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Winter Fun

A Life in Mugs

This from a designer featured in a popular lifestyle magazine:

“Mismatched pieces wreak havoc. Unless you won the lotto while drinking from that old mug, don’t let sentimentality make you keep it. Any sort of ‘off’ dishware causes visual chaos, and every time you open the cupboard, something in the back of your brain is saying, ‘My life is a mess.’ There’s calm and comfort in an organized set.”


I look at my cupboard. It is filled with mismatched pieces. If we’re being judged on this sort of visual chaos, then my life is a really big mess.

Except…this ragtag collection of mugs doesn’t make me feel like a failure at all.

And I can’t help but think that maybe this particular designer has never been presented with a carefully-wrapped gift by a small child that contains a mug picked out all by himself. And maybe he’s never had his heart broken from losing his best-friend-in-dog-form and been given a “Wag more, bark less” mug by a loving spouse trying to make him feel better. And maybe he’s never taken a leap of faith and quit his job to stay home with his babies but kept a certain mug as a hopeful reminder that the thing that got him where he was can get him there again.

Maybe he’s right, though. Maybe this cabinet would provide a more calming and comforting effect if I replaced that mess of mugs with a perfectly coordinated set.

But then I’d have to get rid of the monogrammed mugs, full of imperfections, that our family made together this Christmas. And the one a friend gave me to commemorate years of last-day-of-school parties at the now-permanently-closed drive-in theater. And the Mary Engelbreit “Hurt not the earth” mug my mom sent me when I first moved away from home, now my daughter’s favorite for tea. And the mug from Tim’s dad, inscribed with his name and its meaning, including a description of him as “a decent person who lends a helping hand / integrity is one of your greatest strengths.” His dad is far away, but I know Tim thinks of him when he drinks his morning coffee.

Here’s the truth: I don’t know a thing about design. But I do know about stories. And if your house tells the story of your life, what does this striving for perfection really say?

I was in a house once that was allegedly home to a toddler. I say “allegedly” because there was no evidence that a child lived there. No toys, no picture books, no scribbled drawings taped to the fridge. There were a few baby photos artfully placed here and there, but that could have been a niece or nephew. The house was immaculate and design-magazine worthy. But all that relentless order didn’t make the house feel lived in. It would have benefited so much from even a tiny bit of sentimentality.

Even us non-designers are familiar with William Morris’s dictum: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I’m not opposed to things matching; most of our plates and bowls are IKEA white at the moment and I do like the effect. But I hope I have the wisdom to recognize true beauty, even if it comes in the form of a scruffy old mug.

P.S. Here’s the link for Design Mom’s Monogrammed Mugs.


  1. Jackie says:

    Maybe there is a certain “calm” from a home that is perfectly matched. But I prefer a home filled with laughter and joy and roughhousing and playfulness. I would choose your home over a calm one any day!

  2. Bobbie Jo says:

    Shannon, keep those mugs! Good gracious, you should see my mug cabinet…this designer would have a heart attack!

  3. Joan says:

    I’m with you, Shannon. Our mug collection (and several other collections) are useful, fun and tell stories about our lives and the people in them.

  4. Shannon says:

    I’m glad we all agree!

  5. Diane says:

    It was fun reading about the significance of each mug and my time and coffee out of any of them. In my world, the only place chaos wins over memories is with pictures (the old fashioned kind that need to be placed in books for safe keeping).

  6. Diane says:

    I really should edit before I post. I meant to say I’ve enjoyed my time at your home drinking coffee from these wonderfully chaotic mugs.

  7. Shannon says:

    Oh, pictures! I’m so behind on scrapbooking. And it’s too bad because the kids love looking at them, but even *they* get tired of the same few books.

  8. grampa jeff says:

    Get rid of the mugs? What’s next, the family Bible, the kid’s kindergarden drawings? Who would ever comment on the shelf of perfectly organized glasses below? The chaos mugs all tell a family story. You probably need a new mug that says “I am proud to be a chaos mug”. Let me know when you need to plan an expansion shelf for chaos mug row.

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