Ditch the magazine: Improving house-esteem

February 7 | Guest post by Stephanie Diederich
You Are Beautiful.
Photo by jma.work. Used by Creative Commons license.
What makes "house porn" so alluring? It's simple: the interior we're drooling over is not our house. It doesn't have the shortcomings our house has; it doesn't have clutter or damage. House porn is a refreshing vacation from reality. I find, more than any other porn for women, pictures of perfectly dolled up homes tempt us the most and offer the least real inspiration.

I'm here to help you learn to dispel the idea of the perfect home and work to love where you live, in about a month. As someone who has trouble with self-esteem and weight, I find it helpful to look at your house in the same way you look at your body. With that in mind, I've outlined steps you can take, and statements you can make to your house during its makeover. If your home-esteem is already high, skip to the assignment at Step 5.

Step 1: You are beautiful just as you are.

If the general health of your house is good — you are able to perform household tasks without difficulty — your house is up to par. I'm going to let you in on a secret: nobody looks like the models in magazines, and the same is true for houses. That doesn't mean average is bad; many men have made the case that their average woman is far more beautiful to them than a movie star. In the same way, your house is special. It has its own style — your style. It is filled with the things and people you love.

Step 2: Feel free to lose weight.

Goodwill
Photo by Brad.K. Used by Creative Commons license.

You know what feels really good? Donating a large pile of stuff to charity. If you have any doubts on what you should donate, use your best judgment. However, if you haven't used it in a year, it's probably not worth the space it's taking up or the headaches it's caused.

Step 3: Take a thorough shower.

You'd be surprised what a month's worth of weekends spent on procrastinated household cleaning can do for your house. This is the time to dust the tops of cabinets, sweep up those cobwebs near the ceiling, and vacuum under the furniture. All the things "normal" people do (I assume) all the time, but which you may be putting off, are good to do now.

Step 4: Powder your face.

Okay, so you've made your house clean. Now to make it presentable. This may be intimidating, but you can go at it in small chunks. If laundry clutters your house, do all of it in one day – try going to the laundromat to save time.

Organizing can be difficult. I think the key is to look good in the short term and be good in the long term. If organizing everything formally is too intimidating, just put everything that's built up haphazardly into a neat, organized pile and call it done. Going further, put everything of the same type in the same place (shoes in door shoe storage, clothes in the closet, underwear on the left side of the dresser, socks on the right, books on the bookshelf, magazines in a pile next to your favorite chair, canned food in the pantry, cereal on top of the refrigerator, etc). If you have miscellaneous items, put them away or put them on display. I happen to have a couple taxidermied piranhas, I keep them in a small plastic display case on my dresser along with a few other trinkets. I keep the rest of the sentimental things I can't let go of in boxes under my bed and vintage suitcases around my house.

Step 5: Smile for the camera.

Do your own house tour. Take photos and write wonderful things next to them in a word processing program. Cherish those ugly things you can't fix – the hole in the wall, the unkempt cellar, the exposed air conditioning unit. Take pride in the things you did fix. Publish this work as you would like – online, or in physical form. TV leads me to believe that the first thing a dieter does when they lose 20 pounds is to show off a hot new outfit in a commercial next to a before photo, so show off! It feels really good.

This isn't the end-all, be-all of house-esteem advice — what ways have you found to love the space you're in?

  1. I let friends redecorate the room in the house that is officially "mine"–an office of sorts. They did an awesome job, and they gave me a little oasis I can go to when my usual spot on the livingroom couch isn't comfortable for whatever reason. My office doubles as a guest room, so I can always feel good about having an overnight guest in my perfect li'l room. Knowing that I can have an overnight guest on short notice does make me feel better about the house as a whole.

    When we got the house, I subscribed to Sunset and Cottage Living for some unknown reason. Cottage Living went under in the recession. I still enjoy Sunset, but I consider the lifestyles in the magazine so remote that I don't come close to feeling like I should be like them in any way. I guess you could say that means it doesn't inspire me. But this website will be different for me, I'm sure! Thanks, Offbeat Empire! ;)

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  2. Ha! – I suffer of house-insecurity big time! I think I will definitely try step 5: take pics of the whole house and (try to) like it for what it is.

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  3. I loved this post! I avoid those magazines just as much as I avoid Cosmo and the like. They're never really "me", and they won't ever be. Catalogs on the other hand I'm a total junkie for, but not so much because I want to replicate what I see on the pages, I like to pick out the items I like; the ones that really speak to me.

    One of my favorite things to do is check out estate sales, it's amazing how much catalog-like items you can find that people are getting rid of for mere pennies.

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  4. I think going around your home with a camera can really underline the fact that you can make anything look good with a tight enough crop!

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  5. Can I just say I am already envisioning my home in a new light?! I do love our little home, its adorable and lovely and full of our blood, sweat, and tears. But sometimes all the work in the world doesn't make it feel presentable … not now! She's beautiful just the way she is!

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  6. Well said! I have never been able to put this feeling into words. Now I have the words, thanks!

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  7. Fabulous post. We're definitely in the process of making our home more beautiful and more functional by getting rid of STUFF! My husband and I moved in with my sister and her husband where we live with their dog. In about 1,000 square feet, plus some storage.

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  8. Getting rid of stuff is an on-going battle for me. I seriously feel like I get rid of more than we bring in, but some how it never goes down.

    I love the idea of just owning your house as-is though. One thing I've been struggling with is where to put (aka hide) all our books and comics and games and movies. They're currently lining 3/4 living room walls and according to everyone else look a mess. (My mum is forever pushing me to get a Kindle so I can get rid of the real books.) But truth is we love them and are proud of them, plus they're a great representation of who we are. When we get our new place I'm definately going to try and show them off.

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    • If you love your physical books – keep them! Kindles are useful tools, but if you drop them in the bath, your whole collection is gone!

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  9. I love my little house. We rent so we can't do everything to it that we would like to do but we can do enough to make it our own. We're also twenty-somethings working "McJobs" so we don't have a lot of money to really live the Pottery Barn lifestyle, but I think that's shaped our unique and ecclectic decorating style. It may not be the envy of our beige-loving friends, but our mixture of worthless thrift store purchases interspersed with dusty books and old childhood artifacts sagging the shelves of cheap hand-me-down furniture…well, it's cozy and interesting to look at and makes us happy!

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  10. I go out and buy myself–or my guy–some fresh cheerful flowers, 2 or 3 single-flower bouquets. I throw them in a pot with water or leave them in the 'fridge, bright, cheerful, and uncut.
    There they sit, inspiring me to clean…and when I've cleaned, THEN I get the luxury of spreading them across the apartment in little cups bowls and vases.. nothing quite finishes a good clean like freshly scented blooming blooms!
    I like to splurge at LEAST once a month..it's like changing the art around, which is also a lovely guilty pleasure ;)

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    • Every once in a while they show up on ebay, etsy, or some other dark corner of the internet.

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  11. Thank you! I seem to have had an awesome idea – actually giving a shit about the place we live in!

    Second nature to some, but we sure need to get house proud :)

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  12. I love that feeling of Step 2, but my problem is I want to clear it ALL out, and then I'm left with very, very little. I keep some things just because.

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  13. My advice? Make one space that is pinterest perfect. It can be a china cabinet, or a mantle place, or anything really small or big. Just find one space and make it flawless.

    In our house, we have a built in bakers rack kind of thing that we've turned into a drink station with the coffee maker in the middle, all the booze in the left hand cabinet, and all the shot glasses, wine glasses, and tumblers in the left hand cabinet. Cookbooks go on the shelves above the coffee maker. Very efficient little space. Because it is used multiple times a day (coffee all day; mixed drinks all night), it is not my pinterest perfect space. However, the right hand cabinet full of glasses? It is. You open that door and you see all our cute polka dotted and striped wine glasses on one shelf, our colorful matching shot glasses on another, my husbands brightly colored tumblers (that coordinate with the shot glasses surprising well) on the next next to Jessica's assortment of attractively mismatched vintage highball glasses, etc. Looking in that cabinet, it looks like a bunch of glasses that were intentionally purchased for a magazine spread where the designer was told "Assorted glasses, like they were acquired a bunch of different places. But of course, make them coordinate and look good together." To me, that one little space is a testimony to how well we have blended our households together. Everything else may be covered in town, and cat fur, and the general mess of *living* but that one cabinet? It is worthy of a magazine spread and manages to convince me that we really do have it all together.

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