Furniture Polish Kills the Soul

My son draws on the dining room table. We brought it home a few years ago and I handed my son markers and said, “Have at it.” Squiggles and dots decorate the legs, color splotches the sides, random marks and doodles cover the top. When guests come over for dinner, this is the table we eat on. This is not an effort to turn my child into Baby Picasso (Guernica by baby anyone?), but more way to avoid a polished table top.

 table top art by the kiddo
table top art by the kiddo

My grandmother refused to have a dining room table. They were too big, too much trouble, and ugly. If some terrible leering table lurked in her past, I shall never know. But when guests came over, everyone sat in a comfy chair with a TV dinner tray. The television wasn’t on, the food was cooked from scratch, the silverware was really silver, and the plates were china. TV dinner tray was no excuse to put your elbows on the table or forget to put your napkin in your lap.

I never thought her table animosity had survived through me, but as I confess to my husband no desire to ever sand down and refinish our table, I must admit to this strange family prejudice. It is like those gleaming polished surfaces of empty dining room tables suck out the soul.

our table in the middle of rearranging the room
our table in the middle of rearranging the room

Why do I believe that people with cluttered spaces are more imaginative, more interesting? This is probably not true, but it is hard to get rid of this idea. What about you? What notions of neatness do you possess? How polished is your table? And if your table shines, can you actually sit at it and write?

10 thoughts on “Furniture Polish Kills the Soul

  1. A neat, clean table top,indeed a shiny or waxed table top, these are all indications of little or no imagination. Nor are there tables for eating from at 652 Hot Springs Road; such surfaces as there are contain vases,books,plants, bowls of fruit, magazines, the occasional student paper, a sometimes cat. Laps, ledges, and temporary resting places are the venues from which writing comes.

  2. Polish? What’s polish?! We have 3 old tables in various stages of decrepitude! My basement writing table (can barely see the surface for all the props and icons – wonky legs but it was ‘our’ first table and until it falls over it will always have a home); the family desk – computer, teetering piles of books, toys, homework, flowers, candles; and the big old oak church table/chairs we actually eat on – chewed edges c/o hound, stained by paint projects, used and loved every single day.

  3. I can’t stand writing in a cluttered space. Which is why I go to my unfinished shed office. The only things up there are a desk, chair, and recliner. When I try to write at the dining table I end up doing laundry or dishes. The clutter wears on my soul, yet I never seem to be rid of it.

  4. What is this “dining table” you speak of? Maybe it’s spending most of my years in NYC where space is at too much of a premium to let a room/table stand empty until a formal dinner comes around. If I had a diningroom, I would want to turn it into a library, with wall to wall books and the “dining table” more of a library work space.

    I’m much more likely to eat at the coffee table than a dining table. Too structured and not a part of my living life.

    As for neatness. I feel like cleaning takes away from what I should really be doing. Although it’s great for avoiding what I really should be doing.

    I believe in creative clutter. I believe in stacks of books in no discernible order, from which you can pull to inspire or enlighten. I believe in collections of beloved and beautiful items that bring memories with their pleasing aesthetic jumble. I believe in piles of papers and things pinned to the wall, always ready to snatch that idea, that spot of brilliance.

    However, the creative clutter can get overwhelming, so I also believe in organization. Journals labeled and dated and sometimes even cross referenced. (Yes, I have done this even in my slobbery.) I believe in table top vignettes for collections, so they are visually connected. I believe in keeping what you need within reach, but in jars and cups and folders so it doesn’t spread and become a creativity sucking morass.

  5. Worst case: Dining room tables can end up overturned. Dishes flying, people scattering. Best case: draped with blankets and shawls, they become caves for small children.

  6. loriaustex


    *wipes tears from eyes*
    Oh, my.
    It’s just that the idea of me and neatness in the same sentence…well…

    I have impossible notions of neatness based on being brought up by two very, extremely, highly, obsessively, over-the-top-ly neat and clean people, my mom and dad.

    However, I must have been stolen at birth by gypsies and given to my parents to raise, because although I know what clean and neat is (in its most extreme form) and can perform it in the event of an emergency such as house guests who don’t tolerate mess, I seem unable to do this magic trick for myself.

    My tables are “polished,” in what tiny corners of their surface are not covered with books, papers, cat toys, and various household detritus, by random cat paws. The heathens that comprise with Witzel household (aka me and the Mur) eat off TV trays.

    Mind you, I can usually find anything I need in less than five minutes. “Archaeological filing” (aka piling) works for the person who’s made the pile.

    Since I write on the Miraculous Silvery Black Box, aka my Mac laptop, as long as I have enough room to perch a cup of coffee without risking sousing the hard drive, it’s all good.

  7. May have mentioned this before, but my mother used to have a plaque on the kitchen wall which said, “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” Even if none of my three siblings remembers it, I think that philosophy has pretty much shaped the way we keep (or don’t) house. (I *love* loriaustex’s “archaeological filing” phrase. Is there any other kind?!?)

    My favorite dining room table (previous marriage) was an antique so-called “farm table.” Nothing fancy — just pine, warm-toned, straight legs, no leaves. What I liked best about it was the back story: it had been a doctor’s examining table. That circular plug of mismatched wood in the center was where the, er, drain hole had been. Especially used to like telling guests this story while we were serving meat; they must have thought they’d stepped into a scene in an “Addams Family” remake.

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