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I have a penchant for rearranging furniture, perhaps inherited from Grandma and Mom. I wasn't around when they reorganized their homes, but I always loved the reveal. They'd explain why the new couch position was best and I'd nod in agreement. These makeovers sometimes coincided with new furniture or updated television sets. In Mom’s case, I think Saturdays, when we were at Dad's, inspired her to imagine life without us underfoot. Welcome back to your new-old house!
One Easter, I recall our waterbeds disappearing, replaced by single beds and matching bedside tables. It was both disorienting and thrilling. Our house felt alive, unpredictable. While some kids grew up resisting change, gripping tightly to the idea that their house should remain the same forever, I hold no such beliefs.
After each of these renewals, photographs were taken. If the room once again underwent some rejigging, these images were evidence of how to put it all back together. This restlessness is just a small part of a larger "disease" (our entire family refers to it as such) that compels us to move to entirely new apartments and houses with a frequency familiar to those in witness protection or the military. If we're not scanning real estate apps, you can be certain we have a list of interior projects we're daydreaming about that will finally make our living space perfect.
That's why I'm obsessed with DIY home renovation and cleaning videos on TikTok. I'm especially drawn to those where people are "refreshing" their spaces, a subcategory of cleaning videos. Once a bed frame has been shifted from the wall or a bookshelf has been pushed ajar to remove dust bunnies and hair ties, the desire to keep rearranging takes hold. In under 60 seconds, the living room or bedroom morphs into an entirely new space.
There is one account that I love, but it also unnerves me. The apartment has wonderful light, and its aesthetic is not dissimilar to my own—leafy plants, neutral colors and textures, furniture from ads on Instagram. It showcases candles, objects, and books I also possess. Each video features an early 30s, white, skinny, hipster male in action while his disembodied voiceover explains the intentions behind his choices. At the end, he sits on the couch or reclines on the bed in its new position. He never smiles or looks at the camera, so we only know if he's satisfied because he says so in his voiceover.
To me, he seems lonely, somewhat bored, as if he has an abundance of time on his hands. Maybe he just got dumped. I watch his videos wondering how he can appear so at home yet totally uncomfortable at the same time. I have never known a man who lives so stylishly yet seems devoid of personality. He's not scary; this isn't the home of an American Psycho. I'm projecting, but I don't get the sense that he is gay, or that he was particularly popular growing up. His space is so oppressively well-curated, and yet, even after watching dozens of his videos, I feel like I know nothing about his life outside of his beige apartment. I like to imagine that in his recent past, he was a sloppy boy who watched sports and had a bar top table stained with beer rings. Maybe he met a stylish girl, and moved in with her, adopting her impeccable taste as his own. After graduating from design school she moved back to her hometown to open a Scandinavian-inspired homewares store and he was heartbroken and determined to keep up the ruse.
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I once read that the way we talk about other people reflects the way we talk about ourselves. Am I fascinated (and slightly disturbed) by this guy because he reminds me of me? Whenever I'm "refreshing" my house, I repeat the mantra: Everything in its right place. It calms me to know things are clean, and exactly where they should be. All of this feels performative, even if I'm not recording videos of myself doing it. I like to stand back and observe the perfection from a distance, capturing mental pictures of its pristine state before it is inevitably made wrong by interacting with it. I'm aware there is a deeper element here related to control and perfectionism. Nothing about TT guy's space particularly piques my curiosity about what happened in his life (and childhood) to inspire this, but perhaps that's how people feel about me when they visit.
Recently, someone entered my house and asked, "Is it always this clean?" Their tone carried a mix of awe and something more complex. Disgust? Discomfort? Like, "Are you a nutjob?" If I could ignore the sirens in my head, perhaps I'd sit down amidst the cat hair and unfluffed couch cushions and read a hundred pages of a novel. Of course, once the house is spotless, I often do sit, with deep pleasure and satisfaction, just looking at the rightness of it all.
In addition to taking photographs of rooms newly “refreshed”, I love to take photographs of rooms when they are empty. This was taken in the final moments before I handed over the keys to a new owner in Feb 2021. I can smell the Murphy’s oil I used on the floor, the medicinal, candied scent of the highlighter yellow cleaner I scrubbed the kitchen with. I keep a folder of these kind of images, and return to them often. They’re a tremendous comfort.