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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Are You Guilty of 'Housesnarking'?

Are You Guilty of 'Housesnarking'?

It's more than questioning someone's decor: Housesnarking is a nasty way to cut someone down by hitting them where it hurts: Their home.

'll admit: I ended a friendship based on their comments about a chair cushion.

It was my housewarming party: 15 people swirling through my new apartment among perfectly-fluffed throw pillows and newly painted lavender walls. I'd pulled things together in two weeks, just before my birthday so that I could celebrate the new place and my new age together.

The chair that ended the friendship. Photo: Amy Preiser.My friend walked in, gave me a hug and as she looked over my shoulder towards the apartment she whispered: "It's cute! But so small." She grabbed some wine and plopped onto one of my newly upholstered seats. "Can you believe Amy reupholstered those herself?" asked my lovely friend Katie. "Um, yes," said the friend. "They're pr-etty light on padding. I'm guessing it was a rush job."

She then went on to pick apart every detail of the apartment from the rug's pile to the dust on the glass table (we're right by the window! What do you want from me?). And by the end of the night, she'd managed to trash-talk my apartment to just about everyone there. Including me.

Back in 2008, the Wall Street Journal turned its gaze tobodysnarking, the practice of women cutting down other women by attacking their looks. It's obviously extremely hurtful -- most people have a hard time separating their inner selves from their appearances. But I'd argue that the growing practice of housesnarking -- yes, I'm coining it now -- is just as hurtful. We curate our homes to be a reflection of ourselves: Our tastes, our obsessions, even our financial situations. It takes a thick skin to listen to a friend talk about the size of your house without hearing it as an attack on the size of your paycheck.

Even when it comes from the most unlikely sources. When my coworker brought her toddler niece to her new house, the sweet girl piped up from her wagon. "Why isn't your house bigger?" she asked, no doubt parroting the housesnarking she'd overheard from her parents earlier. My coworker laughed it off but felt a little betrayed.

And it's no easier when it comes to the items we choose to display: Brie Dyas of DIY Life recently grinned-and-beared it while house guests insulted her library of vintage classics. "What, have you not read a book since high school?" a guest asked, holding up a copy of Catcher in the Rye. It's a small bookshelf, people!

Some might argue that it's a product of the changing voice of design blogs. Sites like Catalog Living andUnhappy Hipsters poke fun at the perfect interiors of mail order catalogs and magazines, parodying the over-the-top displays and neat-to-a-T rooms. "In spite of his expertly honed tantrum-throwing skills, she remained transfixed by her slick new kitchen appliances," reads one Unhappy Hipsters post on a beyond-stark room inhabited by a single baby. But I think these sites actually encourage the opposite: Rather than celebrating the picture-perfect homes, they pull back the curtain and expose the prop stylist's bizarre touch or the too-extravagant look. Insulting a person's house -- especially while you're a guest in their house -- is an entirely different thing. One that I'd like to see an end to.

See, not only is housesnarking extremely rude, but it's quite telling of the housesnarker's own self esteem issues. My ex-friend who couldn't stop cutting down my apartment was clearly working on her own house issues, having just moved out of her boyfriend's apartment. And the times that I've caught myself on the verge of housesnarking -- for example, rolling my eyes at the flights of stairs to a new friend's apartment -- it's because there's something else I'm extremely jealous of. (In this instance, my friend lived in my dream neighborhood!)

The fact is that our homes, like our bodies, like our lives, are a series of trade-offs. Have a huge kitchen? You probably have a leaky ceiling. Gorgeous backyard? Perhaps your pipes are old. But no matter what virtues your home does or doesn't have, just remember this: Complaining about someone else's will not make yours any better.

Just remember this, ahen, ammended, Audrey Hepburn quote: "For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for a beautiful home, don't talk smack about your friends' houses."

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