I need a new couch. I want a new couch. And yet, I find myself wholly incapable of buying one. Instead of an exciting big-ticket-item shopping excursion, buying a sofa has dragged me through months of agony.
The reason? Just like there are stages of grief you cycle through when a loved one dies, choosing a new couch elicits a similar roller coaster of emotional turmoil. Don't believe me? Go try to buy a couch, and see if any of these feelings that I've been enduring sound familiar.
Let’s start with the obvious: Buying a new couch is a First World problem. Our current couch is fine. Really! Its espresso microfiber upholstery has fought the good fight against the muddy paws of the family dog; its cushions have stood strong against the countless children who’ve rabidly contorted them to use as a fort. It's a comfy, sturdy workhorse that has served us well.
But the couch is a decade old, and at this point, I am more a caregiver than an active user. I carefully vacuum in and around my couch’s tired seats, gently fluff its lumpy back cushions, and cover the 3-inch rip that’s recently appeared in its side with a strategically placed throw blanket.
Here’s how I transitioned from my stage of denial to the next stage of couch shopping grief: Over the summer, a friend showed me a picture of the couch she was having custom-made. She talked excitedly about selecting the shape of its feet, the exact shade of emerald for its velvet upholstery, as well as details like button tufts and rolled arms—which I'd never known were things, I must confess.
“It’s past time, you know,” she confided, gesturing to her current couch, which looked pristine.
Honestly, my first reaction was “Why are you friends with me?” She’d seen my couch, hadn’t she? But soon after, I felt a stirring of something between couch envy and couch embarrassment. How long had I been in denial?
Once I conceded that I needed a new couch, a very new emotion took over: anger.
I pride myself on being quick and efficient about major decisions. When I went into a Subaru dealership last year and announced I wanted to lease a car, the salesman had to plead with me to test-drive it first.
But shopping for a new couch had me stymied. What color did I want? Skinny legs or chunky, hidden feet? A sectional? Or not a sectional? Velvet, microfiber, linen, or some other material that I’d yet to run my hand over? All I knew was that I did not want cup holders in my couch, or little parts of it that reclined, because both remind me of those morbidly lazy humans in the movie "Wall-E."
For pockets of time, I found myself wandering through furniture stores, running my hand over arms of couches. Too long. Too hard. Too low. Too squishy. So I gave up on brick-and-mortar stores and scoured the internet instead for the perfect couch.
That had its own problems. What if a humongous couch showed up on my porch one day and was the wrong size? What if the “burnt sienna” or “slate” or “navy” color I loved online looked vastly different in real life?
The infinite range of couches led me into a dark thicket where I felt lost, aimless, and angry. Who honestly needs so many choices? No one. Who has time to decide? Not me.
“Isn’t it pointless to buy a new couch now?” my husband asked, pointing to the dog, then letting his finger wander over to our two cats, our teenage son sloppily mixing together egg nog and apple cider in the kitchen, our preteen daughter who rides horses and often has wayward strands of hay tucked into her clothes. “We should wait,” he advised.
And by wait, he meant until we are empty nesters and pet-free. The former is bound to happen eventually, the second, highly unlikely. Nonetheless, I considered this possibility. What use is it to get a new couch if it gets stained, ripped, and beaten down the instant it's inside my home.
In the end, though, I refused to deny myself. I forged on.
For weeks, I studied couches. I researched couches. I Googled phrases like “couches easy to keep clean” and “couches good if you have pets.” At Ikea, Wayfair, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, and Article, I slipped couch after couch—as well as the occasional accent chairs and coffee table on sale—into shopping carts, only to click off the page and never return.
I took zero pleasure in any of it.
I want a new couch. We’ve clearly established the fact that I need a new couch. So why was it so difficult to actually purchase one?
The longer I spent worrying about my new couch, the more ashamed I felt. Weren’t there more important things in the world to worry about than a new couch? Answer: yes.
So a few days ago, when my friend came over to share details about her new, gorgeous, and perfectly selected couch (which honestly looks just like her old one), I made a decision.
Much like a nurse caring for a geriatric patient, I carefully vacuumed my couch. I cleaned it with a microfiber cloth. And gently, for the hundredth time, I carefully placed a throw blanket over the rip in its arm.
Then, I took some of the money that we’d earmarked for a new couch and donated it to the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund—to people who really do need a new couch and have other, more difficult and more “real” decisions to make.
Afterward, I sat on my old, tired but good-enough-for-now couch—and for the first time in months, I relaxed.