Nostalgia & Knockoffs: The Ethical and Spiritual Crisis of Trend-Driven Homes

A friend and I were chatting recently about the changing world of home design. 

When we were growing up, we remember most homes being full of a mixture of old family furniture, mismatched picture frames, and trusty dinnerware. Things were saved up for in young adulthood and early marriage, then used for the duration of the kids’ childhoods. Outdated kitchens were a fact of life, not something to be ashamed of. Some homes were more eclectic than others, sure, but generally, things felt balanced and lived in.

That’s not true any longer. I suspect the culprit is actually three things:

  1. the rise of image-based social media like Instagram
  2. the popularity of home design shows like Property Brothers and Fixer Upper
  3. the Marie Kondo minimalism craze

Meticulously curated consumerism has entered the way we dress our homes. Where once we gladly accepted hand-me-downs from parents and uncles, now we insist on new. Where once we set aside our savings for vacations or retirement, now we save up for wood floored kitchens (which, by the way, is a terrible idea because wood shouldn’t get wet).

My friend lives in a home some people would consider old fashioned. Her living room is filled with hearty wood furniture and decidedly un-modern chairs. A classic red rug covers the floor. She received most of her housewares from an aunt and uncle who, despite their best efforts, couldn’t get their own children to take their hand-me-downs.

We talked about the sadness of this, that children no longer value tangible connections to their predecessors, that they feel social pressure to buy new, because their home is now inextricably linked to their identity, an identity that is no longer proud of family ties but always seeks and strives for individual recognition.

But when we insist on curating our homes through an individualistic rather than a traditional, collectivist process, we inadvertently sanitize the nostalgia and homey-ness right out of it. My friend’s home is the center of our friend group. It is where we get together for birthdays and band practice, for Easter lunch and grad student get-togethers and going away parties. This is a place that feels like home to so many because the physical space isn’t an obstacle or a fashion statement. Rather, it serves its purpose with grace and abundant hospitality, much like its inhabitants.

This is what home is, a place to settle in. A refuge from the showing-off culture we enter into every day when we leave our front doors. This is a place of rest.

I want to foster a space that feels like that, and that feels welcoming to everyone who enters. 

That means being intentional, but not aggressively so. It means welcoming in family heirlooms and secondhand finds, and being content with these things even as trends change. Over the course of years, Daniel and I have scavenged for things we love: a student woodworking project we use as a TV stand, a green velvet couch we purchased form a waitress at our favorite college restaurant, Goodwill end tables, Grandma’s wicker chest, my childhood bedroom set, and my mom’s blue and cream dinnerware. We’ve added our sisters’ artwork to the walls, mixed in with art from travels and fair trade trinkets. The end result is that every piece recalls a happy memory and the love of our friends and family. Everything is imbued with meaning.

This is my thought: things aren’t bad, but we can misuse and abuse our relationship to things. So fill your space with mementos and sturdy end tables and childhood photos. Live in a place where the struggle and joys of your ancestors and friends permeate the air.

Argan oil and coasters provided by GlobeIn.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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