With the new year and a rough economy, what better time for a little bit of navel gazing? I like to do my cleaning seasonally as I’m taking out new candles, digging up appropriate clothes, changing sheets, and swapping home accessories. Since winter is a few weeks in and I’ve been on the prowl for some fresh design ideas, I’ve grown more and more frustrated with what I’m seeing.

We all know that mass consumption has got us overwhelmed with clutter and debt, but all sorts of “lifestyle” sites and blogs perpetuate the problem by advocating more, more, more. I don’t think I’m alone in this frustration. See, for example, Apartment Therapy’s Predictions for 2009 post, which seemed all in good fun but drew a lot of bitter comments. I guess the readers got a bit tired of being told that a $1000 table is a great! find! in November 2007, then being told it’s out a year later. Or being told that “obvious mid-century modern” (a phrase that if I never hear again, it’ll be too soon) is so last year, but we should all run out and redo our home Mad Men style because that’s what’s on the TeeVee. 

Ok, I’m giving AT a hard time, but there are good ways and bad ways to approach your home and lifestyle that don’t require a complete overhaul every twelve months. Read the full rant after the jump.

I believe our homes should be as simple as possible, with clean basics and embellishments we add along the way and can change throughout the year. My issue with AT, beside the fact that many homeowners and apartment dwellers with obvious design talent end up with homes that all look like they belong in the same catalog, is the overall tone of conspicuous consumption. Which is why I am thiiiis close to deleting the RSS feed from my reader even though I really enjoy about a quarter of the posts. 

But I know I won’t, because comments on threads like this one offer really great ideas. I love the tip to frame beautiful paper if fine art is unattainable. Rich papers like these from Paper Source are great for warming up a room in the winter:

One of my favorite bloggers, Holly at Decor8 and Simply Stated, just posted on this topic. She advises readers to shop at Craigslist and yard sales, and I wholeheartedly agree. No need for an Eames chair (cough, conspicuous consumption, cough) to make a beautiful space.

Another blogger I greatly admire, Nicole at Making it Lovely, expertly mixes up cheap IKEA items with expensive designers. Her design for a beautiful modern, graphic bedroom, for example, includes art that costs about $30 total, with print from etsy and a frame from IKEA. Now, to be fair, I added up all her suggestions and the price tag estimate came to over $1,100, but I bet it’s not too hard to find reasonable substitutes for many of those items on eBay or discount stores. 

So with the start of the new year, concentrate not on buying new things to make a beautiful space, but use what you have and add little touches here and there to make it your own, not something out of a Design Within Reach catalog. 

*The photo at the top is from zen sekizawa photography, via Design for Mankind