Senses of Living® Décor

June 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

UNSHOPPING! (and a bit more SHOPPING!)

Usually, I’m so well organized that all of the pieces of a project fall right into place. Well, that is not the case with this month’s décor column. It should have preceded last month’s shopping column!

Perhaps I should define “unshopping” and explain why this column is out of sequence. Keep in mind that last month’s column was about sources for the cool items that we designers and decorators use to create those special effects in our own and others’ homes. What I neglected to do was emphasize that one of the most important aspects of fine décor, if not THE most important, is purging, streamlining, simplifying and organizing the items you already have; THAT is “unshopping.”

Before proceeding, I’ll make final suggestions for shopping ideas for cool home décor items:

Catalogs: you cannot tell anything about an item’s quality in a catalog. I have purchased electronics from catalogs, and music, and books, but not art or crafts or other objets d’art.

Consignment shops: as you are aware, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, and you may find something nice at a consignment shop; most of the time, only clothing is available, so don’t invest much time or effort looking for décor items.

Flea Markets: lots of fun coupled with lots of crap; depending on the desired “look” of your décor, flea markets can be ideal or your worst nightmare … you be the judge!

Froogle: visit the search engine www.google.com, and then click on “froogle,” which is a “shopping search engine.” I have played with it, and it mostly yielded inferior quality items (which is why I tend to be VERY careful when shopping on the Internet … you have the same problem as purchasing from catalogs [see above]).

Retail: I’ve already ranted about shopping retail, but two other stores that I have enjoyed (in addition to IKEA) are World Market and Pier One (note: World Market is one of the only stores beginning with a “W” that I will frequent; here in Chicago, I have had great difficulty with the pervasive “W” store that will remain nameless unless you contact me personally; avoid them!). I’ve been impressed by some of the designs available from Crate and Barrel, and Pottery Barn, though their prices impress me MUCH less (but they do have outlet stores!). One client gifted me with some beautiful dinnerware from Target! Who knew? The upshot? If you MUST shop retail, look for sales [including clearance sales, going out of business sales, seasonal sales, etc.]. If you can avoid it, never shop retail (unless you are getting those great $1.99 wine Optimal wine glasses at IKEA)!

OK. Enough shopping! It’s time for UN-shopping! Time for purging, clearing, liquidating, ousting, disposing, dismissing, removing, unloading, and expelling, expiating and expunging! (Thanks to www.thesaurus.com). How do you do it?

Unfortunately, anyone who watches the current deluge of design and décor shows has been inundated by an assumption that everything unwanted belongs in a trash bin or dumpster, and the concept of any of my 7 Rs (http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsOctober03.html, including Recycling, Reusing and Refusing, as well as Respecting) is ignored. Instead, it all seems to be about replacing and acquiring for the mere sake of “newness,” and change and “having.” Even though I promote the life-enhancing aspects of home décor, I do this in tandem with personal growth, not as a replacement for personal growth, and certainly not at the expense of the Earth (I’ll spare you the details of my various episodes of “dumpster diving,” though I would encourage you to give it a try! The results can be amazing!).

In last month’s Senses of Living® column, I introduced the concept of freecycling as a source for décor items. This month, I emphasize the even more important function of using this service to clear away your unwanted items (and keep them out of landfills). Please visit the national movement at www.freecycle.org to find your local freecycling group, or you fellow Chicagoans can have the pleasure of interacting with Chicago Freecycle, co-moderated by the very talented Joanna Witting (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/chicagofreecycle/ ).

Both before and after Freecycle’s existence, I donated most of my “stuff” to local charities, particularly The Brown Elephant Resale Shop, which supports the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic here in Chicago. They now have five locations in Chicago and Oak Park, so give them a try (both donating and making purchases; it’s for a good cause!); the addresses and phone numbers of all five can be found at http://www.howardbrown.org/forums/forums-brownelephant.html . Find a charity-based resale shop in your own city, and make those tax-deductible donations!

I had this approach affirmed in late 2002 when I helped neighbors hold an apartment sale, and decided this would be an excellent time to purge a lot of my accumulations. Well, it was a great excuse to free myself of dishes and tchotchkes that didn’t fit my Senses of Living® décor philosophy, and to rid myself of kitchen implements that would never be used to prepare a Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipe or meal. For a variety of reasons (another story!), the sale was poorly attended (despite investing many hours in creating promotional signs, distributing the signs, calling for permits, purging possessions, packing possessions, pricing possessions and placing possessions in the sale space); once unshopped, my past possessions were NOT returning to Casa Beall, so multiple trips to the Brown Elephant later, I had tax deductions and free space!

There are also a number of social services that need furniture and other household items for elderly, disabled or otherwise needy individuals (and these donations are also usually tax deductible). When I saw a remodeling job on a Chicago-based talk show about a year ago, and watched perfectly usable furniture being tossed into a large dumpster, I immediately sent an email to the host informing her of the options available for dealing with discarded items; I haven’t seen any changes on those redecorating shows I’ve caught, but then, who has time to watch talk shows?

Consider donating your books to your local public library; even if they don’t need them for their collections, they often have sales to raise money (especially important in these harsh economic times). You can also donate them to a specialty library whose purpose you support; contact your local chamber of commerce for possible ideas of where to donate your books.

If you have “big ticket” items, and just don’t feel like donating/giving them away, you can consider eBay. To date, I have never sold anything on eBay, as I just don’t have the time to do it right, though I have made a number of purchases over the years. Just recently I have learned of a company here in Chicago called ExpressDrop (www.expressdrop.com) that will digitally photograph and describe your item, post the auction and monitor it, all in exchange for a commission of about 33% of the sale price! I’m going to try it, and I understand there are about 200 stores/services like this popping up all over the country (but especially on the West Coast). Let me know whether you’ve found these services useful.

Also, please let me know about your own unshopping successes (especially if you have some amusing anecdotes! I’m always looking for new anecdotes!) by calling or email me. I'd love to hear from you! We can laugh together as we plan for the future!