Before buying more stuff, learn to manage your consumption, apartment therapists urge.
At a time when many people her age are pulling up stakes and traveling the world, Amber Nussbaum is spending her Saturdays at home, cleaning and arranging her 1,000-sq.-ft. house. The recent college graduate scours yard sales for mid-century modern furniture. She regularly visits design websites for new ideas.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Nussbaum is one of the many Americans who have made "nesting" a top priority in recent years. Whether it's a reaction to feelings of insecurity brought on by the war against terrorism or the lure of low-interest loans to upgrade the kitchen, Americans spent $155 billion on home improvement projects in the past year, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
But while many pick up trendy magazines like "Dwell" and "Oprah at Home" and watch hours of reality-TV shows focused on home renovations, one interior designer is sounding an alarm. Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan says the rush to Home Depot, IKEA, and Pottery Barn has superseded knowing how to live well in our homes. We are "hypernesting."
"In place of creating a healthy home, we are trying to buy solutions and cram too much into our homes," he writes in his how-to book on interior design. "Most of us aren't in need of more organizing; we need to manage our consumption, let go of our stuff, and learn how to restore life to our homes."
In other words, turn off the TV, take time to empty your closets and make repairs, and try cooking at home more often.
While Mr. Gillingham-Ryan has regular clients in New York City, he has packaged his railing against excessive home consumption into a book, a website with an interactive online community, and now an online class (the next one starts this week).
"Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure" (Bantam) aims to change our living habits as we strive to change our living spaces. Its related website (www.apartmenttherapy.com) highlights design ideas on a regular basis and a blog where readers can collaborate and commiserate on do-it-yourself design projects.
What's immediately noticeable about the soft-spoken Gillingham-Ryan, who lives in a tiny 265-sq.-ft. apartment with his wife and new baby, is his choice of words. He refers to a home as "a living organism" and describes broken chairs and dripping faucets as "wounds." He implores you to consider wearing "house shoes" and burn only naturally fragrant candles.
But this gentler touch is making a difference in the lives of city dwellers crammed into small apartments. It prompted one client to gratefully refer to the designer as her "apartment therapist." It stuck.
Gillingham-Ryan concedes that his process, which seems part project management part self-improvement, takes longer than if he simply assessed a living space and then dictated his own ideas in the manner of a traditional interior designer. Instead, he coaches people to identify what about their home isn't supporting their lifestyle and then provides an eight-step process for making changes.
"The goal is to create a nice big mess and then be able to finish it, and that's really satisfying," he says.
Despite his emphasis on apartment and city living, the eight-step "cure" is good for any size home, he says. It centers on two approaches. The first, "deep treatment," focuses on making necessary repairs, throwing things away, and rearranging furniture for better "flow."
If you are among the minority who have already transcended clutter, the author's second approach, "one-room remedy," is structured to lead you through the update or redesign of one room, within a budget.
Part of the process includes regularly filling an "outbox" with ugly or unused belongings. But sorting through piles of accumulated things – and the memories and questions they stir up – can be tough.
Enter the online community.
Participants in the online class regularly post comments detailing their challenges or offering tips, for instance, on where to buy fresh flowers (a class assignment) or where to find a good contractor if they live in the same city. The message: You are not alone.