Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Not where so much as how

Today while visiting my favorite DIY blog, Young House Love, I happened upon this page called "Where We Got Stuff." Basically, they go through every single room in their house and explain where they got every single item in it. I guess this is for the benefit of slightly obsessive fans who really, really want that exact same ceramic horse head that John and Sherry have.

I started thinking about what a similar list for our house would look like, and I quickly realized that a lot of what we own—maybe even as much as half—came not so much from somewhere as from someone.
Usually that someone is my mom, who loves to shop for house stuff and has run out of room in her own house, but we also have items from Brian's parents, from other family members, from friends, and even from virtual strangers met through Freecycle or some other group. Based on just a quick mental walk-through of the house, I'd say the most common sources of our furnishings and home decor are, in descending order:
  • Items passed down from parents and other relatives, both living and late
  • Secondhand finds from Craigslist, Freecycle, yard sales, and other sources (sometimes found by us, sometimes found for us by my mom)
  • Gifts from family and friends (again, most often my mom, shopping from one of her vast array of home-decorating catalogues)
  • Stuff we bought ourselves at IKEA
  • Stuff we made ourselves
  • Everything purchased from anywhere else
And that last category's not a very big one. Aside from electronic equipment and kitchen gear, the only items I can think of that fit into it are two small bookcases, two area rugs, two closet organizers, two recycling bins, and some picture frames.

What's interesting to me about this is that, when I look at things in our house, I tend to think not of where we got them, but of how. In our living room, I don't see bookcases from Home Decorators and a futon from White Lotus and a coffee table from IKEA: I see the the bookcases that my mom gave me when I moved into that shared house in Princeton with the crazy roommates, and the futon that Brian and I bought on sale and spent weeks sanding and staining and finishing piece by piece on our little staircase landing, and the coffee table that we found on Craigslist and had to maneuver down a flight of stairs in the seller's house, dinging the wall slightly on the way. In other words, each item has not just a retail source but an entire history of how it came into our lives, and so each room is filled not just with wood and metal and ceramic, but with memories.

Of course, I know that's true for the Young House Love bloggers too. After all, they essentially make their living by writing that very history for others to read. I guess my point is just that in most homes, and certainly in ours, a list of "where we got stuff" doesn't begin to tell the whole story. It's not just about where, but also about who, when, why, and how. And that's a much more complicated and more interesting text than a list of retail sites.
Post a Comment