Vicarious Remodeling

You’ve Probably heard of people who buy countless cookbooks every year, but who have absolutely no intention of ever cracking one open to prepare a dish from its pages. Instead, they use them for leisure reading: They prop themselves up in bed at night to read the thing, start to finish, the same way you or I would read a novel.

Actually, make that the way I plow through decorating magazines and books. I’m sure that the mail carrier scrunches up her face in confusion every time she slips the new issue of Home Magazine into my mailbox, because one look at the inside of my house — and the outside, too — and the message is clear: Does Not Compute.

Even though I’ve recently entered my fifth decade, my house has long been furnished in what looks like early Salvation Army dorm room. After all, I am what you call cat-dependent: I have rescued numerous cats from death row over the years, and while I think nothing of getting yet another cat tree or window napper, the thought of doing anything that would disturb the cats’ daily routines — like hanging curtains or painting a room — is unimaginable. I am at least thankful that they allow me to share their humble abode.

But I just adore leering at pictures of the fancy cottages and converted barns in the pages of Country Home and House Beautiful to see how the other half (or 90 percent?) lives. I admit that I once subscribed to Martha Stewart Living. With every issue, I’d marvel at the many different ways to use a glue gun, but that didn’t mean I’d actually go out and buy one.

In that way, I don’t think I’m that different from the guy who was a star quarterback in high school but today, two decades later, plays countless vicarious games of big-screen football from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy every weekend. The only difference is I was a slob when I was a kid, too. My mother made me a deal that I never had to clean up my room if I always kept the door closed and opened the window if something started to smell.

When reading these publications, I like to imagine that I’m an anthropologist visiting a foreign land to learn more about these aliens and their strange customs. After all, you can read a book about Amazon headhunters without having to live in a straw hut in the middle of the jungle.

About a year ago, I was thinking of selling my house, so I invited a local real estate agent over to take a look. She was too polite to say anything about the mattress on the floor in my bedroom — after all, the elderly cats couldn’t make the jump if I got a real bed — but I knew she puzzled over my deliberate choice of non-décor for weeks to come, because when I ran into her at the supermarket a few weeks later, I saw a look flash across her face that said, “Ohhhhhh.” This from a woman who sees the nooks and crannies of hundreds of people’s houses over the course of a year.

On the other hand, my brain freezes up when I try to understand why someone would spend three hours sweating over a hot glue gun just so they could have a wreath to hang on their door that looks indistinguishable from one they could pick up from Wal-Mart.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to live in the type of house that looks like it belongs on the cover of one of these magazines. But I have no desire to do the work required to get there. So for me, the next best thing is to drool over the magazines and books that feature them in all their stylist-designed, airbrushed splendor. Besides, the unrelenting screech of power tools and clomp of work boots in my house for weeks on end would be too much for the cats. I can’t even run the vacuum cleaner in my house for fear of upsetting the cats. Some would say it’s just an excuse to avoid cleaning, but I know better. NH

Lisa Rogak keeps house, and cats, in Grafton. An author of many books and articles, Rogak recently finished “Howard Dean In His Own Words” — available from