Fraught with décor – Daily Californian

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By | Staff
Before this past year, I never spent money on décor. My bedroom was a largely empty vessel during all of high school for a couple reasons: No one was having sex with me, and decorating is hard. I also have a very particular taste. What I actually mean is I have expensive taste well beyond the means of my bleak financial reality as a student. In August, I moved into my first studio apartment, and have since been facing the artistic and financial hardships of décor.
Décor is an often overwhelming art of curation. I’m into fashion, but my whole closet doesn’t need to match. On top of this, there are apparent rules to decorating an apartment. How many pillows does one need for a bedroom? The internet says six to ten pillows per bedroom — enough to theoretically sleep with the entire Fellowship of the Ring. 
Eschewing Internet guides, the first step in my décor journey was actually not pillows, but buying a bed frame. I’m not a skater, so I can’t lean back on that as an excuse. I have terrible balance, and sometimes I’ll go to bars or events where strangers will tell me to say I seem tense, which seems like something a skater shouldn’t be. Anyway, I needed a bed frame because I’m an adult male who can’t skateboard. 
After acquiring a bedframe and a few other essentials, my apartment is still mostly unfinished. I prefer to accrue things slowly because I’m afraid of the possibility of suddenly hating my surroundings. More accurately, I’m afraid of hating the version of myself that bought all my décor. I find this is less likely if you act slowly. I have a morbid fascination with the Catholic Church, an institution that thinks in hundred-, perhaps thousand-year increments. In décor, I think it pays to think a little like a pope. 
The urge to act slowly in curating my space is compounded by the fact that everything nice-looking costs one billion dollars — there are many ugly things that also cost this much, to be fair. Décor is an art form often degraded by its own prohibitive costs. When I find something I like at a reasonable price, such as my vintage lithograph of a rabbi and two nuns on a bicycle, it feels like a victory. Decorating on a budget however, is a time consuming and laborious pursuit. 
Rather than continuing to risk life and limb by slowly stealing furniture out of the chancellor’s mansion until someone notices, I’m trying to reshape how I think about my apartment. I’m looking at my radiator. It was removed after leaking into my downstairs neighbor’s apartment for months. 
I don’t feel too bad because I sense that my neighbor resents me for living above them, just as I often resent them for living below me. Unwanted closeness breeds resentment, and I think the tension between us is the same I feel with someone brushing my shoulder on a crowded bus. 
Where the radiator used to stand, there’s a pipe which spews steam into my apartment with a high-pitched squeal, making it incredibly humid but not warm. Its damp, blackened wooden floor panels have been torn up, creating a mostly unimpeded view to my downstairs neighbor, whom I can hear shuffling in their sheets. A mismatched block of wood has been haphazardly placed over this opening, but there are gaps where I imagine the light from my apartment soaks through at night after they’ve turned their lights off. I wonder if this bothers them. 
The radiator stands by this opening, pale gray with scattered marks of blue paint. The radiator is older than me and might be as old as my grandfather, who both fought in World War II and happens to be dead. This fatigued mold of cast iron is clearly out of place, as it sits directly in front of a large street facing window between a turntable and speakers. It makes a corner of my room feel like a feature in a Brutalist art exhibit. In a way, I like this. My nonfunctional radiator is doing more for my apartment now unhooked from its pipe than it ever did asthmatically huffing steam into the air. 
When a friend comes over, I immediately bring them to this corner. I think this spot is coincidentally amusing, its humor a product of being an unfinished segment in an otherwise structurally whole apartment. 
I’m trying to become comfortable with my apartment feeling unfinished. With any new addition, whether it be a plant or a lithograph, I feel I’m making progress on a puzzle — the completion of which signifies a kind of put-togetherness, some level of adulthood. As I figure out the art of décor, I’m also learning to enjoy the slightly chaotic but amusing effect of an unfinished home. 
Ryan McCullough writes the Monday A&E column on exploring the irritations of art. Contact him at [email protected].
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