“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris
I have been thinking a lot about things lately. Not things, as in, the meaning of life, but things, like physical artifacts that fill our shelves and lives and storage units.
Part of this is having moved twice in the last 12 months, so having to touch everything I own multiple times over the last year has caused me to consider just how much I do own, and why I own the things that I do. And while I absolutely love the William Morris quote at the top of the page, I have an additional set of criteria beyond beautiful or useful.
As much as possible, I want to own things that help me feel good. That’s it. Is it beautiful? Is it useful? And finally, even if it is one of those things, does it make me feel good? Not, “does it make me feel good when I buy it?”, but, “does it make me feel good that I own it?”.
Like I own this lamp. It’s ugly as sin. I hide it in a closet most of the year. But it emits a spectrum of light that is helpful to me around winter solstice when my seasonal depression kicks in. So, the lamp helps me feel good, and thus we keep it.
Or coffee cups. If the goal is to drink coffee, then practically any cup will do. Practically any coffee cup would be useful. But some coffee cups make me feel better than others. Having spent an awful lot of my life in diners, I love to drink coffee from a thick, heavy china mug. It keeps the coffee warm, it feels good in my hand, and when I drink from one, I feel safe and comfortable.
I drink coffee every day, multiple times a day. Let’s say, on average, four cups of coffee a day, times 360 days a year, equals 1440 cups of coffee. And let’s say that every time I drink coffee from a thick, heavy porcelain cup, I feel just a small shot of comfort, of happiness, of peace and belonging.
That means that by the one-time act of buying myself a good coffee cup that costs at most $8, I am going to make myself feel good 1440 times next year.
Why in the hell would I not do that?
When I was growing up, we owned Corelle dishes. Like these. I hated them. They are break-resistant, chip resistant, and, in my opinion, joy resistant. They are thin and feel weird to me. And every meal, we ate off of them.
Now I am a grown-ass man and can buy my own plates, so we own Fiestaware. They cost more. But they are heavy and sturdy, and when I eat off of them, I feel good. Because they cost more, we have bought them over time, slowly, and rely heavily on thrift stores and estate sales. But every single plate was worth it to me, because I believe them to be beautiful, and owning (and using) them makes me feel good.
Part of this for me is just treating myself like company. Using the good towels, eating off the good dishes. But it is also about not owning the not-good towels in the first place. If I buy a cheap, thin, scratchy towel, I may have saved $3. But every time I use that towel, I will not be comfortable. If I use that towel twice a week for 3 years, then I am setting myself up for 150 times of being uncomfortable.
And God help you if all your towels are like this. Imagine buying something that every day of your life will make you uncomfortable.
I think of these things – good plates, good sheets, good towels, good coffee cups – as micro-comforts. Like their counterpart micro-aggressions, they are indirect, subtle, or unintentional. But collectively, they add up.
If I wake up in the sheets that make me feel good, and I drink the brand of coffee that makes me feel good, and I drink it out of the coffee cup that makes me feel good, and I drink it at the table that has happy memories attached to it, under the wall of shelves I built that hold the bowls and platters we bought together at flea markets and antique stores (and thus are filled with happy memories) and all of which I believe are beautiful – why, I have had a wonderful morning just by waking up and drinking coffee.
Just imagine if your whole day was like that.