Ok, We Give: Enough with “Curate”!

published Jun 12, 2015
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(Image credit: Nicole Crowder )

You’ve all been saying it for years in the Apartment Therapy commenting community: “curate” is overused. I’ll admit I was ambivalent, but after hearing someone put down their own lovely, charming home because they think it’s not “well curated”, I’m ready to join the cool-it-with-curate-club. Who’s with me? I’ll curate some signs.

To be fair, the concept of curating the home space has very well-meaning roots, as a well-curated home is intended to mean one that is thoughtfully designed and free of unnecessary clutter. I know I’ve certainly referred to a home as well-curated, and when talking about a home with extensive collections, it makes sense. But the term is going Frankenstein’s monster in terms of getting out of control; Googling “curate” in 2015 leads to a real rabbit hole, albeit a well-curated rabbit hole, of curated home stores and curated lifestyle sites, curated gift sets, curated clothiers, curated children’s toys, curated food boxes (come on), companies that specialize in “the well-curated life”, there’s even an eHow page called “How to Become a Lifestyle Curator” (as in for a job). I mean, that’s a whole lot of curating in a person’s life.

According to Merriam Webster’s, to curate is “to act as curator of…a museum…an exhibit” , which is why I take issue with the term being linked to “home” and “lifestyle” so often. It’s too precious. So why has a term once associated with museum work become part of the zeitgeist? I have a theory: I think it has a lot to do with an omnipresent third party in our lives: social media.

Doesn’t it seem like there’s a cultural pressure to proceed with social media in mind? Take an event like a baby shower. How many hostesses now feel pressure to craft some perfect brunch display with pins and “likes” in mind. No longer is food simply set out for guests, but rather it’s curated within an inch of its life with the pin-worthiest pompoms, a ridiculously ornate finger food situation, and precisely-placed-paper-straw-filled-punch cups arranged just so for that one perfect Instagram picture that happens after 30 other Instagram pictures were deleted because they weren’t quite perfect enough. In other words, our lives have become a bit of a show, haven’t they? And our homes have become a bit of a show as well. We want to share our lives and our homes via social media but then we’re bombarded with images of perfection, and in turn, we begin tailoring our choices with mass public display in mind, i.e. we begin curating, which takes so much spontaneity out of life.

After all, when our children actually play with that well-curated toy collection and we do actual work at those well-curated work stations, or our friends decide to bust out the well-curated kitchen gift sets and make some stew, it’s going to get messy. And that’s OK! It’s real life! Things get messy sometimes and sometimes they don’t make perfect sense. Maybe we have way too many books because it’s hard to verbalize just how much we love those books. Great. Or maybe we have a giant old afghan that looks bananas but is our go-to source of comfort when we’re exhausted or sick or sad. Wonderful. Or maybe we hang original artwork because it stirred something in us, not because it fits our well-curated living room color scheme. Fantastic, all of it, because these are parts of our home that are true to who we are, and we shouldn’t feel a need to hide them away or edit them out of photos or out of our homes altogether because they aren’t “well curated”.

Long story short, I’m ready to shelve well-curated for a while and open up the field to some new ways to praise the home, like wildly imaginative, beautifully odd, random but functional, super fly, wonderfully warm, gloriously bonkers, and a personal favorite, cool as hell. And I’m also going to mind my Instagram feed and Pinterest pages with a grain of salt, because the goal is a life well lived, not a life well curated. Can I get a witness?

Please share your well-curated thoughts below!