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.