In high school, I related to a short story by Alice Walker called “Everyday Use” about identity, family heritage, and how we connect to our possessions. There is a conflict between a mother and daughter about who will inherit the family quilts: the daughter who will frame them to be preserved or to the daughter who will put them to everyday use. The title is a bit of a spoiler — the daughter who uses the quilts for their intended purpose can claim them for their own, while the other is left with a huge bill for her shrink.
I often think about this story when starting a new project to help someone be happier at home. Do you miss out on the joy you can get from your belongings by tucking things away instead of putting it to everyday use?
Flaunt Your Memories
This client acquired beautiful boxes and woodblocks for printing textiles during her time working in Asia. Displaying these keepsakes prominently in her home is an everyday reminder of this chapter.
Souvenirs from vacations shouldn’t be hidden away, especially if they’re wearable or usable. Every time I visit London I bring back Harrods tea towels. They only last a year or two, but having tea towels around (they’re so very British!) is a nice way to remember my trips and bring London home with me.
I also keep an empty perfume bottle that belonged to my grandmother on my dresser alongside my current perfume. This is one way to categorically balance between display and use.
Try finding your own balance and have fun connecting your possessions to your memories.
Cut Like An Editor
There’s a pivotal scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” with two blue belts that look exactly the same to the assistant, but completely different seen through the eyes of Runway Magazine’s editor-in-chief. There is a certain irony to it because the belts are the same but one is better than the other for the outfit. If you can look at your clothing closet like the assistant, you might see a dozen of the same black shirts. When seen through a Miranda Priestly filter the slight differences help you edit them down. Select the shirts that fit you best while also being comfortable. If a garment requires repair (tailoring, buttons, stains, rips) is it worth the investment or do you have something in great shape you like almost as much? When you look at your possessions like an editor, you end up with a closet full of clothing that’s essential, fits you well, and that you absolutely love to wear.
The Wait is Over
I’ve seen a lot of drawers crammed with hotel soap with boxes stacked nearby containing fancier soaps received as presents. Why use Dial when you could use hand-milled French soap and smell like Provence air-dried laundry every day? And chances are, by the time you use up all those beautiful bars you’ll have received another gift soap.
Play It, Don’t Display It
Music is such a large part of so many childhoods, but the pleasure that comes from playing a musical instrument can be clouded by the discipline it takes to practice. Many of my clients make room for large musical instruments in their apartments, but then lament how rarely they enjoy playing them. If you want to use your instruments, make them more inviting. Even the cat loves this Steinway!
Create An Invitation
When you walk into this living room you see that this chess table seats four people and you feel right away that its owner loves having friends over to use it. This photo hardly does his welcoming chess table set up justice. Investing in your hobby is a wonderful place to start. Make sure to set it up in a way that invites participation if you want to put it to everyday use.
What’s Your Everyday?
Our prized possessions might be higher valued at auction if they’re stored away, but they increase value in our lives when we actually use them. In “Everyday Use”, Maggie told her mother she didn’t need the quilts to remember her heritage. Our relationship to our possessions is complicated. Whether they symbolize our heritage, adventures, or the people we love, we all struggle with finding the right balance between display and use. Is there one thing you could use everyday starting today?