"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." -- William Morris (British designer and writer, 1834 - 1896)

I came across this quote around the same time I became a fan of the furniture and architecture from late 19th - early 20th Century Arts & Crafts movement. I loved the clean and simple lines, the warm woods, and the earthy tones associated with this style. I was tired of the starkness of '80s modern design -- everything black or white, Bauhaus chairs, and those awful Patrick Nagel art girls. I was nesting, and wanted something around me that felt more homey, grounded, permanent, timeless. Unfortunately, as I discovered, a lot of the old Craftsman bungalows were very dark and cramped, and the cool-looking furniture incredibly uncomfortable to sit on for more than a few minutes. Ah, well.

But William Morris' quote stayed with me and has served me well. I was doing exactly the same thing everyone else seemed to be doing: moving on up to the eastside, getting bigger and bigger houses just because my increasing STUFF had nowhere else to go. The minute I got some extra breathing room, my stuff bred and multiplied and suddenly somehow all those extra spaces were filled with more stuff. My stuff was yanking my chain, I realized. But I didn't know what to do about it, how to pare it all down. But Mr. Morris had already figured it out for me: two columns -- useful, beautiful. He kindly modified his statement to recognize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; one man's ceramic tiger sculpture is another man's pellet gun target.

So I began first with becoming far more critical when out shopping. Nothing was coming into my clutter palace unless it had immediate and needed function or it was so beautiful that I could not not have it. Not something useful maybe someday, not something just cute or nice or clever or OK. Useful, beautiful. I walked away from an awful lot of stuff, and my wallet stayed fatter. I tried to use the same thought as I would do my yearly purge of stuff, and tried to be ruthless. If it didn't pass the useful/beautiful test, off to Goodwill or the annual neighborhood garage sale. Clothes, art, furniture, knick knacks, beware: you'd better make yourself busy around here or just charm the hell out of me.

It is just a good general rule, isn't it, and it can play upon itself so well. There is beauty in usefulness, usefulness in beauty, and you can apply it to far more than tangible things. Take on only those things that you need, really need, and the things that are lovely and make your heart feel light and free.

I have no doubt that Elvis' Jungle Room was both useful and beautiful to him, even though it probably would've have made William Morris cringe.