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?
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, Smithsonian.com 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.