The Dilemma of Beautiful Things

The Dilemma of Beautiful Things

I once saw a catalog that held the most beautiful coffee table and end table set. They had exquisite carved mahogany wood bases that ended in classic lion’s feet. The tops were rose colored marble with streaks of white running through them.

My internal shopaholic salivated at the sight of them. Their perfection! Their beauty! Their unique factor! (This was before the current marble craze hit America.) Yeah, the set was $1,200 plus shipping, just a touch out of my price range at the moment. But a girl can dream, right?

I saved that catalog, keeping it open to the page with my table set. I would get those tables. One way or another…

I call it the upgrade disease, also known as chasing perfection. The upgrade disease hits many of us at some point in our lives, for some of us it rules our lives. We see something more perfect than what we already own and a primitive instinct kicks into overdrive that says our lives won’t be complete without it.

The upgrade disease causes perfectly sane and rational people to spend their money on a “new and improved” version of something they already own. This may sound familiar. Marketing companies bank on people falling ill with upgrade-itis. Their ad campaigns cater to this disease, even using the catch phrases new and improved frequently in their marketing messages.

Your old computer is slow and dowdy. It’s an outdated grandpa now that this “sleek new operating machine” is on the market. Your old car is showing it’s age, the paint isn’t sparkling, shiny and fresh anymore… get the new “upgrade” version. It’s hot, just released on the market and ooooh people will admire you when they see you driving it!

The old you is showing crow’s feet. Upgrade to the new you with this hot crow’s feet remover, you’ll look twenty again and people will love you again.

When I was living the great American accumulation dream I had a heavy dose of upgrade-itis. I upgraded beds, couches, curtains, blankets, decorations, dishes, pots and pans, clothes and computers. I put myself in situations where I would fall prey to upgrade-itis (shopping malls, specialty boutiques, perusing catalogs). Just like magic, another desperately needed upgrade would dazzle me with it’s beauty and perfection.

Do you have upgrade-itis? Here are the warning signs:

  • Buying replacement versions of things you already own that are still completely functional.
  • Feeling incomplete if you can’t get X.
  • Seeing each little imperfection in the things you already own.
  • Feeling dazzled by the beauty of shiny new things.
  • Pulling out your credit card to buy X when you already own a version of X and know you shouldn’t be spending the money.

There is a cure for upgrade-itis. It involves changing your relationship with your things, putting time (a week, a month, etc.) in between falling in love with something and making the purchase, and cutting back on visits to upgrade-itis hot spots like shopping malls.

I’m currently doing a small personal challenge. I’ve set a goal to not upgrade anything that is functional for 365 days. It’s my personal goal to eradicate the last vestiges of the upgrade disease from my system.

I recently moved into a new place (two months ago) after getting rid of just about everything I owned and spending a year in transit. We got budget replacement items for everything we needed to reacquire like furniture, pots and pans, dishes, towels and sheets.

Even though I’ve gone minimal (yay!), upgrade-itis has still reared it’s ugly head. The sheets are mismatched pieces instead of sets and they don’t fit my color scheme, the curtains are not up to my standards of beauty, etc.

I’m learning the art of imperfection. After 36 years of chasing beauty I’m learning wabi sabi, the Japanese art of seeing beauty in imperfect things.

My main reason for doing this is that I want to be in control of my own life. I don’t want to fall for marketing gimmicks that are designed to make me part with my money. I have better plans for that money than yet another upgrade, like getting out of debt and setting up a cash reserve for the future.

My other reason is that I’m still new to my minimalist lifestyle. It’s been a year and two months and Idon’t want to revert back to my old packrat ways. By spending a year without upgrades I’ll be firmly setting in place my new minimalist standards before I launch back into the world of consumerism. By the time I do I want to be free of upgrade-itis so it doesn’t trick me into buying things I don’t need.

About Those Tables

You’ll never guess what happened. A few years after first spotting them in that catalog I found them at a new furniture store that sold some surplus goods as well. The entire set was only $300. Of course I whipped out my credit card and carted them home before some other shopaholic could snatch them out of my grasp. I lived with them and loved their perfection for several years. They were beauty redefined! Perfection in physical form! They completed my life… or maybe not.

After a while owning them became just like owning anything else. Their shiny newness became dull to me. They became… old. I started seeing other coffee table sets that were more perfect, more beautiful, more new.

My tastes changed. I felt trapped by their ornate lines. They defined the living room. I started to feel disgusted by their heavy pattern, I wanted something sleek and modern and clean.

They felt like they should be in grandma’s drawing room, not in my house, not in my life. I secretly visited other coffee table sets in stores, admiring their beauty, the way they made their statement. If I only had one of those other coffee table sets my life would be complete…

Moral of the Clutter Story

All right, so coffee table sets aren’t really clutter. They serve a purpose for many people… but they can turn into clutter when you no longer like them, when their very presence makes you frown.  Right now I’m living without a coffee table.

I’ve got two small collapsible storage ottomans instead. They were cheap and they give me a place to kick up my feet on the occasional movie watching night. The best things about them are that I have no attachment to them, I could ditch them in a heartbeat without any tears, they were $30 for the set, and they take up very little space in the living room.

I love living without a coffee table. My coffee tables always acted as horizontal surface clutter magnets before. I was constantly trying to keep them clear of junk. Now I have less junk so if I owned a coffee table it wouldn’t be a clutter magnet, but I’ve discovered the true magic of minimalism, I don’t even want a coffee table in my life anymore.