Thursday, October 05, 2006

I Love This Book

Jane Dough posted about Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure yesterday, and she inspired me to finish the little review I'd been working on since August!

I've already mentioned my recent nesting impulses, inspired partially by my impending home purchase, and also, I think, by the nature of the temporary digs I've been living in. While I'm no Martha Stewart or Ty Pennington, I have realized that it's important to me to live in a place that feels good and looks nice. That doesn't mean it has to have expensive furniture and accessories. It doesn't mean it has to be spacious. It doesn't have to be luxuriously renovated. So what are the elusive qualities of a home that feels like a comfortable, happy, positive space? I think I have found some answers in this book.

I've been reading the Apartment Therapy website for a while now, especially their "Smallest, Coolest Apartment" contests. There are always interesting posts and comments, but sometimes it can seem like the Mid-Century Modern fanclub, and I get sick of seeing all the Eames chairs-- they're nice but enough already! The book, however, is quite different. First of all, it has almost no illustrations. Beyond a few decorative chapter openers and a couple of diagrams of floorplans with good and bad "flow," it's all text. This is unusual-- the interior design section is full of glossy coffee table books, overflowing with photos of gorgeous homes with no people in them, and in fact hardly any signs of human habitation at all.
Apartment Therapy is not a book that tells you how to decorate your home. It's a book that helps you figure out how to enjoy your home. It's not so much about what is right or wrong-- it's about what works for you, based on your personality, tastes and lifestyle, along with some underlying principles of design, and a little "Good Housekeeping" thrown in too. Cleaning and cooking and just living in your home are just as important as the 80/20 rule for color, and hanging your pictures at the right height.

Why am I writing about this book? In other words, what does it have to do with personal finance? More than you'd think.

  • Clutter-busting is a key element-- clutter is often stuff you BUY, and therefore spend money on. There is an anti-materialistic strain to the book. If something doesn't really matter to you and doesn't belong in your home, put it in a box and donate it to charity. (My Rule #5 might help with the weeding out process.)
  • Organization-- the book recommends having a "landing strip," a place where you open your mail, throw away the junk, and organize your bills. This is actually quite important, I think. It's way too easy to forget to pay bills if they get buried in mountains of junk mail. I know someone who just stuffs all her bills in a drawer and her phone service was shut off, just because she hadn't remembered to pay the bill in months!
  • Budget lists-- there are recommendations and worksheets for coming up with a budget for your home projects.
  • Quality vs. Cost-- the author recommends having "protein" furniture rather than "carbs." This relates to my "buy good things" rule. If everything you use to furnish your home is cheap stuff from Ikea, chances are it will wear out and you'll need to replace it sooner, so ultimately it's not a good value. Things like couches and beds should be "protein," i.e. good hearty pieces that will stick with you, and it's worth it to spend a little more on them. The "carbs" can be things that are more lightly used accessories and accent pieces. You might want to change colors with the seasons or just on a whim, so just get something really cheap.
  • No "dream and drool" materialism making you want the beautiful stuff you see in photo spreads. Also, the author recommends getting away from watching too much TV. TV makes you want to buy stuff! He also says you should cancel your unneeded catalogs and magazines. (See my Rule 11!)
  • Cooking at home: why do so many people obsess over kitchen decor and then fill their fridge with take-out, or eat in restaurants? It's good to cook meals at home, not only because it makes your home feel lived-in and cozy, but because it's cheaper. (See all ten gazillion posts where I've griped about my food expenses and complained about not being able to cook in apartments I've been subletting.)
  • The philosophy of the book is not about creating a showplace to keep up with the Joneses, it's about being true to yourself and your own living environment. That may sometimes end up being expensive, but it doesn't have to be.
I do recommend you check out this book-- not only to make your home look marvelous, but to make it feel marvelous. And maybe it will inspire an attitude shift that can help your finances become a little more marvelous too!


Anonymous said...

Have you read Getting Things Done by David Allen? Its similar to Apartment Therapy, based on your review, but applicable to work/life in general. Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! I love this book, too, and I think it has some wonderful parallels to getting your "financial house" in order, too. (Personally, I agree with the idea that it's great to avoid "store-bought style" and make your home something that's unique to you!)

Then Things said...

Love both the book and the website! I admit we kinda stopped the cure midway when we got sick of spending on home furnishings though.

Anonymous said...

Hi I've been thinking about this a lot and I'm realising that the key to both having a satisfying home environment and financial world is quite simple: do what gives you a sense of wellbeing.

If we measure our spending or the way we furnish our apartment against that yardstick I think that we will make better choices.

I guess the tough part of it is that to understand what gives you a sense of wellbeing you need to know yourself and that's what most of us struggle with.