Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Make your space your own

“You are worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.”
Sami Schalk holds Mercury Stardust's hardcover book up against a lavender-colored wall.
Sami Schalk holds up her new copy of Mercury Stardust’s book, “Safe And Sound: A Renter-Friendly Guide To Home Repair.” Photo by Sami Schalk.

“You are worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.”

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

This summer I’ve been spending a lot of time decorating my home. I’ve owned my condo for three years, but, after years of renting and moving around quite a bit, it took me a long time to feel like it was my own, like I could really do something with it. 

I was lucky enough to get connected with a local handyman in the queer community who has helped me do a lot this summer and also taught me some new skills around the house that I’ve used to do smaller, solo projects. As I’ve said before in the April 2022 column about having a cathartic cry, pleasure is not simply about joy or sex, it’s about experiencing deep satisfaction. For me, I’ve felt immense satisfaction in seeing my home transform into something beautiful and distinctly mine. I spend a lot of time just looking at what I’ve been able to create and feeling happy about it—even though it was at times labor-intensive, time-consuming, and/or expensive.

In addition to my handy friend, I’ve also learned a good deal about doing things around my house by following Mercury Stardust, also known as the Trans Handy Ma’am, on social media. If you don’t follow Mercury, you should. She brings such joy, authenticity, and love to her platform. She also just came out with a book, Safe And Sound: A Renter’s Friendly Guide To Home Repair. Mercury’s book is one of the first to be explicitly geared at renters, and it also works for homeowners looking to develop new skills. I’ve been so excited for the book to come out, because I often feel very intimidated by learning handy skills.

I appreciate Mercury’s welcoming approach, including her explicitly voiced understandings of how some of us have been made to feel unable to take care of our homes as working class folks, renters, women, queer and trans people, and people of color for a variety of reasons—from not being taught certain skills growing up, being pushed out of vocational learning spaces by discrimination, being made uncomfortable or talked down to in Home Depot, to feeling unsafe with certain maintenance and repair people in our homes.

My favorite thing that Mercury Stardust says in a lot of her videos is, “You are worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.” This sentiment has really stuck with me through my home redecorating journey this summer. It shifted my mindset around learning these things that I really do want to know and be able to do myself. The more I do, the easier it gets, the more confident I become, and the more pleasure and satisfaction I experience in my home looking at my sparkly purple bedroom, my sparkly peacock-themed bathroom, and my floral blush guest room. It makes me so damn happy, and it feels so good to be in a space that is truly mine.

Whether it’s a new dorm, a new apartment, your first home, or a refresh on the place you’ve been living for years, do something to make your space a little more yours this month. It can be large scale—like painting or wallpapering a room—or it can be small, like painting a piece of furniture (I’ve painted tables, planters, my bed frame, and a bookshelf), putting up a piece of art that brings you joy, or printing and framing a photo you love. If you’re on a budget, Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores, and the ReStore are all great ways to find used home goods. I recently bought a large piece of art for $20 just so I could paint over it and make something for my living room in the exact color, style, and size I wanted. 

Whatever you do in your space, just make it distinctly yours (don’t worry about what is trending on social media, just do what you like), see how that feels, and go from there. Because badass bitches know that what Mercury Stardust says is true: you’re worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.

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