Is It Home Yet?

Sharon August 26th, 2009

Apparently a cynical new ad campaign, funded by home improvement and furnishings companies is about to begin, trying to get you to spend your money on a new sofa or wing chair, since, after all, you haven’t been foreclosed on…yet.  The advertising slogan is “is it home yet?”

According to the New York Times:

“With such dreams of sudden wealth having gone the way of Dow 14,000, Americans may be getting used to the idea that they will be living in their current homes or apartments for a while longer. And if they are staying home more, because they cannot afford to take vacation trips or dine out as much as during the boom times, thoughts may be turning to refurnishing, refurbishing and generally sprucing up.

Those are the underpinnings of an ambitious campaign, with a budget estimated at $20 million, that is scheduled to begin on Monday. The campaign, by agencies that are part of the North American operations of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, a division of WPP, seeks to persuade consumers to start shopping again for furniture and home furnishings.

Needless to say, such discretionary merchandise has been particularly hard hit by the buying strike that has affected marketers during the recession in almost every category except, perhaps, groceries and gasoline. Sales of home furnishings fell 0.9 percent in July from June, according to the Commerce Department, and declined 12.9 percent last month compared with July 2008.

The campaign carries the upbeat theme “Is it home yet?,” which will be featured on a logo depicting the phrase embossed across a welcome mat. The theme evokes schmaltzy television commercials from decades ago for Lipton instant soup mix, in which hungry children asked their mothers, “Is it soup yet?”

The campaign will include print, outdoor and online advertising; search engine marketing; and promotions and materials in stores. There will also be a celebration of September as “National Home Furnishings Month” as well as a special Web site (homeyet.com).

“For the last 10 or 15 years, you looked at your home as a financial investment, but the return on this investment is actually emotional,” said Robert Maricich, president and chief executive at the World Market Center Las Vegas, a showroom, exhibition space and design center for the furniture industry that was opened in 2005.”

Yup, you can’t afford to move, you are already 3 payments overdue, but definitely put some new drapes and wing chairs on the credit card.  You can’t get any money out, and the payments are impoverishing you, but the emotional return, is, like the credit card company says, “priceless.”  After all, who could put a price on the feeling wall-to-wall carpet gives.

This, of course, is the commercial version of home is where the heart is.  It is also, of course, complete bullshit.  Later in the story, a furniture executive observes that buying that new sofa isn’t discretionary – after all, “try sleeping on the floor, sitting on the floor, dining on the floor.”  Besides noting that all over the world, the vast majority of people do precisely those things, it might be worth noting the ridiculousness of the duality set up here – if you don’t buy a new sofa, you’ll have to sit on the floor.  Ok, everyone who doesn’t have anything to sit on, but internet acccess or who buys Elle Decor and has no sofa, raise your hand?  Anyone who can’t find a perfectly nice sofa down at the local Salvation Army, raise your hand.

Now advertising is like this, and there’s really no point in getting heated up, except for this – they’ve gotten very close to something we do need to know about our homes – that it is possible to tranform the into a place that can be home in the long term.  This is what Adapting in Place is about.  But for most of us the tools for this are precisely the opposite of those being sold by consumer culture – not the new sofa, but the ability to retrofit the old one or make do with something else; not the ability to purchase, but the ability not to, not “home as expression of one’s consumer taste” but “home as workshop and workplace, as a place that makes it easier for you to go on.” 

The more we are taught that home is made by our purchases, the harder it is for us to fundamentally transform our relationship with home, and make it a place that gives back to us, rather than absorbs the contents of our pocketbooks, until, of course, the day they are emptied, and the repo guy comes to take the sofa, and the house, back.

Sharon

33 Responses to “Is It Home Yet?”

  1. George Anonymuncule Seldes says:

    Amen. Your post hit me just as the guys fired up the ditch-witch to put in an irrigation system so I can get drip lines out to every square inch of the lot here. I’ve been spending money like a sailor on shoreleave but no sofas, chairs or other fripperies — only food storage, greenhouse, bulk ingredients for fertilizers, fruit trees, irrigation, etc.

  2. And the sheep will hear these ads and behold they will shop, and it was good!

    Just before you lose your house run out and buy furniture with that last few thousand on the credit cards rather than a good strong tent, enough sleeping bags for the family and some other survival basics, idiotic but many people will do it.. They should be selling everything they can’t carry on their backs when the sheriff comes and keeping it someplace safe in cash so no one can freeze it in your bank accounts, but what satisfaction does not spending give mall junkies?

    For years (adult years not teen/young adult years) I had nothing but a futon on the floor of my bedroom and in reality I was no less comfortable, no less warm no less content than I am now with “real” furniture. The wooden tables and entertainment center have no more utility than the cardboard boxes and milk crates that at one time held my TV, stereo and lamps.

    As a whole our society needs a shrink! or a strong smack to the head!

  3. great thinking sharon definetly the great fall in Dow has changed the lifestyle of americans they will stay at home till very thigs comes to stablize. As they will stay @ home will care about it and that the time they will think about refurnishing their house…

  4. Robyn M. says:

    No no no no no! This advertising campaign is exactly right, and it’s about time we took notice! This is actually the “home furnishings” version of that timeless truth your mother tried to instill in you–to always wear clean underwear! After all, if you were in a car crash, imagine the humiliation if the med-techs got to you and you had *gasp* dirty underwear on. Same principle applies here: imagine your humiliation if the police nailing the foreclosure notice on your door saw *gasp* old furniture inside! No no, better to spend what little money you do have making sure your house is wearing clean underwear than, say, paying down your debt or buying food for your family. Perfect sense. Yup.
    ;-)

  5. MD says:

    George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington would have said the same thing, Sharon. At Tuskegee 100 years ago they taught students to make furniture out of wooden packing cases and barrels, with mattresses and cushions stuffed with hay or feathers. They taught the students that even a one-room cabin could be clean and decent, and could have basic furnishings at very little cost, except of time and labor. Carver even figured out how to make a variety of colors of paint (white, red, yellow, blue) from local Alabama clays, with materials the poorest “one-horse” farmer would have on hand. Their idea of prosperity was not consumerism and debt, but being able to supply your own needs without excessive inputs. We desperately need $20 million spent on that kind of education now instead of silly ads.

  6. Karin says:

    Back in the mid-eighties I worked with a woman who was a jewish immigrant from the Soviet Union. At the end of each day, after we had taken care of the receiving for the small retail shop we worked for, she would collect the boxes. She was very particular about the quality of the cardboard boxes. When asked why she needed them she said she was making furniture out of them. Money was tight. Between free stuff found on garbage pick-up day and the furniture/sculpture she and her husband created; they never had to spend a dime on furnishings.

  7. Cath says:

    National Home Furnishings Month? Pfffttttttt! What will they think of next?

  8. Brad K. says:

    Sharon,

    Is there any way to interest a maker of window box gardens to jump onto that campaign? Someone that sells vegetable garden implements and accessories? Pantry shelves and systems?

    Unfortunately, the guys working in the huge cash flow markets can afford to keep plugging their products.

    I few years back I walked into a tack store and bought a couple of grooming brushes for a horse. When I paid for the brushes, the guy behind the counter commented, “Looks like you bought nothing but work!” With a four-foot in the back yard, I saw the purchase more in terms of bonding and communication and caring for the horse – a sharing time – but that is another story.

    Adapting doesn’t include that much cash flow – I mean, how many broad forks can you sell via the drive by media? A broad fork, a spade, a bundle of bean poles – that looks like work. And the market for stuff to use for work is much smaller, in number and in cash flow, than the market for diet aids, exercise stuff, and this month’s fashion clothes.

    What I wonder about with “Is it home yet?” is ways to extend the life of a mattress – is it possible to repair or replace springs, etc? What about rebuilding appliances, instead of continually throwing out the non-working and buying new? It is shocking how embedded the concept of conspicuous consumption is in American everyday life.

    When was the last time “family music” meant one or more playing a musical instrument, or using sheet music instead of mp3′s? I keep my recorder in the car for waiting at the bank line, Burger King, and red lights. People act like they never saw one outside a third grader’s backpack.

    I applaud the furniture makers for trying to hold on. Each job is precious in today’s economy. I wonder if they are ready to re-introduce hammocks, rope beds, or rush mattress covers?

  9. Debbie says:

    This is actually a vicious cycle. Everything thing is hinged on our throw away society and upgrading to a new house with new furniture etc. But we have spent ourselves into a situation where there are people in almost every industry that if this cycle doesn’t continue will lose their jobs, then maybe their homes also. I’m not saying go out and spend just be aware how precarious the whole thing is.

  10. Diane says:

    The stock at our local Salvation Army has been sadly depleted for months. We also have at least four new consignment shops on the same road. So it seems several things are happening: more people shopping at Sally’s, more people trying to “monetize” their discards and (therefore) fewer people are donating to charity shops.

  11. I don’t find it quite so offensive as everyone else. I mean, we’re not overextended on credit and we _are_ stuck in this house that needs to be overhauled to meet our needs, since we won’t be able to sell.

    Of course, the changes we’ll be making have very little to do with furniture and more with building a wall to make an extra bedroom and perhaps putting in a bathroom as well as rearranging every room in the house to make it livable for our current needs.

    The furniture? Is fine. It’s the house that’s the problem.

    M

  12. Wendy says:

    Check out this set of flicker photos featuring USPS bulk rate boxes :) . Who needs to buy a “new” couch?

    Salvation Army and Goodwill are great places to buy used furniture, but there’s also freecycle (dot org) where people are always giving away old couches (I freecycled two, myself), and I’ve passed by dozens of couches sitting on the side of the road with a FREE sign. There is no shortage of usable furniture in this country, free for the taking. No one needs to “sit on the floor”, and no one ever needs to buy new.

    Anyway, I thought “home is where the heart is”, and last I checked, a new couch doesn’t improve the condition of one’s heart :) .

  13. knutty knitter says:

    Our couch was recovered 7 times over 30 years and 2 generations before we parted with it. And even then it went to a good home. Only reason we passed it on was that it was just too big for the house we had. I still miss it. New furniture just doesn’t do it until it has been spilt on, furred on (dratted cats), scratched, muddied and all the other things which make it ours.

    Note I run an ecosystem, not a desert :)

    viv in nz

  14. Excellent piece, Sharon. Can I republish this on The Unsuitablog as an example of both greenwashing (why fix when you can buy?) and insidious profit greed?

    Thanks

    Keith

  15. Judy says:

    Sharon,

    The NYT piece should definitely give you the incentive to launch your new rag — Homestead Bountiful (apologies to House Beautiful). I envision that toilet garden you covet on the cover of the premiere issue ;0

  16. Wasatch Mermaid says:

    It’s sad – I have friends (a married couple) who’ve been pinching pennies all year long trying to get out of debt. But in the last few weeks they’ve announced that they are getting a divorce, and each one of them is on a spending frenzy like you wouldn’t believe. Him because he has “nothing” and “needs” to buy all NEW stuff, and her because she can never sleep in THAT bed again, and always hated THAT damn couch, etc.

    The idea of splitting their stuff so that he has the things she can’t look at, and a few necessities, is not even on the table. So of course he’s getting all his new housewares at the dollar stores, and plans to replace it with better new stuff as soon as he can! (Thrift stores are Gross, don’t you know.) And as far as she’s concerned, if she gets a new bed, she’ll “need” a new comforter set and matching drapes. And repaint the whole house.

    This from a couple who is just barely scraping by! I realize there’s some strong emotions involved in this case, but holy crap, I’d be busy getting as many roommates as possible to make up the loss of income, not worrying about my decor. But hey, that’s just me.

  17. rdheather says:

    BradK,

    When I was growing up there was a guy in town that refurbished mattresses. I don’t know for sure what he did(and it seemed to be regulated by state law?) but I know we had our mattresses redone several times.

    So it used to be done, like so many other things, before we just started throwing stuff away.

  18. Emily says:

    Parma-

    I’m with you. After all, furniture sellers are trying to stay employed the only way they know how. Sad, really.

    I’ve actually been thinking about buying a new couch for a couple years now. Even the patches on the old one need patches, and it would cost more to recover this rickety old thing than to buy a new one that could handle recovering in the future. I also find the upholstered furniture at resale shops near me is usually threadbare and soaked in cat urine and cigarette smoke.

    Some people find comfort in tough times from coffee, booze, or ice pops; I feel I can handle anything better if my home looks and feels cozy to me. So for me, a decent couch (bought for cash, at a reasonable price, and built to last) actually does rank on my list of priorities. Far behind other “necessaries” like drilling a new well, of course, which is why I’ve been thinking about that couch for a couple years and patching the patches…but maybe someday soon…

  19. dewey says:

    That “furniture executive” reminds me of a food executive who was quoted in the paper explaining why locavorism is impossible: “If you wanted grapes in December, (here begin tone conveying impending doom) WHAT WOULD YOU DO? YOU WOULDN’T HAVE GRAPES!” As if failure to fulfill this desire would be somehow life-threatening! And likewise depending on the ignoramosity of the targets, who are not supposed to know about the millions who live happily without the allegedly essential product.

  20. Deb says:

    I just took a tour of my house looking at the furniture and just realized the only things we have ever purchased new are the two couches and our bedroom set–and those items are well over 15 year old and one couch is 25 years old. Everything else is either hand me downs, refinished garage sale finds or things my husband made himself. Some of it was made by my grandfather who was a cabinet maker. Now that I think about it, I did buy myself an OTT lamp 10 years ago for sitting by my chair where I do all my handwork because I have fairly bad vision and need the extra light even on a sunny day and I still feel guilty about spending the cash on it.

    My husband made all our woodwork because we couldnt afford what we wanted–most of it from a huge stack of beautiful oak lumber he found at the dump. He made all our kitchen cabinets because I couldnt find anything that I liked ready made. We put a bow window into our living room when he found a new 3 panel picture window at a garage sale for $10–the casing didnt match her decor so she bought a different one. We took it apart and retrofit it into the space that one large window was in.

    In the kitchen, most of my cookware is second hand or was given to me as a gift–I’m using pots and pans from my grandmother’s kitchen. My dishes are my mother’s and aunt’s old dishes, my glasses come from goodwill, my flatwear is a hodgepodge of stuff I’ve picked up when I need it….

    Most of my bed linens are either hand made or second hand, tho I will spring for sheets if they are on sale and I cant mend or patch the ones we have anymore. My pillowcases are made from a huge stack of white linen tablecloths I inherited when an aunt died. My kitchen curtains are made from a linen tablecloth that was my grandmothers but had a hole in smack dab in the middle of it. My bath towels are second hand, as are most of my kitchen towels.

    I cant imagine replacing something just for the sake of buying new–everything we live with has a memory or a story to it that makes it ours. And when we have guests over they ALWAYS comment on how comfortable and interesting our home is.

  21. I don’t believe in buying new things just for the sake of having new things and we’ve often bought good used pieces of furniture and other household items. I will not be running out and buying a bunch of new furniture simply because of some advertising campaign.

    But I also don’t see anything wrong with saving up for and buying high quality new furnishings that you plan to hang on to for several years. There is nothing inherently evil about buying new. Just as there is nothing inherently virtuous about buying used or for that matter constructing furniture out of cardboard boxes.

    As I look around our home, I see a mix of things we’ve bought new and things we’ve bought used, as well as things my husband or I have made. No one entering our home for the first time would likely be able to tell which was which. But what I can tell you is that each was selected with care and the idea that it was made to last and they were all paid for with cash.

    The problem isn’t people wanting to buy new or even being encouraged to buy new through an advertising campaign. People themselves have to start taking responsibility for their choices. Business people can’t be blamed for trying to sell their product.

    Advertising may on occasion inform but it doesn’t teach anything if a person is using their critical thinking skills. No advertising campaign, no matter how many millions is spent on it, can persuade a person to make a particular purchase unless that person chooses to believe that their life will somehow be enhanced by that purchase. And there will be no added interest charges or danger of having an item repossessed if the purchase was budgeted for and paid for in cash.

  22. Sharon says:

    SuperMom, I have to disagree with you – while some individuals may be able to afford to indulge buying new, the average American has minimal savings, enormous credit card debt, and a shaky economic system, and doing more purchasing in a bad idea, as an average statement.

    Moreover, yeah, I think it does matter whether you buy new or not – because new stuff uses resources – it takes energy to make. That wood, that upholstery, those poly stuffings *matter* – the idea that it is just personal choice, we don’t have to think about the consequences of our actions, that’s what got us where we are.

    Sharon

  23. Maeve says:

    I was raised around people who value ingenuity, and making-do. Of course, part of making-do is refurbishing the things you are stuck with so that they feel more “yours”.

    Whether a new cover for a cushion, some curtains on a window, painting a chair, etc.

    So many tasks of the home maker aren’t actually hard. Just fussy and tedious.

    People used to be encouraged to view their home as their “forever home”. People now have been encouraged to view their home as their “retirement nest egg to sell in order to buy their dying home” (but it isn’t called a “dying home” lol)

    So, even though the message of that ad campaign is about spending money, there is a subtler message being sent out that says “it’s ok to be living in your home for the rest of your life”.

    I think that part of it is invaluable. Get people thinking they’ll stay there, first.

    And then worry about how they are furnishing it. (not that it’s any of anyone else’s business.)

  24. dogear6 says:

    I had to laugh at this post. It is thought provoking, but we are one of the ones who recently bought a new couch and for none of the reasons in the advertising or listed here. Our old one (15+ years) has been slipcovered for several years since the dogs chewed a hole in it and every few years, we replaced the slipcover.

    But one of the dogs developed a serious skin problem. He sheds all the time. After medication and (now) homeopathic treatment, he is much better but he will never be cured. The couch was just disgusting all the time with dog hair and not a small amount either. I took to washing the slipcover every weekend and even with that, we couldn’t stand sitting on it.

    We finally replaced it with a leather couch we found on sale. I can wipe it with a dry cloth, windex it if necessary, and sit on it comfortably. My purpose in replacing it was functionality. The old one just could not hold up to the change in our household.

    The money could have been sorely used on other things, including the hubby’s business, but it is nice to be able to use the family room again.

    And yes, I do have to vacuum the carpet before I do any exercises down there. Otherwise, I come up full of dog hair. Copious amounts of dog hair.

  25. Kat says:

    My bed is as old as my second child – twenty-eight years old, and still works! Ditto for the armchair, bought the same summer (1981). The sofa is newer. We replaced the old couch with the one we have now in 1995 because we wanted a sleeper sofa for when guests came. In the summer of 2008, I bought upholstery fabric on sale ($2.50/yard) and some curved heavy duty needles and reupholstered both the couch and chair. It was hot and kind of messy and my fingers hurt when I was done, but boy, did it feel good! And still does, because every time I’m in that room, I have a little thrill that I DID THAT! I’ve never upholstered anything, although I do sew clothes and such. It’s kind of like the garden. I’ve have small ones before, but nothing on the scale of this year’s. And I actually used a pressure canner and our house is still standing! Sometimes, it’s just more pleasurable to work really hard at something, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. I think consumerism has replaced that sense of accomplishment, which is sad, since the good feeling of accomplishment lasts longer generally than the fleeting pleasure of buying something new.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    I know this post is older now, I just felt the need to add my two cents. My husband and I have always bought used furniture because we’ve been unable to afford a new couch or chair or table. And that’s fine. But every used piece of uphoulstered furniture we’ve ever bought has lasted a year, tops. At this point, we’ve been through four $20 couches and I would happily buy a brand new one if we had the funds and I would not feel the least bit guilty about it. I think it is sometimes easier to find virtue in our actions when they are based on choices rather than necessity.

    Oh, and I am now saving my pennies for an ektorp couch from ikea (chosen because of the washable slip covers)!

  27. Cathy says:

    So after all everyone stops buying new furniture and my furniture industry job is eliminated because of low/non-existant sales volume, who’s letting my family and me move in with them because I can’t afford my house payments any longer?? Get real!
    Conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence are what keep the fires of industry going strong in America. As long as what you purchase is made in America, you keep American workers employed and supporting the economy.
    I agree that we are all responsible for making good choices and not over-spending money that we do not have, but let’s not stop the process and start living in and on cardboard boxes.

  28. Sharon says:

    Oh, ok, Cathy’s job depends on us overconsuming resources, so we shouldn’t do anything that would hurt her job. Gee, it never occurred to me that anyone might make umm…money on this. I thought the advertising agencies acted from the goodness of their hearts. Oh, and don’t people in other countries need jobs too? Is it just that I should like you better, because you are american, rather than Indonesian?

    For the record, my job as a blogger depends heavily on affluence, employed people with internet access, etc…, and I don’t look to losing it with any kind of good cheer. It doesn’t change the fact that the reality is that our consumption now strips the planet for the future. Our economic instability now builds debts we can’t pay back for the future. The truth is that both of us – you and I – are going to have to find some way to make a living that doesn’t steal from future generations. There’s furniture to be made – but it isn’t a couch that gets replaced every five years. I’m still using furniture bought and made by my great-grandparents 200 years ago, quite literally. That does mean fewer jobs, and that’s a real pity – just like when I tell people not to eat at McDonalds that means fewer jobs. But in the end, doing the right thing serves us a great deal more – supposedly, we’re in this whole American thing “for ourselves and our posterity.”

    Sharon

  29. Cathy says:

    Sorry, Sharon — just feeling cranky today (it IS Monday, after all!) But the truth is that I’ve been having conflicting feelings about spending less and the inevitable effect that spending less has on the economy. The bottom line is that we need to employ people. Those people have to manufacture a product — but unless there are people willing to purchase the product, there won’t be jobs for employees who make that product. It’s a “catch-22″ – we have to spend (wisely). We are our own customers.

    The real deal is that we have to stop allowing ourselves to be brainwashed by marketers who try to convince us that we “deserve” every little gadget or new-and-improved-product — and become smart consumers.

    Gotcha’ going, didn’t I ? :-)

  30. Brad K. says:

    @ Cathy,

    The industrialization of our society took mass labor from producing food and fighting wars, and turned them to producing lots of goods, some food, and . . . well,fighting wars of financial, territorial, and political natures.

    We need people making furniture. Furniture must be replaced – disasters, accidents, even when someone makes it rich and must “move on up” to more prominent social and economic positions.

    I think the challenge is considering, in each case, whether a plant should expect to provide all the furniture for a state. As far as occupying people’s time, returning to hand crafting practices would occupy a lot more time and people, without the conspicuous consumption we take for granted today.

    The issue, then, is whether the people now making furniture should continue making furniture, find a different means of accruing the same degree of income – or look at life differently.

    One place that I think can use all the people we can find, is in raising food. Growing a garden and preserving the produce for oneself, one’s family, or even more, can be a full time task. Being good at it, should produce enough to support someone making enough furniture for your family, amortized over a generation or three and a modest community. I think this is part of the concept of “localization”.

    The question is not “should we decry mass furniture makers”, but “is there a more earth-friendly, less mass-market oriented way for people to live?” A gentle descent, if I understand that argument, would have people turning from their production line jobs, and starting their gardens and low-carbon footprint lifestyles as they can. The “zombie apocalypse” would start with outlawing furniture makers or otherwise ending the industry before the people involved have left to sustain themselves outside the cash economy.

    Anyone that has a boss or employer that claims, “you have to work this job or you will starve”, or that believes they have that kind of job, has overlooked alternatives. Anyone can contribute some small bit or all of their food, from their own efforts or at least outside the mass-market cash economy. As withdrawal and alternatives proceed, other communal needs for crafts and skills and even furniture makers, all outside the mass market economy, should arise. I sure don’t see it all coming together in a warm and vibrant expression of joy and peace, yet I can see that planned transition, pulling people into self sufficiency and a localized, low carbon and low cash economy, would be much less traumatic. And likely more survivable by more people.

    @Sharon,

    Sorry for butting in.

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