Todd Johnson On “Stuff”

Todd Johnson likes stuff. Lots of it. And he makes no excuses.

Less Is A Bore
I like stuff. Lots of it. And I make no excuses.

My tiny Oak Cliff bungalow has hosted many a raucous soiree. True, it’s not easy squeezing 85 well-heeled guests into 1,600 square feet. But trust me, you can work wonders with a shoehorn, some baby oil, and a lot of ingenuity. (“Watch the Gucci, will you? It stains!”)

And like you, I take great pride in my home. Before any party, I shuffle knickknacks, rotate art, break out the good china, and hide, hide, hide everything that interferes with The Grand Design. As I always remind Tom – “my partner in crime” – as we hide his collection of ceramic turtles to much protest, “No one wants to see how we really live.” And really – ceramic turtles?

But a recent dinner party gave me pause. One of the couples invited we’ll call Mr. and Mrs. Clean. You know the type: Blond wood. Reams of Eames. Weekend sojourns to Smink Modern Living and Design Within Reach. Their remodeled 1950s ranch-style house in North Dallas is a cavernous edifice of minimalism. I can appreciate it, even admire it. But cozy it ain’t.

This was the Cleans’ first visit to my home. “Feel free to wander about,” I called out as I fetched the wine. They took the grand two-minute tour (1,600 square feet, remember?), all the while murmuring and nodding to each other in a sneaky manner. Back in the living room, I poured the pinot. “Wow,” Mr. Clean said as he reached for a glass. “You really like a lot of stuff.”

Stuff. The word hung in the air, heavy with judgment. My first impulse? Snatch back the wine and scoot their matching khaki-clad fannies out the door. “And don’t come back!” I’d yell as they sped off in their environmentally conscious hybrid, back to their sterile home on the range. “Damn minimalist hippies,” I’d grumble.

But I hesitated. Did I really love stuff too much? I wouldn’t say I’m materialistic. I just admire well-designed items and the way they play off each other. In my home, jewel-toned Polish glass (cheap) sits alongside antique medicinal bottles (expensive) that sit next to tattered books from my youth (priceless). A pack rat? Not me. But I adore form and find beauty in a variety of objects, from The Home Depot to Hermes. Acquisitions are naturally quick to follow.

My mom sympathizes. “Come here,” she said during a recent visit to her home. “I want to show you something.” Down the hall, past the porcelain hummingbird collection, the numerous Thomas Kinkade paintings, and the spare bedroom where old Beanie Babies go to die, we came upon a closet. “Someday,” she sighed, “this will all be yours.” Inside were boxes upon boxes of crystal – Waterford, Baccarat, Swarovski. Too many pieces to use or display. So she keeps it all in the closet. Why? “Honey, it’s all so beautiful,” she whispered. “I just can’t help myself. I just like knowing it’s there.”

I understood. Objects of beauty are comforting. They’re inspiring. And who doesn’t want a home brimming with inspiration? True, Mr. and Mrs. Clean will never understand. They see my home bursting with baubles as unnecessary clutter. And that’s fine. For them. But Mom and I get it. That’s why this weekend you’ll find us shopping for crystal. And stuff.

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