“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
In the years since William Morris first delivered his “The Beauty of Life” lecture in 1880, this quotation has taken on a life of its own. People put it on their bulletin boards, transcribe it in their diaries, and tweet about it on Twitter.
For many, it also helps them to change their lives. “The William Morris Project”, on a blog called “Pancakes and French Fries”, was created by a former lawyer named Jules, who found herself disturbed by the death of her friend’s parents in 2011, and the things they had left behind. Instead of a carefully curated collection of objects that could have told volumes about their lives, they had left a white noise of designer handbags, eighties clothes, and redundant kitchen utensils.
With Morris’s quotation as her guide, Jules set out to escape the fate of her friend’s parents. Naturally, her project focused on de-cluttering her home, keeping only useful or beautiful things. Her project is still going today, and has a large following—it’seven inspired others to follow suit.
At first, it may seem that the people involved in the project are overlooking Morris’s depth by focusing on a piece of interior decorating advice, but Morris wouldn’t think so. He dubbed his quotation “a golden rule that will fit everybody”, calling upon people to follow it not just for their own well being, but to help revive true art, and to save Society from the oblivion of consumption. At least, that’s the message he brought to his Birmingham audience in 1880:
“that message is, in short, to call on you to face the latest danger which civilisation is threatened with, a danger of her own breeding : that men in struggling towards the complete attainment of all the luxuries of life for the strongest portion of their race should deprive their whole race of all the beauty of life…”
By forgoing lots of silly luxury items in favor of a few useful and beautiful things, Morris’s followers would be resisting the tide of Victorian Capitalism, and they would become the saviors of Society. Perhaps Jules and her followers are the same: tidying up our culture of excess, one drawer at a time.