Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables

This piece was featured on Freshly Pressed at the end of May 2011! Thank you WordPress! 

How many books and magazines does one coffee table need? Turns out our coffee table needs between 25 to 35. Those occasions when I want to create order from chaos in my home I look at our coffee table in despair. Armed with Pledge and a cloth I resolve to decrease the clutter and get to work, determined to have no more than 10 books and magazines by the time I am finished.

And then I begin – there’s Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, a story that captures the experience of a Palestinian family after 1948. Just the opening sentence is enough to warrant a place on my coffee table.

In a distant time, before history marched over the hills and shattered present and future, before wind grabbed the land at one corner and shook it of its name and character, before Amal was born, a small village east of Haifa lived quietly on figs and olives, open frontiers and sunshine.”

That book definitely stays. I put it back. Then there’s The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah, a humorous, entertaining account of a man who leaves cold, rainy England and relocates his family to sunny Casablanca, Morocco, taking on the daunting task of remodeling a villa. That one stays. It’s a tale that reminds me dreams can come true in the middle of winter.

I move on to 5 copies of the New Yorker Magazine. But they all look so interesting and although my husband has read several articles, I have not,  so I place them back on the table. I’ll get to them this summer.

Jars of Clay and The Day the Chicken Cackled? No way can those two be put away. The first, written by Pauline A. Brown (my mom!), is a reminder of  my heritage on days when it feels threatened. That too has a first sentence that I have memorized and used:

“I take missionaries out and monkeys back and I don’t know which is worse!”- We recognized that voice – the captain of our ship was talking to the captain of a passing ship.”

Through words and images I’m brought into the world my parents experienced as they headed to Pakistan in 1954 and set up a new home in a place they had barely read about, creating a new normal for their young family that would ultimately expand to 7, then 12, then grandchildren and ultimately great grands. The second, penned by Bettie Rose Addleton, gives stories from a life in Pakistan, an intimate look at friendships and customs. Both books are vital to my life and my past. They serve as reference books and challenge me to continue writing this blog and think about writing more.

At this point, I realize I have only gone through 4 books and 5 magazines and have 20 more to consider but I’ve already gone over my self-imposed limit of 10. Sighing I decide that Infections and Inequalities (Paul Farmer); The Dude Abides (Kathleen Falsani); and Songs of Blood and and Sword (an autographed copy from Fatima Bhutto) and my small blue Bible (my lifeline to all of life) all have to stay. Even if read only a chapter at a time, they signify something of our interests and loves.

I make a judgment call realizing it’s the only way I can justify clutter: Dull women have immaculate coffee tables. 

I realize that it’s a losing battle. As much as I want to decrease clutter, these books are like friends and to take them off my coffee table is like taking them out of my life. I realize just how irrational it is as I look at the packed bookshelf directly across from the coffee table. I give up and console myself by paraphrasing a well-known quote.

“Women with immaculate coffee tables rarely make history.”

163 thoughts on “Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables

  1. If I were to write this post it would be “Dull Women Have Immaculate Bedside Tables”. Mine is stacked high with Bible, Better Homes & Garden, Traditional Home, Emory Magazine, National Geographic,The Tapestries by Kien Nguyen, and a travel guide for Mexico. It drives my husband crazy but I just can’t stand not having it all in reach of my favorite reading spot. I know you wrote it awhile back, but I love this post. Thank you!

    Like

    1. Love this and so glad you read it and can relate! True confessions are that my bedside stand looks like yours. I so enjoyed looking through some of your posts today and your perspective on traveling and a global mindset while close to home. Excellent!

      Like

  2. I realize this is an older post, but I just read it and had to comment. I don’t think I’m dull, but my coffee table is immaculate. In fact, it has nothing on it and gets wiped down everyday with a wet wipe my two-year-old pulls out of the wipe box so she can “clean.” It has nothing on it because my one-year-old puts everything in her mouth that ends up on the table. She even gnaws on the edges of the table when she can’t find anything else within reach.

    Like

    1. Hahaha! love this! And yes, we are at a stage where all the kids read voraciously! And I promise, the title was for interest and fun more than anything. I actually have it quite immaculate at the moment :) I think it’s great that you’re teaching your two year old early!

      Like

  3. Wow, superb blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is excellent, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables communicating.across.boundaries .

    Like

  4. Carol and Dan just visited me for the first time in my new (3 yrs old to me) home. She said you wrote this blog for me and I HAD to read it….. so today I came searching for it. Mazagines and books abound in almost every room…. Living room coffee table (VERY large custon made ottoman) has interesting decor books – about 10 in each pile and one pile on each corner. Then there are the magazines in piles on a footstool and in decorative boxes in the kitchen. ….. my only regret is I rarely have time to sit and read them….. either I am in the garden when home, or away on business trips. How I look forward to retirement. Reading will be first on my to do list. And yes, John agreed with Dan that life is not dull at 605 Woodlawn!

    Like

  5. I recently downsized – gave everything to my children and moved into a bachelor pad alone. I allowed myself 3 apple boxes for personal belongings. 1 for arts and crafts 1 for photos and ornaments and 1 for books. Needless to say i ended up with 6 for books and 2 other. my single bookshelf is now packed with 2 rows of books on each shelf.

    Like

  6. Loved this post! It also makes me feel much better about my far-from-immaculate coffee floor, as it happens (all my books are spread out on the ground next to my bed as I don’t yet have a desk in my new room)!

    Like

  7. I love this! I cleaned off my table yesterday, and already it’s covered with paper. It’s not as bad it it will be tomorrow (or tonight), but you’re right. They’re like friends—magazines, books, notes, and for me–composition notebooks. I did come up with a half-hearted solution. I lined a wall with a short book case and I stack even more stuff there…it’s close enough and a little more acceptable. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

    Like

  8. I’ve fixed this: we have bookshelves within easy reach, which also have plenty of magazine boxes. We now have space on the coffee table for drinks/snacks/games, but only need to stand up to have a book in my hand.

    Like

  9. My husband would kill me if our coffee table looked like that. I’ve been known to clutter all open spaces with mail and the like.

    Like

  10. I too am a huge fan of the title of your post and your modified quote :) I vaguely remember reading about Jackie O’s apartment in New York that was literally furnished with books: stacks of them that became shelves, tables, and even stools. In my dreams…

    Like

  11. HAHAHA this just gave me some hope that cleaning up my desk is not an issue.. currently covered in TOO many art books form the Uni library, my jewelry assignment and my sketch book, some epoxy and resin, too many notebooks and little visual art diaries, some paint and lots of other craft stuff, tone of post it notes and pieces of paper stuck to the wall of things to do or get…. Its hopeless…. but at least I cleaned up the pile of laundry that was on it before :)

    Like

    1. This sounds like an amazing, creative desk! Far more so than my coffee table. And I agree with the laundry – when that’s done, reading and creativity can abound. Thanks for reading!

      Like

    1. Thanks for reading! I’ve no doubt that your desk abounds with interest and personality. Just change the saying to ‘Dull women have immaculate desks…’

      Like

  12. I laughed so hard when I read the title to your post. I so relate. Not only is the coffee table awash in reading material, I have stacks of books, magazines and newspapers on the floor, which makes my husband nuts. I’m going to show him your post.

    Like

  13. Yeah. I tried to avoid this by getting an ottoman instead of a table. Right now it has 3 loads of laundry on it, my purse, my son’s backpack, two hardcover books that need to go back to the library, the TV remote, some spare change. And um… whatever is under the pile of laundry. I should probably go and fold it now. ;-)

    Come visit me at “Lessons From Teachers and Twits,” if you get a chance.

    Like

    1. Oh good call – I too was thinking an ottoman might work, but as I read your comment i realize mine would look like yours! Thanks for the suggestion of Teachers & Twits. I look forward to reading! And thank you for reading and commenting.

      Like

  14. Marilyn Dear – how I love to read your ‘blogs’ as I feel like I am right there in your home or mine with a cup of coffee like the ‘old days.’ Your coffee table did always hold a wealth of books which would meet the interest of almost everyone who came into your house. Sorry, I am talking in the past but it seems ages since we have spent time just ‘hanging’ out. I believe the last time was in your pool in Az.. or maybe it was over a wonderful ethnic touch lunch with Diana Lowry there in your lovely home. Miss you dear friend….

    Like

    1. Karen! Thank you so much for this vote of confidence. Yes, I remember that lunch well. So fun. There are moments when I so miss the warmth, palm trees, and laid back feeling of Arizona. Look forward to seeing you this year – fall maybe?

      Like

  15. I love how you capture that the very presence of great stories can inspire someone to move forward, to believe in the possibilities of dreams! Yes, now I feel better about the number of books (fiction, non-fiction, and children’s) that are always “cluttering” my home!

    Like

    1. Thank you for this comment! It’s so true, sometimes it’s that one story that inspires us to take a risk and buy villas in Morocco….ahhhh! what bliss. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Like

  16. Oh Thank God..I thought it was just me….and I use to admire those immaculate coffee tables….now I can sit and sip my Java in pride while sifting through the mess laid out on the table….

    Great read!!

    Like

  17. This is a heartfelt and funny post! This reminds me of an awesome senior lecturer of mine. Apart from her special coffee mug on her table, there is no trace of a table top! It’s full of reading materials! Great books you got there. =) Thanks for posting!

    Like

  18. I do have clutter…and it’s not books. They’re on the floor. Not enough furniture. I’ve only picked a book I’ve been reading sporadically, “The Japan I Never Knew” by David Suzuki. 2nd read for me. About Japan’s reconciliation with its war-time past, environmental issues, etc.

    Otherwise it’s blogging with a slightly messy desk. No coffee table yet.
    I like it this way, simple just a few books, computer and blogging. No need for kindle or iPad yet. :)

    Like

  19. Justification! Thank you. I will apply this to my bedside table as our coffee table usually has too much peanut butter and playdough on it for book safety.

    Like

  20. My coffee table is clutter free, my studio however is a mess, papers on the floor, papers on the workspace.
    I’ve realised that there must have been times in my past when I just had to go out and buy screwdrivers, of all varieties, colours and length, unless of course they breed?
    Loved your post and of course you made Freshly Pressed which gives you almost God like status in blog world!
    Keep it up…

    Like

    1. haha! I Of course they breed….as do books! I have to say: Incredibly jealous of the studio. Amazing. And thanks for the congratulations on Freshly Pressed! Love the way you described it. I will enjoy my 15 minutes of fame as goddess of the blog world…..Thanks for reading. Blogging is new to me so every time a stranger reads it feels quite wonderful.

      Like

    1. Yes – It’s great. Hard at times but so good! We spent a lot of time in the Middle East and gained a somewhat different perspective through our own eyes as well as those of Palestinian friends.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Like

  21. Thank you for doing this! I love my coffee table books. My favorite one is of our Supreme Court Justices. I learned so much just leafing through the pages and putting the pieces of our historical puzzle together: John Jay, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Marshall, Taft, Warren and Burger and so many others. Great post!

    Like

  22. I live alone, so I use my dining room table to hold all my books and notebooks and magazines. I like to arrange them into categorical piles (gardening, cooking, science, etc). I think your coffee table looks lovely, especially with the candle in the middle. I would love to flop on your couch and browse through those books lol.

    Like

  23. I live alone, so I only have myself to blame. After reading your post, I counted up to ten books and gave up. Since I don’t have a coffee table, they are stacked along the front of the sofa and on the end table, which is actually a circular chessboard table, but you would never know that because of all the books. I won’t even mention what the table looks like. It is so cluttered with books that all I have is a 12 inch square to eat in. I figure, “Why pick it up? It will be like that again in two or three days!”

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Like

  24. Marilyn. I love your words and just when I thought I might start clearing the kitchen table of the assortment of books and magazines, I read that excerpt of “Mornings in Jenin” and realised that it was a better use of time to source this book and add it to the current book-nest.

    Like

    1. Love this comment! That was the rabbit trail I went down and sitting comfortably on a couch ended up getting lost in the wonder of words and stories! I think you’ll enjoy the book. If you do read, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  25. Since I spend a lot of my free time when not working, reading. I convinced myself long ago as I would glance over at my kitchen–boring women have perfect kitchens.

    Like

    1. Ha – yes! I knew one woman that used one of those cookbook holders to hold her book while she multitasked her way through books and cooking. Thanks so much for reading.

      Like

  26. And the flip side…. My mother has dementia and it sometimes takes the form of obsessive tidying. The coffee table is her favorite starting point. We know she has had a particularly insomniacal (is that really a word?!) night when even the TV remote and the dictionary (quite a heavy one for her strength these days) are both tidied away somewhere. These are the last two items to go before a bare surface appears.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing this flip side. I’m a nurse so this was really interesting to me. I wonder if part of it is the need to have order because it is so difficult for the mind to cope with chaos and disorder. So appreciate you reading and commenting.

      Like

  27. The title alone made me want to “like” this post before I even began to read. I felt quite at home reading this because I can so relate! The same goes for my dressers in my bedroom and the bureaus in my dining room.
    While I swoon over minimalistic pictures in magazines where everything has it’s place, and feel calm and more at ease when my house is in total (or as close to it as it can ever get) order, there are days when my clutter comforts me as well. Like right before I fall asleep and I look around my room and see all my favorite things lying around. By your definition, I’m one of the most exciting women you’ll ever meet!

    Like

    1. Thanks for reading! Love your last line! I do the exact same thing. I swoon over the pictures of model homes and for awhile had ever so much space and order….Now there’s order some places but the books as food for the soul are staying.

      Like

    1. OHHHHH! Thank you so much! As I’m seeing how far this post has spread, I’m suddenly feeling like I hope people won’t think I’m totally unchic and a little piggy. This comment was so wonderful to read – thank you. Oh and often there is potpourri!

      Like

  28. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, which is how, happily, I’ve come across your blog, and I am certain I will be back!

    I love this piece because it totally justifies my entire living space, not just the coffee table! Thanks! Oh, and the joining the library thing doesn’t work because the books and magazines have to be around to remind you to read them. There is, utterly, nothing like picking up a book or magazine which has been sitting there for weeks, waiting for you, and two hours later finding yourself being brought back to the moment by the turning of a key in the door, or realizing that your feet are cold or something. It’s like a lovely bonus in life :=)

    Like

    1. Yes – totally relate with this comment and thank you so much for reading. The library I too have thought of but you state it well in your comment. Thanks for your vote of confidence on my blog. It’s my new love…

      Like

  29. Oh I wish we lived around the corner from each other! That is exactly how I feel about a coffee table. Our living room has become more of a dog room and pass through though so now it’s my 22 feet of u shaped desk in my bedroom that looks like your coffee table. There is just no point in cleaning or straightening it up. It keeps returning to the same mess. Five books here, ten there, crafts all over the place. Always something to pick up and work with. A house or even a table with no books is empty.

    Like

    1. It sounds like you have a home where creativity abounds – I love it! A long time ago I said to a friend “A home is a vehicle by which to share your life. If it becomes any thing more or any thing less, it loses it’s value” It sounds like your home shares your life.
      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Like

  30. Never heard that quite before! Genius! I am a bit like you… except my table (and under it!!!!) is taken by back copies of The Sunday Times newspaper… it is insane!! If you really want to read the whole thing- it’ll take a week to go through it- not just a Sunday morning…lol.

    Like

    1. YES! and you know who really started this collection and collecting?….My husband. When I first broached the idea that 3 to 10 books was enough he looked aghast. Thanks so much for reading and tell my twin to stand firm!

      Like

    1. Yay for piled high bookshelves. We received bookends for our wedding with a card saying “Wherever you go, always take your books!” Thanks so much for reading.

      Like

  31. Great topic, Marilyn. We used to say “clean desk, closed mind…” – same principle, I think. Your table is not quite cluttered enough, though. I guess I’ll have to send you another copy… :) !!!

    Like

  32. Congrats on making FP! We don’t have a coffee table yet (we’re renovating our house), but I have been to some of my friends houses that have books and magazines all over their coffee tables…..I never thought that perhaps those items mean more to them than just clutter on the table. Your post just enlightened me!

    Like

    1. You bring up a really good point and I think that is what happened as I went through the process. I realized that what some would see as a bunch of books, to us is a table of memories, interests, and loves. Good luck with renovating – how fun is that?! Thank you so much as well for reading and commenting.

      Like

  33. “How many books and magazines does one coffee table need?” Ha-ha. I don’t know. I think I’m up to about 20, and I keep adding them. LOL! What my coffee table really needs is some sort of little attachment to pop up, so I don’t have to slide my books to the side to find a place for my coffee.

    Like

  34. This post inspires me to dash off and add more clutter to my too-neat coffee table…..all it has is a basket of potpourri, a couple of coasters and a bunch of remote controls! How sad!

    Like

    1. Ahhh! No worries…remember your coffee table is sort of my envy! Maybe if we both came half way we would have the perfect balance. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  35. My coffee table is a sea of books, TV controllers, magazines and assorted dog toys! Cluttered Coffee tables unite! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Like

  36. I have no coffee table to compare to yours, but my bedside table, baskets and bookshelves are always overflowing. I share your love of books (and the attachment to them!), especially the titles you’ve mentioned. What a rich world they bring into mine…

    Like

  37. great post…very different too…thats why i have to say..congrats on fp’ed…what a coffee table you have..!!! thats why my mom likes to limit the amount of tables in our home haha

    Like

  38. While I understand the double need to 1. clear the clutter and 2. express yourself/home via literature, perhaps if you approached it from a different angle it could become a win-win situation. Buy a bookshelf and place it near the living room area. We have a rather large one and it always lends itself to visitors taking a peek into what we read.

    Like

    1. Done! Right across from the coffee table is a delightful, large bookshelf….it has every genre and title you can imagine. If the books can just make their way into a space on the shelf we would be in great shape. Thanks for reading and sharing a love of books.

      Like

    1. Thank you! This was very affirming! As I look at some of the decorating book homes I really think we’ve been sold a bill of goods about who we are supposed to be emulating. If we can’t show our interests through our homes, where can we? Thanks for reading!

      Like

  39. You know what? Coffee tables are not for storing books and magazines. You can actually get rid of clutters not just lessen them if you put everything in it’s proper place and not on coffee table. Let me guess what you also have on your coffee table…. crumbs, part of an old sandwich, watermark rings (you also need to get coasters), hair strands, skin bits shedding off from your feet, whew… I could go on forever. For a clutter free home, remember this phrase “Have a place for everything and everything in its place.” Not “place everything on coffee table”.

    Like

    1. Actually wrong on all counts – no sandwich crumbs, no watermark rings (the wood is in great shape) no hair strands etc. It’s books, and the love of books.

      Like

  40. I was just thinking about this yesterday when I was cleaning. My coffee table looks much like yours….covered in books I’ve read multiple times and those that I am currently reading. I started to pick them all up and put them back on the bookshelves, but then I decided that I’d rather leave them out. Something about the clutter of books defines who I am…mess and all!

    Like

  41. Replace about two-thirds of the books with balls of yarn and little tins of lace projects, and you have my coffee table. The other third have been knocked onto the floor when my cat decided it was time to lay on the table and spread out as much as possible.

    Like

  42. Ha, i guess i am dull. I have reduced my clutter on the coffee table (cocktail ottoman) to a leather tray with two books—eminem and Kurt Cobain’s journals, a candle and a home interior magazine.

    -Lucky

    Like

  43. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has a perpetually cluttered coffee table, haha! I, too, get frustrated about the fact that there is always a miscellaneous collection of stuff on my living room table. Usually, these items range from craft supplies, like acrylic paint and heavy duty glue, to books I haven’t quite gotten around to reading yet. I love your paraphrased quote “Women with immaculate coffee tables rarely make history.” I will leave my coffee table all a-clutter for history’s sake!

    Like

  44. Book. Case. And… Book. Shelf. Yes, really.

    Love the post, and I can’t criticize; I do this, too. Surrounding myself with books is comforting, I just get a little cluttered sometimes. Congrats on FP!

    Like

  45. Haha! Oh man so true. I must officially be a Dull Man with an immaculate coffee table.

    “Men with immaculate coffee tables rarely make history.”

    A Legend In My Own Mind . . LOL

    Like

  46. Great post. Have you seen the blog on wordpress called Read Heavily? http://readheavily.com/ You’d probably love it. And no we’re not related or anything, I promise. My wife and I are neat freaks. I think it just comes from having lived in small places for so long. But we always have somewhat sloppily arranged bar coasters on the coffee table. That counts for something right?

    Like

    1. Love your site! Cannot wait to peruse it more. Thanks for commenting and adding the link and yes sloppily arranged coasters with a blog called ‘readheavily’ is awesome!

      Like

  47. I have “The Peanut Butter Man” on my coffee table!! A great read and a wonderful story of a very special man.

    Like

  48. Thanks Marilyn for mentioning my book THE DAY THE CHICKEN CACKLED: Reflections on a Life in Pakistan. You would love our family/sun/den room where the coffee table (really a trunk from Pakistan) can’t hold them all so I added a shelf to a sofa table, AND the top of my Molly’s crate, plus a magazine rack to keep them all. Really, I’m going to reduce them a llittle when I send you a few copies of SOUTHERN LIVING (I promise). I may be lazy, but hopefully not dull! Thanks for your blogs!

    Like

  49. Marilyn, I had just gathered a stack of newspapers from our coffee table, and thought I would check our email. I laughed out loud and LOVE your coffee table picture. We never come to your house without finding lots of interesting things to read – I’m only sorry we don’t get there more often. We look forward to seeing you and Cliff this evening, and I will stop clearing off my coffee table!

    Like

  50. Dull women have immaculate coffee tables…..AND immaculate desks! When I first saw your photo, Marilyn, I thought you had a spy camera in my house. Love it! :-)

    Like

    1. Love that yours looks the same Isabella! Cheers to our coffee tables and desks! By the way – LOVED your post on the rapturous time in Ottawa! I am going to quote you on that one!

      Like

  51. Marilyn, you are missing one book on coffee table. You have eaten Qureshi peanut butter, right? You need The Peanut Butter Man on your table.
    If you do not have a copy, I’ll be glad to add to your clutter, if you email & ask for it.
    It’s the story of his coming to Jesus and of the Lord’s protecting and providing until the day of his death–and beyond, through his family.
    (His daughter Samina worked with Cindy in the ESL school in Islmbd for several years.)
    Greetings to the Right Rev Bishop, the honorable Ralph E. Brown. He & I were on the hillside basketball team back in the early 1900s (it seems)! He will remember those days.

    Like

    1. This is why we don’t have a coffee table…. but the rest of the house would quickly convince you that we are not dull either! I’m going to celebrate that today instead of picking up! You’ve inspired me!
      How do I get a copy of your Mom’s book Marilyn? How do I get a copy of The Peanut Butter man?

      Like

      1. Robynn! Google Doorlight Publishing. You will find my Mom’s book. Otherwise go on Amazon and you can find. Also I too want a copy of the Peanut Butter Man.

        Like

    2. Russ – I loved this comment! And I will be emailing you because I need to get that book and add a wonderful edition to the clutter. Thanks so much for reading and the honorable Ralph wishes he was still playing basketball with you some days. In Heaven there will be a team and you will both be on it!

      Like

Add to the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s