Thursday, May 27, 2021

Tips On Not Buying A Decorative Owl Statue.

Like many people, I spent a lot of Quarantine trying to make my home more comfortable. This was no small task for several reasons. I had only lived here about five months when the lock down started and when I’d moved here I’d done so with all my belongings packed into my little 4-door hatchback. It was me and a cat and some backpacks filled with clothes and books. And that was it. In some ways it was the culmination of a decade spend slowly and deliberately shedding things and slimming down my life. It is possible that when I got here to Monterey I was living as light as I ever will (though I do still harbor the secret ambition to just live out of a backpack, but more on that some other time).

The problem with having only an economy-car’s worth of things though is that it makes the actually-living part somewhat difficult. For instance: nowhere to sit. That first weekend I bought a couch that came in a box and inside of a couple weeks I had a Craigslist kitchen table and a microwave and soon after that a TV and some bookcases. But that was about it those first few months.

One weird thing to know is that I live in an absurdly GIGANTIC apartment. The cost of modern housing being what it is, I have learned not to complain about this, but it is one of those odd ironic curve balls that life throws sometimes. I work for a public university that occupies a decommissioned Army base. I live in the old Army housing, which means that they don’t have studio apartments or anything (because the army had no need for that sort of thing), so I live alone in a two bedroom apartment designed for a military family. When I got the job here I told the housing people I just wanted the smallest, cheapest thing they had, they said, “Sure thing; it’s a 2-bedroom with a garage and a balcony.” God has a sense of humor.

So those first few months this place was pretty bare. A friend of mine called it ‘The Empty Place.”

If you’re into the aesthetic version of minimalism (which I kind of am, but that is really a secondary part of it for me), then you’ve no doubt seen the simple clean lines of white and gray rooms on Pinterest. Always with beautiful old wood floors and great light. Open concept floor plans and lofty ceilings. Kind of Frank Lloyd Wright crossed with the star ship Enterprise sort of look, but with more plants. Well my apartment is not that. Wall to wall cheap-ass carpet in most of the rooms. Old wood kitchen cabinets the color of wet cardboard. One living room wall is unreasonably long. The whole place is just damn weird. Bad design. Roman Mars would be very unhappy with this apartment.

I put my brain to it and tried to figure out how to make this a pleasant home without filling it with a bunch of crap … then Quarantine came along and things got … strange.

Like many people, I was forced to spend so much time here that I noticed every weird uneven-ness in the walls. I noticed every piece of crap joinery on the door frames. The place began to annoy me and rather than feeling like a minimalist, I felt like someone who didn’t know how to make a home, like someone who didn’t know what to put on the walls. And that isn’t actually me. So I went about fixing it. I bought another couch in a box, delivered by a singular intrepid UPS driver. I started my little window sill herb gardens. I bought some rungs and had ordered prints of pictures from my various travels. I even bought a cool black minimal desk for my living room. Throw pillows. Guest bedding. Lamps. I briefly even considered purchasing a decorative owl statue (Did not but it because it didn’t do anything but look like an owl).

By anyone else’s standards, this place is still pretty bare, but I think it is pretty about it.

One time I read an article about the way fancy restaurants and bars are designed and decorated. The guy in the article explained, “people love restaurants because the kitchens are practical and simple, but even better is the sense of plenty: lots of wine, lots of candles.” That made an impression on me and I wrote it down in the Notes app on my phone.   

Simple, but with a sense of plenty.

I guess that is what I have tried to do here, but I still feel weird about it because even though I am still mostly surrounded by things I care about, I do still feel like I could get rid of most of them in a heartbeat. So my minimalist brain shouts at me, “If you can live without them at all, then you should get rid of them now!”

A few months into Quarantine, I realized that all I really needed to live in this apartment is a mattress and a bar stool (the kitchen has a counter bar) and that's it. So why do I have all this other stuff???

The part of me that wants to live out of a backpack also wants to throw out the couches and the rugs and the lamps and the throw pillows. Most days it is a challenge not to over-purge and throw out my flatware. I’m not kidding. I have one set of bamboo utensils. Why do I need more than one knife, one fork, one spoon?

The answer of course is: other people. 

What kind of life are you designing for yourself when the only place to sit in your entire phone is on your one bar stool? It’s a life that doesn’t have anyone else in it. And I know that I would like this life to have other people in it. The loneliness of Quarantine has taught me that. 

Even though I only NEED a mattress and a bar stool, I don’t WANT the life that would create for me. I want a life where I host fucking dinner parties. Right now I could host a small one, but only because I have a table and chairs and haven’t thrown out my flatware yet. Now I just need the people. That part of life is slowly beginning to happen now that we are poking our heads out of our homes like suspicious meerkats.

It isn’t about the stuff, or the lack of it, not at this point in my life anyway. It’s about simplicity with a sense of plenty. The simplicity part I have locked down, now I have to work on the sense of plenty. And that is the work of a life.




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