A watermark of your thirties is when “Fitter, Happier” by Radiohead sounds less like and indictment of blind consumerist existence and more like a check list for how to live well. Fitter, happier, more productive, not drinking too much, regular exercise at the gym? Yeah, man, sign me up.
Apparently Fight Club is now derided as bro-trash but I loved it in 1999 after I had been let go from my first job. I just loved hearing someone else scream at corporate culture (irony of its release by a major studio aside). Its indictment of Starbucks and IKEA hadn’t yet become cliche. The need to feel like an individual in the face of a corporate world never really leaves but, after a while, you realize you have to pick your battles and, the battles against Starbucks and IKEA having been lost, you need to buy a new couch.
I went through this about a year ago. I had saved up money over many years to one day really get an adult set of furniture, not the assortment of furniture found on the street or taken from home (over a decade ago) and the absolute cheapest particle board stuff from IKEA. I wanted a real living room. So, I bought in and I wanted to class it up a bit. I wasn’t going to go to IKEA. No. An adult needed an upgrade. I was going to go to fancy places like West Elm, CB2, even Crate and Barrel.
(Truly upscale design stores remained out of reach. I browsed a furniture store in DUMBO with my girlfriend when one of the saleswomen said we should see which piece we were drawn to. When she used the word “piece” we both knew that we had to leave.)
I would pore over the websites looking for the right stuff. Which couch? Sofa or sectional? Do I want to put my feet up while sitting in this couch? Which coffee table? Should I go with a side table? What about throws, both pillow and blanket? Should I get a rug? What kind of a look am I going for? It was a bit like a puzzle. I was putting together an idea of who I wanted to be. I’m the kind of guy who has an apartment like this. This is my style and this is what defines me. When people walk into my place, they’ll think something about me. I don’t know what that thing is but it will be thought.
I had lost my sense of irony about the process consciously. In Fight Club when Tyler Durden asks “do you know what a duvet is?” It was meant to convey some warped obsession with material goods. But I found myself explaining to my girlfriend what a console table was. (It’s a slim, decorative table that can go behind a couch or against a wall. It doesn’t fit in my current setup which is a shame, really.) There’s a reason people define themselves by their external possessions: it’s really fun once you get going.
While I was buying in to all this, I noticed patterns across all the brands. Crate and Barrel’s couches looks similar to West Elm’s which, in turn, looked similar to the couches at IKEA. The color palettes were similar too. You know how you walk into an older relative’s house and you can just tell that all of the furniture is from the 70’s? I think that there’s a mastermind in an underground bunker who decides what all furniture will look like for each decade. It was a consumerist conspiracy.
I got one of those trays from West Elm. You know the trays. Everyone has one of these trays and by “everyone” I mean everyone in the catalogue pictures. Clearly I need a decorative tray to go on my coffee table. What is its actual use? Um, that’s not really the point, is it? Also, I need a piece of pottery to go in the tray. It’ll go off to the side in the tray. What are those? Slate coasters? Yeah, I’ll take four.
Just make my life look like the picture.
It’s been a year and I’ve reached the point where the new stuff doesn’t feel new anymore. This is my couch. This is my chair. This is my coffee table. I eat on it and put my feet up on it. That damn West Elm tray just collects detritus – receipts and notes scribbled on pieces of paper. The unique pottery piece that I bought seems like it could go somewhere else.
This is my apartment. This is how it looks.
In other news, I’m now self-employed, concerned (but powerless), an empowered and informed member of society (pragmatism not idealism), will not cry in public, less chance of illness.
Things are going great.