Functional vs. Beautiful – An Observation

My roommates and I spent the 4th of July weekend moving our stuff from our apartment in Greer to a beautiful new house that we’re renting in Greenville. This move was/is (we’re almost finished) a bigger chore than the times Harvin and I have moved before. When Michele moved in with us in August, most of her stuff went into storage, so with this move, we essentially had two households full of furniture, kitchen gadgets, and everything else. Fortunately, we have a spacious basement.

Most of my dishes and kitchen supplies are being relegated to the basement in favor of Michele’s elegant china and flatware and orange gadgets. As we moved boxes on Saturday, Michele explained to one of our friends that she was excited to be able to use her pretty plates again.

I made an offhand comment about how my stuff would go into storage because while what I own is functional, Michele’s is beautiful…which says a lot about our personalities. It was one of those moments where we laughed and moved on with the conversation, but I haven’t been able to let that comment go. It’s the truth in so many ways.

Until that conversation, I’d never actually realized that a lot of what I own isn’t beautiful; it just does the job it was intended for. I love the plates that I bought on sale years ago: they’re teal and green and orange. But that’s it. They’re plate-shaped, with no design or pattern. They hold my food. I bought them because they were simple and colorful, and that works for me. Likewise, much of my furniture is purely functional. The TV stand that held Michele’s TV (until Harvin bought a flat-screen recently) is actually ugly. I think it belonged to my grandmother, and I ended up owning it because I needed something to put a TV on. My bookshelves don’t match–one used to be my brother’s, one was my grandmother’s, another I acquired when Harvin decided she didn’t want it, and many of my books are in plastic crates. They hold books. I’ve always thought the books on the shelves were more important than the shelves themselves.

I like shopping. I find pretty things. I rarely buy them. Why buy a flower-shaped spatula when the black plastic one my mom gave me flips my grilled cheese sandwiches fine already?

Even my clothes are mostly functional. My work wardrobe includes gray, brown, and black pants, solid colored shirts and sweaters. Basic. Functional. Attractive perhaps, but not necessarily super-fashionable or striking. Maybe the one exception is the t-shirts I own–band shirts or Threadless. But those are comfortable and sometimes quirky.

I sat in my new bedroom thinking about this over the weekend. My new bedroom has yellow walls, and it’s the first time in my whole life that I’ve lived in a painted room. I’ve considered painting before, but why bother when white works just fine, and I can cover the white with posters and pictures? Functional.

The one exception seems to be the awesome radio from the 1940s that I found at an antique store years ago. It doesn’t work–not functional at all. It is, however, beautiful: old knobs and buttons, beautiful dark wood.

The more I write about the things I own, the more I realize how reflective they are of my personality. I work. I go to school so that I can work some more. Much of my time is dedicated to these two pursuits, as it probably should be. But in my relationships with people–I often feel like I have to be needed, like I have to serve some purpose in others’ lives in order to be friends. Many of my relationships evolve from a point in time when someone needed me–as a tutor, as a study partner, etc. When acquaintances call or email me, I wonder what they need from me. I’ve long seen myself as mostly functional, less merely enjoyable. I often structure my identity on what people want from me. I know how to be useful; I don’t always know how to just be and let others enjoy me without wondering what they want from me. I do that sometimes even with my closest friends. Not always, just occasionally.

It doesn’t always have to be that way. I don’t really know what this realization means for me. Maybe it’s okay that I’m functional and not stylish; maybe that’s what works for me. It certainly seems to be my natural tendency. It’s an interesting observation.

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