I love the term the New York Times came up with to describe self-consciously styled lifestyles: "The Over-Propped Life." The Times makes it easy for you: if you own more than three of the "props" in their slideshow — books arranged by color, vintage typewriter, Edison bulb, terrarium, monogrammed towels, taxidermy, Le Creuset pot, bar cart, fresh flowers, vintage fan — you might be guilty of over-propping.
The Times is trying to be funny, of course — it's not like one vase of fresh flowers means you're a poser — but we all know who they mean when they talk about over-proppers, thanks to services like Instagram and Pinterest that allow users to show off their perfectly curated lives. At least I do; this article reminded me of how inadequate social tweedia makes me feel.
Over-propping isn't a new trend; think of Gatsby and his uncut books, or, as Kurt Anderson recalls in the Times, the coffee tables stacked with pretentious art books in the homes he visited while reporting for architectural magazines in the '80s. But, as Anderson notes, "It's not just rich people now ... It's all of us," thanks to the internet:
"People are insanely self-conscious," [Design blogger Elaine Miller] said. "People act like they're always being watched. Even their house is a performance."
She cited as an example the way design bloggers and Pinterest users have lately become obsessed with entertaining.
"It's this throwback to the '50s and '60s, where women are going to throw these big parties," she said. "They have a bar cart and they're ready to entertain you."
In a mock plea, she added: "Can everyone stop trying to be so awesome? Can we just chill out?"
It doesn't seem like people will stop trying to "be so awesome" anytime soon, which is why, although I have a Pinterest account and I've downloaded the Instagram app, I've never used either; I've never even poked around to see what's out there. Instagram and Pinterest don't seem fun to me, or even inspiring — they seem stressful. They make me feel pressure to be a more "domestic" person, and domesticity is a trait that's never come easily to me. I love Facebook and Twitter because I'm naturally social and chatty. But, while I appreciate being surrounded by aesthetically-pleasing things, I'm hopeless at crafts, anything that involves the acronym "DIY," and elaborate home decor.
I've just never been able to find time to prioritize that type of "propping." "Oh," I'll think to myself while brushing my teeth in the morning, "a little antique mirror would look so nice on the wall over there." But will I ever take the time to actually find and purchase a little antique mirror? Probably not. I'd love to have home-brined pickles in my fridge, paper-mache globes dangling from my ceiling, and plants everywhere — but instead I have an old jar of martini olives (can olives go bad?), a lamp from Target, and dried-out flowers that have been sitting in a vase on my bookshelf for a month (thanks to a mixture of being lazy and thinking they look kind of cool). When I look at photos of beautifully-designed abodes, I beat myself up for, say, taking a month to order curtains online and another three weeks to actually put them up. (And that's a lie; I just realized my roommate is the one who did that, not me.) My coffee table — an awesome find from a flea market — BROKE IN HALF two weeks ago and is still in the middle of my living room. It looks like a broken cookie. So, as lame as it may sound, I can't browse through more than a few "pins" without wondering why I suck so much at being a "real woman."
I never used to think about my lack of domesticity, because I've always surrounded myself with people who do the work for me: my mother is an excellent gardener and decorator, and all of my best friends are unbelievably creative, so I've been lucky enough to live in well-decorated dwellings without having to put in much effort. Everyone has different talents, and home decor has just never been my thing; who cares? But, as the Times notes, "Twenty-five years ago, you saw the inside of the homes of your friends and neighbors, and of members of your extended family, and that was about it. Now there are countless images of picture-perfect interiors online to stoke your sense of envy and aspiration."
One of my coworkers was surprised to hear that I feel so much anxiety about tools that are supposed to be "recreational," unlike, say, Facebook, which more people feel compelled to join even if they don't want to for fear of missing out. But Pinterest crossed the 20 million user mark this month, and, as we all know, Facebook recently bought Instagram for a BILLION dollars. I'm starting to feel out of the loop! But how do I get rid of the anxiety I feel whenever I see other people's perfectly constructed domestic tableaux?
Writing this, I realize that my real issue isn't that I'm not crafty or domestic enough — I honestly have no interest in learning how to knit or sew or weld or garden — but that I conflate having a perfect-looking home with having a perfect life. My fantasy is that, if I was the kind of woman who baked her own bread, painted her own walls, and stenciled her own t-shirts, I'd never yell at my mother, drink too much, or sleep through my alarm clock in the morning. I know that having a fervent Instagram following doesn't necessarily mean shit about one's non-virtual life, but it's hard to remember that, since nowadays it only takes a handful of fresh, uncut flowers, a carefully-placed mason jar, and the right photo filter to appear like you have it all under control.
For the Times reporter, it's the bar cart that gets to him:
Evoking a mythical Hollywood Regency glamour, the bar cart telegraphs that the resident leads a life as rich as a socialite in a Slim Aarons photo and is constantly entertaining at home, though in reality it's a prop that mostly collects dust. (This reporter should know: of the three pieces of furniture in his living room, one is a bar cart that's still waiting for its first party.)
Online, it's next to impossible to see the dust. Or, as Dodai just told me, "When i instagram pix of my apt i choose the high contrast filter bc then you can't see how stained my rug is." That makes me feel a little bit better.