Not so much a rant as a wondering, but it’s time to blow the dust off the lid and get back down to business here.
For me, the way I look isn’t just about what clothes I wear or how I style my hair or use cosmetics. It’s not just about the size of my body, or it’s shape. It’s about an expression of who I am, and this does not stop at my own physical boundaries. So for today’s entry I’d like to talk about my home.
Second only to the fashion industry, the homewares industry places massive pressure upon women to ‘keep up’ with the latest styles and trends, in case they are ‘judged’ for being behind the times. I had the misfortune to be stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportions this week and I ended up listening to local radio to try and find out what was going on. I don’t always like listening to the radio, because of the adverts – they annoy me incessantly. The type that annoys me most after last week are the ‘fake conversation’ adverts. Where two women are discussing a new kitchen, which usually belongs to one of them, who is extolling the virtues of the supplier and encouraging her friend to get one too. Or where a woman is talking to a man, presumably her husband, and convincing him to go down to the DIY store and pick up new ‘everything’ for the bathroom.
It got me thinking about how I live, and I do find these adverts really annoying, but there’s a worse one that I identified flicking through a magazine in a waiting room recently – its the increasing vogue of the shabby chic. The look revolves around expensive items of furniture (some of which might be new but resemble a classic style) which have been deliberately ‘distressed’ and made to look old and then fitted with an exorbitant pricetag.
Much like I can’t understand people who will buy jeans that already have holes and rips strategically placed into them, or ‘cut off’ demin shorts that are already fuzzed at the edges, I can’t understand why people want to spend a fortune to achieve a look which is supposed to be about being ‘shabby’. Shabby is easy to do without spending money. It seems sometimes that these people are more keen to spend money than achieve any sort of look so that they can brag about how much they have spent.
I live in a rented house. I don’t have the money for a mortgage and even if I did I would not be buying a property, I would be buying a boat (no I am not joking, as anyone in my real life will tell you). We are lucky enough to live in a nice flat in terms of the actual building. It was recently done out just before we moved in and it is small, energy efficient and filled with light. The kitchen and bathroom were fitted out with an oven, hobs, shower, bath, sink and toilet. The bathroom floor is tiled and the living room/kitchen is wood floored, as is the bedroom – no carpets to worry about. It was unfurnished when we moved in though, which was a big thing for us, as suddenly we needed to acquire furniture.
There is absolutely no doubt that everything I own could be described as shabby and whether or not is chic is highly debatable. From the chair bed with rips in the seat fabric, to the sagging sofa-bed which likes to eat people who sit on it. My bookshelves are made of precarious and drooping MDF which threatens to dump everything on the floor at any moment. The wobblesome table was a gift from a friend. The TV stand was an Ebay bargain. The electronics were purchased from Ebay, claimed from freecycle or – in the case of the washing machine, bought second hand from a charity store.
But I love my house. I am proud of my house. I’ve added bits and pieces to it over the years. Like the two sets of plastic drawers for my stationary/useful bits and my makeup. Like the small second hand book shelves which serve as bedside tables for me and my husband. Or the faux fur blankets to throw over the sofa, which make it look neater and hide the sheer number of pillows that are required to make it so. I am incapable of going into B&M without looking for a little storage bargain to make the place neater – I’m one of those people who also hordes the plastic boxes that pre-packed veg and butter substitutes come in. They may come in handy for something. They frequently do. All of my doors have got those ‘over hanging’ peg fittings so that I can hang up as much stuff as possible to save floor space. This means that my doors get a bit crowded and heavy sometimes.
Everything I have is mismatched, half broken, second hand and shabby beyond belief. I barely have a set of crockery that matches – it’s mostly bits and pieces of economy white stuff with no pattern. My pots and pans are falling apart, as is some of my cutlery. My bedsheets are ten years old or more, much laundered and loved.
But I love my home and on a budget of stray pounds and sheer imagination I’ve managed to make our flat into a place that I am proud to welcome my friends and family into. I work hard to keep it clean and tidy, which much help and encouragement and suggestion from Unfuck Your Habitat. I am not precious about any of my furniture. The cats walk all over it, various corners are scratched to bits and coasters are an unknown thing here – mugs and glasses get rested on any free surface available. And I absolutely know that there is no way that anything of mine could be considered ‘fashionable’ or ‘desirable’ by the homewares industry. Even the shabby chic aspects of the industry.
So it absolutely baffles me that the current ‘shabby chic’ trend costs so much money. And even compared to my stuff, it looks so uncomfortable!
I mean… nearly £400 for a wooden chair? Seriously? The prices that people are willing to spend on Shabby Chic furniture astounds me. I furnished almost all of my flat the the cost of half a wooden chair!
When it comes to being stylish at home, or even just developing your own style (which I heartily recommend over chasing fashion ANY day), it is possible to do an awful lot without a massive budget. Half of what any magazine or catalogue is selling you is purely aspirational – the intangible idea that you should have a life where you can spend that much money and achieve that sort of look. They’re trying to make you feel like you should be a bigger success or that you should PRETEND to be a bigger success – both of which amount to the same thing. What’s that you say? Spending more money, really.
So how can we do it on less money? Let’s have a look at some top tips, shall we?
1) Join Freecycle and/or Freegle
See what you can get in your local area for free when it comes to furniture. I have had some great finds on these networks and have rescued bits of furniture and furnishings that would otherwise have gone to the skip. It’s also great for getting rid of furniture when you are moving into a new place and need to downsize.
2) Make friends with Ebay
Our freezer was £15 on Ebay. The television stand was £5. The foldup bookshelf was £10. All of these things would have cost a fortune in department stores. You can restrict your Ebay searches to a local distance and reduced budget to save yourself long journeys and expensive delivery charges. It’s also worth looking at some of the other classified advert sites like Gumtree and Preloved for good bargains.
3) Go Charity Shopping
For bedding, kitchen wear, crockery and furnishing accessories, go have a look around the thrift and charity shops. All those people who fall prey to the ‘Must Keep Up With Fashion’ idea need somewhere to send their old stuff, even though it might be barely used, and a lot of it will end up here. Some charities even have stores which exist explicitly for furniture, so have a look at their websites and see what you can find in the local area. If you’re one of my local readers, Furniture Matters, in the Lancaster area, recycles old household furniture and electrical goods and sells them secondhand, putting the proceeds back into their operation which provides training and volunteer opportunities for those looking to return to work.
4) Check out the cheaper department stores
BHS, Marks and Spencers and Debenhams are all very well and yes they are good quality suppliers, but on my redecoration budget I could possibly afford to buy two small pillows in the sale at any of of those places. When I say cheap I mean CHEAP – Go check out Wilkinsons, B&M, Home Bargains and the Poundland and Poundworld stores. I bought a significant amount of my homewares here, including the crockery, cutlery, storage boxes, faux fur throws, fleece blankets and sets of plastic drawers. They’re also good for paints, wallpaper, DIY supplies and gardening accessories if you’re into the more proactive approach toward styling your own home.
*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy