The den in our house has a bit of a weird layout. We have a fireplace to one side and then the entertainment area open to an adjacent side. There are two focal points of interest. But with the way the windows and the rest of the house is laid out out around it, there is pretty much only one way to lay out our furniture which complies with The Furniture Rules.

So let’s not even pretend like you don’t know what The Furniture Rules are. There is a prescribed, approved methodology for furniture layout – these rules aren’t written into the Constitution, but we all end up following them anyway. Furniture gets positioned such and such way, coffee table goes in the middle, side tables, sofa / love seat arrangement. Lights go here, carpet goes there.

And these rules are real. If my wife and I walked into a someone’s home and they had their den arranged in violation of The Furniture Rules, my wife would lean over and whisper to me “these people are weird,” while giving me a significant glance.

Breaking Invisible Rules

The Furniture Rules are an example of an invisible rule, made by people we’ve never known, we are completely conditioned to follow. You’re likely not even aware you follow the rules! You might not have opted into following the rules if given the opportunity! But people are such slaves to the furniture Rules – it never even occurs to them to bend them or break them.

But you CAN break the Furniture Rules. It’s O.K. I give you permission to break them. We break them at our house. We actually push our coffee table all the way to one side, and move our couch/loveseat closer together, and form a large “U.” It almost makes it feel like a sunken area in our Den. Plus my wife puts these Korean thick mats/carpets on the floor.

And these Korean mats are really nice comfortable because Koreans sit on the floor a lot more than Americans. Americans like to sit at tables, or in chairs, but Koreans still sit on the floor often. Which is actually great by the way – Americans probably don’t sit on the floor enough.

Anyway, we do all this because that’s where my eight year old son likes to sit and watch a movie or play a game. He doesn’t want to sit up on the sofa, it’s all over-sized for him. He likes to sit on the floor, and have everything up all around him – almost like a fort. And our dog comes and sits at the edge and we all snuggle up together and are intimately together.

And it’s against the Furniture Rules but it’s a thousand times better than following the furniture rules so screw them. They’re fake ass rules anyway and we don’t have to follow them.

…And Following Them

But when we have people over…we reluctantly go back to following the Furniture Rules. Because it’s one thing to break the Furniture Rules when nobody else is around, it’s something else entirely to be observed and breaking the rules. The very act of observation changes the dynamic. To be observed is to change behavior. 1We know this down to a sub atomic level, i.e. the observer effect.

So we change our den back. Particularly if people are coming over to our home for the first time. We don’t want to be perceived as “the family with the weird den layout – they don’t follow Furniture Rules.” Said by a suburban mom, probably in yoga pants, with coffee in a double insulated metal thermos (because even though cardboard coffee cups can be recycled reusable mugs are better for the environment), at a sporting event from our son’s school.

And then after dinner / coffee / watching the game / grilling out / whatever, and everyone leaves our house, we move everything back to our U configuration.

How we act, how we arrange ourselves in private, is different than how we arrange ourselves when we’re around people we’ve never met. Acquaintances and people who we’re just beginning to build a more intimate relationship with require a bit more formality.

But at some point, we bring people closer in. We reach a level of comfort with people where we don’t feel the need to wear a mask. Or follow the rules, especially fake ones.

We Like You Enough To Not Change Who We Are

That’s a significant level of comfort with another person.

With people we don’t know well we put on our best appearance; we wear on a mask to some extent. We change our surroundings or how we behave. We might dress a bit better. We might act more formally. We follow The Furniture Rules.

In contrast, when we’re around people we’re comfortable with, we let our hair down. We don’t feel the need to perform as much.

Hopefully you have a good enough relationship with your family (and I know that can be a stretch for some people) and you can relax.  You don’t feel the need to put on a mask or act in a certain way for appearances. When you’re at home with your family, you can relax and break the Furniture Rules.

But what happens if we bring more people into the fold? What if we had a greater number of intimate relationships with more people?

What if we broke the invisible rules around us more often?


Here are words at the bottom of the post in order to provide a small extra nugget of information which seems important, and a hyperlink to something I want you to pay attention to, because I know an invisible rule most people follow with posts like this is that they only click on the very last link in a lengthy post.

References   [ + ]

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