When Possible, Choose Beautiful Things

I’ve written about this topic before, but it keeps coming to mind. Some of the text below is recycled from an old blog post, but I’ve added in a few new thoughts.

While you and I may look at a Jackson Pollock, van Gogh or Picasso and have wildly different visceral responses (regarding the aforementioned: interesting, love his work, and meh) – everyone gravitates toward particular aesthetics – there is no mistaking that we will have some reaction. Ambivalence. Admiration. Curiosity. Disgust.

Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

One of the perks of forging ahead into adulthood is honing in on, and exploiting, our natural aesthetic preferences. We no longer have to live with the brown shag carpeting of our youth – though give it enough time and that particular design preference is sure to come back. (Exhibit A: Wallpaper. It’s everywhere.)

We put time and effort into considering these sorts of decisions on the large scale: exterior landscaping for our new home, the colour of our living room walls or vehicle, a wedding dress. Significant resources (time and financial) are invested in curating a particular aesthetic in our clothes, hair, and makeup choices.

But I’d argue that much smaller, seemingly mundane, decisions can have a big impact too.

When I invested in electric toothbrushes for our family I made a small splurge, spending an additional $9.99 to get the pink version for myself. It’s a subtle colour, but really does make me happy every time I use my toothbrush (and, as a bonus, it helps me avoid using my husband’s toothbrush by accident). Two years later, that $9.99 has bought me a disproportionate amount of daily happiness. Even the knowledge that I spent extra money helps elevate the experience, in essence saying: “You were worth it.

That’s pretty weighty stuff for a Philips Sonicare.

The ability to improve aesthetics (and by improve, I simply mean enhancing your personal satisfaction) is often quite easy. When I got a new phone a few years ago the selection of a pretty floral case took less than a minute longer than tracking down a plain black case. Maybe you’d prefer the sleek look of a low-profile black case; go ahead and embrace that choice and refuse to settle for the hand-me-down neon green Otterbox your friend is offering. If the epitome of your aesthetic ideal is a house filled with white: walls, furniture, clothing, and dishes, by all means indulge (unless you have small children, in which case this would be insanity).

Think about things you’re going to see/handle frequently. A phone case, wine glasses, travel mug, dinner plates, the Sharpies you use on your desk calendar, a laptop cover, a diaper bag. I often select candles that come in a nice votive over their ordinary cousins on the shelf.

Life is short and, in general, abundantly more fulfilling when we are able to notice the beauty around us. Stopping to smell the roses is great. So plant some on your back doorstep. Add a pop of colour to your sofa with a quirky throw pillow, hunt for a duvet cover you actually like, and order the whimsical pens you’ve been admiring. Some other ideas for aesthetic exploration:

  • Calendars (wall, desk), office supplies, phone/laptop/iPod cases
I’ve owned this $10 laptop hardshell for years and still LOVE it.
  • Socks, pajamas and other clothing that might never be seen outside your home
  • A fun shower cap, towel, or colourful loofah for the shower
This was a “guest” towel; something I had classified as too pretty to use in everyday life. Now I use it regularly and it makes me happy.
Yes I look ridiculous – it’s a shower cap, after all – but it’s…fun.
  • Pretty measuring cups (I have a set in bright, primary colours) and measuring spoons (hand-painted pottery from Ten Thousand Villages; they make me smile every time).
The kids had just used the measuring cups to portion out their morning oatmeal; I promise I wash these!
  • Pretty bowls, mugs and cups
From the DollarStore! I love, love, love these bowls.
On clearance for $3 at a local homegoods store (I have two in this pattern).

And, if you’re ever on the hunt for an electric toothbrush, may I suggest considering a colour other than white?

Your turn – do you put much thought into small aesthetic decisions? Any pop of colour or whimsical aesthetic choice in your house that brings delight?

Header photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

24 thoughts on “When Possible, Choose Beautiful Things”

  1. Yes, this is an area that’s taken me a long time to understand. I always used to just buy whatever was cheapest, the most plain, or easiest, and thought that I wasn’t really aware of aesthetics. Then slowly but surely I started getting some prettier things- and it really does make me happier! Right now I’m looking at my new Garmin- I chose the white band. I know white isn’t really colorful, but in the past I would have just gotten black. I’m so happy with the white band- it’s just brighter and more cheerful, and something different. I almost got the turquoise… maybe next time : )

    1. I LOVED my white smartwatch band (somehow I’ve misplaced it!). I think it looks so clean and bright. I’m pretty minimal, and don’t think it necessarily takes colour or any specific print to elevate an ordinary experience or item. It’s more just picking something that appeals to your specific aesthetic taste. Most of the time it doesn’t actually require much extra time/expense!

  2. I’ve mentioned it before and it’s sort of my mantra in life that if something bothers me every day, I should fix it. This does include the little things. We had an IKEA bookshelf in our kitchen for several years and that’s where we stored our cookbooks and KitchenAid and it drove me crazy. Last summer, I found a sideboard at a local antique store and knew that it would be perfect as a replacement. I have happily admired it every day since. It’s really worth it to have your space and your things be how you want them to be!

    1. It’s always so nice to find the “right” thing by way of replacement. That’s one of the things I love about thrifting is I can just happen upon an item of clothing or kitchen accessory and know that it will serve as a great “upgrade” to something I already have but don’t like.

  3. This is one area where I am not great at seeking out beauty. I’m so pragmatic about things and will choose function over all else. But adding some whimsy to something like measuring cups or spoons would probably give me a little tiny boost when I am making dinner!

    But speaking of wallpaper which you mentioned above. There are gorgeous patterns and I imagine it’s been better designed these days, but I’ve scraped wallpaper from the walls several times in my life so I don’t think I could ever bring myself to use wallpaper ever again!!!

    1. Whimsy. Love that word!
      I don’t plan to ever do wallpaper either, but it’s everywhere these days. Some of it is really beautiful, but if I was overwhelmed by the paint selections on offer, wallpaper would send my brain into shock.

  4. I need a nice looking water bottle or I won’t use it. Ditto yoga mat. It took us 10 YEARS to replace the ugly builder grade light fixtures in our kitchen with ones we chose ourselves– even though they bugged us FOREVER, and I am so glad we finally did it.

    1. Some little things/annoyances slip below the radar but then other things we actively loathe…and still don’t deal with the issue for so long!
      I love a pretty water bottle; I desperately need a yoga mat. I ended up cutting mine up to fit under our treadmill but it was pretty uninspiring. I’d love to get one with a pretty pattern on it, not just a solid colour. You’re inspiring me to get back on the hunt for such a mat.

  5. Your thoughts ring true with me. I put lots of thought into small aesthetics. I believe life is in the details, so make ’em pretty. I love the blue bowls. And your shower cap!

    1. Life is definitely in the details. Obviously we have to be paying attention to notice those details, so the whole “choosing beautiful things” requires two-fold action.

    1. Yes! I am SO much better about using things up now. Why wait? And too often we wait to use something and it gets destroyed (a family member saved linens for YEARS considering them too good to use and moths got into them!).

  6. I absolutely 100% agree – these small additions of pretty things make a huge difference in every day life. One of my personal most obvious examples is my love for pretty mugs: coffee just tastes different in the morning when it’s served in a pretty mug.

    We also have a lot of ‘teal’ accents in our kitchen (my kitchen aid, our microwave, a matching teal kitchen rug and a “sign” above a magnetic blackboard in teal that says “EAT”) and even though I *hate* our small, old kitchen, these color accents make it so much better!

    1. Coffee/tea DO taste better in a pretty mug. I love a pretty mug for hot beverages (and, honestly, cold ones too – my teal Yeti has been used daily for years and I still adore the colour).
      Colour accents go a long way in making a space feel happy and light.

  7. I’m not the greatest at this, but mostly because I tend to be indecisive when I purchase things! I also tend to worry that if I buy the “fun” color of something, that for some reason I’ll wish I had the more neutral option, etc. It’s rather insane of me, but it’s the truth, sometimes. I also am not the best about noticing when I need to or should replace certain items. I think I just get so used to seeing certain things in their “dingy” or somewhat worn out state, that it doesn’t always occur to me to do something about it! Like….replacing old mixing bowls. Or kitchen towels that have seen better days. Etc. I actually just sat down now after cleaning out my underwear drawer!! I finally recently ordered a bunch of new underwear to replace some OLD stuff. Next up…some new bras! I really like your brightly colored measuring cups. Mine are definitely plain black, and also super old! My measuring spoons were a hand me down from my mom, and not joking, I think they might be from the 1970’s. They still work great though! One of those classic quality items that they don’t seem to make anymore. 🙂

    1. Oh, I totally agree about defaulting to neutral options. I tend to do this with clothes (mostly dark colours, with a few pops of colour). But with accessories (a phone case, measuring cups etc), I am TRYING to opt for colour or interest because I know I end up really appreciating that added element of detail in my life.
      I’m a huge fan of thrifting/recycling items; I actually have THREE sets of measuring spoons, including a set from my parents that are likely from the 1970’s as well – they’re just plain stainless steel, but they make me very happy.
      I like pops of colour, but since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it has more to do with how something makes you feel vs. how it looks. An old sweater from college could be aesthetically pleasing to someone even though it’s tattered. I like my plain measuring spoons because they remind me of my parents; the colourful pottery ones are fun, but I like them best because they remind me of Abby.
      From your blog it sounds like you are actually quite good at this – the spoon rest from Ireland (if I remember that correctly), and you have amazing fall/Christmas decorations.
      I also think some people just…don’t care. And that’s WONDERFUL! I know people that seem to be both clutter and aesthetic blind. They care only about function. Personally, I find I feel so much better if there are little pops of colour or whimsy in my day and find that little tweaks can make a huge difference, but mileage can vary.

      P.S. I just got new underwear and it makes me smile everytime I open my drawer.

  8. Well, I am a huge color freak and art geek…so I don’t have much for “drab” in my house. Maybe I have too much color (some critics would argue too much of a good thing can “compete” for attention and have an unnerving affect)…but I say go bright or go home, LOL. Gotta say, those measuring spoons are simply adorable!

    1. Yay for colour! I tend to be more reserved than I “could” be, but love seeing others so confident in use of colour and texture. I agree – go for it!

  9. Aesthetics is something I am so pulled to – it’s partly why I started buying books. I wanted my home to be filled to the brim with colorful bookshelves because the aesthetic just makes me happy. Sometimes I find myself buying something and paying more for the prettier option, and I kind of scoff to myself that it’s so silly to pay more for a certain color or style… but this is a new perspective that I’m going to take to heart. It’s not silly to want beautiful things, especially if it gives you a little boost of happiness through your days!

    1. Absolutely! And often it doesn’t take that much extra work (or money) to find easy ways to incorporate a burst of sunshine – literally or proverbially – into our lives.

  10. I am truly terrible at this. In clothing, “decor” (of which I have… very little…), anything. I buy the most utilitarian (like Kae and Lisa) and often don’t even think about how something so small as the color of what I buy might have a positive impact on my mood. I love your approach, and wish I could learn to emulate it – particularly when the colorful, beautiful alternative is nearly the same cost as the utilitarian, boring options!
    I also admire your sense of style. Your home – although you often comment that it’s old and needing so many renovations – seems like such a warm and cozy and yes, beautiful, space that really reflects all of your personalities. <3

    1. I wonder sometimes if different people aren’t as positively impacted by these small aesthetic decisions.
      For example, I am a minimalist. I like to finish things, remove things, have clear spaces. But I know others that love to have every inch of their walls filled with art, cupboards full of beautiful china. I prefer to hang only a few items on the walls, have a small stack of white plates in my cupboard with a few jolts of colour from other kitchen items.
      I guess what I’m saying is, for me these tiny decisions can have a big impact, but I’m not sure they do (and they don’t HAVE TO) for everyone. Does that make sense?
      If I had bought a black Yeti mug, I would have regretted it knowing there are “prettier” colours out there. But I’d rather have solid plack curtains than something really bright with a vivid print (where I know others would think it was such a waste to have a plain fabric when there are so many wonderful options).
      In reality, I guess this post is more of a self-searching question of getting to know yourself better. Does it give you a burst of joy to have a bright throw cushion on your couch? If not…then don’t bother! There isn’t any right answer here.

  11. You make a really good point, Elisabeth. Of course the things that bring you joy won’t bring me the same “pop”. I didn’t think about it from that perspective – but perhaps thinking more about “What do *I* love?” vs. “Why do I stink at decor/decorating/dressing in an array of colors, like everyone else seems capable of doing??”

    I get a pop of joy from the quiet and calm space I (try to) create. I love having a clean apartment, clean (and folded) clothes, and clean sheets (HA!). Something out of place drives me bonkers. So yes, it’s time to look for things that bring ME joy – and not you (sorry! :>).

    (And HUH – remember my intention at the beginning of the year? Maybe it should be “Seek MY joy” instead of just… “Seek joy”.

    1. What a great distinction: seeking the things that bring us joy, not others, necessarily.
      I sometimes find that hard with gift-giving; I’m inclined to give something I’d like to receive, but that doesn’t necessarily fit the bill for the person I’m giving it to!

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