How to Handle a Messy House without Losing your Mind

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I’m one of those people who will always struggle to keep a messy house in order.

Notice my title says “How to Handle a Messy House”. How to handle it, not how to fix it. We all know what needs to be done to fix it: organize, clean, repeat for the rest of your life. What I’m talking about is dealing with the house and with yourself while you’re trying to crack that code.

My nature of having multiple projects going simultaneously – everything half-finished, with a mile long to-do list is partly to blame for my mess. Organizational projects stay towards the bottom of my to-do-lists, constantly beat out by something else. (Decisions I always regret with the number of unexpected visitors we get in Spain.)

Wanting to create a beautiful space and design my way around our home’s issues doesn’t help much either. Those things take patience and it can be frustrating comparing your own progress to magazines and blogs – which seem perfect in photos.

Plus there’s the pressure that many women feel to appear perfectly in control. You know what I’m talking about, those cultural and social constructs that come from who-knows-where. The ones telling us we all need to be beautiful, smart and thin with a sparkling house and home-cooked meals.

I am getting better keeping our house in a decent balance, and most importantly accepting that the state of nowhere-near-perfect is still OK. But it’s an ongoing process…

For my personal brand of messiness (and the stress/embarrassment that goes along with it), I’ve found two keys to be the most helpful:

  1. Stand behind your decisions. For example instead of thinking, “I should have packed up the winter clothes already”. Think, “I didn’t pack up the clothes because I CHOSE to do something better.” Support yourself in the choice you’ve made! Even if your “something better” is relaxing with a book. That’s important too.
  2. Accept that your house will never, ever reach the finish line. There is no finish. There will always be some new project, improvement or maintenance on the horizon. It helps to think of home improvement as a long-term process and focus on taking one step at a time. Besides, if you’re anything like me, as you get closer to  the “finish line”, you’re closer to moving and starting it all over again!

I started to write out a (longer) detailed post about all this, but I wasn’t happy with it. So I switched to sketching it out instead. Here’s what I came up with…

messy house

I hope you got something from my little comic/infographic. Hand-drawing this was a good reminder exercise for me. This little sketch alone was worth it…

messy house

This is totally how I feel about our house sometimes. By drawing it out I realized I was being ridiculous. I don’t even have a kid, or a dog!

Our house really isn’t that bad at all and I shouldn’t build it up too much in my mind…especially to the point of adding hypothetical messy members to the family.

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Making Hand-Printed Fabric with Twine and Potato Stamps

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For this season’s Pinterest Challenge, I decided to print my own fabric with twine and potato stamps – it was painless compared to my attempt for the Fall challenge!


Pinterest Challenge, hosted by:

As the rules of the challenge are to take on a project from Pinterest that inspired you, this is the image that got my attention:

This technique originally came from Christine Schmidt’s book, Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects.

I also loved this example of hand-painted and hand-stamped throw pillows.

Since I wanted to use some scrap fabric, and had just enough to make two throw pillows, it was an easy decision…

Twine Stamp Block

I jumped into the block stamp as my first option. My inspiration example uses a solid wooden block and yarn, but I went with a clear jewelry case and kitchen twine (thought it a better choice, since my yarn scraps were fuzzy/thick).

Twine Stamp Block

There isn’t much to this:

  • Wrap the box with twine in a design you like and tape it tightly to the back of the box.
  • For this pattern, the design needs to be square. I also liked it best with a slight separation between the strands.
  • Mix 1/2 acrylic craft paint and 1/2 fabric medium (helps the paint to dry less stiff and bond to the fabric).
  • Brush a light layer of paint on the stamp.
  • Stamp in rows, rotating the stamp 90º each stamp.
  • Once dry, cover with scrap fabric and iron to heat-set the paint (don’t slide the iron, work in patches, holding it place 10-20 seconds at a time).

The clear jewelry case I used was nice since I could see exactly where the twine would line up with its neighboring stamp, but being hollow it was harder to get even pressure in the middle of the stamp. I think a solid block would have been better.

This is what it looked like with the entire sheet of fabric covered (it’s about 15″(38cm) square).

Twine and Potato Stamp: Final Twine Stamped Fabric

Potato Stamp

And then, because I don’t seem capable of doing just one simple project and leave it at that…I tried potato stamping too. There are tons of potato stamp projects on Pinterest, but no one in particular that stood out as inspiring.

I had in mind to do some kind of a bird pattern, so I went through these sketches.

Bird SketchesOh yeah, and I’m using the scraps leftover from making the origami squares for my last project. (Points for reusing!)

This was my first time trying a potato stamp, and I didn’t realize until I had my sketch ready that I didn’t have a plan for transferring my drawing to the potato.

I just stuck it on there, and then realized wet paper was a bad idea…

Twine and Potato Stamp: Sketch Overlay on Potato

Cutting through or scoring the paper was impossible. So, I poked some pin holes at reference points (like the tips of the wings, tops of curves, etc.), and then free-handed the rest with a pen. It was tricky to draw the shape without etching the potato, but I tried to only leave ink and not pen impressions.

Twine and Potato Stamp: Drawn Bird on Potato

Then I cut out the shape in chunks with an X-acto.

You have to go slowly with this step and be especially careful to cut straight down, at a 90º angle, and not undercut the lines. Especially at the finer parts of the shape, you need the potato under the stamping surface to support the shape when stamping. For the finest parts (like the tips of the wings), I tried to angle the cuts outward to give them a little more stability (think about a pyramid shape underneath the stamping surface to support it).

Here’s the cut stamp.

Twine and Potato Stamp: Fully Cut Stamp

The stamping part is very easy.

Using a small paint brush, cover the stamp with a thin layer of paint (mixed with fabric medium like above), and start stamping. I didn’t have to worry much about wiggling or rocking the stamp for even coverage; I just stamped it straight down on the fabric.

One thing I found with the potato stamp is that it’s not the best for stamping a grid pattern. Since it’s lumpy – and well, a potato – you probably won’t find a good reference point for lining the stamps up with each other. I was lucky my spud had a flat spot and an eye at the top, so I used those to judge my placement, but as you can see my grid is listing…

Fully stamped potato fabric

I don’t know if it’s because of the color I chose or what? But I can’t get out of my head that they look more like goldfish or taxidermied moose heads than sparrows…either acceptable alternatives, really.

Hand-Printed Fabric Throw Pillows

I wanted to use these pieces of fabric as throw pillows, but I also wanted to see a mockup before sewing them. So I put them together with a basting stitch (loose, temporary) and pinned them shut. Here they are, mocked up, in situ:

Twine and Potato Stamp: Final Pillows

I think they look pretty good!

How about some close-ups?

Zoom of Twine Pillow IMG_9719WEB

I may add a few more birds on the potato stamp pillow before sewing (if my potato doesn’t rot!) I’d stopped short of the number I wanted when I started losing my grid pattern…but now seeing it all together, I think it needs a few more birds.

I haven’t decided if I’ll do the backs of the pillows in the same patterns or switch is up and make a different design for a reversible pillow. Either way would work, though it may be fun to try out another technique on the pillow backs…

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Paper Lamp Shade: A DIY Process That You Probably Shouldn’t Follow

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I made a paper lamp shade and it looks like this:

Paper Lamp Shade: Final light on

End of story, thanks for visiting.

Just kidding, of course there’s a more behind it. This is a long one, so settle in…

DIY Paper Lamp Shade

I’ve done lots of do-it-yourself projects. I started as a kid, so my lifetime count is probably in the hundreds (thousands, if you count cooking experiments and studio projects in college).

I have a decent track record, but you know what happens when start blogging about your projects? They all start to go wrong. Murphy’s law, I guess.

This one started when we were given an unwanted lamp by a sweet friend. It has a marble base and the structure is solid (important for a floor lamp). The only thing missing was a shade.

Paper Lamp Shade: Lamp base before

Right away I knew I wanted to make the missing shade. It’s fun working with lighting since you have so much freedom – practically anything can be made into a light.

For this one I wanted a white shade with modern lines, so my mind went to paper.

There are loads of paper lamp shades out there: folded paper origami-types, molded paper sculptures and Chinese style lanterns, to name a few. A quick look at Pinterest, Google, or IKEA and you’ll be overwhelmed with options.

Take 1: Origami Lamp Fail

I came across this site a few weeks ago. I loved origami as a kid, so feeling nostalgic, I decided on making an origami shade.

I wanted origami shapes that would extend higher than the wire base that I had (see the wire structure in the previous photo). After exploring a little, I landed on one intermediate shapes that make up an origami crane (see step 2, here).

This guy:

Paper Lamp Shade: Crane Shape

Isn’t it nice? I like the elongated shape. It’s almost flat, but the folds and pop-up layers add depth and make some interesting patterns. I also see a little bit of an art deco vibe in it.

Then I made a few more shapes to test how the pieces would fit together and how the light would shine through.

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Configuration

Laid flat the pieces make some nice patterns. Like a kind of pop-up, tessellated wrapping paper.

Next I had to take a leap of faith. The way the lamp shade was flared and curved calculating the pattern precisely was just too complicated. So I decided to go ahead and make enough shapes to wrap the shade and then figure out the details at the end.

I wrapped the wire frame in a double layer of clear plastic wrap (polypropylene) just so I’d have a surface for the origami pieces to stick to. It’s a mess of hot glue and Scotch tape. But that doesn’t matter – it’s covered by paper. I wanted it clear to not block the light.

Paper Lamp Shade: Plastic cover

Then I got to making origami – with regular printer paper, nothing fancy.

I was rocking my way through these, they weren’t so time-consuming. I’m a dork, I timed it. It took 6 minutes a shape average – while semi-distracted watching a movie and listening to podcasts. So it was about 2 hour of origami making in total.

Next step was to jinx myself by posting this to Twitter:

Paper Lamp Shade: Twitter Screen Capture

And so it starts to go wrong.

I was hot gluing the origami pieces to the plastic base and just couldn’t get the pattern right. They were very close to fitting together, but needed to be tweaked a tiny bit align as they curved around the shade.

In the end, the places where the pattern was mismatched were noticeable and the paper was worn from my wrangling it into place.

Here it is:

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Shade Light On

 And this is what it looked like without the light off:

Paper Lamp Shade: Origami Shade Light Off

I still like the general shape and the concept – wish it had worked.

I think there’s a fine line with projects like this. I like having handmade things mixed in with mass-produced decor. But I think it’s a tough balance between quirky and sloppy. The judgement call is different for everyone… but I feel like I know it when I see it, and this one just wasn’t working.

I don’t regret the attempt when projects go wrong – especially since it’s usually a learning process. At the same time I don’t want to see that attempt in my living room every day either.

So yeah, I tore it apart and started over.

If anyone would want to pick up where I left off, I think it would work if you built a base to fit the pattern instead of making the pattern fit a pre-existing base, like I did. Also a sturdier paper would hold up better, although if it is more opaque the light won’t shine through in the same way.

Take 2: Cut Paper Lamp Shade

I kept the plastic base and stayed with white printer paper but wasn’t in the mood for more origami. So I moved on to cutting strips of paper.

This is what they looked like. This is the long edge of an A4 page.

Paper Lamp Shade: Cut Paper Strip

It’s hard to see, but there are six 5mm strips cut. The cuts don’t go all the way through. They’re still attached at both ends of the strip.

I tried this first with a paper cutter, but it didn’t work. So I cut several sheets at a time with an X-Acto knife and a ruler. It wasn’t too bad, the cuts don’t have to be perfectly precise.

Then I started attaching the paper strips. Each one overlaping slightly. I taped them to the top lip of the frame and then gathered bottoms and attached them in groups of several strips

For whatever reason, it worked out best to attach the bottoms in clumps of strips instead of taping them individually.

It was like making a ponytail with unruly hair. It wasn’t going to be perfectly smooth, so it’s more of a “messy updo”.

Paper Lamp Shade: Assembly in Progress

I took it back to the lamp base to check how it looked.

Paper Lamp Shade: In progress test

I was much happier with the polish of this shade compared to the origami version. But I’d lost the extra height. As you can see here, this one also left the light socket exposed –  I wasn’t crazy about that.

I happened to have another bare lamp shade frame (a coincidence, I swear I’m not a hoarder). So I came up with this, and actually got lucky here because it perfectly fit below the first shade to cover the light socket.

Paper Lamp Shade: Second frame added

I like the way the second frame pushed the top shape too. So I went ahead and covered the rest of the top frame and the bottom. I used the same method on the bottom frame that I described above.

Here it is:

Paper Lamp Shade: Final Shade Light Off

 One more time with the light on:

Paper Lamp Shade: final with light on

I’m happy with it! It looks good in person and it adds to the room in the way that I’d wanted. There’s also a nice play of texture and layering that I don’t think is coming across in the photos.

And, here’s a peek at the room context (just a little glimpse, I’ll “introduce” the room another day).
Paper Lamp Shade: Lamp in Context

Yes, I have an orange leather couch and an old trunk in need of restoration. Doesn’t everyone?

So that’s it, the tale of two paper lamp shades. Would I recommend them? Not unless you’re extremely patient. I have a lot of patience for this stuff, and these were pushing my limits.

By the way, if anyone has an idea of how to use 20 slightly tattered almost-origami-cranes, I’m all ears. I haven’t brought myself to throw them out yet…

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A Real Life Challenge to Prove That my Eclectic Decorating Style Tips Can Work

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I was pretty pleased with my last post. I thought it hit the main strategies for using an eclectic decorating style to blend tricky items into your home’s decor. That feeling lasted about 2 hours until I got a reality check via email from my sister.

She emailed me with the subject line “Challenge”. Ironically having yet to see my post, she wanted advice on what to do with an antique clock that is nothing like the rest of her house.

Challenge was right. I know the clock and know her house – they have zero common. My first reaction was, “Woah, I think this might be too much.”

But then I decided if I’m worth my salt at this blogging thing, that I can’t give out advice on a very specific topic and then ignore it a few hours later! So, I took a shot at it…

The Challenge

This isn’t any old clock, it’s a very special old clock. It was our grandparents’. Apparently it was an antique when they inherited it from our grandpa’s, great aunt’s, uncle (we think!?) It’s beautiful, with incredible craftsmanship, in great condition and of course we have special memories of it being in our grandparents’ house.

Have a look:

Eclectic Decorating Style: Clock Detail

Pretty, isn’t it? It looks like it belongs in a museum, not in my sister’s house (no offense Sister, it’s true!)

Her house is all contemporary style – in the construction details and the furnishings. There are clean lines throughout, nothing is ornate or embellished; there are no other antiques.

You’ll catch a glimpse of her style in this second photo.

Eclectic Decorating Style: Entryway Table Clock Before

You can’t see much of her decor from this image, so you’ll have to imagine a bit. The furniture has simple lines (like this table). The color palette is dusty earth tones: the walls a warm grey (Benjamin Moore’s  Rockport Grey), deep grey curtains, lots of brown tones and some deep greens and terracotta as accents.

My Solution (Via an Eclectic Decorating Style, of Course)

This table is right next to the front door; the way their floor plan is laid out, they don’t have a foyer or formal entry. So I thought we should take advantage of this table to make a little “landing spot” for things that are handy to have out as you’re coming and going.

My goal was to create to balance within this table composition. Hoping that by blending the traditional style of the clock other more contemporary objects within this vignette, that it would look more at place within the larger scale of the room as a whole.

So I took her photo into Photoshop, and this is the rendering I came up with:

Eclectic Decorating Style: Entryway Rendering

And how about a little zoom?

Eclectic Decorating Style: Entryway Rendering Zoom

I think it works!

Keep in mind this is a rendering in Photoshop (like a photomontage), so it’s not a 100% true-to-life representation of how it would look in person. It should be pretty close though.

The clock makes more sense in this grouping because there are other objects that relate to it. And since the composition includes some touches of contemporary style,  it should connect with the rest of the house. Maybe that sounds abstract. This is what I mean:

Eclectic Decorating Style: Rendering Traditional vs. ContemporaryDoes that help to make it clearer? The clock still has the most traditional style in the arrangement, but the print and letter holder hint at a similar style which helps to unite them visually (That was tip #4 from my last post.)

Another trick that helps make this grouping work is that I stayed with a fairly tight color palette (tip #2). I wanted to carry the green and gold colors through to the other objects. You don’t want to introduce too many extra colors if you already have contrast between the decor styles. High contrast colors on top of highly contrasting decorating styles can be overwhelming.

This is the color palette, notice how the objects stay within this range of colors:

Eclectic Decorating Style: Entryway Color Palette

There’s just one more are I’d like to point out, which are the personal touches.

I was lucky to find this print of Paris. Not only are the colors and style perfect for the composition, but my sister loves Paris. She talked about it so, so much as a teenager. I – as any good big sister would – used to tease her about it. So here you go Sister, since you loooove Paris so much, I put it on the internet for you! Ha. (She doesn’t have a blog so can’t get me back, right?)

There are a few other useful details in there too. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first touch down spot when you come in the front door. So I added a bowl to hold their keys, a letter holder for incoming/outgoing mail and a little spot for the dog’s leash below. (The leash is to scale, it’s a small dog.)

I think that’s about it. This is what I’d suggest for styling our family heirloom in a way that works in her contemporary home. I hope you liked it!

Did you like this rendering? Do you have your own design dilemma that you’d like help with? Our e-decorating services could be the solution, check them out here.

Image sources:
Paris Print – 20×200, Artist Fund, Vue panoramique de l’Exposition Universelle 
Green Vase – Ikea, Ocksa
Flower Image –  Flickr, nedrai
Slate Tray – Slateplate, Sushi Plate
Birch Boxes – CB2, Birch Storage Boxes
Wooden Box – IKEA, Dragan
Letter Holder – Etsy, TheGildedTassel
White Bowl – CB2, Bento Mini Bowl
Dog Leash – PetSmart, Kiss my mutt, Driftwood striped leash

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Random Stuff: How to Bring it All Together with an Eclectic Decorating Style

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You can have two kinds of random stuff in your home:

  • Things that sit unused and need to be purged, which is not the kind of stuff I’m talking about.
  • Today by random stuff, I mean objects that you use and want to keep. But they just don’t quite fit in with the rest of your decor. They seem like they’ve been randomly added to your home.

Usually these are objects that you’ve collected over time. Maybe an heirloom that is sentimentally important but isn’t your usual style, or maybe something that you have for its utility but that looks out of place in your home.

Personally, I think that every home should have some “random stuff” in the mix; it’s what makes our homes unique. Those personal objects and the stories behind them are what make it all interesting (especially when they’re a little odd).

When you get it right, an eclectically decorated space can be a great way to let those special objects shine. Your home can incorporate your own mix of styles and become like your own personal museum, memory trunk and custom space in one.

Ultimately I believe that if you focus on adding things that you love to your home. In the end all those “random” things will make sense together, because they’re all related to you and what you’re interested in. That concept is one of my main tenets for loving your home.

Admittedly though sometimes when you put those objects that you love together in a room, they need some tweaking to look their best.

It can be tricky to ride the line between an appealing, quirky space without looking chaotic (I’m betting that you don’t want your living room to look like flea market stand.)

Here are some tips that can help you incorporate those tricky personal items with the rest of your home’s decor – giving you a space that looks intentional and balanced with an eclectic decorating style.

Use an eclectic decorating style to make your random stuff work together.

  1. Go for a monochromatic color scheme.

    Try to carry the same color (or similar tones of the same color) throughout the room. Use the color of the object that you’re trying to incorporate, and just keep repeating that color as much as possible – on the walls, rugs, furniture, whatever you have to work with. (Read more monochromatic color schemes tips here.)

    With this strategy, the color unifies items that normally wouldn’t seem to go together. And the objects’ differences in sizes or styles, will actually help make the monochrome scheme more complex and interesting.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: Amelie Living Room Table

    Amelie’s quirky red, on red, on red living room.
    Source: Decorology

  2. Use accent colors strategically.

    Similar to the monochromatic strategy, but using accent colors (color in smaller doses) will make the space seem more cohesive. An accent color splashed around the whole room will help the space look balanced and those random objects will look like they were purposely chosen for the space.

    For example, imagine you want to bring a bright pink lamp into an all white room. Alone the lamp would stand out, but if you add some throw pillows and art with the same tone of pink around the room, the lamp then seems like it was part of the plan.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: Elle Decor Mod Mod World Bedroom

    Eclectic decor styles united with a very tight color palette: black, white, poppy red & gold.
    Source: Elle Decor, Sept 2007

  3. Balance textures.

    This is an especially helpful technique if you feel that you have too many collected or second-hand pieces. To avoid a space that looks old and worn, try updating it by adding more modern and crisp pieces. This will help balance the soft worn textures of the older pieces.

    Think about the texture and feel of each piece you have. Then think of how you can balance that texture with an opposite texture. It could be a slick mirrored tray on a rough wooden table or a crisp silk pillow on a worn upholstered chair. Consider furniture groupings and vignettes separately and balance the textures within each group.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: White Farmhouse Table

    Carefully balanced textures and design styles.
    Source: Design Chic

  4. Balance styles.

    Similar to balancing textures, it also helps to balance the design styles throughout the room. Take a mental inventory of the decor style of your room to see you’re working with. How many pieces seem modern, how many seem traditional?

    For example, if have an ornately framed classical style mirror that you’re struggling to incorporate into a room that is otherwise modernly styled, try adding more classical elements to the room. Some traditionally styled candle holders, or art in a baroque style frame will help to balance the mirror.

  5. Make what you love the focal point.

    This is a good tip if the piece you’re bringing in is something that you’re crazy about and it’s substantial enough to be the focal point of the room. To do this, you’ll want to make everything else in the room either more neutral in comparison to your focal point, or make the other elements point your attention to the focal point in some way.

    This can be done by making the colors of the supporting objects more subdued than the focal object, or you could arrange seating arrangements or traffic patterns so that they direct you to your focal object.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: Dining Room Focal Point

    A bold poster used as a focal point.

  6. Adjust positioning and proportions.

    Don’t forget that rooms are interactive spaces; you move through them and use their features. Play around with the furniture arrangement, with how accessories and other details are positioned. Small changes in positioning can affect the way we see a space, they can influence how we use a room, what we notice and how the objects play off each other.

    There are no rules for this one, just don’t be afraid to get in there and experiment. After you’ve made a change, step back and try to see the room from a new perspective. Pay attention to what catches your eye and what you notice first. With the new arrangement do certain things seem to stand out more than others? Do you like it more that way? Keep going through this exercise until you find what you like best.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: Nursery Floor Plan

    Explore furniture arrangements.
    Source: Apartment Therapy, Landis Carey

  7. Redistribute.

    Don’t forget about other spots in your home. If you’ve got some objects that that you’re having a hard time incorporating, they might work better in a different room. Think about re-purposing tables as desks, nightstands as side tables, vases as lamps, etc. Sometimes we get so used to seeing a piece in a certain environment that we forget it can have other uses.

  8. Group similar items.

    If you have something like an old oil painting that seem out of place, why not add one or two more similar paintings and make a collection out of it? By making a small grouping out of it, it look more intentional in your space.

    You could find a reproduction or thrift store oil paintings of a similar style of painting to begin your mini collection. The same strategy works for vases, lamps, almost anything really.

    Eclectic Decorating Style: Abraham Lincoln Collection

    Create a collection around something you love.
    Source: Apartment Therapy

  9. Use visualization cheats.

    It can be hard for some people to imagine how a space will look before the changes are actually made. If you can’t picture changing decor in your space, get out some props. Get creative.

    A white sheet draped over your couch can give you an idea of how a lighter sofa would look in your room. Folded brightly colored shirts or towels mock throw pillows and a cardboard box can stand in for a side table. Have some fun with it and try out color combinations that may be more daring than you’d normally go for…it doesn’t hurt to try!

    If you feel like the mocked up changes help your room come together, then you can more confidently move towards substantial changes.

As will all things design, the success of an eclectically decorated space is objective. So keep in mind that the most important point is that you use and enjoy what you have. Remember that if you have accumulated an eclectic mix of furniture over time, those pieces probably have a meaningful stories behind them. Embrace that and appreciate what your special collection has to offer.


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