print by William Dohman on Etsy
I am learning how to decorate, and it’s not skill that comes naturally. For someone so drawn to beautiful things, with strong opinions about lighting and furniture shapes, you’d think this would be a snap. But there’s some aesthetic intelligence that’s not native to me. It’s related to the way my dad could pack the trunk on a camping trip so compactly, but with a dash of the artistic eye thrown in. It’s about putting disparate pieces together in space and making them cohere. And then somehow, also managing to make it beautiful. People who have this intelligence astonish and inspire (and, okay, intimidate) me.
When I was in IKEA recenlty, getting pulled in 1,000 different pretty directions, my mom offered up some helpful advice. “What’s the mood you’re trying to create?” Spatial relationships might not be my forte, but moods I get. Knowing that I wanted my bedroom to be airy and relaxing helped me nix items that, though beautiful, didn’t jive with the feeling I was after.
This is not unlike my friend’s Alison’s advice to shop for clothes with code words in mind. Instead of feeling utterly overwhelmed at Anthropologie, I now go through a somewhat ridiculous-feeling yet effective mental exercise as I hold up an item. Is this chic? Does it seem like something Anna Karina would wear? Is it a little tough? Does it have a vintage vibe?
And this leads me to the real topic at hand: envisioning one’s ideal life. This is a daydream game I have long loved to play, but I consider it to be more vital than idle imaginings. Because if you don’t know what your ideal life looks like, how will you begin to create it? And how will you recognize your own triumphs when you get important pieces to fall into place?
Here are some pieces of mine: I imagine sunlight and white bedding, mornings spent writing, colorful latte bowls, and dinners with friends. By many accounts, I have a lot of what I have always been after. But something is also amiss.
There’s a feeling that infuses my vision, and it’s one I’m still trying to create. It’s a feeling I pin down into one word and come back to again and again. I want a feeling of expansiveness: in my home, in my days, and most of all, in my mind. In the past week, I’ve shared this word with confidants in a basement bar and small, sunny second-story office. Each time, the word gets a deep exhale or intake of breath: what a great word, they say.
In the same way that I could eschew dark, playful fabrics at IKEA when I realized they didn’t fit my desired bedroom mood, I feel kind of liberated by my word (as grand and otherworldly as the word itself may sound). We talked last week about expectations — how sometimes when you get what you want it doesn’t always look how you thought it would. But maybe if we set out after a feeling, community or creativity or even expansiveness, we could better fulfill our expectations. If we were to cater the details in our life — the people, places, activities and things — to achieve a mood rather than a look, maybe we’d be creating a more meaningful vision of our ideal lives, one that we could feel and sense as we live inside it.
I asked myself last week what brings me that feeling of expansiveness. Writing, being in nature, and sitting quietly all do it. Sometimes, even, rhapsodizing with a friend in a basement bar does it. And the reason I’m going on and on about this is that I really take this creation-of-the-ideal-life business seriously. I really believe in the power of looking at our lives, seeing what’s working, making alterations, and looking again. In other words, I want to spend more time doing the things that make my life feel expansive, and less time occupied with what leaves me anxious, harried, and defeated. And I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to share this here, if nothing other than to be able to ask you the very same thing: Do you dream up visions of your ideal life? Do you write them out or use visuals? Do you have a mood that you’re after, like my expansiveness? And how do you go about creating it?
Big questions for a Monday afternoon, I know. But let’s roll with it.