I recently stumbled across this image of Iris Apfel, standing near buckets of paint in a fur coat and lighting her cigarette in a fireplace. I stopped in my tracks, admiring her nonchalance and moxie. If I wore my finery near paint and fire, I'd be a nervous wreck. But there she is, smiling away, blissfully content in the fullness of the moment. I'm not advocating that you own a fur coat or even that, if you do, you should be careless in your treatment of it. But this there are several important lessons that we can take from this charming photo.
1. Use your nice things. I have a dress that, the first time I saw it, I couldn't look away. It was out of my price range, so I forced myself to leave it behind. I thought of it repeatedly over the course of a month, and I checked back several times, just to make sure that it was still there. The longing hadn't subsided, and so finally, I rallied my spare change and tightened the belt in some other ways, and I bought the thing. It was glorious to wear. It fit properly; it was soft; and it made me happy. There aren't many pieces of clothing that give me this feeling. But it's ivory, and I found myself being stingy with the occasions to which I would wear it, for fear that I'd get wine or sauce or any number of other offending substances on it. And now, several months into owning the dress, I realize that I have only worn it twice. And really, that's just plain silly, because it can't give a whole lot of joy by hanging idly in my closet. This picture of Apfel reminds me that if we keep saving the things we love for later, all too often, later will never come. It's better to use the things that give us joy, wrench every drop of enjoyment that we can out of them, love them deeply, and then face the prospect that one day, after they've been thoroughly loved, we will have to part with them.
2. Find humor in the everyday. Just look at the joy on her face! I'm not sure whether she realizes the absurdity of the scene or whether she's just going on her merry way, but either way, it's clear that she's enjoying the moment. When inconvenience strikes, don't get frustrated. Treat it as an absurd moment, filled with opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. I know this may sound silly when it comes to some circumstances. Sitting in rush hour traffic, for example, may not seem like a keen moment for adventure or novelty. But it's all in how you handle it. Maybe it's an opportunity to listen to an audiobook you've really wanted to get into or to learn conversational Swedish. Or maybe it's the chance to experiment with rapping or spoken-word poetry. Or maybe it's the chance to blast out Taylor Swift songs at the top of your lungs or practice your opera voice. And if it makes the people around you laugh and point? So much the better! It's an absurd moment, and you're bringing joy to others during a miserable commute.
3. Do what you feel. There's an odd juxtaposition in this photo between Apfel's exposed heels and the intense warmth of the coat. Apfel is famous for her idiosyncratic style, and she has insisted that the greatest rule to fashion is to dress for yourself and to dress in a way that makes you happy, not according to the principles of others. In her words, "To have style you have to know who you are. What you can carry, what you're comfortable with, what you can afford, what makes you happy." It's the same with our homes. If it makes you happy, then do it. Purple can go with orange. Patterns can go with more patterns. You can have a white couch even if you have children. You can decorate your whole house in beige if that's really want you want. The most important thing, though, is to do what you feel.