When I bought my home and got my keys and moved in, it was dusty and mildly derelict. The previous owners had vacated over two years ago. We spent the first few days cleaning, scrubbing, washing, mopping. We bought everything we needed as cheaply as we could, so that we could have a functioning home. We bought a new pipe to shower out of, because the existing pipe was old and grimy– it would be a while later before we bought a proper showerhead, and a little longer still before we bought a water heater. So we used to shower with cold water coming out of a rubber tube– it was really cold in the early mornings (and nights) of January 2013.
All the furniture we needed, we either brought with us, or bought 2nd-hand from others. My dad lent us his pickup truck, and a couple of friends helped us move. We got a free sofa bed from a friend that would creak like crazy, we bought a $25 mattress from downstairs. The sinks and toilets were all somewhat grimy and gross, and we cleaned that stuff out. It took a while for the house to feel livable. We’d put wrapping paper under the glass panel of the coffeetable to give it some warmth. We initially kept our clothes in plastic bags. A while later we bought $100 queen sized mattresses online– they were bumpy and lousy but they fit, and they were new-ish.
We would get the fridge and the washing machine a while later, we would bring bookshelves and books, and everything would really slowly, organically pile up. We’d declutter from time to time.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the features for me might’ve been that we bought cheap $1 lights. The light sockets in my house are the old twist-and-snap kind, as opposed to the newer and smarter screw-in kind. So there aren’t really many options. We bought really cheap ones from the convenience store downstairs– I believe $1/bulb, and we filled the house with them. I believe they were really dull, energy-guzzling yellowish bulbs. We bought these on the first day, and we stuck with them as we progressively upgraded the rest of the house– we installed a bar, got ourselves some bar stools, got a washing machine and fridge and so on… but it never quite occurred to me to change the light bulbs.
It took us a long while before we realized that the $1 lights made our home feel rather… “cheap” and “sleazy”. There was just something about the intensely dull glow– I think it used to give me headaches, maybe it gave us all headaches. We initially only had the ceiling lights to illuminate anything. The would be really harsh at glaring to look at directly, and yet they wouldn’t quite give us all the lighting we needed in the rooms.
Since then, we’ve replaced the ceiling lights with white flourescent lights, that light up the whole rooms with neutral, white bright light whenever we need to see everything that’s going on. But we rarely use those. We’ve also added warm yellow lights that are mounted on stands– 2 Ikea lamps with two parts– one that diffuses lighting upwards, and another smaller one that can be directed in any… direction. This casts a much nicer, warmer light that isn’t shining in your eyes or face. In our bedroom, we’ve also added two little clip-on lights above our bed that we can move around– we can either point them at the books that we might be reading, or we can point them upwards, which gives the room a soft, warm light. My favorite little hack is to point them behind a book that’s on the stand above our bed– this dims the light substantially, making it kinda romantic.
I guess why I wrote about this is– I want to take some time to think about how set and setting can make such a huge difference. Lighting. Music. Ambient sounds. My wife and I took almost two years before we bought a proper dining table of sorts, and it made such a big difference to us. Prior to that we were always eating at the bar (too high) or at the coffee table (too low) and it was never quite possible to have a proper dinner. I was completely unaware of how much of a difference that makes– how nice it is to sit at a table and have breakfast or dinner together, facing each other, sitting in proper chairs at a proper table.
Similarly, we got ourselves scratch protectors for our chairs and stools so that they didn’t make the annoying screechy sounds when we dragged them, and that feels amazing, too. Other little improvements– having hooks to hang your keys on. If it were feasible, I’d also like to have phone and macbook chargers all over the house so that we’d be able to charge our devices wherever we went. Or at least two in the home– one in the living room and one in the study– we have that now whenever I bring my charger home from work, but it would be so much nicer if we simply had two at home and I could leave my charger at work. Hell, I would be a lot happier if I could outright leave my macbook at work– it feels a little silly to have to carry it back and forth every day. It’s a long commute.
We bought bluetooth speakers, and we have spotify on all our devices– so now it’s possible for us to stream music through any of the devices, through any of the devices, through the bluetooth speakers that play in our living room. It’s lovely.
All of this is just a longwinded way of thinking and talking about the effect that environment and ambience and tools and affordances have on my pleasure, my experience of reality. Airconditioning made a huge difference. Having water heating made a huge difference. Having a regular, easy supply of cold water made a difference. I suppose I should take more time to think about how to improve my environment. It felt really good to tidy out my drawers. I have a whole unch of books that need to be “processed” in some way. I’ll have to figure that one out.