Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mr. Sharpie's Manifesto

Boy do we feel happy (and lucky) to have Lindy at Bloom today. When I asked her to guest, I thought she'd come up with something wonderful and thoughtful and perfect. And I was right. Hope this post gets your wheels turning. It has sure made me think.
Thanks so much for being here, Lindy.

I didn't mean for this to start out as a manifesto. When Emily asked me to write a guest post (and by the way, I'm so very happy to be here you; thanks for the invite Emily!), I thought I'd do something about some of my upcycling (I guess that's the new term now) projects. Fun! Great! I love to show folks my before-and-after pictures. Because everyone, and I mean everyone, loves a before-and-after shot. And then I started thinking about why I like old stuff and why I love to fix stuff up.

And then I stared at Mr. Sharpie. For a good long time. Actually, I stare at him every time I sit down at the computer because Mr. Sharpie has occupied the little nook on the right side of our desk for the past 12 years. You see my husband has had Mr. Sharpie since he was eight years old. Yes, my husband has owned (and used, I might add) the same pencil sharpener for the past 26 years. I'm not even sure how that is possible. But it is. And it says a lot about my husband, but even more about the transformation of our culture into one of conspicuous consumption over the past three decades. Okay, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

My husband and I both come from a long line of do-it-yourselfers. Both of our parents have remodeled countless pieces of furniture and a dozen or so homes, so it should come as no surprise that we would follow suit. Luckily, we both love the way older pieces give the homes we have lived in character and warmth. Now, I know some people wouldn't be caught dead with old stuff in their house, and I used to think that was okay. You know, a difference in taste. But, as I have reflected upon our choice of how to furnish our house, I realize more and more that is is a decision that not only reflects our aesthetic, but our political and spiritual values as well. Heaven (and Target) knows that I'm not a purist--not even close. And, I'm not unilaterally advocating that old is inherently better than new, or that we shouldn't buy stuff, I'm just hoping that we can all be a bit more mindful of the items we do choose to bring into our lives.

Aesthetically Pleasing

First of all, you know that feeling when you see someone with your same cute shirt from The GAP? Or when two actresses wear the same designer dress to an awards show (um, awkward)? That's kind of how I feel when I purchase something from one of the big box stores. I know that when I buy that cute dish towel from Anthropologie, or the chair from IKEA, about a million of my closest friends are buying the exact same thing. But when you buy old stuff, you are almost guaranteed that no one is going to have a piece quite like yours. Talk about exclusive!

This one-of-a-kind vintage quilt bought for $25 at an antique store in Illinois keeps us and our couch cozy.

Second of all, our grandparents were right: they don't make'em like they used to. Much of the stuff that is made today is not made to last and it shows. Would a pencil sharpener made today still be working 26 years from now? Probably not. I think we can all agree that we live in an increasingly throw-away culture. We've got the landfills to prove it. But, when things are designed so poorly, it's hard to treat them with much respect. On the other hand, a piece of furniture that is carefully constructed to last a lifetime or two begs to be lovingly cared for.

Spiritually Seeking
If all things are imbued with a spirit (and I think they just might be), doesn't it make sense to treat them as such? Clearly our dining room table (a farm table from the 1850's that we purchased for $100 in an antique store in Cambridge, MA) has been well loved and well cared for. I love the warmth of the wood, and the worn patina. And I love that the table connects us physically to the past and humbles us in knowing that we are (hopefully) just one of many families who have and will use it to break bread. So far in our possession it has survived two cross-country moves, and two teething toddlers, and it still looks beautiful.

I love this pair of antique chairs (hand-me-downs from my parents) that we use at our dining room table.

It's good for the spirit to honor pieces that are old and well made, but it's also great to give new life to "gently used" pieces. Such was the case with a hutch I bought at our local thrift store. A pint of Benjamin Moore's (it's the most environmentally-friendly paint I've found out there) "Tropicana Cabana" and a little tlc, and I had myself a unique bookcase.

I love to repaint furniture. I don't know if it's the actual creative act of painting, the almost immediate gratification that comes from transforming a piece in just a few hours, or the delight in making something beautiful and useful for a few bucks, but it's a satisfaction that is hard to find anywhere else. Go ahead and try it for yourself (if you haven't already). Paint something your favorite color and see if you don't get just a little spring in your step.

This dresser, from the 1950's, originally belonged to my aunt. I painted it red and added some modern hardware.

My mom refurbished this little nightstand for me many years ago. I love the delicate vintage hardware she choose.

Consciousness Raising
When I was 13 I bought an album called "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got." For the past 20 years, I've been trying to reach that nirvana. If you saw my closet, you would know that it has been an uphill battle. But I think it's a battle worth fighting. I want my children to grow up being happy with less and appreciating what they have. I'd love for my 4-year old, Anders, to be able to pass on his dad's Transformer (a well preserved Daitron 3 if you must know) to his own child someday. Or at the very least to treat the belongings he has with respect. I also want him to be socially conscious; I want him to realize that he lives a very privileged life that many children around the world only dream of. And that the actions we take, the products we buy, the waste we produce, have global consequences. I want him to know that when we buy older stuff, we're supporting local thrift stores and small businesses, and that we're sending a message that we want to limit the amount of mass-produced junk made in China under questionable working conditions we bring into our house. And I want him to know that when we take care of our stuff, then reuse, recycle, upcycle, repurpose, or re-whatever it, we're sending less stuff to landfills, which helps to keep the air we breathe and the water we drink a little cleaner.

So, the next time you buy (or inherit) something for your house, I hope you'll explore the ramifications your decision has on the environment, your spirit, and your pocketbook (not to put pressure on you or anything).

Maybe the best thing we can do to show our gratitude this Thanksgiving season is to honor all of the things we already have (Mr. Sharpie will thank us).

* For more of Lindy, visit her on her blog.


Rachael said...

love this! When my husband and I were first married, I didn't even think of going somewhere other than the ubiquitous chain stores to furnish our home. Now I look around our house and the pieces that I love most are ones that we picked up for pennies and refurbished ourselves. My husband has started to build a lot of our furniture, and I really enjoy the fact that these solid, carefully-crafted-with-love pieces will be around long after the generic store ones have gone.

Katrina said...

Great post! Very inspiring. This is definitely something I want to get better at. Although now that I think about it... the only furniture we have that wasn't either given to us or purchased second hand are our Ikea Bookshelves (we have a LOT of books so it just made the most sense) and entertainment center and our bed. Thats not too terrible I guess.

A and R said...

Well said, well said. Very well said.
I just reupholstered my kitchen chairs and it feels great to be recycling. It was fun and easy and it has put a spring in my step. I'm ready to paint a great D.I. find like yours!

Joan said...

Um, I must be Satan. Just about every piece of furniture I own is from IKEA. I appreciate your views on recycling furniture though, Lindy...Sincerely. It gives me something to think about.
Your hutch is my favorite.

Three and Counting said...

I love love love this post and hate it too. I need to be better at this for sure. Why do I love new things? aarrgggg! I tried to do this a few years ago and my hasband was real annoyed with me. I just bought this awesome orange chair for my photography and he pointed out that he thinks it came from the hall next to every bishops office in the 70s. I said awesome. and I meant it.

lori said...

great post! I so much agree with your insights. One thing I admire about my parents - who were children of the depression/WWII -is that they TAKE CARE of what they have. That's really an important skill so many of our generation (myself included!) struggle with!

Steph said...

AMEN. And you put it so beautifully too. Thanks.

patterglenn said...

What a great post! Love it. I find joy in the dreaming, the search, the refurbishing, and most of all the years and years of enjoyment and the fact that I am already passing some things on to my posterity. Thanks be to my mom for the great education. Oh, and I love the concept of "upcycling" It sounds much more green than "junking".

The Henwood's said...

"Gratitude makes what we have enough"-unknown

LJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LJ said...

Well, I've just loved reading all of your comments, so thank you!

Joan: I hope you didn't feel Satanic after reading the post. That would definitely NOT be the feeling I was trying to evoke here! Seriously, though, as I said in the post I'm not a purist. I have stuff from IKEA, too. I just wanted us to think about how much new stuff we need when old stuff is available, you know?
Three and Counting: I love new things, too. I think everyone does and that's why I do feel like it's a battle in this world that we're living in.
And, Ms. Hendwood: Thanks for a great quote!
Bloom readers are just the best.

Abbie said...

I like a bit of both: Go IKEA for the big stuff and handmade on the little stuff. Sometimes you just need something with instructions with no words and a silly guy showing you what to do. I LOVE this stuff, though! That hutch is great. Maybe one day when I have a garage or a yard or a way to transport, I will be more like you:). Very good.

Abbie said...

P.S. Living with less is FANTASTIC! Love it!

That's all. Again, great post.

Bloom said...

Oooh Lindy, I just ate this post up! I think constantly about wanting-something we all struggle with. Here's a quote from a play Taylor once saw (sorry, can't remember the name of the play!): "And they were blessed beyond measure in that they did not want what they did not have."
LOVE THAT. It's an uphill battle for me, as well.

I love what you have done with all of those pieces. I can never quite figure out my style, as I love old 'upcycled' gems, but also love modern clean lines. I love the modern hardware you added to that red dresser. That reassures me that I can blend my new and old with confidence!

Thank you so much for all the inspiration!

and p.s Bloom readers ARE the best! I love this little community we have!

Bethany said...

This really is such an important lesson to learn, especially when we are inundated with advertisements and branding. That being said, I do love Target and Ikea. I think the important thing to realize is that you don’t “need” all these new shiny things and you can often do quite a lot with what you’ve got. As I’ve gotten older I have realized that although I want lots of fun little things, getting those things doesn’t make me happy. It just feeds the “I want cycle.” I am working on being more resourceful and finding new uses for things I already have lying around. Plus, it feels great to re-purpose something. It is instant gratification. Since having my son (who is now 1), I have found a ton of great consignment stores in town and I buy most of his clothing and quite a few toys second-hand. That is shopping that I don’t feel guilty about later, because I am supporting local business-woman, buying used, and getting a great deal. It’s win-win.

Ambrosia said...

Oh LJ, what a thought provoking post!

Rachel said...

YaY, Lindy Lou! You are the greatest. Agreed and agreed.