Decorating As A Weapon

It started on a cool and beautiful North Carolinian day. The chill in the air was one promise of the upcoming Christmas holidays, as were the gorgeous poinsettias, fake snow, and light-stringed decorations which stocked every store in sight. Of course, me being me, I couldn’t help myself: I bought a bunch of said Christmas decorations and promptly decorated my apartment — white for the Swedish vibe I had in my room, and cardinal red to spice up the drab living room and kitchen I shared with two other roommates.

Now, at the risk of going on a tangent, decorating is a hobby generally viewed upon as soft and artistic. It’s about beautifying a place; and it’s hard to find an argument in the art of beautifying things. It’s hard to assume that Christmas cheer and carefully placed baskets from Home Goods would inspire any sort of disagreement.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when it drove one of my more disagreeable roommates up the wall.

The decor I’d brought into our generally ignored living room (with no curtains, only blinds over the living room) suddenly became a way to launch a silent apartment war. The thermostat lay abandoned, as were any possible arguments over what temperature was livable for a human being. Instead, my arrangements became a chessboard of available moves. My roommate would move the decorations I’d placed in the arrangement she liked, and I would move them back. The placemats (a stormy grey with silver tracing on the side that I grabbed at Big Lots, which unbelievably has a lot of gorgeous Christmas decor) were moved every other hour — to the side, and then back to their destined places around the centerpiece, a small pedestal with a wooden cage that held a fake red cardinal, surrounded by flocked plant leaves. An outsider might think we had a poltergeist in our home. I, however, had found myself with a completely unexpected arsenal in my back pocket: my decorating abilities. I soon followed with more decorations.

Why, exactly, did my roommate find my decorating such an issue?

When you move into a new home, you establish your presence and your identity in those walls. Look around your room: whether you realize it or not, you’ll see a place that reflects who you are — it feels homey because it’s recognizable, like finding yourself in the mirror. When you have to share a home with roommates, however, this attempt to establish yourself can become a fight. Roommates can become unintentionally (or intentionally) bossy due to the “stake” they already have on the apartment: they might have provided the living room furniture and the TV, which for some reason, makes people think they sometimes have a bigger right to be in that shared space than you do.

For this reason, when you move into a shared apartment, make sure to move your things with you, and not just into your bedroom. Establish your presence in shared spaces so your roommates don’t expect you to sneak around. This might seem like being overly aggressive towards your roommates, but it’s really just a silent way to psychologically establish terms of agreement. If you can combine decorations together and create a space that’s comfortable for all of you, then you may find you and your roommates are more likely to relax together in that space — and get along.

When you use this move in tactic, pick things that won’t be a fight. Don’t bring the table that’s been in your family for generations and expect your roommates not to eat on it. You and your roommates will all have different living habits, and bringing stuff that you’re not overly defensive of (or putting it in a safe place, at least) will make for better grounds to getting along. On the other hand, if your roommates are treating your things with careless abandon, feel free to raise a fuss about it: it’s your home and you have a right to be treated with respect.

Last of all: if your roommate(s) is being unreasonably bossy towards you and the way you live in your apartment, and you need a way to gain the upper hand and ensure you’re treated better, then you might use decorating as your weapon of choice. Bossy roommates often turn to engaging in territorial disputes, chasing everybody else out shared spaces and acting as if you are the guest in the apartment. Adding decorations puts your mark on your home and says that it is your place, too. Your roommates may back down after you make this assertion, and you might get along better after that. If the little decorations don’t do it, add in the bigger stuff: bar chairs, end tables for the couch, etc. Offer to replace things like the dining table or the couch. Since these are the primary objects in a living and dining room, stopping your roomie from letting her think you’re using her things might take away the source of some of her bossiness. (Unless your roommate is a guy, in which case, it would be he.)

And, you know, if that doesn’t happen, go decorating-nuts. Replace everything in the middle of the night and make your roommate think they have the wrong apartment. Buy a wig and instruct guests to call you by a different name. And if you do, please video it and send to me (because that would be awesome).

So, now you have it: my wild Christmas story of the year.

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