The rule in my home when it comes to decorating is this: If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it. That may mean that I live without the right piece of furniture for a while. It might even mean a wall remains black for four years (ahem). But I’m not a Kirkland’s fan. I’m not going to buy something just to buy. The result is a very “me” home. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I love it. The downside of all those meaningful objects? Well, all that meaning. Makes even cleaning out the closet very difficult.
When I first heard about Nate Berkus’s new book, The Things That Matter, I instantly loved the title. Then, when he was a surprise guest at the Random House Reader event during BEA last year, I was (ask Lori or Tara) ridiculously excited. Like, trembling. When they finally convinced me to go up and talk to him and take a picture, I felt like I was floating – partly because he’s Nate Berkus, and partly because when he talked about treasuring the things around him, I felt he was talking directly to me.
I was the little girl who lay awake at night thinking about which route I would take if my house was suddenly on fire. Yes, I would get my family out, but I had my belongings strategically placed so that I could stuff them in my pillowcase and run. The only thing that worried me was my dollhouse. How to lug that sucker out the window?
(In answer to your unasked question, I actually did have a stomach ulcer in high school. Stress related.)
At times I’ve felt badly about this relevance I give to my belongings. Does that make me materialistic? I knew that was not likely. I’ve never had much money and certainly haven’t been wasteful. And here was Nate Berkus, a true force in the design world, telling me that a home should reflect its owner, not the decorator. As silly as it may sound, that was powerful for me.
My sister bought me Things That Matter for Christmas, and I waited until a quiet evening to pore over it. It was unexpectedly delightful. Not that I didn’t think it would be good, but as most coffee table books go, I thought it would be heavy on pictures, light on text. What I found, instead, was a lovely tribute to the things with which we surround ourselves. The book is broken up into its introduction, which Nate delivers and that had me tearing up within 12 pages as he discussed coming out to his family and later, the death of his partner. After the introduction, Nate focuses on the interesting, well-cultivated spaces of his friends. It ends with his own current space and his reflections on how he got to the place he calls home now.
Aside from Nate’s own story, the most poignant was Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s. The famous radio sex talk show host left her family home in Germany as a young girl, never to see her family again. She learned later, both of her parents died in the Holocaust. When she asked Nate to take a look at her place, she told him she wouldn’t get rid of anything. Challenged, he went to learn more about her and her things, and he shared some of the most meaningful pieces and how he crafted her space to highlight them. His reverence for her objects and her memories was touching and lovely.
At the same time, Nate also touches on the beauty of editing, and this is the heart of good design, in my opinion. Editing a room is also the reason I never feel fully pleased with a space. It’s never quite right, but as insane as that sounds, the tweaking is part of the enjoyment for someone like me, and as he talked about his own tweaking, I felt the joy he gets from crafting his house, as it’s much the same as my own joy. To physically be able to touch and move my grandmother’s sofa, to glance over at my other grandmother’s typewriter or my aunt’s paintings, books from a particular trip – these are all important to me.
The things that matter. For you, it might be something seemingly insignificant. But there is a beauty there, regardless.
If you love design or things, I’d highly recommend The Things That Matter.
Add this to your Goodreads shelf.