The Thinly-Disguised Contempt For Quirkiness On Home Decorating Shows

I went through a phase where I watched a lot of home improvement shows. The impetus behind this was clear: I’d moved from a nice, if rough-around-the-edges place where I was settled in and mostly satisfied with my living arrangements, to a mostly windowless basement flat. As soon as I got clear on the fact that there was nothing I could do to improve the structure of the place, given that it would take thousands of dollars and it isn’t even my house to fix, I lost a lot of interest.

I still watch these shows on occasion, but forget my objections in between indulging in a mini-marathon of house-flipping, house-cleaning and house-redecorating shows. This weekend, I am watching these shows again, and my objections are renewed.

The “Clean House” people (for example) are completely unsympathetic when it comes to the cherished objects some homeowners have.

Now, believe me, I lack some sympathy for some of the stuff these folks want to hold on to, like “my child’s baby teeth” (a baby food jar re-purposed as a science fair exhibit), broken crap, clothes that went out of style years ago, particleboard furniture, duplicate objects (why do you need five broken vacuum cleaners?), and dust-collecting collections that aren’t being enjoyed or displayed (but, rather, are languishing in storage boxes or in dusty piles). I realize that stuff must go, and it is your own fault if you sign on for a “Clean House” crew to come into your hovel and throw out your crap and give you furniture and scrub your floors.

I also realize that the family has to give up crap and stuff so it can be sold to partially fund the house-cleaning. This makes sense.

The crews of these shows, however, don’t see any value in anything that isn’t brand new and in pristine condition, and they don’t seem to understand that quirky possessions and decor actually personalize a home.

These shows would hate me, I’m pretty sure, because I would not part with the stuff I cared about just to make it easy on the designers, and I would call them out on their attempts to shame me out of my belongings. The fashion shows would want me to get rid of my homemade sequined rock logo shirts, and my costume-y clothes that are appropriate for going out at night to clubs, and try to get me to wear beige linen suits or something, which isn’t me.

I do have a bit of packrattiness, but when it comes down to it, if I have no use for something anymore, it does go to the Salvation Army. (Eventually. I drag my heels about tackling tasks that take several days of labor to complete, and rounding up Salvation Army donations takes hours and hours if not days.)  I appreciate the idea of dressing tastefully and in a way that flatters your individual figure.  I just dislike how the hosts and staff on these shoes revel in imposing their taste on the people they are supposed to be helping, and the attitude that any resistance is wrong, bad, stupid, useless. Your home should reflect your own taste, not look like an “Ashley Furniture” showroom, and if you like leather pants and studded belts and wear them when it is appropriate to wear them, then you don’t need to be insulted into parting with them. If you are happy in your tie-dye, I’m not going to make you give ALL of it up, no matter how tacky it is. You have the right to dress badly on occasion if you want to, and to surround yourself with your favorite collections of crap if that makes you happy.

I watch these shows to get ideas, but still have these bursts of annoyance. Sometimes it is directed at a homeowner (who may be angling for freebies, as sometimes nagging people to part with their crap is sweetened with bribery) who won’t get rid of a pile of bald tires or a huge stack of plastic soda cups they got from fast food restaurants or the world’s largest plaid scrunchy collection or novelty Homer Simpson house slippers mended with duct tape, or macaroni/bean/rice art or whatever, but usually it is directed at the hosts, who seem determined to eradicate any nonconformity or quirkiness the victim might possess. How boring is that?

There could be a middle ground of some sort.

The other irksome problem with these shows is that IF they manage to pry some object away from the family to sell, but it doesn’t sell, they family does not get to reclaim the beloved item. The purpose of wrangling the thing(s) away is to make money for the refurbing, and to make space for the decorator’s Grand Vision, but if the item doesn’t sell and would fit into the redesigned space, they still have to wave goodbye as it goes off to charity. That a charity possibly benefits is the only mitigating factor.

Most of the time I am completely in synch with the house-cleaning team, and understand why a family with no toddlers (just teenagers) and no pets should sell baby furniture and pet care items. This makes a lot of sense.

Other times, I am irked with them.

They do not understand why people would want to keep some of their VHS tapes, and complain that DVDs are a superior format and “all” of those VHS tapes could be replaced easily with DVDs. Er, no. Some films do not get converted to DVD, and paying $15 (on average) to convert a movie you already have on VHS to DVD seems like a waste of money. They claim that vinyl records are dead technology (even though Amazon.com sells turntables) and the homeowner can just “download these tracks on MP3s” and I’m here to tell you that no, that is not a given. Also, unless you pirate those MP3s, you are looking at days or weeks of effort and a lot of cash to buy those electronic files, which can be lost or zorched or corrupted pretty darn easily. Also? Vinyl (acoustic) sounds different from a digital file. Sometimes this is bad, if the vinyl has been abused or neglected or damaged with a dull phonograph needle or warped, but sometimes this is good, and an audiophile can tell the difference between a warm acoustic version and a digital version.

They shame people, too. They tell collectors of toys that they are adults and should have no interest in toys. They tell crafters that they are being selfish and not thinking of their families if they want to pursue a hobby that requires supplies and space for them. They tell sentimental parents that holding on to baby toys and outfits is stupid because they “aren’t useful”. They sneer at dried flower arrangements and then replace them with woven pods filled with sticks. They nag homeowners to get rid of their homemade art, and then replace it with mass-produced crap or childish “We’re Not Artists” Art Projects.

For some reason, they see no problem with homeowners having fourteen television sets. TVs are great! But if the homeowners have lots of bookshelves, those pesky books have to go, immediately. I rarely see bookcases make it into the redesigned spaces. If they do, they are used to display generic pottery and “art objects.” They replace the quirky things the homeowners loved–and that you couldn’t just go buy at a Pier One, Crate and Barrel or Target–with bland things that designers plotz over because they add a “punch of colour”. Even DVD / VHS tapes get more respect than books.

The good thing is that the redesigned rooms DO generally look a lot better, but your average hotel room also looks better than your average lived-in bedroom.

I remember a couple of shows in particular that really annoyed me. One girl had a “Day of the Dead” skeleton/skull collection. It was pretty keen. It was living on a small shelf, and added a fun touch to the room. The designers took one look and proclaimed it “morbid” and wanted it gone immediately. The homeowner dragged her feet, and was shamed into selling the bulk of it. Except it didn’t sell, so her collection got thrown into a charity van. Another homeowner had been collecting vinyl albums for decades, and a quick glance at them showed a bunch of out-of-print rarities (along with some crap), and he was guilted into selling them and told he could easily replace them with MP3s. Good luck with that, I own a lot of vinyl that is not and will never be released on CD or made available through iTunes or pirate-y peer-to-peer programs. There was a guy who enjoyed playing video games, and the designer said “that’s not something adults do, buddy, get rid of them and grow up,” and I think the professors at my school in the Game Development department would like to have a little word with that designer. Just because he doesn’t play or understand video games (or surfing, or scrapbooking, or computer geekery, or comic book collecting, or whatever hobby they are harshing on at the time) does not make these activities childish or unworthy. How dare they!

I have a friend who collects action figures, nudie girls and folk art, and her own art is rainbow-coloured abstractions with glitter and sequins and found objects and (frankly) trash glued on top, and she surrounds herself with her art and collections, and her house is FUN. It may be cluttered, it may be dusty, but it is unique and interesting. She even painted her sofa rainbow-coloured and it has glitter paint and puffy paint and other oddments, but it makes her happy. What’s so wrong with that? It isn’t my style, it’s her style. If someone tried to guilt or shame her into giving up her toys and nudie girls and vintage sci-fi novels and folk art and ashtrays (no one on these decorating shows smokes, have you noticed that? No one. Ever) and video games and vinyl albums and vintage costumes and action figures, I’d have to go after them with a baseball bat, with or without nails sticking out, and beat them senseless for being arseholes. It’s what makes her happy.

Actually, there is a commercial out lately that irks me for the same reason: the message that what you cherish is not important if it somehow takes up space, is an unusual interest, and/or is “hard” to design around. The bitchy girlfriend in the commercial hates the music-loving “High Fidelity character” boyfriend’s awesome collection of albums, and throws a bitch fit. The boyfriend caves, and replaces all his stuff (supposedly he was able to do this easily and within a mere day or two) with an iPod stereo device. Bitch! I bet she didn’t have to give up a single pair of her shoes (or whatever her most beloved items were). The message is that you are a bad little consumer if you want to hold on to perfectly serviceable old things you love instead of running out to replace them with new technology.

I understand “paring down,” mind you. If you haven’t worn something in a couple of years, it doesn’t hurt to ditch it. Mass-market paperbacks are notorious for taking up a lot of space, and if you can buy it in a grocery store, it probably isn’t a work of great literature that will enrich your life. I would give a molar for a Kindle Fire HD tablet so I could travel without toting sixty pounds of books with me, and it would certainly help with “running out of bookshelf space” problems. One homeowner had twelve full sets of “seasonal dishes,” and I have to say I didn’t get the point of that, either. I can understand everyday china, “company china” and heirloom china, and MAYBE a few holiday pieces, but not twelve full sets of dishes and glassware for twelve people when the family has only three members and a table that seats six, tops. I understand getting rid of stuff that doesn’t work, and which has been kept because the homeowner thinks s/he will eventually repair it. I understand getting rid of scuffed shoes and cheap discount store handbags and huge stuffed animals. However, a lot of the things these house-cleaning crews want to get rid of are one-of-a-kind objects or collections that reveal something about the people who live in the house. I don’t like baby dolls, but if the homeowner collects them, there’s no reason why she has to get rid of all of them just because they are “hard” to design around. Consider it a challenge, instead, and provide tasteful display units.

My other gripe with these home improvement shows are the deliberately evil designers. On “Trading Spaces”, for example, I’ve seen some really horrible room makeovers. Some of the designers like stapling crap to the walls (a wall of moss comes to mind) that doesn’t look that great, and which is going to collect dust and allergens. Some designers feel the need to pick really startling paint colours that look great on television, but are difficult to actually live with, like taxicab yellow living rooms, or baby poo green dining rooms, fluorescent blue-green kitchens, or orange bedrooms. Some designers impose their preferences on the homeowners, so you get homeowners who like ethnic art coming home to Kuntry Kute kitchens (I’d vomit), or homeowners who like shabby chic florals coming home to a super Modern den. Some of the decorative touches are impractical (shattered mirror on walls in homes with small children) or perishable (grass, fresh fruit). They paint wooden furniture and glue tile to painted sheetrock walls and dump quarts of sand all over the floor. They are simply insane sometimes.

I also get grouchy with fashion makeover shows that go beyond correcting fashion faux pas and try to change the personality of the makeover victim. I may not be a rockabilly, or a biker, or a Goth, or into harajuku fashions, but some of the makeover nominees are, and they may not be “fashionable” in the traditional sense, they do have a style. A good makeover show would be able to design around these “counter culture” fashion statements instead of turning the makeover subject into yet another straight-haired, makeup-wearing, get-rid-of-your-glasses and put-on-some-high-heels, Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy/Hilfiger clone. One gal I thought was cute just the way she was: she had punky black and red hair, cat’s eye specs, tattoos, and a Bettie Page pinup girl wardrobe that suited her personality. They turned her into a tanned, blonde, pearl-wearing Barbie. Did she look good? Well, sure, but she didn’t look like herself anymore. Another gal was into camping and had a job that required her to dress down, and they spent the whole show calling her trashy and dirty, and put her into linen suits and A-line dresses, but the woman still works where she is required to get down on a dirty concrete floor and crawl around, and she still enjoys camping, and I’m not sure how easy it will be for her to go hiking in four-inch heels by Christian Louboutin. (Or whoever.) The hosts bitch if the makeover nominee doesn’t want to get a haircut, or if s/he doesn’t like a particular style, or if they prefer not to wear a lot of makeup. Personally, I have collapsible arches, and while I own some cute shoes, I can’t just wear pointy pumps all the time. Apparently, if I felt the need to suffer for fashion, I could get collagen injections in the balls of my feet and my (non-existent, because I don’t torture my feet out of vanity all the time) corns and bunions, or give my soles a harsh acid peel. All this–none of which is a permanent solution, and each of which costs hundreds of dollars–so I can wear damaging pointy shoes for 2-4 months with less pain? Are they kidding me?

I had to confess that I don’t see the point of shoes or handbags that cost several hundred dollars, so maybe I am not the target audience. Yes, please do buy quality accessories if you can, but do you really need a pair of shoes that cost $800? Or a $3,000 handbag? Seriously? Why?

I am all for organizing, and throwing out crap and clutter, and dressing to suit your lifestyle, body type. I believe in hiding clutter and keeping what you see clean and elegant, and buying quality instead of throwaway crap. I agree that holding on to an old Pooh Bear or a bunch of straw sombreros from a trip you took years ago is probably a bad idea (Pooh Bears are a dime a dozen, and if you aren’t going to wear the damn sombreros ever again, why keep them?), and that no one needs to be defending parachute pants or stuff with holes and stains.

I just don’t like it when these shows try to shove people into a certain mold, or embarrass and shame them to get them to part with their things.

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2 thoughts on “The Thinly-Disguised Contempt For Quirkiness On Home Decorating Shows

  1. schwarherz says:

    One time I watched a show, I think it was something along the lines of Trading Spaces: What they really thought. It was really interesting because 9/10 of the people were FURIOUS about the way their house looked (some of them had even paid to have it fixed). On the subject of the actual makeover or house cleaning shows there are some people I’d LOVE to see them TRY to make over (or get rid of their stuff). Myself for example, just so I can see the look on their faces when I tell them to go screw themselves for trying to guilt me into giving up my sword/knife collection (which I currently don’t have displayed because I live in a 1 bedroom apt) or to stop wearing jeans, boots, and t-shirts and playing video games. (We all know that in their universe everyone wears a crappy suit). In fact, I can practically picture the look of horror on their faces upon discovering my Sturgis leathers in the back of my closet! *evil cackle*

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