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Open thread: Do you suffer retro project “monomania” too?

amber-shellacA pause to discuss my sometimes bothersome journeys down a rabbit hole that I will call retro research monomania. And to politely inquire, if you don’t mind sharing: Do you suffer this occasional obsession, too, as you try to get a retro design project done?

Right up front, I want to underscore that this is a serious post, no a ha ha I am making fun of myself post. I am not making fun, at all, of manias of any nature and especially, of a more serious nature. For example, I already know that I have perfectionistic, obsession-compulsion type tendencies that I need to manage to live in a well-balanced way. In one sense, these combinations of qualities have helps make me a pretty-able restorer of my midcentury home, as I can search search search search, intensely and tenaciously, for the just-right solution to whatever I’m looking for. The whole situation also has led to this website: I transformed my researching intensity into something positive — by sharing out what I find.

All that said: There are times when my brain becomes absolutely consumed with learning about a new topic… or hunting down particular products… that, well… I know that any strength, when taken too far, can become a weakness.

I came across the word ‘hypomania’ in something I read, and at first, I thought that’s how I’d describe my retro-research-obsession-tendencies. But then, I kept going and found the ‘monomania’ instead. 

Wikipedia defines monomania as:

  • In 19th-century psychiatry, monomania (from Greek monos, one, and mania, meaning “madness” or “frenzy”) was a form of partial insanity conceived as single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind … and
  • Honoré de Balzac describes monomania in Eugénie Grandet:

    As if to illustrate an observation which applies equally to misers, ambitious men, and others whose lives are controlled by any dominant idea, his affections had fastened upon one special symbol of his passion. The sight of gold, the possession of gold, had become a monomania.

Yes, I’ll go out on a limb and say I have “an otherwise sound mind.” But, that when I get goin’, my brain can get Gorilla-glued to a single topic/project/interest. I dive in. Deep. I devour. For how long? Days, or even weeks, until I get my answer — or until, I’m flat-out brain-tired.

Then, there’s a recharge period. Often, it’s months. If I’ve just done a big project, I’m like: NO MORE for a while, everything in this house is FINE as it is! 

But eventually, some absolutely tantalizing topic or idea gets my attention again, and I dive back in. 

tapa clothAt this moment, I am fairly monomaniacally-possessed about pulling together all the details for my Mahalo Lounge. I have collected some 100 fabric samples to decide upholstery for the sectional. My eyeballs have just about bugged out looking — online and then, via samples sent to me — at oranges, greens and animal prints — in weaves, chenilles and velvets — from various manufacturers daily for … what? … four weeks? Stories to come: Which should I choose?

Now that the pile of upholstery samples is in place and awaiting a final decision, I am beginning to switch my superpowered attention to searching craigslist and ebay and etsy for — what? — two hours? — every day looking for vintage bars and bar stools. This includes: where do I really want to put the bar; based on that, what design do I want; how about the stools; what color to go with the drapes and sectional.

I design ‘in layers.’ One decision gets made — then I move to the next. Still to come: Carpet or area rugs for the room; the decision on just how we’ll faux bois all the woodwork in the two rooms; choosing lauhala mat for the ceilings; get stuff up on the walls; the lighting plan. The lighting plan! That is going. to. vex. me. the. most. I am feeling maniacal — and a bit weary — just writing this list. 

vintage dollhouse christmas
Three of my occasional monomanias in one photo from Kate: Dollhouses, 1:12 dolls, and vintage Christmas ornaments. Way to go, doodle!

At other times since you’ve known me, I’ve also been monomaniacal about:

  • Vintage Christmas ornaments (for wreaths)
  • Vintage dollhouses and dollhouse furniture
  • Vintage dollhouse dolls (I discovered Erna Meyer dolls [affiliate link] and decided they were awesome, and Kate agreed — those are Erna Meyer dolls in her photo above)
  • Vintage Hawaiian dresses
  • Vintage Hawaiian dress patterns
  • Vintage caftans
  • Tapa cloth 
  • Of course: Vintage steel kitchen cabinets — the monomania that started the blog
  • In a way, I am monomaniacal when I am at an estate sale. I look everywhere. Every corner, every closet, every rafter. It’s like — I am in a dream — yes, delirious — when I am at the sale. I think there must be a lot of adrenaline or some such chemical pouring into my system before and during. It takes hours for the haze to clear. 

When I get my monomania looking for a product/project solution, I can spend hours and hours without stopping, researching these items. My husband, he is amazed at how long I can sit at a computer and work. When I am “into” something, I really need to work hard to focus on other aspects of my life. I have never been a foodie, never cared much about cooking; at these times, it’s worse than ever. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s frozen enchiladas. Here’s my recipe: Nuke ’em according to directions. Then open a can of pinto or black beans, drain, and nuke them, separately. Then put the enchiladas on top of the beans and nuke for another 30 seconds. There’s enough sauce in the Trader Joe’s enchiladas to sauce up the beans, too. Nom nom.

I also love Amy’s frozen entrees, the mateer paneer, in particular. 

pinecone elves vintageI would not say that my occasional monomanias disrupt my life in any truly serious way — and in many ways, they bring me tremendous joy.  I also think that being able to focus intensely is part of both my nature, and my nurture. I an inquisitive and like to explore topics thoroughly — I have always been an excellent student. I majored in journalism — and the heart and soul of journalism is ‘reporting’ — that is: researching all angles. 

When I am being gentle and kind to myself, I consider my ability to research so intensely a strength that contributes greatly to my hobbies and enables my current vocation and job: Understanding, exploring and sharing midcentury material culture and through it, social culture and history. But, if I am also being honest to myself, I also know that sometimes it can get out of hand. I can get… burnout… the up… the high… then the down… the low… overload… and exhaustion.

I’m not really a goal-setter. But a goal for me this year: (1) Remember to pace myself; (2) very importantly, be sure to spend lots of time with friends and family; and (3) overall, aim for better balance — so I can live a long long time and keep exploring!

How about you?
Assuming you have a passion for midcentury, vintage, and/or restoration…
Do aspects sometimes become all-consuming?
How do you deal?

  1. Dana says:

    It may be monomania, but it brings you a lot of pleasure, and brings pleasure to those of use who love reading your blog, so bring it on. I like that you have the energy and creativity to do what you do and we (your readers) are the beneficiaries!!

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