My boyfriend recently shared with me his terrifying theory about throw pillows, based on his experience at various aunts’ homes: that they increase with age (volume of pillows, not number of aunts). Well, consider my inner Marie Kondo five-alarm fire officially set off, because throw pillows are the worst, most needless aspect of home decor. With these, less is more, and none is best.
It’s baffling that throw pillows are still a thing amidst the current War on Clutter. We throw out everything! The prom dresses we were hoping to fit into someday; the IKEA culinary set we bought in college; the degree we earned in college; anything we haven’t used, worn, or specifically enjoyed in the past year; all of it. So how did we sit among these little damask-print rectangles, reposition ourselves because they are wildly uncozy, and conclude that they get to make the joy-sparking cut? Why do we lie to ourselves about these anti-comfort monsters that only work in the confines of Pinterest and magazines your aunts read?
Annoyed and terrified (I mean, there’s a good chance I’m someday going to be an aunt—am I doomed to a future of throw pillows?), I looked into the origin of the useless overstuffed puffs. And, yikes, because the story starts with something I very much do love: a regular pillow.
Throw pillows do nothing but provide discomfort and clutter. Furthermore, you only need one good pillow when it comes to bedtime, and a throw pillow is a distinctly not-good pillow.
According to Really Useful: The Origins of Everyday Things, the OG pillows showed up roughly circa 7,000 BCE in early Mesopotamia. I say “roughly” in earnest because they were legit made out of stone. These proto-pillows were used to cradle mummies into eternal slumber, raising their heads onto this platform of sorts.
It bears mentioning that the mummification process was reserved for royalty or the wealthy, because pillows were a creation for comfort, i.e., not for peasants. More pillows communicated more affluence, which leads us directly to Victorian-era Britain, where the advent of decorative pillows spread like cholera. The Industrial Revolution expedited textile production and allowed for more luxe fabrics to be readily available. And, Victorians seemed to especially love needlepointing these ornate “scatter cushions,” as throw pillows were so frightfully called in the U.K.
Anyway, pillow-making fiends would get patterns in their magazines and embroider dainty little roses, or whatever, to toss on their fainting couches or gift to a friend. And because all the best fabrics and dyes were only something the rich could afford, the message, again, was clear: throw pillows were a status symbol, and the more you had, the wealthier you were.
Today, you don’t have to be mega-rich to have a wealth of throw pillows, unless you want to veer on the classier side of Bed Bath and Beyond (anything Kate Spade is like $90, $90.) In fact, here I am, present day, stuck upright in bed next to a useless floral 12”x17”-er and one square little neck-size number that says “LOVE” in mauve. If you’re wondering how that happened, it’s because throw pillows are so widespread these days that they’re now included in bedroom sets, foisting themselves on customers who do not want them in any way whatsoever. DUN DUN DUN! Peeking at my roommate’s setup shows me a similar situation, of her Martha Stewart bed-set throw pillows. But hers are next to her bed rather than atop it, ostensibly because throw pillows do nothing but provide discomfort and clutter. And must I remind you that you only need one good pillow when it comes to bedtime? And a throw pillow is a distinctly not-good pillow.
Though I now have a sense of how the pillows came to clutter up our lives in the first place, it still doesn’t really answer why we can’t just toss our throw pillows—product and general concept—in the trash. My theory is something about the small, cuddly nature of something that displays slogans like “Home Is Where the Heart Is” makes us sympathetic to the throw pillow. But, my friends, this is a facade, similar to realizing your menagerie of stuffed animals were making nap time more like hell. Open your eyes, people: When it comes to getting your get your hygge on in a clean, joy-sparking, minimalist haven, throw pillows are essentially public enemy number one.
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