In your house

Our living room in northern California was filled with favorite things.  July, 2004

Our living room in northern California was filled with favorite things. July, 2004

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”William Morris 

When one of my graduate school professors asked me to do a paper on William Morris, I wasn’t thrilled about accepting, but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating studies I completed.  What I liked best about his philosophy was his enduring belief that the useful can and should also be beautiful.

His oft-quoted words above are a good starting point for those of us who want to spend the winter cleaning and clearing away our excessive belongings.  Of course, beauty is a subjective thing, and not everyone would agree with our choices.  But in our own homes, we are free to surround ourselves with things that make our days easier, or bring us joy just by decorating our world.  Or, best of all, those things that do both.

I hope that you will remember Morris’ advice, and fill your life with the useful AND the beautiful. Do you have any favorites that fit both those standards?  Feel free to tell us about them!

One year ago today

Practical pleasures

45 Comments

  1. Things that have to be kept in the house – things which help you in chasing your dreams. All the other are distractions. About home – Keep it simple.

    • Thank you, Sarvjit – “keep it simple” is a phrase I will be repeating to myself again and again this year. Thus far it is working well with cooking, filing, cleaning and other areas of life. It really does enable a sharper focus on what matters.

      • That’s what the Nature teaches us – Less is More. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

        • You’re welcome, and thanks to you for joining the discussion! We are happy to have you here.

          • I’m happy to be with you all. I’m happy that I took birth on a Heaven called Earth.

  2. Your blog post is perfect for my day since I am planning on decluttering and your words will remain my mantra when I ask myself if I should toss or keep (toss meaning donate). Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! I hope it will be helpful. Those of us who “love many things” (as Vincent Van Gogh said) sometimes have a hard time with accumulating too much. I’ve found it does help to give away, as you mention, and to cultivate the fine art of enjoying things that belong to others without feeling a need to acquire them myself. The more I do these things, the easier it gets.

      • It’s baby steps for me. Truly baby steps, but I am determined that this year be different. Thanks for leading the way! I’m following! 🙂

  3. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. This is very interesting, as I’ve been considering what my overload really is. We laugh about coming to our beach home 29 years ago and sending for our things! One favorite piece that fits the description of useful and beautiful, is my antique Barrister Bookcase that affords visual storage. I’ve had to be creative for many reasons, but the nooks and crannies of “428” are bulging. I don’t know the number that makes a collection but I have many! 🙂 Enjoy your day……make it happen, my friend!

    • I love those old bookcases though I’ve never had one. I would imagine they are MUCH easier to keep dust-free! When Mama first saw our York home, she said “I’ve never seen anyplace with so many nooks and crannies.” She described perfectly one of the reasons I love it so much, but stuff loves to sneak off into those nooks and crannies and hide out – even mutate and multiply! When I get harassed with needed to go through stuff I remind myself that over-abundance is a blessed problem to have. Thanks for your advice “make it happen” – I did have a productive day yesterday, and so far doing fairly well today. Hope you are too!

  4. Carlyle

    Though I realize there there are those who would disagree and even be offended by some of the things I consider both useful and beautiful, Having lived my whole life literally surrounded by firearms , I have found beauty in the mechanics of their operation and the beautiful and graceful contours of their shapes as well as the pleasure of their usefulness for both hunting and target shooting. Of course, the other useful/beautiful things in my life have been the many airplanes I have flown but I can’t keep them in my home. 🙂

    • Daddy, I agree with you that firearms are both beautiful and useful, but that’s probably from being raised by you to see them as potentially lethal objects of utility that required responsible and diligent handling — much like knives, chainsaws, and automobiles. In particular, I always admired Eric’s old flintlock, and Mama’s snub-nosed Charter Arms .38 special (a “ladylike” handgun if ever there was one – I sometimes say, only half joking, that every well-bred Southern girl learns to make cornbread, pour tea and handle firearms). Seriously, though, I believe that responsible firearms training is a useful thing to learn even if one does not ever plan to carry a gun. It goes a long way (particularly in females, I think) toward instilling an attitude of empowerment and an aversion to “helplessness.” In fact, your teaching me to handle firearms may well be one of the underlying causes of many of my feminist attitudes (and now that I’ve dropped that particular f-word, that may well be the most controversial statement I’ve made on this blog). It’s not unlike the point made by my favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, discussing his recent book David and Goliath. Without passing any judgment either way on the tactical actions taken by underdogs who seek to minimize disadvantages, he makes some vital points about the importance of rising above a victim mentality.

  5. The beautiful can be useful just by being beautiful. I have many wall hangings that are there simply because they fill me with joy when I pass by them (some are pictures that I have taken and framed). These are my favorites. 😉

    The items that fit both categories are probably things that my grandchildren will call outdated some day – our new kitchen floor & counters, our appliances that all match, the paint on our walls . . .

    • Barb, William Morris would agree that beauty is its own excuse for being. Aren’t we lucky to have both the capacity and means to surround ourselves in our homes with things that bring feelings of joy? As you say, some of our home decor will someday appear “retro” to our grandchildren, but that’s only because the utility will probably outlast our subjective ideas of “beauty.” Hope you are having a great year so far!

  6. Phyllishalle

    *WHO ARE YOU? *

    * DO I KNOW YOU?*

    * God Bless you!*

    • I must admit, this one strikes me as a spam message – but in case it is not, here are my answers:

      *If you read many of the 400+ posts on this blog, to say nothing of the wonderful comments from readers along with my replies, you will have a fairly good idea of who I am.*

      *I have no idea whether you know me outside this blog; if you’ll give me some of your details, we can figure that out.*

      *Thank you!*

      • You’re so gracious. No photo almost always means SPAM. All caps is simply rude in computer speak. Sometimes these get through.

        • Yes, I get some very entertaining junk in my spam filter! I’ve learned to be a bit tolerant of all caps since most of the people I know now who use them probably do so because they are not good at keyboarding and don’t realize it’s taboo. Usually they catch on over time. I like being called “gracious” thought; it’s not one of the words I think of when people ask me to describe myself. 🙂

          • Oh yes, the spam filter can be most entertaining. I’ve stopped reading or even glancing at it. I simply delete it from time to time.

            I think you should definitely add ‘gracious’ to your personal descriptors. It suits you!

            • Alys, I’ve gotten a lot quicker at deleting spam, but from time to time it will have a non-spam comment in there, so I’m afraid to just delete without glancing at it. Is there a way around this? Thank you for the compliment! 🙂

              • Probably not. I never found anything that wasn’t spam so stopped checking. I try to reply to all comments, but I know I miss from time to time, so I just assume that a legitimate comment caught in spam, will simply lead to other good comments. Make sense?

                • I think I’m reaching that point myself. Lately most of it is clearly spam and I can just see at a glance and delete the whole page. Oddly enough, the post in question was NOT in the spam filter, although I do think it should have been. Probably a new spammer they weren’t wise to yet!

                  • I’ve had a couple slip through this year. Both were clearly spam. I just deleted them and things have been better these past few weeks.

                    • I’m starting to have a better eye for it. I’m learning to “clean up” online as well as in the home!

  7. I had to find a document recently and started looking in my massive wood desk: drawers are stuffed. What is useful, beautiful? Drawings from grandchildren, a letter from my deceased mother, cards from Mother’s day from five children. Photographs aplenty. “Beautiful” and “Useful” are such a matter of personal viewpoint…now on to organizing it all!

    • Cynthia, it sounds as if you agree with me about what is useful and beautiful! When I go on these binges of needing to clean out and throw stuff away, I’ve learned not to go near my letters and cards; each is too beautiful to throw away that I just end up spending my time reading. 🙂 Organizing is the key. Thanks for being here!

  8. Jack

    I’ve got a new home away from home in Dallas, a simple one bedroom apartment in a nice area. It’s a study in minimalism, a rented bed, dresser, sofa, chair and an endtable. I brought a bedside table from home, linens, a couple of throw blankets and towels. I work, I go home, I exercise, I eat sparingly, read and retire. This is my life three nights a week, simplicity…no, sterility. It’s a bit of bummer but getting better, this near-ascetic life of mine.

    The other four, dogs on sofas, dogs on beds, college kids, high school kids, laundry never done, never enough of anything: time, money, food, rest, etc. Above our headboard in our bedroom on the sheetrock is an indention, seams and all, when my 8 year old son, now 16, got a baseball with a speedometer for Christmas and went back to fling one against the headboard to check it out…high and inside, ball 1, don’t remember the velocity. We considered repairing it a few years ago, but it’s my favorite keepsake in the house. Ah, home.

    • Jack, that is a really fun story. I can see why you don’t want to repair it. Of course, one of my first thoughts was that anyone who gives a boy a baseball with a speedometer on it is ASKING for it! 🙂 I hope you are able to keep your Dallas place simple – I told Jeff I’d do that with our Alexandria place, but since it’s more spacious our stuff has expanded to fill it! The only thing we lack is dog(s) on the sofa, but when our lives become a bit more steady and predictable, we hope to remedy that situation.

  9. raynard

    Julia as I sing one of my favorite songs”( cough cough “These are a few of my favorite things”..I digress. This sounds like a conversation I had this afternoon with to of my younger officers. They were both talking about how”O.C.D” they are about cleaning. They must be”second or third generation related to “Felix Unger”( never seen the play Neil Simon produced but I seen the original movie with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.. I have a younger sister who I lived with when I first moved to Delaware. Everyday I came home from work,,she had changed the furnature around in her living room. ( I think I mumbled something like”Scotty 1 to beam up then maybe”Animals Crackers in my soup or was it”the Goodship “Lollypop lol. Didn’t know that Mega bus went down your way. I know it goes up to Upstate NY…Did you ever get a chance to look at the flower show Youtube video? I think so far these was one that didnt “tickle my fancy” the lighting was not that great that year.Oh well … I better finally get a piece of my wife’s birthday cake before”she gives it all away.. be blessed

    • Raynard, I have known people who seemed to love moving furniture around, changing curtains or paint, and even knocking down walls (Really!) but I have never understood any of this. If I liked something in the beginning – or sometimes even if I didn’t – I get used to it and don’t ever think of changing it. I’m getting a bit better about that, beginning with baby steps as Misifusa says, like changing out my towels and linens. Today I am changing out the window blinds in our Alexandria home, but the only reason I’m doing that is that one of the originals (which must have been well over 20 years old!) fell in the floor and I didn’t have much choice. Wish me luck! I did get over to the flower show website and it is definitely a MUST SEE for us now. I don’t remember a YouTube video but I’ll go back and look again. Thanks for the tip, and I hope you got at least one piece of that cake!

  10. I know you won’t be surprised when I tell you that is one of my favorite quotes. Words to live by for sure.

    I like change, so my favorite things tend to be candles, vases of fresh flowers, plants…things that change and grow, but that add glow, light, and scent to our home.

    • Yes, that’s a very “Alys” quote! I think it’s great that you emphasize things that frequently REQUIRE changing out. Candles, flowers and plants lend a unique sort of beauty. I have been trying to emphasize choosing, whenever possible, gifts along these lines (including edibles) that are consumed or used up quickly, and won’t end up turning into junk for someone to get rid of. Sometimes that means giving a basket of many small gifts, but that’s part of the fun!

      • Julia, that is exactly what I try to do. I also advise clients to do the same.

        Many people hang on to gifts out of guilt or obligation. I like to say that the gift is in the giving, not the having. Once I give someone something, I should have no expectation beyond the gift. Does that make sense?

        I like the idea of a basket of small gifts.

        • I love going to Trader Joe’s or stores that carry specialty or imported foods, and buying several small treats – tea, cookies, snacks, cocoa mix – none of which will ever need to be dusted! And yes, what you say makes perfect sense. I long ago learned to (if at all possible) totally forget what or even if I gave something to someone, and really try not to ask about it later unless there is some good reason.

  11. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but my Aqua Vintage Sunbeam Mixer is both beautiful and practical. I love the smooth sound of it running but I also just love it decorating our kitchen. Especially since so many of my favourite things are still in storage. I also bought an old vintage alarm clark for our mantel. One with a big face and it’s a cream colour. Kind of Farmhouse Vintage. But the darn thing tick-tocks soooooo loud, I’ve not been winding it. So that one didn’t work out so well. It’s darn cute, but not practical. It’d make a good paperweight though. xK

    • Wow did you have to get that mixer re-conditioned or does it still work from the original motor? Does it have one of those woven cloth cords? I can remember when turquoise appliances were all the rage (just before the “harvest gold” and avocado shades took over). I used to love it when my mother used her old Sunbeam mixer, which was quite a novelty in those days. She used to let me lick the batter off the beaters and bowl. I have a nice mixer that I have probably used fewer than 10 times since I bought it over 10 years ago. Good intentions but not much follow-through. It’s too big to be a paperweight! 🙂

      • LOL, That’s what Mr B calls some of the ‘stuff’ I come home with. I suppose there’s a message there, but I haven’t let that dampen the fun…LOL.

        I didn’t have to recondition my Sunbeam at all. The beaters aren’t an exact pair but it works like a dream. It’s gently used, but I like that. I posted about it way back here:

        http://boomdeeadda.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/i-can-still-hear-the-angels-singing/

        • Wow, I so totally loved this post! Not least because that mixer looks almost exactly like the one my mother had, except that hers was white (I think? Maybe it was aqua too?) It had that knob on the end with all the settings. WOW, amazing that it works after all these years. It must have been owned by someone like me 🙂 or maybe things were made better in those days.

          • Thanks Julia. I just re-read it too, LOL “move over Betty Draper”…where do I get this stuff?

            I think it looks very Star Trek’ish. The tail of the Enterprise is pretty much the same as the back speed dial.

            I think it was only $45, was I ever happy that day. Yep, good find, right price, great shape, that’s a triple threat, HA. It might be a combination of someone like you and things were made better back then 😀

            • I never thought about that but it does look like Star Trek. Maybe Scotty used one like it to whip up treats now and then. Isn’t it great when we find something that’s unique, useable and a great price? I long ago realized that bargain hunting is like a hobby for me, which is why I can enjoy shopping without finding anything to buy. For me it needs to meet at least two of those three tests for me to buy it, but it’s fun to look at stuff that meets only one of those tests! Hones my “skills” as I like to think of it. 🙂

  12. I can only imagine how fascinating your research on William Morris was – he and his Pre-Raphaelite friends were truly remarkable. Changed the way we looked at beauty – extraordinary in the ordinary!!

    • Those Pre-Raphaelites were a fascinating bunch, weren’t they? Their lives were like soap operas long before the term was invented. But they did leave a beautiful legacy, and I suspect most people are like I am, never aware of their influence until I was pointed in that direction.

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