The saga of the broken office chair

I am writing this while sitting on an office chair with a hole in it. It’s a Restoration Hardware dining chair that has been repurposed for my office, but it turns out that dining room chairs are perhaps not meant to be sat upon for 40 hours a week. Or else I sit in a particularly violent fashion. In any case, the seat ripped a few years ago. I solved this problem by putting a blanket on top of the hole. Someone else might have fixed this problem by recovering the chair. Or buying a new chair. I look at my office chair daily and think “hmm, that doesn’t look so good.” But I have not taken further action.

This behavioral pattern continues around the house. The stuffing is coming out of our living room sofa. I’d like nicer pillows and bedding and some art on the master bedroom wall. I want to redo my kitchen someday. I want to build a mantle over the fireplace in the living room. I want to actually get the screens on the windows in the master bedroom so I can sleep with the windows open sometimes and enjoy spring or fall breezes. I fantasize about giant planters with mums.

These are not new fantasies. These are also not fleeting fantasies; since I work from home, I am in my house all the time. Yet when it comes to my physical surroundings, I seem to have a very strong tendency to just make do.

I have been pondering why this is. The house is clean; I make sure that happens. It is not that I don’t value decoration. I subscribe to a handful of design magazines, and I love the idea of a fancy, decorated house. When we moved into this house 6 years ago I hired a real designer to choose furniture and such (that’s how I wound up with an elegant office chair; I’ve bought the Aeron types in the past and really don’t like them). But then we stopped before much accessorizing happened, and most of the projects we didn’t do then have continued to not be done now.

I could tell myself that “I don’t have time” but we all know that means “it’s not a priority.” This is undoubtedly true in my case. A friend with a demanding job and many children recently moved to a new house. It is gorgeously decorated. She chose the paint colors and accessories and such. There are no barriers to my doing this, but for me it is like speaking in another language. I have the ability to execute on things I care about. And yet I do not look at my bed, think I’d like fancier pillows, and actually get myself to a store to buy said pillows, or order said pillows online, or hire someone to do that.

Maybe it’s just that I’m cheap. In a more charitable vision of it, my mind is too focused on loftier things to even notice the flaws in this physical world (ha ha. Not really). I’m still pondering whether I should just accept this, or do something to change it. But the situation is kind of sad. The other morning, my husband pulled down a dish from the cupboard and noted that he’d gotten it secondhand from his brother-in-law’s mom, who was giving some stuff away when he was setting up his first apartment. He noted that this woman would be shocked to see that 25 years later he was still using her old stuff. I asked my husband if he was shocked that he’d married a woman who hadn’t insisted on getting rid of old castoff kitchen items. The answer, of course, is no — we’re well-suited for each other in this regard, though I’m not sure the dynamic is all that great if the goal is decor that I am thrilled to see.

Post script: Sometimes writing about things is good for processing them. I wrote this post two weeks ago, then decided I should just shut up and do something about these various house woes. I went to the Restoration Hardware website, and bought a replacement chair (the same style — I do like how it looks!). The shipping charges were ridiculous (it’s a flat rate, but I just wanted one chair!) It was delivered last week. That inspired me to order the correct size pillows for the decorative shams on my bed. My husband went to the hardware store and bought new trash cans too. We are moving up in the world!

29 thoughts on “The saga of the broken office chair

  1. HMM. While I am definitely not an underbuyer in general, I also avoid and procrastinate on household decor-type purchases. I actually really just don’t notice my surroundings all that much! I’ll go with the ‘focused on loftier things’ excuse although sometimes those loftier things are like . . . my clothes! ha.

    1. @SHU- yes, I think it’s a combo of underbuying, not knowing what works (and hence being intimidated) and also not caring all that much. Clothes have long fallen in the same category for all the same reasons, but my wardrobe has gotten appreciably better in the past few years due to the plethora of styling services. Also, at least on clothes, I respond to obvious needs — like clothes I can speak in or be on TV in. Probably the same with the house — we did redo two bathrooms 2 years ago when I knew we were going to host a large party. Perhaps I should aim to host another large party to force some other stuff. I probably just need to call a decorator and be done with it.

  2. Maybe the snowball effect will kick in. Heck- maybe in two weeks you’ll have that renovated kitchen!


    I feel like I’ve heard you distance yourself a bit from the “external clutter messes with your internal mind” philosophy. You’ve maintained (I think) that you aren’t bothered much by a few piles here and there. The same seems to hold true for general decorating. It just doesn’t sound like it bothers you that much.

    That being said, I’d be really curious what observations you have if you really went on a decorating tear and invested the time/energy/money toward it. Maybe it would confirm what you thought, or maybe you’d get a huge lift out of it.

    1. @Katherine – I don’t mind piles. I do mind piles when they cause chaos. All my piles are quite organized, if you can believe it. If there is an unopened bill in the giant mail pile, it has not been paid. If it is opened, it has been paid. My husband and I both had a freak out with an envelope he put on my desk, thinking it was a bank statement not a bill. It turned out to be a bill when I opened it, and then we had to figure out how to make it obvious to him that he still needed to pay it during the designated bill pay time. The pile on my desk is “active” — so stuff like the school picture forms that have not yet been done. If it’s in the bin on my desk, it has been dealt with, or is a ticket for an upcoming event (so it doesn’t need to be retrieved until the event itself).

      I probably will devote some significant time/energy/money to decorating over the next year if we decide to stay in this house, which I think we probably will.

  3. Hah! The only reason I have coordinating furniture is because when I moved to Grad School Apartment, I moved to a town that loves Vintage things. I don’t think I even went furniture shopping, my dad told some store owner “she loves Mad Men”, and 3 days later, I ended up with 1960s furniture. I’ve worn through the seats of my dining room/desk chairs, and just threw a towel on top about a year ago. My dishes are my mom’s least favorite wedding presents from the 1980s…I cringe when I see them, but I really don’t care that badly. It’s a family thing-after 30 years of marriage, my parents FINALLY hired an interior designer for nice furniture and decor.

    And you’re right-it’s totally not a priority for me. I have very limited time (got approval to write my dissertation!), and I’d rather spend it seeing my friends, writing, or exploring creative avenues I do enjoy.

    1. @DV – I don’t think anyone expects grad school apartments to be well decorated! People forget that IKEA was a huge design advance, precisely because it was targeting the grad school apartment market, and was designed to serve people who really need to decorate that apartment TODAY. Before that, there was really not much.

  4. What @Katherine said. I am definitely a person whose environment really impacts mood (and thus need to be clutter-free before I can really focus on something), but it sounds like it doesn’t really bother you much.

    We just moved into a house built in 2008, a typical new construction cookie cutter house and while I like it overall, there are a few things that are really bugging me, like the paint in the master bedroom and bath, and the crazypants layout of that bathroom. So much wasted space. It’s the sort of thing that I notice, and get annoyed by every time I go in there, which is multiple times a day. So we’ve already scheduled a couple of contractors to come take a look. We vowed to make changes in this house sooner – in the last house we waited 10 years, and only enjoyed the changes for about 3.5 🙁

    1. @ARC – yes, if I ever move again, I’ll probably make sure everything is perfect before I move in, or done in the first 6 months. We did a lot when we first moved in here, but I was pregnant, and once the baby came I was done.

  5. Interesting post! It also made me think of the Ikea couch box you mentioned on the podcast.

    Three thoughts:

    First, do you know if you’re a satisficer (where you set requirements for a purchase and buy the first item that meets the requirements), or a maximizer (you want to make the perfect choice after doing all the research)? If you can train yourself to inch along the spectrum to satisficer, home-related decisions become a lot easier. Most of them really don’t require much research. My husband and I embrace this fully, which made a major renovation less of a hassle (decision-making was easy; living with dust was not), but it works on smaller things too. We purchased a nice walnut media cabinet online one Saturday morning approximately 5-10 minutes after we realized we needed one. Six years later we’re still happy with the decision!

    Second, given your focus on metrics/tracking, have you thought about making a home-related “list of 100 dreams” type spreadsheet, and tackling them in whatever spare moments you have? I use the iPhone “Reminders” app to keep a To Do list of this type. The moment a project comes to mind, I add it to the list. Then, during bits of down time, I can execute on one or two smaller items. It may only take a few minutes waiting in line to find and order new pillows on Amazon! (This is easiest if you’re a satisfier, of course!)

    Third, do you get pleasure out of wearing things out 100%? The sweater with the holes that you can still wear inside… getting the last bits from the shampoo bottle… seeing how low you can go with the groceries in the fridge? If so, and if the mess doesn’t bother you, maybe just embrace that! You might be saving yourself money that can be directed at better stuff (early mortgage repayment! 529 accounts!).

    1. I love Kathleen’s comment.

      I was going to suggest that if you wanted, you could allocate just an hour (a Power Hour as Gretchen Rubin talks about) once a fortnight/ month, and take care of a few house-related things.

      I have a list called a Life Admin list and this is kind-of what I do, because my environment as an ESTJ is very important to me. I really could knock out all these bits of things but we have a household budget for this kind of thing and I find it runs out too soon for my liking 🙂

    2. @Kathleen – I totally like using stuff up. I would have made a great pioneer woman. I actually haven’t gotten rid of the broken chair, even though I have a replacement, because I’m going to try to sew up the hole or recover it and use it elsewhere in the house.

      I am a satisficer on most things in life. I probably should make one of those list of dreams (I’ve been starting on it!)

  6. I have these moments when I’m visiting a friend’s house and marvel at their decor and feel a little bad about myself. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. I mentioned this to my mom and she said, “but stuff like that has never been important to you!”.


    Yesterday I asked hubby to hang a picture I had picked up at a consignment shop. He asked where I wanted it and I said, “I have no idea!”. He responded, “Oh come on. Somebody’s gotta be the girl here.”. LOL!

    1. @Carrie – it is always funny when people assume I must have a preference…and I really do not.

      I wouldn’t say decorating isn’t important to me. I subscribe to Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and HGTV magazines. I really admire the decorating gift in people who have it. I know like anything it’s probably a skill, but it is a skill I have never developed, and I’m not very visually oriented. If there were an easy way to simply write a check and have someone else come and solve all my house problems, I might be very tempted by that option.

  7. This post makes me like you more. You do so much well that learning that your home isn’t decorated to “magazine ready” level makes you human and relatable. What’s the saying…you can have it all but not all at once? You’re a caring wife and mother and a productive & professional writer/speaker. That’s great! Decorating will fit in where it’s supposed to.

  8. We also have a lengthy to do list of home improvement projects. I tend to be pragmatic about it, though. I like nice sheets, so I buy those, and I enjoy them immediately. Similarly, nice shoes look good and are more comfortable than crappy ones, so I am generally willing to spend money on that since I spend a lot of time on my feet. But something like a sham that has no pragmatic purpose that I can identify would get skipped. Similarly, it would be nice to have a couch that didn’t smell like dog urine, but until we no longer have a dog that leaks urine, it makes no sense to replace it. I like the idea of a nice dining room table, but pragmatically we never ate at the one we used to have, and the one I want costs $3000, so it doesn’t seem worth it to me.

    The project on your list that resonated the most with me was getting screens on your bedroom windows. Just do it! We replaced our windows and front door, and it has been one of the best improvements to our quality of life in this house that we could have made. Well that and buying a good fridge. We used Guida, and they were expensive, but only modestly irritating to deal with as contractors go.

    1. @omdg – perhaps I will move the screens to the top of the list! Our beach rental house relied more on screens than AC to cool down, and I loved feeling the breeze as I was sleeping. Obviously my home bedroom will not involve ocean breezes, but still, I think it could be nice.

  9. Okay, I am now inspired to hang the curtains I bought for my room on clearance back in March. It will get done this weekend! I will also purchase a frame for the print my son got for his first birthday (he is 20 months old) and hang it in his room AND hang the heirloom family photograph I had restored for my husband for Father’s Day. It is time to set aside an hour to accomplish these tasks. Thank you for the nudge!

    1. @Gillian – do it! I have gotten through lists of projects in the past by assigning myself 1-2 projects per weekend. When that’s all I need to do, I’m good. If I try to get through 10 things…that’s just discouraging.

  10. I similarly seem to have an ongoing list of things we should just fix/renovate/buy, but never do. The goal was to get a new dining room table BEFORE we became a family of five because we only have 4 chairs, one of which is broken. It is also the same Ikea dining room table I bought 14 years ago when about to start law school. We’ve been a family of 5 for 19 months now–still no dining room table. We sit around our Ikea table-the high chair strapped in the broken seat and one miscellaneous leather chair pulled up to the table. The table and chairs are picked out–as I write this I don’t know what is causing us not to pull the trigger. Frugality, yes. But I think moreso–then I have to worry about cleaning the table properly. My kids are still young and so messy–do I actually want a nice table? Plus, I know from past renovations/paint jobs–I just get used to the new niceness. The happiness of a new item doesn’t last long with me unless it is really truly necessary.

    1. @EB – this is one of the things holding me back on buying a new sofa. The kids wrecked the current one. And I still have the same kids! But on some level, this is sort of silly because, yes, I will probably have to buy another new sofa in my life at some point after the next one. Nothing lasts forever. Whether that purchase comes a year or two earlier than it otherwise might is probably not a huge deal.

  11. I recently bought a new den suite after procrastinating for years. They are expensive, and I have very little decorating savvy. Due to the ravaged nature of my last one, I went practical and chose heavy duty dark brown leather. Not my favorite, but it buys me a few years until the kids get older. Now if I could just talk myself into getting the seats to my kitchen table recovered. They were once white and now tannish-brown with darker speckles. Yuck. (but still not really on the priority list 🙁 )

  12. I have the same problem (if that’s the right word for it). In our old house, we lived with many things we wanted to change for years, and only renovated when we were getting ready to put it on the market. I didn’t want to make a mistake on a big investment that I would have to live with for years. At that point, I knew we wouldn’t be living there, so I was able to make fast decisions about everything, just going with what was most neutral. Turns out my design instincts aren’t so bad and I just needed to do it. It was beautiful but we only enjoyed it for 3 months until we moved out. In our new house, we hosted a big party about a year after we moved in and we finally re-landscaped and I spent the two weeks prior to the party finishing unpacking, hanging pictures and decorating. Apparently I just really work well under deadlines (or it finally became a priority)! I hosted another big party last year and got new light fixtures installed and a few more design projects done. Now we need a new sofa/chairs/rug for our living room. I’m about to sign up to host another big party in January just so that I can have another deadline to get these big purchases made – I know it will never happen without that real deadline!

    1. @Shelley – I agree that having a party is a great forcing mechanism. We got a dining room table as a rush job because I was hosting Thanksgiving that first year in this house. We redid two bathrooms because we were having a large party. So I guess I just need to plan another one to redo the other stuff!

  13. Since any ongoing concerns about your living space continually siphon away some degree of mental energy from other matters, it’s definitely worthwhile to do a walk-through of your whole house, making a room-by-room list of everything you want to discard, fix, replace, acquire, etc.

    This can feel pretty overwhelming if the house is big and/or the list is long, but there’s no need to organize or prioritize the list at this point. The time you spend just writing it all down will be enough to bump all those things a little further up through the layers of your subconscious so that you’ll notice that you suddenly start finding the exact things you’ve been needing or wanting for years without even having to set aside specific times to shop for them.

    Mentally re-categorizing amorphous pipe-dreams as specific tasks that are already in process (by writing them all down on a real list) gets your subconscious on-task and on-side passively keeping an eye out for all the household items you’re seeking, instead of negatively nagging that you have no time for home improvements, have no flair for home decor, etc.

    By all means prioritize your initial list as the spirit moves you, but there’s no need to force yourself to do this if you’re feeling overwhelmed. The more items–big or small, high or low priority–you can go back and cross off your list, the more momentum will be generated to do more, regardless of the order you do them in.

    In terms of actively dedicating chunks of time and/or money to specific household projects, since you can’t change everything at once, I advise my feng shui clients to make the most of their emotional momentum by starting either with whatever they feel the most excited about changing or with whatever annoys them the most in its current state.

    As to when and whether one “should” or “shouldn’t” replace old things with new things, there’s no one right answer. As sentient beings, we react to every object we see or use every time we see or use it, and each positive or negative reaction raises or lowers our mood and energy level accordingly. So it’s important to keep in mind that different people can react to the same objects in different ways–e.g., some people might get a lift from being surrounded by shiny, new things, while others might find this feels cold and soulless.

    I personally believe we as a society are appallingly wasteful and would do well to heed the old New England adage: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without–within reason. I spent years burning and scraping toast made with my grandmother’s old toaster oven (that had been handed up to her by a niece), only to replace it with another secondhand toaster oven (passed on to me by a friend who was getting married and discarding duplicate kitchen equipment) that turned out to be yet another “roulette toaster” before I finally learned my lesson and bought myself a new toaster oven that works properly, making my mornings much less painful.

    On the other hand, nowadays it’s very much true that “they don’t make things like they used to,” so I wouldn’t dream of discarding any of my grandmother’s wooden-handled kitchen utensils, aluminum saucepans, etc. that are literally irreplaceable.

    The best litmus test is just to take a moment to notice your reactions to the household objects you see and use on a daily basis and decide accordingly whether to keep or discard them.

    P. S. I also find dedicated office chairs to be extremely uncomfortable and am much happier using an old dining-room chair abandoned by a former roommate as my desk chair. However, I was not happy about the discolored, stained seat cushion that had been shredded by her cat, so I had it re-upholstered and now–as someone who’s never liked sitting at desks–dislike doing so that much less.

    1. @Gwyneth – thanks for your comment! I’m glad to learn I’m not alone in sitting on a dining room chair in my office. We too lived with a wretchedly old toaster for a long time. Then last Christmas I decided I’d had enough and bought my husband a new one. The kids use it daily for toaster waffles and bread and there is less whining over it being burnt. Money well spent!

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