withdrawal

It’s official. I’m an addict. (Luckily, I’m not alone.)

Lately I’ve found myself in the following pattern: I wake up, check Apartment Therapy on my iPhone, get up and make coffee, drag myself to the computer, check Pinterest and Design*Sponge and follow the bread-crumb trail of links from design blog to design blog to design blog, until I realize I’m late for work and hurriedly throw my unwashed hair into a ponytail. I’ve found myself openly coveting other people’s homes, disparaging the sudden spike in Chevron-covered pillows at Target (“now there’s a fad that’s passed its prime!!”), and worrying whether the breezy, beachy shade of faded turquoise I love is becoming too popular for me to love anymore.

I have always been a nester. It’s amazing how you can breathe new life into an old space simply by moving around what’s already there. When I was a very small child, I would rearrange my bedroom on what felt like a weekly basis. I would heave heavy dressers and bed frames across the floor until my spindly little arms were covered in bruises. I have always loved bright colors and patterned fabrics, and have long decorated my apartments with fringy tapestries and original art scored from flea markets and the like. I have always liked the look of a wall crowded with artwork, shelves with books arranged by color, big windows with airy curtains and lots and lots of light.

I have always enjoyed creating spaces on nonexistent budgets that feel warm and welcoming, places that feel like home. And I never — or at least, rarely — judged my ability to do so as anything other than sufficient. Until a handful of years ago, I only vaguely knew what “mid-century modern” meant, I thought “Chevron” was just a gas station, and I considered a wall covered in chalkboard paint to be among the most unique ideas I’d ever seen.

Then, last year, we bought our first house. Here I had a blank canvas — truly mine to do with as I liked! The opportunities were only as limited as my own imagination and my budget would allow. I quickly started combing through the archives at Apartment Therapy and other blogs of its ilk, in search of new ideas. I learned my color-coded bookshelves were trendy, and that they inspired hate and dismay among a large and vocal portion of the design blogosphere. I learned chalkboard walls peaked, oh, three or four years ago. And I learned a whole new vocabulary: “Editing” no applied merely to cleaning up words on a page, but also the knick-knacks cluttering up your living room; “curating” no applied only to museum exhibits, but to the adhesion of certain design aesthetics across entire homes.

I became obsessed. I carried color chips in my purse. I spent hours every night combing over the furniture section of Craigslist. I set up a Pinterest account and starting pinning like a mad woman.

Until last week, when I hit bottom. We were getting ready to host a friend’s surprise birthday party, and the sudden prospect of 40 people in our house caused me to fly into a home-decorating panic. I convinced my husband to paint the living room. And the dining room. And the stairwell. And the hallway. When he finished, the walls looked great, but the furniture suddenly looked wrong. “My god,” I thought, “have those bookshelves always looked so dreary? Has that chair always looked so dingy? Has the love seat always looked so Pottery Barn??”

The room felt cramped and thrown together. It felt juvenile. Had months and months of Apartment Therapy-browsing taught me nothing? Suddenly I hated my own house. Instead of inspiring me to try new things, every new blog post only reinforced the fact that no, I do not live in “Carl and Angie’s Bright and Spacious Bungalow” or “Zed and Fred’s Modern Loft with a Vintage Twist” or any of the other homes that are daily offered up for admiration and envy.

Utterly disgusted with myself and my environs, I Googled every incarnation of “narrow living room furniture arrangement” and clicked until my eyes bled. I bought and returned three sets of curtains, two rugs, and four throw pillows, never settling on a single one. I rearranged our living room five or six times in one night, and then again the next morning. I moved heavy furniture from room to room, up and down the stairs. And in the end, I gave up. Except for one bookcase and the record player stand, everything went right back to where it started.

I began showing up at work looking more and more dejected. “I hate my furniture!” I would tell Emily, my office mate. “I hate my house! It’s all wretched! Every last end table! Every last oak bookcase! What was I thinking?? Didn’t I know that oak was so pedestrian? Why did I buy those?!”

Emily raised an eyebrow. “Have you been reading Apartment Therapy again?” she said.

Rendered speechless by the sheer depth of my own despondency, I merely nodded.

Emily sighed. “You need an intervention,” she said. “You need a detox. You need one week without Apartment Therapy!”

I winced. “What about Pinterest?” I said, meekly.

“No Pinterest, either! And no Craigslist, and no real estate websites. None of it. Cold turkey.”

“But what will I do in the morning?” I said.

“You’ll make coffee, and you’ll take your dog for a walk. Do you remember that you have a dog?”

I realized Emily had a point. “Okay,” I said, collapsing into my chair. “I’ll try it.”

I admit, I cheated the first day. And the second. I couldn’t help myself — I’d posted a comment to an Apartment Therapy story about homemade paper flowers, and I wanted to see if anyone had responded. But I haven’t checked it for two days now. Or any of the other sites on my banished list. And instead of wasting an hour or two online yesterday afternoon, I took the dog for a walk. I found him in a dark corner of the basement, barely able to stand and covered in detritus. He perked up the moment we stepped outside.

Not surprisingly, so did I. I remembered what the sun felt like. And though I had to shield my eyes from its all-too-natural glare, I had to admit it was far more appealing than the flickering of a computer screen. On our way home, I noticed small green buds poking through our neighbor’s yard. The dog and I paused, and as I bent down to admire that bright shock of green, the first sign of spring that confirms the season of new beginnings, I realized something incredibly important — it was the perfect color for a rug in our dining room…