SHIEKH: Decorating your living space is important

Column: From the Mountaintop

One of the guiding principles of my life is purposefulness. By questioning myself while I make decisions, I push myself to think through my choices and optimize how I spend my time. 

As I go about life, meeting people, seeing their living spaces and listening to their stories, I appreciate the differences between them. Our similarities are what unite us and help us work with each other. Our differences are what beautify the world, and they fuel natural selection and the free market, our conversations and our politics.

Due to purposefulness, I have not put a great deal of effort into decorating my living space. Usually I have something that is more important to do at a given time, and I usually do not buy decorations because I can think of a better use for the money. My careful, cautious decision-making hampered me for a long time in this pursuit because I could not come up with any winning reason to devote bandwidth to making my walls less bare.

Particularly at Rutgers, I have come to notice that the people I meet put time and effort into their living spaces, their schedules, their hobbies and their joy. I have no idea how it happens, but the people I have met seem to care a great deal about finding passion and pursuing lives that make them happy.

Part of the pattern is adorning laptops with stickers. The stickers vary as much as people do: Rick and Morty, Heisenberg, a Supreme sticker cut in half and put on either side of the trackpad, Pusheen, “DIE Facebook DIE” in italics and sans-serif font. These little choices help a person declare who they are, and so they help show the world what differentiates them from everyone else, what unites them with everyone else.

These decorations can help to demonstrate the best parts of a personality. A person’s living space can come to represent them through careful manipulation of the aesthetic quality of the room. A lava lamp on a bookshelf does not mean much on its own, but it means a great deal in the context of the rest of the room and the person themselves.

The layout of the room, the eye with which someone sees space and reorganizes it in their mind is a beautiful thing. If I had never noticed this, I think I would have missed out on something well worth the time.

Some amount of my distaste for decoration was a childhood full of noticing and disliking the concept of optics. I, for a long time, have not liked tight control of the superficial because I used to find that it detracted from a life of deep and careful thinking. Optics seemed to keep people from delving below the superficial, and it was just a distraction. Because they kept occupying themselves with the unnecessary, they never seemed to see below the superficial into the abstract and the important.

There is more to it, as it strikes me now. Aesthetic and design can augment the functioning and love of a life. They can also be representative of one’s thinking, one’s passions, one’s philosophy and idealism. What I have realized due to the people at this school is that lives deserve to be cared for. Every life deserves a caregiver, and that many of us are lucky enough to be able to act as caregivers for ourselves. It was a mistake not to take care of myself in this way, and I was missing something that is structurally important. 

The reason why this process is important, why these little things have value, is because they help to raise the baseline of an existence. When a person is low, there are a number of things that can help them back up. Positive experiences, socialization, distraction, respite, routine, purpose and pride can all help a person recover from a low point.

Decorating your living space when the weather is good means that, when rainier days come, your world will still be bright and comfortable. Decorating one’s life in good times is insurance for when bad times come. 

Besides imposing a floor on the negative, the joy of a well-crafted and carefully customized life lends itself to amplifying good times. Hanging out with friends at an apartment or a house is improved when the walls are covered with concert posters, with paintings, with birthday cards or with a particularly well-made bookmark. Life is better with a full bookshelf of well-written stories, the equivalent for oneself is to splash mementos of a life well-lived on every available surface.

I am not a maximalist. I am steadily departing from minimalism as well. I now believe that I should make space in my life to celebrate the life that I am living. The best way to transition into this process is to begin collecting mementos slowly as a worthwhile souvenir of life stands out. I began thinking about this because I saw how others at Rutgers made their living spaces their own. 

Now, a few times a month, I put up something that stands out to me as something worth remembering. 

Mustafa Shiekh is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in public health. His column "From the Mountaintop" runs on alternate Thursdays.


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