It truly is an oddity. It’s become a talking point among friends. A joke at first.  I can’t buy a couch. And it’s come to hold up a mirror to a few fundamental sadnesses about life.

Cold comfort: It took Steve Jobs 10 years to buy a couch.

Indeed, I’ve never owned a couch. I’ve inherited old ones when I’ve moved into the various rentals I’ve traipsed between over the years. I bought my first apartment late last year. I’ve been sitting in it… on the floor. Actually, on my yoga foam roller on a bit of old carpet a friend passed onto me. I work from this set-up. I meditate here. I eat my meals from the one – yes one – chair I have (I sit on the floor, eat from the chair). I’ve lived like this for seven months. And, yes, I know it’s sad.

I struggled to know what it is that stalls me from buying a couch. Or a dining table. Or chairs. I’ve been trying to find a sustainably made one that ticks off all My Simple Home boxes. My criteria is tight; I’m a painful perfectionist who can’t buy a pair of undies until I know the manufacturing history and carbon mileage of them and determined that they’re the best design on the market such that my rare purchase of a new pair of undies (I own eight pairs currently) is not wasted.

But that’s only part of it. It’s this too: to buy something so… committed (THERE, I SAID IT)… is a big deal. Couches are commitments. Right now, I can pack up and take off with a moment’s notice. In fact, I’m about to next week. I don’t own a fridge either (I bought a place with an inbuilt one). With a couch (and a fridge) you can’t fly. At least it feels that way.

So since it’s a Big Deal, and reflects more than just seating apparatus,  the potency of my couch-buying decision is magnified. And, of course, the more potent, the more I freeze. I can’t make a decision because it’s come to matter so much.

We stall on decisions when there’s fear. Indecision flags fear for us.

And so it reared it’s head: commitment niggles me. When things niggle me, I bubble-wrap them in perfectionism. No one can accuse me of being scared of commitment when I can just turn around and and say I’m merely being a perfectionist. And so my fear can continue, unchallenged a little longer. I’m seductive like that.

And then I came across the above picture of Steve Jobs in his lounge room. A concerned friend sent it to me.  It could be me. That’s my lounge below.

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 2.23.03 PM
My lounge. The similarities are uncanny.

I dug around to find out the genesis of the photo. I’m sharing it, and pivoting this post from it, because it’s interesting. In Jobs’ biography, author Walter Isaacson explains that for most of his life Steve Jobs lived a spartan lifestyle, his home furnished with  the barest essentials: a chest of drawers and a mattress in his bedroom, a card table and some folding chairs in his dining room for when guests came over.

He was such a perfectionist and obsessive that…he couldn’t buy a couch! Here’s what his wife Laurene said in the book: “We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’”

And in a 1996 Wired article Jobs discussed buying a washing machine:

“We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them. It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.”

“We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make,” Steve continued. “We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.”

I do this. With dinner plates. Running shoes. Holiday destinations. Except the debate is in my head because I don’t have a wife. And I’d not want to subject anyone else to the torture of my perfectionism. And fear. And truth be known, when friends do raise the issue, I snap at them. Dismiss the issue. Barge forward onto another topic. More bubble-wrap.

In the hospital at the end of his life, apparently Jobs churns through 67 nurses before he finds three he likes. “At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,” Isaacson writes. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked.

I read this now and it leaves me immeasurably sad. Some people don’t ever get to puncture their bubble-wrap. They flog themselves stupid all their lives to be positioned such that no one will ever be able to challenge them on their fear. Jobs could churn through 67 nurses because he was rich and powerful and a known “perfectionist”.

Ultimately, though, perfectionism and indecision masks the fear we’re not enough on our own.

Do you reckon indecision and perfectionism flags stuff for you? I do rather love the way it expresses itself in different people…always quirky!


Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Marie

    Hey Sarah, just read this and relate to the aversion of big stuff which cannot be moved easily, especially if being single. You put out your back and calling people to help is totally possible but it’s so nice to be able to move things on a whim. Sofas are nice and cosy and also big and so not handy. I must say I like the idea of nice rugs ( not a carpet! Too big!) and some biggish cushions to sit on, Oriental style. Easy to move around the room, into another home, to give away if not needed anymore and different pillow cases will even change the look. And soooo cosy. And I find that lots of people don’t mind sitting on the floor.

  • Michelle

    Reading this reminded me of a great TED talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz. His book was recommended by the great Martin Seligman.

  • Amanda

    I can relate to this idea of perfectionalism a lot- I have to consider everything and evaluate what is the most effective and best way to move forward. I was fortunate to find a beautiful man who likes to push forward and finish things- get to the end point or else I would never of found balance. I have accepted that we have different ways of engaging with the world- not right or wrong just different. We need people that intellectually engage with the world but we also need facilitators to get stuff done let’s not judge but work together

  • Diane Haynes – Smith

    I’m very similar Sarah, though I’m an Interior Designer so imagine the double whammy of that sofa reflecting your career and style, for all your friends and family to see! My New Years resolution is to stop worrying so much and just put myself out there. Which I did today via my first Vlog. OMG the anxiety of not being able to edit it just one more time!

  • Justine

    Making a decision is better than making no decision. A “wrong” decision can be corrected but no decision results in paralysis. When making a choice, I pick fast – then I examine how I feel. If I feel happy, I continue with that choice. If I feel disappointed, I pick the other choice.

    • Justine

      To clarify: Making a decision, i.e. making any decision and any choice, is better than making no decision at all.

  • Emma

    Sarah, I too took the better part of 10 yrs to buy a couch…and then another 3 to find the perfect design that was comfy! I’m pleased to report it’s pretty good on the ‘other side of the grass’. Not only am I complimented on my lovely couch, but it’s aust made, & inexpensive if ever I need to leave it behind for greater adventures… I hope you find your lounge one day

  • Kristi Jarvis

    Amen to this, sister.

  • Shirley

    So Sarah, if it took this long to buy a couch, how did you overcome buying an apartment!! I’m a perfectionist too. I also have the added quirk of wanting to explore every option and thinking “what if”. So I never get anything done, can’t make decisions and rarely ever follow through with plans. It’s terrible. I love your last sentence. It truly is a mask for feeling we’re not enough. *hug*

  • anita

    I read an article about Liz Hayes years ago, her lounge room consisted of one beautiful chair. She was at a point of time that involved change and commitment. Your resemblance to her article is very similar.

  • leanne

    I haven’t owned a new couch since I got divorced. I guess a lot of “what will people think” went when he did. I have raised 3 kids on parenting payment single to begin with and now I am working in aged care and supporting us all while studying nursing. I still have my big dining table from when we were married, but it is part of me and it is the centre of our home. I am about to get another lounge, 2nd hand of course. My last one was of the kerb side from council collection. My daughter will take it with her when she moves out of home.
    Currently I am collecting pallets from around the city to build a platform for the second lounge that came from my parents so when my partner and his kids (3 also) visit we can all sit an watch a movie together. My tv cabinet is from a work friend, my second fridge is from my nanna who passed away a couple of years ago, I think other than my washing machine, fridge, microwave, my bed and tv everything is second hand or a gift. Now that I have actually thought about it I am surprised at how much of a recycler I am. Another one of my collections is soft drink bottles to use as a hanging garden for lettuce and the like so we can have fresh and organic salads. My son loves to pick strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum, squash, zucchini and herbs for meals. We all agree life is pretty good here and tasty.
    Now I just have to ween them off sugar as my 10 year old son is particularly fond of the evil stuff. Wish me luck everyone!

  • BSpears

    You just know deep down this stupid bitch is patting herself on the back for sharing a similarity with Steve Jobs. And yet that’s where the similariy ends. Steve actually helped create things. This pathetic sack of shit has done nothing in her life but pander to dumb people and make their lives worse off. She describes herself as a journalist and TV presenter. Editor of Cosmo? Shitty books? And this shitty blog? I wouldn’t read any of your books or watch any show that would hire somebody as stupid as you. You should go hang yourself in the closet you worthess normie. Keep on taking advantage of soccer Moms and young girls you weak pathetic fool.