Minimalism versus the Shelter Blogs

I just read an article in the New York Times on propping – that is, the practice of styling one’s home like a Mad Men set instead of an actual place of residence. How whimsical! And yet…perhaps I am guilty as charged. After all, I have both books arranged by color (the shelf in my living room) and a bar cart of sorts. These are both examples cited in the article as “over-propping”. We act like we are constantly being watched, the Times argues, over styling our homes, our selves, and even our hobbies. This would certainly go a long way to explain everything from the rise of the common hipster to Pinterest and Apartment Therapy (which, I will confess here and now, I happen to love).

Bar carts are one proof given by the New York Times of “over-propping”. Image from

The thing is, I think there might be some flawed logic at play in the Times. I didn’t create either the bar cart or the bookshelf to impress other people. I did it because I like the way they look (ok, the bar cart was totally because we loved one on Mad Men. The books are because that’s how I visualize them – by color. So arranging them by color makes them easier to find. J decided to test this theory, and made me close my eyes and call out the colors of various titles. Sure enough, I can tell you off the top of my head that The Time Traveler’s Wife is light green, while The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is teal. Huzzah!)

I have by no means gone this far overboard with the books-by-color arranging. But that might simply be because I don’t own quite so many books. Or a pug, more’s the pity – check out that little face! These images (and post in defense of the arranging-books-by-color trend) also from

So maybe I’m a cliche, with my ‘over-propped’ home. I’m not quite hipster enough to be worried about that. I do, however, worry about the way that design trends appeal to me in ways that cause me to spend money to replace a perfectly good item for one I like better. Most of my furniture and other home items are from Craigslist and yard and estate sales, but my husband can attest that there are a fair number of Target impulse buys floating around in here. Most are from the days before I saw the light and started questioning consumerism.

On the whole, I think our societal tendency toward aesthetic neuroticism has become a problem. We rip out perfectly good bathroom fixtures and appliances and replace them with newer ones. That’s fine when it’s in the name of increased efficiency…but what about when it’s in the name of an aesthetic preference? Isn’t it all a little bit wasteful? I’m not pointing fingers here, because I do the same thing – replace a perfectly good set of curtains with new ones because I like them better, for example. I always donate the old ones, but still – I’ve replaced something functional with something new. Not my most sustainable or minimalist habit.

Maybe I should rethink my Pinterest and shelter blog habits. Then again, much as I like reading about other people’s home renovations and design ideas, almost everything we bring into our home is sustainably produced or built by hand. This weekend we’re planning to build our own dining table (our first big project since building a litter box enclosure over the winter), and J is looking into reclaimed wood for us to use. I think that so long as it doesn’t heavily impact our own decision to live more simply and with greater ecological integrity, my Pinterest habit is safe…and regardless of what the New York Times has said about trends that are “over,” I’m keeping the bar cart!


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