Interior Design

I've Spent 110 Days Trying to Pick a Rug—Send Help

Why am I like this?

May 15, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

One hundred and ten days: That’s how long I’ve been deliberating over a rug for my living room. Right now, I have three options in my cart on one site, seven in my virtual basket on another, and eight on my wish list from a third retailer. There are 19 products pinned to my “Rugs” Pinboard. All the while, in reality, my living room floor remains woefully bare.

This is not a new phenomenon for me: With every design decision, however small, comes much anxiety and even more indecision. I lived in my last apartment for three years before I hung anything on the walls. I moved out after five years without ever acting on my plans to install shelves in the kitchen to make the space more efficient. When I moved to my current place, it took me weeks (and dozens of samples) to choose a paint color for my new wardrobe; after I finished painting it, rather laboriously, I frowned at it for a few days and then started over in a new color.

Now, nearly four months after I moved in, my art is still in stacks on the floor. A pair of white peg rails leans up against my bedroom wall; they’ve been waiting to be hung since January. I’ve been meaning to buy a mirror for the entryway for months.

I spend most of my working hours writing about design. On any given day, I’m staring at, writing about, and obsessing over the most beautiful, most interesting rooms out there. But somehow I can’t commit when it comes to my own space. Every time I’m faced with a decision—buying or sourcing something new, hanging art—I pepper myself with the same questions: Is this the best version of this I can possibly find? Is it perfect? Is it the Platonic ideal of a throw pillow?

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Top Comment:
“I think you should be comfortable buying things to make your home nice, regardless of whether it's a rental or one you own! You still have to live there, after all. Maybe don't pick up a huge sectional, but smaller couches can be made to work in most apartments. Same with rugs; most rooms can take a 6x8 rug (my 9x12 was a little trickier and I had to move it to a different room when I moved). But don't feel like you have to put off having "real" furniture just because you're a renter!”
— tia

This search for the “perfect” something is exacerbated by the fact that there are nearly infinite options out there. Never have there been more retailers and products to peruse, from online boutiques to Craigslist, to the secondhand furnishings shop down the street. And there are more, it seems, every day, all just a few clicks—or blocks—away. I have spent more time than I’d like to admit going down a deep Internet design rabbit-hole.

I thought I was the only one who ruminated on design choices to such a ridiculous extent. Everyone I know has lovely homes that feel polished and put-together, with things like actual dining room tables and art on the walls. One friend is particularly great at acting on design choices. Recently, she also needed a rug for her living room; she found one she liked and, when I talked to her a few days later, she’d just...bought it. (Imagine that!)

But when I brought this up with another friend, she expressed something similar to what I’ve been experiencing. “I’ve been meaning to paint my bedroom a nice blue-grey since I moved in,” Emily confessed, “but I haven’t because I always think, ‘I’ll just be here temporarily.’ Now here I am, nine years later, in the same apartment, with the same beige walls.”

I don’t think we’re alone. Last week, The New York Times wrote about these “commitment issues”—and a slew of decor companies popping up in response. These new outfits offer one solution: well-designed wares—from bed frames to table lamps to throws and artwork—for rent, not for purchase, no commitment needed. Want to try out a piece without shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars? You can, for a monthly fee. The aim is to help young people in particular invest in their spaces in a way that’s a little more flexible and a little less intimidating. These companies also present a solution to the overwhelming trend, in recent years, toward quick-fix purchases, which has left modern American houses with a surplus of stuff—more, reports, than any society in history. When you’re ready to switch things around, your caned-seat chair will go to another household, not to the dump.

Decorating a space slowly and being thoughtful about what we bring into our homes is important: It saves money, cuts down on waste, and works against the idea of “disposable” furniture and design. (In the same piece, the Times reported that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 9.7 million tons of housewares end up in landfills.) Plus, going slowly allows you to get to know a home before committing, time for the architecture to tell you what would be best.

Still, in today’s aesthetics-obsessed culture, the pressure to have a “curated” interior can go too far. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that the objects I bring into my house need to represent me in some way. Questions like, “Is this rug in keeping with my style? Will I like it in three years?” can quickly veer into: “Does it convey my personality? Does it capture the lifestyle I want?” Some of these, of course, are good questions to ask; they’re important for making a smart and considered choice, not a stop-gap one. But equating my life with what I own is too much. I am not my rug.

In the end, there’s a fine line between being thoughtful and obsessing over every decision. My friend Emily’s experience with painting (or not painting) her room gets at a lesson I’m trying to teach myself: By now, she could have enjoyed her blue-grey bedroom every day for nine years.

You can be thoughtful for years on end, but if you do nothing to your space, you’re missing the point: that being deliberate about design is a way of making your space more meaningful so that you can enjoy it more fully. It’s worth it to make your space feel special, whatever that means to you—even if you live in a rental, only plan on staying for a short time, or aren’t quite sure what your style is yet. You live your life in it every day, after all.

Maybe Emily will paint her bedroom blue-grey and, in a few months, decide she wants a pale green, or simple white. That’s okay, too. Part of what I’m learning is that committing to design doesn’t mean committing forever. Our spaces, after all, should be changeable as we change—and we should feel free to take risks with them.

Enough stalling: On Saturday, one hundred and thirteen days after moving in, I’m taking one small step: hanging my artwork on the walls. As Emily said, “Nail holes can always be filled.” I might even order a rug.

Do you have trouble making interior design decisions, too? Let us know in the comments!
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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley



Fern888 April 26, 2022
Finding this years after it written and relieved to be feeling not alone. Whilst I think it's mostly down to psychology. I also find that one item would go with another and not the one I had in mind. So I end up feeling mental paralysed until I sit down with my ideas and work out a 1 2 or 3 options. I tend that I need to make a room of it before I make a room of it. By giving myself a few concrete choices. For example. My kitchen I've tried ripping floor tiles up (which in the 3nd didn't need to come up) to painting the cupboard with chalk paint and not finishing the process. Taking down part of the ceiling due to a rentir causing it to leak. So now the whole kitchen is a mess and I've not had the mental space or time and money to do it. Letting myself wonder creatively which is what I'm doing now turns out my ideas have a whim of their own. And now I am thinking of taking all high cabinets out and replacing them with shelves. It's a tiny space but the fear of doing it alone scares me. What if I get it wrong. I honestly believe having the vision to work with helps. As I know I won't mess it up and I know in my mind what I'm trying to create. Thing is we are bommatred with so many choices. All seem alluring but not many with design solutions in mind. I hate my small confined kitchen with Iver bearing cupboards never did I think of removing them instead I was going to repaint them I live alone and don't need to fill my cupboards with crap. I saw a photo of a kitchen with the exact layout of my space and it inspired me which sparked off a thread. I'm guessing alot of people need some visual inspiration first to get going.
Kendall August 13, 2019
I moved into my own place (1 bedroom) December 2017 and I've done nothing, I'm not the decorating kind of person so I agonize over what color to paint my walls, what kinda runner to buy for the smallish hallway, I still do not have rugs for my bedroom and living room. I would like my place to look fabulous but I'm on a budget so going out and simply buying what I see in the magazines or on the websites is out of the question. I want to make purchases that will last, look nice but not break the bank. This article makes me feel better about myself, wish I had someone to help me make decisions.
Emily May 19, 2019
I am so relieved I came across this article! I have been obsessing over a lamp for my bedside table for, wait for it... 3 months. I just graduated college and am watching every penny. I want every purchase I make to be intentional and for a quality item that I can keep forever. But after reading the articles and all these comments, I am starting to understanding that I can shop with this motto but within reason. Thank you all!
Nancy May 16, 2019
Some say if you can't solve a problem as is, expand it.
I'm expanding the design problem to a design-and-pyschology problem.
My name is Nancy and I'm a recovering perfectionist (every day I do something imperfect, to stay on the wagon).
I know that hesitation to make a decision because I have wanted to canvass the market on options, and make sure I was getting the absolute best then available by cost, location and specs.
Once, as an adult, having great difficulty choosing between two bicycles for a combination of commuting in a small village and sports usage, I asked a friend to come to the bike shop and help me decide.
[A substantial purchase, somewhere between a fancy dress and large piece of furniture.]
After reviewing the two, their colours, specs, manufacturer warranty, etc, there was still no obvious superior choice.
Finally Glenn said, just flip a coin and buy one.
I was shocked, shocked I say (cue Capt. Louis Renault from Casablanca).
But he explained carefully that if they were so close, it didn't matter and I'd be happy with either.
From that day, my approach to choosing has evolved.
I sometimes (rarely now) do an extensive search for the best.
But more often, I choose what is acceptable and/or pleasing.
I have learned not to let the best be the enemy of the good.
Ring any bells with you?...
ShellE May 16, 2019
I did a major overhaul of my 23 year old living room last year - I still don’t have art back up on my walls or an armchair! I think it’s a lack of confidence about making the right choice.
Barbra F. May 15, 2019
I'm not a professional in any way but have always been regarded as having a 'good eye' and the ability to see what to do for a dysfunctional room. But I hate when I have to buy things. Many years ago when my children were young our living room furniture was worn out (after 3 energetic kids have jumped, run and tumbled over it) I couldn't decide in fact I couldn't even decide what basic style I was going for. It took one of my friends almost sinking completely into an ottoman to get moving. If I just find things, I am great at getting furniture and household accessories at auction, online, in thrift stores, or even someone's discards, that work in my decor. Just as long as I don't have to I am all in. We have been in this house 14 year and it took us 10 to hang stuff in some rooms. We are about to move again and I am sure history will repeat itself.
Elise P. May 15, 2019
I'll probably always be a renter, unless I happen to marry, which doesn't seem to be anytime soon. My philosophy is that no matter where you live, it's your " home". Your place of peace. Therefore I've always made the best of what I had beings on a strict budget and all. Alot of my furniture and some art pieces came via second hand stores. I've received alot of compliments on my choices. It got hard to make decisions when I decided to buy brand new. I have a hard time committing to something that's going to cost alot and then worry it won't look the way I hoped it would. I too am very obsessed with it. Probably more than most people. But glad I know I'm not alone in it! Ha ha But seriously start some where and build from that. You won't be sorry!
Scott May 15, 2019
As a designer and shop owner, I feel my role is to capture my clients personality and present to them interior solutions that fit their personality. If I am successful, my client will usually exclaim "that's exactly what I was looking for!". For the indecisive, they may just be looking for affirmation. That is when I can assure them their choices work.
Here is a technique I use with my indecisive customers. Step one; start eliminating! Pick the least favorite, then next least and so on until you have a manageable number like three. If they find another they want to add to the selection, I make them eliminate one. Then I offer opinions, sometimes they may just need a little affirmation!
Side note from someone who sells a lot of rugs, the rug you see online will rarely match the rug that shows up. If getting the colors just right, you will have to see a sample!
tia May 15, 2019
I lived in rentals for quite a while after I graduated from college. One of the very first things I needed to do when I moved out of my college place was get living room furniture. I had NONE. So I went to a furniture showroom outlet that I'd happened to notice and I came home with a couch, an easy chair and an ottoman. Were they "perfect"? No. Were they comfortable and basically my style? Yep. I still have them and like them almost 15 years later.

There's a saying I find useful in my everyday life, my work, and basically everywhere else: "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'done'." I'm entirely capable of obsessing about paint colors, or rugs, or furniture (I've been meaning to reupholster the Ugly Chair, a craigslist find with so much potential!, for about five years now just for an example) but sometimes you just have to ask yourself "Does this check all the boxes?" and if it does, then good enough! If I'm not sure what I'm looking for, I go on Craigslist and look for something that does what I need at a price I'm fine with in a style that I like, or at least don't mind. Sometimes you just need a chair, you know?

I totally hear you on the art, though. I've been in my current (owned) place for five years and most of it is still on the floor of the hall closet.
Elise P. May 15, 2019
It won't feel like home til you put up the art. I didnt put mine up in my last rental, because my landlord was a fire breathing dragon lol. So, I always knew I'd be leaving there asap. Therefore my art remained packed away and it never felt like home.
ktr May 15, 2019
For me, finally putting up new curtains and blinds always makes a house feel like home.
Susana May 15, 2019
And I want to add that most of their options are very bland and boring!
Susana May 15, 2019
Whenever I compare prices on furniture rental, I am not convinced. Renting a couch for a year at a monthly rate costs the same thing as financing it -- either through a store card or through any of the start up financing options available now. It's pretty silly to subscribe to a couch for 100 a month when you can pay off a couch for the same rate at 0% interest, often.
Lisa F. May 15, 2019
This is me to a T! I live in rentals, so I'm constantly justifying that I shouldn't make big purchases until I move into a home that I own. But let's be real... that's years off (thank you student loans and city living!) But even moving to a new apartment poses challenges about space and layout that make rug or furniture choices hard to pull the trigger on. And I'm so afraid I'll buy art and then hate it a year later. It would be interesting to see what the pricing and disclaimers are on furniture rentals.
tia May 15, 2019
I think you should be comfortable buying things to make your home nice, regardless of whether it's a rental or one you own! You still have to live there, after all. Maybe don't pick up a huge sectional, but smaller couches can be made to work in most apartments. Same with rugs; most rooms can take a 6x8 rug (my 9x12 was a little trickier and I had to move it to a different room when I moved). But don't feel like you have to put off having "real" furniture just because you're a renter!