What is happening to Real Simple?
Thanks so much to those of you who've left messages about our loss of Rem. We still miss him terribly...he was a big part of our lives. I'll be back, but think it will be sporadic at first. Some probably think I'm nuts, but Rem was a spectacularly special little guy.

Well...I hate to start back off on a bad note, but I flipped through last month's (I think) Real Simple a while back, before we lost Remmy. Usually, I savour each page.

Unfortunately...I was really disappointed. The whole issue seemed extraordinarily materialistic; from cover to cover, that was the vibe I got. From the usually lightheartedly chatty and informational Real Simple, this was a letdown. It's really been nagging at me and nagging at me, even during our grief over losing our little buddy. So, I hope you don't mind my getting it off my chest...who knows, perhaps I'm not the only one!

This has been happening more and more frequently with RS, a magazine to which I'm pretty much a charter subscriber, having loved it from Day One. But the issue of which I speak was probably the worst to date. I've always enjoyed their articles about organizing, streamlining life, the recipes and beautiful photography, and articles with titles like "29 (and a half!) uses for your old broom", "Spiff up your lighting fixtures with 99-cent salt and pepper shakers", "Fairytale reception in a school gym" (actually, they really DID publish that article...!), "From burned down to totally livable in 30 days", or even "Making the perfect ice cream cake with nothing but 2 eggs, a cup of sugar, and a slice of pepperoni". RS really is one of my favourite magazines. Or was. It's wobbling there in its place of honour.

My bone of contention is primarily last month's article (among others) about the "new classics".

It was, I suppose, all well and good, but I found myself a little put off by the suggestion in the article that these would be "heirloom" items sought after by our progeny primarily because of their fabulous appearance in addition to the functionality. Surely some of these things were very cool, very elegant, and so forth, but...since when do we treasure heirlooms based on their stylishness? Is aesthetic attractiveness what makes something treasure-able? When did that happen? How very distressing and depressing!

Of course, many people do this not only to things but to other human beings or animals; that may have been in large part what put me off. I've nothing against design or owning pretty things (not at all!), but it still seems we have to draw a line somewhere. My family didn't have any Heywood-Wakefield to hand down, not much in the way of designer chandeliers, china, or even fashionable artwork.

However, I look at the old chenille bedspread from my great-grandmother who passed away a few years ago at the age of 99, just weeks shy of her 100th birthday; it really is rather pretty, though worn and snagged in a few places. I love it, though. I have one of her old, yellowed, chipped teacup plates featuring a flowery bough of pears sitting on the coffee table holding small candles to remind me of her every time I glance at it. Digging through my crafty things over the summer, I found great-grandma's old sewing kit, one that included buttons, some notes, a threader, and even a few wooden bobbins. It was like finding buried treasure, and they sit in a place of honour on my crafty shelf as I type. They're not retro-swank, but they do make me smile.

When I was young, Mom gave me a small ceramic turtle she'd painted and glazed to hold hairpins in. It's not fancy or edgy; it's just cute, even cutesy. Rem accidentally knocked it off the bathroom counter a couple of years ago, leaving me in tears and neglecting to even wash its many pieces before hurriedly gluing it together, hoping against hope I'd be able to save it. I did...my little turtle is cracked, with a glue spot I didn't remember to wipe away here and there, but I love it...it's from Mom. When we finally got rid of our last couch, a blue Herculon-upholstered monster older than I was, I cried like a baby for a long time; yes, it was not exactly attractive, and yes, we needed something firmer for my back, but...that couch had been in my life for the duration. Had we a basement at the time, we'd still have that old monster, believe me!

I've got a beaten-up copy of "Black Beauty". It's cover is nearly illegible, and the book's pages are ratted and yellowed, but Mom gave it to me. It sits with all of my other books, including a newer copy of the book (one I'm not afraid to read lest it disintegrate).

My kitchen cabinets hold several old glass bowls of a nondescript nature (though one stoneware piece is nothing short of ugly, let's be honest here). But when I pull them out, I always smile, because Great-Grandma and Grandma used them to bake cookies, pies, cakes, and other goodies. Baking with them makes me feel as if they're really not so far away after all, though both have been gone for some years now. I've got some of Grandma's old kitchen towels, too, peachy-orange and white with a cactus motif. They even get used regularly...doubtless Grandma smiles at that, especially since they look to be barely used while newer things don't seem to hold up for more than a year or so.

Long ago, my dear aunt gave me a dinosaur coffee mug; it reminds me of her every time it's filled with tea or hot cocoa. My grandfather has taken to correspondence with me lately, his letters full of great stories about he and my now-gone grandmother when they were in their first home, when he was away at war, life with the kids, his fishing stories...each one treasured and tucked away. My little sister thoughtfully purchased some vintage Kentucky Derby glasses for her horse-crazy elder sibling that make me smile every first Saturday in May when they're filled (to her chagrin) with my carefully-prepared mint juleps.

My Nannie made a warm afghan for me when I got my first apartment and she heard it was costing me upwards of $200 a month in the winter to heat the tiny place to a balmy 62 degrees; it still ends up draped over the sofa, even if lilac and white aren't exactly in our colour scheme for the living room. I believe I even have one of my Grandma Sally's old Cover Girl powder compacts and a lipstick she gave me. They're not fancy, but they were hers.

And of course there's the ancient, beat-up, well-used sea trunk my grandfather gave me; originally, it belonged to my great-grandfather. Most designers I see on television and read on the web or in magazines couldn't fathom putting it in our bedroom, but that's where it is and I love it. It may not "fit" with our style, but...it's family. It's memories. Plus, it holds our bedding and pillows, special little knick-knacks, and was one of Rem's favourite places to perch. In fact, I'd often sit down, scoop Remmy up, and cuddle him sitting on that very trunk.

None of these things or the many other treasured, family-related goodies in my home have designer labels, they didn't cost hundreds of dollars and I can almost guarantee not one was ever featured in a magazine or touted as the next "big thing". Some aren't even attractive.

It seems to me there is a lot of...well...kind of flimsy, borderline shallow aesthetic obsession out there, where family photos aren't good enough for the wall unless they're "artistic" or at the very least unusually framed, and must instead be cursorily replaced with willowy drawings, dystopian photographs, and dynamic art pieces. That's well and good to a point, but I refuse to sacrifice myself and my family memories in the name of "stylishness" and polish. Isn't there more to life?

Surrounded by these small things, these old things, these unfashionable, ragged, worn things, I feel happy, relaxed, at peace. They add warmth, a sense of permanence, and real personality to our home. These worthless, non-chic things remind me of my family, my loved ones, the stories they tell, the times we've shared, the love we treasure.

They're worth far more to me than the "must-have" things touted in magazines and home decor blogs. Those items are fun to look at and even own if we feel so inclined, but it seems to me something is jarringly wrong when someone says what makes a house a home is an Asian art piece, a leather ottoman, or a gigantic mirror instead of warmth, love, joy, peace, and the things steeped in our own history and hearts that help us feel that way. I love these old things because of what they mean and represent, not what they are or how they look.

When we willingly surrender our "stones of remembrance" because they're not HGTV- or Elle Decor-worthy, or even Real Simple-worthy, we're actually surrendering ourselves. There's not a thing wrong with enjoying and having lovely, aesthetically pleasing trinkets and "stuff", but sometimes it might be wise to step back and ask why we're doing it. What we treasure says much about us...and I think what we discard or put away in the name of style often speaks equal volumes.

As far as Real Simple...one more issue like that, and I'm cancelling a long-standing subscription. Life is cold enough these days without such admittedly urbane silliness arriving in my mailbox every month. I really miss the friendly, fun, miniature library that used to be Real Simple.



Blogger txmom2jami said...

This struck a chord with me like nothing else you've written, Jen. I, too, have little doodads here and there that may be less than "stylish," but bring back warm, loving memories. My grandmother kept her Christmas ornament making supplies in a large plastic sewing box. When I expressed a desire for a similar box, but frustration at not being able to find one, she kept her eyes peeled and picked up an AVOCADO GREEN one for me at a garage sale. Recently the handle broke and I carefully glued it back together. The box reminds me of the beautiful ornaments she made and her love for garage sale hopping. The box is not pretty, but the memory it represents is beautiful.

Blogger Dane said...

God bless you, Jen. I am very easily swayed by the aesthetic, and admittedly, materialistic. (Oh, do I ever like pretty things) In the past, when I was even worse, I have looked at the things I owned that didn't fit in with my careful decorating and wrinkled my nose, thinking that they ruined the whole look.

But I've grown a lot since then, and your post here reminds me that not everything needs to match, be sparkling and pristine, or the next new thing to be worthy. In fact, maybe the opposite.

I might just print this post out and keep it on the fridge or something as a constant reminder.

(I'm Dania Hurley from Flickr, BTW.)

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