Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Useful and Beautiful Things

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 
            -- William Morris, artist, arts and crafts designer

Morris’ quote is getting a lot of play these days, as those of us fattened on the consumerism of America try to slim down in painless ways.  I appreciate the simplicity of these two criteria:  is it useful?  is it beautiful?  

Kasey and I have had frequent conversations about the marriage of form (me) v. function (Kasey).  If it were up to him, our furniture would line the walls from corner to corner to optimize the space, of course.  If it were up to me, I’d rearrange the furniture whenever I felt like it to create a cozy nook here and flow there, of course.

We’ve managed to get fairly good at combining form and function, beauty and use in ways that we both like.  And then we each have our own spaces where our own style rules…hence his garage where stuff lines every square inch of the wall and hangs from the ceiling, and my van, which though not beautiful per say, feels very comfy and lived-in with its coffee cups and comfy blankets. 

Although establishing use and beauty are a good foundation for a healthy relationship with stuff, these criteria are not enough for me.  My train of thought goes something like this: 

“Is this bright red, sporty winter coat useful to me?  Well, not right now.  I bought it 13 years ago when I liked baggy things, so it’s about 2 sizes too big.  It might be useful if I ever went skiing again though, because I wouldn’t really want to wear my other winter coats for skiing.  And it has a zipper on the front pocket so I could attach my lift ticket to that.  So yeah, it would definitely be useful to me if I ever went skiing again.  The coat stays.” 

“Is this bright red, sporty winter coat beautiful to me?  Um, no.  It’s shockingly red and hurts my eyes and calls way too much attention to me.  It has the name of my college on it, and I’m not really ever in the mood to be a walking advertisement for anything, let alone a college that I have very mixed feelings about.  But I have been wanting to learn how to sew, so maybe I should keep it as a project…I could take it in so it fits better and embroider some cool logo thing on top of the name of my college.  I can make it beautiful.  The coat stays.”     

See how I did that?  I almost always manage to find some potential scenario in the future when the thing I’m staring at might possibly be useful.  And I am wildly optimistic about my ability to make things beautiful if I apply some mad sewing skills that I don’t possess. 

It sounds ridiculous when I write it down.  But behind the ridiculousness of keeping an ugly old coat for a potential and very unlikely skiing trip is fear and thriftiness and an aversion to asking for favors and a need to hold on to a time in my past I haven’t made peace with yet.  These are the things I’m hoping to investigate this month, as I sift through the mess, both literal and figurative, that crowds out the more important things in life. 

For now, I’ve added a third question to ask if I find myself wiggling around the first two criteria:  Would someone else find it more useful and more beautiful than I do? 

The coat goes.  

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