Avoiding the Misspent Life

As we are moving in ten days, things here are a little upside-down. It’s not a tight ship in the best of times, but now I am forgetting even regular events such as sports practices. And my anniversary. People are starting to say things like, “This just isn’t like you.”

Which could be a good thing. Though I’ve never relished nor revered housekeeping, my house is normally tidy; now it is a mess. I loathe a mess – visual clutter that reads like static during your favorite song (before there was satellite.) That said, my desk is usually piled high with several stacks of projects in the works. Indistinguishable to the unfamiliar eye there is an order only to its owner. Also, our kitchen island has always been catch-all to everyone who can reach it.

Have you ever worked retail? (I swear I’m bringing this all together, just hang in there.) I have worked a lot of retail. When you work retail you have a lot of dead time that you can’t really fill like you fill dead time in an office setting. You can’t wander off to get coffee or pop down to accounting to see if the asap check you requested is ready. You are stuck. If you’re lucky, you’re stuck at the same counter, on the same floor, in the same department with someone amusing. And if you are, you will find that you know a shocking amount about this person within about three hours.

That is how I now feel about Mary Randolph Carter after reading her book, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life. To begin, her book opens with images of Alexander Calder’s home and studio, which I recognized immediately, and then moves to her first case history of Oberto Gili. I have had images from Gili’s house in Italy in my files for years and then there is a brief essay on Gili’s theory of “The Positive Side of Having a Messy Desk.”

And that is just page 44 and from that moment I knew that Carter and I would be off and running if we were stuck in handbags from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. All good things messy are in there – dogs and kids and cooking. Her book is a compilation of images of incredibly personal homes (and no, not all are) and the thoughts of the both the owners and the author about what makes them that way.

I am thinking a lot, lately, about what makes a home and what to keep and carry with. This book is a conversation about all of those things and we are quite lucky to eavesdrop on Carter and her friends. I wish I’d written it myself, and not just because of the product, but for the process.
It is significant, too, I think, that Rizzoli published it. Carter, who has been involved with advertising and publishing for Ralph Lauren for over twenty years and has authored several books, was not exactly a big risk. Still, this is not a flashy book chocked full of of-the-moment interiors. It’s a thoughtful book. A book to read. A book to recommend.
All images from A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life, the title of which was inspired by a doormat from a discount store, which endeared it to me immediately. The images are of, from top, Gili’s home office in New York, Carter’s sister, Liza Carter Norton’s kitchen, Carter’s son and daughter-in-law’s unmade bed, Natalie Gibson and Jon Wealleans front door and Carter’s current studio in a recently renovated barn. And its white walls. Mary Randolph Carter is both author and photographer of all the images in the book. Which does make me think she would have been promoted to management straight away while I floundered in mid-priced shoes trying to make my quotas.
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail      rssrss

37 thoughts on “Avoiding the Misspent Life

  1. Our move was going to be organized. I started early, packed like things together, labeled the boxes and even stacked them in groups that made sense.

    And in the end I still had those jumbled boxes of underwear, CDs, barbeque tongs and the electric broom. And I was carrying them to the car 15 minutes before the new owners took possession.

    Moving is awful. If you get Mr. B, the boys, Rosie and the curtains to the next house and don't forget anything at the old, you've won.

  2. David – I am still in the delusional stage, though I can see that scenario coming (as it is exactly how I moved the last time.) You do make me laugh.

  3. Oh so many things to say. Firstly, so glad to see you back to your witty, connect the dots self. Secondly, my thoughts are with you – moving is just dreadful – my last move was to a house next door – which actually made it worse – could never decide what was small enough to just carry over. And have been so looking forward to this book – I also was sold just by the title. My office at work was notoriously messy (according to others) but I knew exactly where everything was. And laughed out loud at the very last sentence in the credits. Good luck with everything!

  4. I will buy that title! I'm impressed that you are philosophizing about the moving process when your's is so imminent. I probably still have some boxes intact from my last move 7 years ago — so not to misspend my life? hard to say!

  5. Thank you for the warnings – we move Dec 10th! I just got the boxes, but go away this week for 4 day. When I get back I will start! Agh!

  6. I should avoid the word 'perfect' but I thought this came together perfectly. (You know I've been anxious to read your take on the book.) Personal is definitely the key — personal and creative.

    BTW: Liza's kitchen, Gili's place and the blue door are all pulling me in again and again as flip through the book on the fifth go-round 🙂

  7. I can't wait to ignore the stacks on my desk and get this book.
    I hope you find a house with a studio like Carter's.

  8. I lived where I live now for six years when I realized that was longer than I'd lived in any one house my whole life. I've now been there more than 25 years and I sometimes think I miss the newness and excitement of packing and moving, the re-nesting. Then I slap myself awake and count my blessings again. I'm popping over to Amazon to buy that book.

  9. If it is any comfort, when we moved in to our home, I was still working full time in the city. I made it to work the next day and everyone remarked how pulled together I was for having survived the move. I simply replied, "Well, just don't look too closely, I can't say that my lingerie is matching." I think we must humor ourselves during stressful, cluttered days of life.

    One of my sons friends tells them that making the bed is something he does when he goes to sleep at night…it is a waste of time.

    Keep breathing.

  10. It's amazing how disrupting "our nest" can be off putting even when the new nest is better! You'll do a great job getting it all done, I just know it. And, I must get this book.

    Good luck my friend!


  11. I feel your pain. I knew where everything was in my house, but when the film crew came in a few weeks ago, they moved everything including all of the furniture. Not I can't find anything. And when I do, it's not in any place I would ever put it!!! UGH!

    And I am a huge fan of Carters. I will have to order this book.

  12. Moving is torment. Throw in emotions and it just could equal the perfect storm. But, do it with humor and reflection and the experience and stories will sustain you for the next time…or at the very least evolve into great advice for others!

  13. What a beautiful post — sheer, quiet genius at work.
    Moves are certainly horrendous but can surely prove both life-affirming and transformative.
    Soldier on and as you do, I will continue to selfishly indulge in your poetic and practical commentary.

    Cheers, Alcira


  14. I like everything in my home to be perfect- except the kitchen is always a mess, as it's a catch all of life's overflow!!!

    I am SO EXCITED for your new home and to see how you decorate it!!!!!!( most especially the dining room!lol)

  15. I had to laugh at your retail analogy as I did it in college and now am back to it in retirement. Am looking forward to Carter's book as I have been following her since she was a college editor at Mlle. with Mary Emmerling and Mary Cantwell. The three divine Marys!

  16. Looks like a wonderful book. Just ordered it. I am trying to tackle my pantry today…lots of clutter. I'm creative and so are my kids, so we have clutter everywhere. Drives my husband nuts…I keep telling him it's a sign of creative genius. He's not buying it.

  17. So glad that amidst all of the chaos, you still stole time to read and share a great book. Life is messy and some of the best moments are rarely those that take place when everything is in its place perfection. If you haven't read David Easton's book, maybe you'll find the time. His perfect home now sold is anything but now. The soul moved with him. Looking forward to the results of your newest soul search.

  18. I always start out early. Everything we are not going to use in the next couple of weeks boxed and labeled. The down to the wire, as David said, boxes with everything imaginable toseed in!!

    Art by Karena

  19. PS – Good luck with the move. I like moving, it's crazy, but it gives you an excuse to just let it all hang out. You have a reason to be messy and unfocused. Hope it all goes smoothly. Long baths at night helped me cope with my move 2 years ago.

  20. Hang in there, moving is a process. And like all process events, it seems to wander its own course; miraculously the end product does materialize and life does return to a more even flow. Blessings. Mary (I must be great as I have a messy desk)

  21. The book sounds marvelous. And we have the same bed. Purchased in 1973 at Westport Flea Market with wedding money my mother gave us for a bedroom suite, just as her parents did for her and her sister. Our 2 brass curlies at head and foot have not been painted and still show as brass, but we share their challenge in dealing with the bedding, especially at the footboard. In her view, Misspent Money, in ours, A Treasure.

    As for the move, "This too shall pass". (Noreen Kraft, NDS Lower School)

  22. Oh my thoughts are with you!! We just moved in June…it was horrible, and now we will have to move again soon due to a "situation" that happened in our new house. Why does it have to be so crazy?
    The book sounds fabulous and makes me happy to have a messy desk – always…and piles everywhere too (I work part time from home), I like knowing that it all represents not having a misspent life, bless Mary for justifying our interested and busy spirits!

    My most heartfelt wishes for a smooth and easy transition to your new home despite the odds saying otherwise! xo J~

  23. I'll just warn you that if you don't have professional movers, you may end up in a fix such as we did when we sold & bought our houses: 3 U-hauls! First was the big truck, "that should be more than enough" said the architect & interior designer. So much for space planning! #2, on to the trailer: "no need for a larger one the medium is fine." Finally, #3, on the actual closing day, after only 3 hours of sleep, the last smaller truck…mostly filled. Egaads, I will NEVER move again! That was the end of August and I'm still trying to unclutter the mess.
    Much better luck to you Mrs. B!!!

  24. I had moved 31 times before I was 18 years old, so you can imagine when I read certain kinds of memoirs I think, oh, not so bad. In any case, moving is a nightmare even under the best of circumstances, like when someone comes & packs everything for you.
    When I moved out on my own I did not move again for 18 years and had to be sandblasted out of my apt. to surburbia.
    10 days? Give yourself a break!

  25. Moving. Something I can relate to. Best to just plow ahead….some of it will be a blur, thankfully. Like the day 1 of 2 trucks showed up at this house. It did not have the beds. I honestly can't remember how we went from that to being settled!

    I love a thoughtful book and Rizzoli is a wonderful publisher….so this is going in my next Amazon order.

    Good luck in the days to come!!!

  26. My kitchen has a catch all too. It drives me crazy! What are you to do. The pictures are so honest, can't wait to read it.

  27. Here's to you, Mrs. Blandings and all your friends!!! In the midst of the turmoil of leaving your home sweet home, thanks for the visit to my imperfect book and the well-spent lives and lived-in homes of heroes and friends like Alexander and Louisa Calder and that wonderfully ragtag Bloomsbury group and all my case histories who have given themselves permission to live in their homes with clutter and comfort and not too much worry about things perfectly in place! Here's to your new life in your new Home and all the lovely memories you pack up to take along!

  28. Every year at beginning of the school year (which is really like my own personal New Years – forget January 1), I resolve to spend 30 minutes a day picking up, tidying up, organizing. It goes splendidly for about a week, then I start to focus on other things. I might have to read this book – for good quotes to share with my husband when he gets home from a business trip to stacks of things here and there.

  29. Amen! I suddenly feel so much better about the stacks and the clutter in my own house. Every corner has a pile. Sometimes they haunt me… they shouldn't. It means my priorities are straight! 🙂
    Thanks Mrs. B!
    ps- off to amazon to buy the book!

  30. Dear Dear Mrs. Blanding,
    I just came across these wonderful thoughts you posted a year ago. Now the book is old and you are moved, but I am still moved by what you said that day, making time to write about my vision of things always a little tilty, wobby, tarnished and gloriously imperfect. Oh, to have visited the Calder's wonderful kitchen.

    imperfectly yours, as always–Carter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *