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The Pottery Barn Catalog (and other pornographic literature…)

It’s here! It’s here!

The October Pottery Barn catalog…be still my heart. I mean, it might be 105 in the shade outside. But inside, with me and my coffee and my favorite leather club chair (which did NOT come from Pottery Barn) it is nothing but fall bliss. Pumpkins, colored leaves, fragrant warm beverages, crisp evening air, the promise of friends gathering to share a good meal…and that’s just the cover!

Let me be clear. There is only one thing in the whole of my house that actually came from the Pottery Barn. It is a two-tone green area rug, and my dog has peed on it so many times, it is more like a 4-tone area rug that we try to mostly cover up with furniture (from not the Pottery Barn). I mean, real people can’t shop there. Those pages offer a few pages of lovely escape, in the form of decorative perfection. As i sip my (plain ol) coffee from my mug (which matches nothing in my kitchen) i remind myself that it is just that–an escape.

Trouble is, it can get to be an expensive escape. Because, as you emerse yourself in the life of that beautiful, carefully orchestrated catalog, it is easy to lose yourself in this new reality. Suddenly, everything in your house looks shabby, mismatched, and grossly out of style. You quickly start adding up the items on the page. What would it cost, you may ask yourself, to recreate this living room? This bathroom? Ok, maybe just this table for thanksgiving dinner? Every single time, the answer is roughly 8 million dollars. But that’s ok! Because once i have this living room/bathroom/ holiday table, i will be HAPPY. I will never want anything else AGAIN, so really, i would be SAVING money!!

Hold up. This is starting to read like pornography.
In many ways, that is just what the Pottery Barn folks are offering. An addictive form of escape that 1)has no bearing on reality 2)would be costly to pursue and 3)must be hidden quickly when your spouse walks in the room.

The stuff on the page is not the problem. What concerns me is what those pages do to my sense of gratitude; what those imaginary living spaces do to my ability to be rooted in the present, and satisfied with all that i have. I’m speaking for myself here, but I am guessing that many, many people I know–people who, like me, really have all that they could ever want or wish for–suffer from similar routes of escapism. Maybe yours looks more like Cosmo, or House Hunters, or HOTCars, or nordstrom.com, or yeah, maybe it looks a little like Playboy. It’s all the same… it all works to leave us feeling mismatched, not enough, bored/boring, and utterly poor in soul.

Enough! I am enough. YOU are enough. And our lives, mismatched, unorganized, and bereft of airbrushing as they might be, are ENOUGH.

Ever tried to actually read the wall calendar in one of those hyper-organized work spaces featured in the ‘home office’ section? I can’t help but notice, those fictional days are never filled with work, or service to others, or even the day-to-day chore and errand sorts of things…like paying the electric bill or having one’s teeth cleaned. No, those make-believe days are filled with the very essence of party and holiday–’clam bake!’ reads a Saturday in July. ‘Pick up pies,’ says the third week of November. ‘Leave for Paris,’ ‘get dad from airport,’ ‘buy gift for Jane’s wedding…’ On and on and on…Which leaves me to wonder: when does real life happen? What sorts of meaningful work and human connection take place in those rooms full of picture perfect detail? I mean, you’re designing that perfect house for SOMEthing to happen there, right?

Well, and that’s another thing… you ever see an actual PERSON in a Pottery Barn catalog? Not on your life. You know why? People make messes. People don’t match the carpet. People can be loud and downright unorganized. People cannot be predicted, or charted into the calendar. They cannot always be containd by a place card, and they for darn sure don’t always go by the dress code outlined on the invitation.

There are people in the world who make their living by marketing furniture, home decor, and home office organizing systems. There are also folks who make a living via clothing, cosmetics, cosmetic procedures, and body-building equipment. Others make money selling fast cars and high-end homes… At every turn, these folks know how to make the most from you, by making the least of you. When they have packaged their product well, everything you own–heck, everything you ARE–starts to look shabby by comparison. And really, we can’t blame these folks for selling a gorgeous product. It’s a living.

What we CAN do, is resist the temptation to engage in these forms of chronic escapism; we can recognize that which leaves us feeling less than whole, and refuse to try and buy our way to happiness. We can remember that chaos and clutter come in the wake of real live people; people who love us, and fill our (real live actual) houses with joy and goodness. We can give thanks for a quiet moment to flip through a catalog or magazine; and then we can go back to living on our worn sofas, in our comfy shoes, making dinner with our mismatched pots and pans, and celebrating the details that add up to our perfect-for-us lives. With or without a color chart.

 

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Michael

    Reblogged this on Michael's Musings and commented:
    So, about every month in recent memory, Rebecca and I cuddle up on the couch and browse the Pottery Barn catalog. We dream about a house that is warm, spiritually decadent in its inviting environment, a place where colors and textures birth conversation, laughter, and recuperation after a long day of work. In other words, we love to dream about what our home could be and might be–if only we had the designer style, the unlimited budget, or the patient vision to build a coherently organized and creatively arranged room over time–one item at a time.

    We’ve talked about building a Pottery Barn-like mirror (thanks to DIY websites) and purchasing look-a-like living room items from Target (Pottery Barn-lite if you do it right…). We’ve crafted our “mantle” (well, technically a couple of book cases that we pushed together with a computer screen on one of the shelves that plays a fireplace screen saver–it crackles!) to invoke the pottery barn cluster of candles and accessories that seems so relaxing on the pages of the catalog. Yes, we want that Pottery Barn “feel.”

    It never crossed my mind to imagine myself engaging in pornographic escapism of the house-decor ilk; but then again, most things we do and enjoy are prone to alternative interpretations, even catalog browsing. And these alternative interpretations can be helpful correctives. Or at least provocative pokes that keep our hearts anchored. So, even if you don’t feel yourself to be the kind of person Erin describes in this post (self-loathing via shabby house decor), still the following post is a wonderful read: a read that reminds us that the most mundane activities (yes, even browsing a home decor catalog) are rife with spiritual dimensions and bustling with theological dynamics. Like a nice cup of joe, a cozy couch, and a stylish catalog, I hope you enjoy your time with this post.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      hey, thanks for reading–and for sharing! i was being a little hyperbolic, of course. i don’t think we are all so into self-loathing… but, like you said, it is good to stay grounded when exploring our dream homes. or jobs, or vacations, etc.

  • Michael

    Hyperbole… I was never into geometry. But I love exaggeration. Thanks for your great post. Now, I have WJK book catalog to salivate over…


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