Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Carpet Question

The carpet in question
Look at this carpet and tell me what you see.

Quirky, retro carpet (as one of our supercool friends does)? Or, an awful, decaying, unhygienic mess (as I do)?

There are few objects in my home that have caused me as much irritation as this specimen.

Some people aren't cat people, and well, I dislike living with carpet. (Or vacuuming.) It seems so unhygienic, especially with younger children, and inferior to the humble floorboard, varnished or bare.

Of course, this is a trivial concern. A bonafide first world problem. I know this, and yet it has niggled me for months, now well over a year.

Part of this is because this old carpet is less than pleasant to live with. Its condition varies throughout, showing where others have walked their daily routines, paced in front of the heater, and let a cat sharpen her claws in a corner (who does that?).

Ordinarily, wear adds a romantic layer of character other materials, like stone - the worn stone steps of the State Library, for instance, make me think of all the others who've trod them.

But this carpet just leads me to thoughts of decay, layers of dust mites, and people slopping around at home. And worrying about dirt and disease just eats into my time, and risks turning me into a kind of BrandPower woman, treating steam cleaning, vacuuming and carpet products with disproportionate seriousness.

Another problem is simply that it's also an unfamiliar palette and style - 50s stylised roses are not something I'm drawn to. (I know others have worse colours and prints to deal with - at least it isn't mustard or bright blue.) When we first moved in, all our old things sat oddly alien atop of it. It looked like a temporary sharehouse, not the family home where we would, most likely, spend a few years: writing and reading, cooking, planting tomatoes, doing cut and paste, and hours playing and packing up lego. Making our familiar objects work here has meant diligently editing our things in a way we haven't had to before. (The work's paid off, though, I should add.)

If we owned, we'd rip it up, problem solved. But as a rental, we're stuck with it. And being stuck with it is probably the most irritating thing of all. My frustration with the carpet has never just been about unattractive floor coverings, but about being somehow stuck by the decisions we've made to live more simply, and the fears this brings.

While I've commented on the value of living the simple life before, I admit that the spectre of material success still haunts me. The carpet is the obvious reminder of the price paid for living a slightly different life, lower on financial rewards and higher on time and choice - it's that tangible material marker of what it means to take a rather small step away from conventional life, with its solid career paths and mortgages.

Confronting the carpet on a daily basis has been a prolonged process in letting go of the symbols of material success and the conventional life that goes with it.

I can't say I've completely resolved these fears, worries and questions. And this is a good, healthy thing: to keep questioning. In this respect, the carpet has proven a surprisingly robust adversary, prompting questions, stopping me from lazily floating, and sharpening my ideas of what's crucial to live well.

Right now, on a sunny day, with time to write, draw, stroll and hang out with my sick kids, the answer to the carpet question is a surprisingly easy one: I don't have to love it to value the kind of life it makes possible.


Dan said...

... and to provide the counterpoint example, my mortgage and attendant full-time job means I miss having the time to admire my polished wood floors.

And so it seems that this is our choice: Between life, and floor coverings.

Je ne regrette rein!

(Oh, and whoever's telling you that carpet is quirky or retro obviously doesn't have to live with it. Know that they are wrong, and if they're wearing a beret, slap it off their head.)

Ruth Quibell said...

When you put it that way - "this is our choice: Between life, and floor coverings" - perhaps I've had my lifetime's worth of glossy floors.

But... (and I hate to be the one to break it to you, Dan) it looks like floral carpets are back. (See the floral rug special here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2142434/Interiors-special-Foliage.html)

Clearly, James Laver's Law applies. My guess is that the carpet is now 'quaint', but in a few years it will be in the 'charming' stage. I just need to stick with it.

Jill in a Box said...

There are SO many things in my home that I feel similarly about. The massive concrete archway that marks the entry to our kitchen, and the smaller archway near the "laundry" just beyond it. The faux brick (think chunky brick wallpaper)which covers the back wall of our house. The fake tudor aluminium windows. The chunky roll-on render that covers the facade of our house. The brown quarry tiles... ohhh, I'll stop now. To change it all (I can because we own not rent) would cost a fortune, take considerable time, cause several arguments with my husband, I suspect, and I would much rather be doing other things! It's not that bad. The house is full of light, we have a small garden and it's in the perfect street for me. And I can read and write instead of renovate.

Ruth Quibell said...

"The house is full of light, we have a small garden and it's the perfect street for me." Sounds wonderful, JIB. I'm relieved not to be the only one knowingly living with niggling interior dissatisfactions, because they have relatively little value in the larger scheme of things (time to read and write).

Jill in a Box said...

...and we have Sydney bluegum floorboards ;)