, cleaner spaces are not. Sitting in the little grey room that used to be my office, I’d think of the windows and the gentle lamps and the old walls and the well-situated couches and my tiny white desk by our bed, and I yearned for them. Sitting in the bright, tall, walls-of-windows office I have now, I still yearn sometimes.
I gather strength from my home, from the way I’ve made it look and the ways I’ve made it mine.
It’s not only that my stress abates when things are tidy, when the pile of papers and dirty clothes, my physical lists of chores, have been completed. When I see my home looks the way I want it to, everything clear and comfortable and as pretty as it can be, it infuses me with positive energy and contentment and satisfaction.
Sometimes I do just look past the messiness and hone in on other tasks, for weeks at a time. It doesn’t always stress me out. But, untidy and covered with cat hair, my home doesn’t give me strength, either.
I feel a little bad about this life requirement. My boyfriend doesn’t have it, not that he likes clutter or naked walls or ugly things, but they don’t usually bring him down, nor does it buoy him up with satisfaction to see everything as he’d like it. He really doesn’t understand the boost I get from moving furniture around, the new outlook I get from rearranging the pieces of our home. In comparison, it seems like I’ve bought into the organizational industrial complex, minimalist dogma, the endless spending that goes with interior decorating.
But really, most of what I’ve brought into our home so far this year, other than groceries, are seeds, a few plant pots, dirt, now some plants. And books.
My goal in perfecting this home—although I am trying to let go of perfectionism, always, because I know the danger, and also because it is IMPOSSIBLE—is to make it do the things we want of it. Make space for the life we want (creative, delicious, relaxing), and don’t make space for the life we don’t want (endless cleaning, too much stuff). I’m trying for contentment, with enough effort to achieve my ideal atmosphere, which is clean and cozy and fun. It makes me feel in control, is another part of it. I like to exert my power on my space. Just like I want to decree how I spend my hours, to feel more powerful and feel relaxed.