Today’s New York Times Home section cited me as background to their discussion of the way later parenthood intersects with furniture. If you’ve already invested lots of thought and money in your décor, what happens when the kids come along? Generally, some form of compromise, and among those profiled, some disgruntling.

That Valentine’s article generated lots of comment–much of it of the “where do these rich people get off thinking furniture is more important than their kids” variety. Some commenters could sympathize with the desire to maintain a beautiful space—many of them noting that the way to achieve the balance was discipline: “Tell your kids to keep their hands off the walls!”

Personally, I can sympathize, though our décor can’t compare with that in the Times photos. But I can’t really sweat it. (My husband, on the other hand, would be much happier in a more intentional space.) We put a blanket over the black leather coach some time back, to prevent the cat from gouging it when he launches himself up to the bookshelf by the windows. That blanket also blocks child-made stains and punctures. It’s not elegant, but it’s black too, so I can overlook it. A few years back there was a period when our eldest and her friends liked to rope together the Eames office chairs (they’re on rollers) and ride them like a train around the house. No big worry, since we got them used, and they’re sturdy. It looked like fun.

For both of the parents in our house, the biggest décor concern isn’t the furnishings, it’s the clutter. And it’s not just the kids’. I remember when I first moved to Houston they had trash collection twice a week, in the old Southern mode (it’s hot here, and you don’t want your garbage fermenting in the cans between pick ups). That impressed me. The expanding number of catalogs and solicitations that arrived in the mail impressed me too. After a while I realized that a second good reason for picking up the trash twice a week was that they delivered it six days out of seven. Now they have the bigger cans with the tighter seals, and the trucks that lift and dump them automatically so they only pick up trash once a week now. But they still deliver it every day but Sunday. Likewise with so many extra things and wrappings–the stuff just keeps coming in.

We aim to be a green household and to pare down on all fronts, and hope to get there soon. Fewer toys, fewer containers, fewer catalogs, fewer knickknacks. This effort is made easier by the fact that we have no time to spend with the knickknacks or even on shopping for them. The busy-ness that seems to have attacked everyone I know this year–not just the ones with kids either–is the psychic equivalent of the clutter in my house. The busy-ness seems to expand to fill the space in your life. Is it just email, and cell phones that make us reachable anywhere that increase our too-busy-ness? Or the mood of frantic fundraising that all the causes I root for seem endlessly to be in, especially around the election. Or some consumer effect that makes us all want to do everything available to do? I really like a lot about being busy–especially all the things that get accomplished, and the sense of competence that goes with getting them done. But I need down time too, and so does my family. So we spend most evenings at home, messing up what remains of our décor, until the next clean sweep.


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