When my wife and I split, I moved into the cheap back room of a Hollywood house. It was a shade of beige that reminded me of Al Qaeda recruitment videos — so I painted it dark blue. I did a terrible job, of course, but the difference was remarkable. I also bought a sleek glass desk on Craigslist and a handsome wooden nightstand at a thrift store down the block. I displayed my humble record collection, plus a pair of Lichtenstein prints. It wasn’t the height of home design, and it didn’t need to be. It was mine.
I’m glad I made the (minimal) effort. The life of a single straight dude is often accidentally spartan. Not in the sense that he forgoes luxury or comfort — he certainly favors these — but in his indifference to the trappings that define a home. For him, the apartment is only shelter, a vessel or limbo.
These living spaces are haunted by emptiness, the harsh glare of a single lamp cast on four untouched, off-white walls. There is nothing here without an immediate and obvious function: a high-def TV and game console for entertainment, a chair in which to enjoy said entertainment, and perhaps a lone bowl and single fork, equipment for meals of Kraft mac and cheese, which was cooked in a pot of mysterious provenance. Perhaps there is another small sign or two of habitation — an empty can of Red Bull, a dusty oscillating fan — and these become stray accent pieces, for want of actual decoration.
None of this is a problem for the occupant. The replies to these kinds of tweets are clogged with dudes protesting that a “simplistic” approach to furnishing one’s abode is preferable to a “cluttered” style. They claim to be saving money, and hardly in their barren chambers unless it is to sleep. But a minimalist aesthetic is more complex than the sheer absence of stuff, and is buying a used bookshelf for $20 a real hit to your retirement account? Do you, uh, read books at all? Because to anyone else who sees your living room, this vibe appears to reflect a lack of spirit, hobbies and imagination. Disinterest in whatever’s not on a screen looks more like contempt for human textures.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t make you materialistic to have a nice houseplant! And you don’t need to hang up anything “highbrow” — get a Scarface poster if you want! Anything to suggest your mind isn’t a smooth, depressing blank.
It’s not just to pamper guests (who will, by the way, appreciate an extra chair to sit on) or impress a date (who will, by the way, appreciate you having a second pillow for them). You — yes, you — will reap the benefits of some meager attention to detail. Objects and colors are part of how we express personality and orient our moods. You can’t pretend it takes no toll on your mental health to spend your leisure hours in a hotel-generic property that bears no trace of ownership, as though it’s a purely transitory area and any moment you may be evicted or called away to Prague on yet another assassination job. However “practical” this set-up feels, it neglects the soul and sacrifices any potential fulfillment.
I’m also not really buying the line that these arrangements are inherently “cleaner” than places where the resident has bothered to put up coat hooks or make room for a coffee table. One peek at the grimy bathroom or the unsheeted mattress is enough to dispel the idea of hygienic sensitivity, and the carpet, on closer inspection, is sure to be a bonanza of chip crumbs and jizz stains. Quit kidding yourselves, my guys. If anything, additional housewares, art, furniture and lighting will serve to distract from the evidence that you rarely run the vacuum (just kidding, I know you don’t have one of those, either) and have punched a couple holes in the drywall during fits of gamer rage. Trust me.
In fact, the bar is so low that even a weak, misguided stab at thematic unity or stimulation is bound to wow your biannual Tinder match — and allow her to overlook the body-odor funk that has permeated your La-Z-Boy. (Just look at the recent entries on the forum r/malelivingspace.) Don’t you want this sort of enhancement? Wouldn’t it be exciting to glance away from those 28 open porn tabs and let your eyes rest on pleasing patterns and shapes instead of a drab, fluorescent void? No, you’re not a serial killer for not understanding wicker balls — nobody does — and I’m certainly not telling you to pick up the Williams-Sonoma catalog anytime soon. All I’d suggest is that killing time in a featureless people pod is not what you were made to do.
Consider this: More Americans age 18 to 34 live with their parents than in any other situation. To have a residence that’s fully yours is major, as it means you’ve embraced new kinds of responsibility and control. You’re a success — act like it. You can make an apartment cozy or funky, austere or eclectic, but it all begins with an actual choice, as opposed to the boring passivity of not giving a shit. If you don’t, there’s no point to moving out of mom and dad’s garage. A good home is your destiny, waiting to be seized. Somewhere in the world is a welcome mat that belongs outside your door.