The “Shelfie”: It’s All About Me, Me, Me! Navigating the Shoals of Self-Obsession


Let’s face it: We’re all self-obsessed these days, so the question is how to stay honest. At least a little bit. Shelfies present a challenge: How to photograph your stuff without lying (too much).

I am hopelessly behind the times.

Can you imagine: Until recently I had no idea what a “shelfie” is.

Oh, I know about selfies.  I’ve even snapped a few.

But shelfies?  It took The Wall Street Journal to clue me in.  In “Me, My Shelfie and I,” (Weekend, April 26-27, 2014, pp. D1 & D6), Dale Hrabi writes that on social media, “otherwise normal people” are driven to post pictures of their possessions meticulously arranged on flat surfaces–creating what New York interiors stylist Hilary Robertson calls “a museum of you.”

Mr. Hrabi writes: “Now you can garner 13,791 ‘Likes,’ as Alice Gao recently did just by setting a pristine teapot on a tray, adding some quince blossoms and uploading a photo to Instagram.“ Ms Gao, a former financial consultant who seems to spend an awful lot of time styling stuff in her “cramped New York apartment,” has a cool 733,000 followers on Instagram “(some of whom admire her posts in Arabic or Italian), eager to see what objects she’ll nudge into place and immortalize next.”

What?  733,000 followers?  I can’t even wrap my mind around those kinds of numbers.  I’m having a hard enough time posting occasionally to old media to even think about opening Instagram or Pinterest accounts.

But in the spirit of total self-absorption, I decided to take a few shelfies here at home. Just to show you the perfection of my life, of course…

Apparently there’s a yawning divide between rigorously styled and “seemingly random” shelfies. OK, I admit that I straightened up the kitchen table, shown above, but all the stuff you see in the photo really was there, including Issy’s riotous flowers.

Kindly note the fallen agapanthus petal, left exactly in place.

The table did undergo a recent personality transplant, thanks to the half-naked Mexican clay fertility goddess who used to stand on my mother’s dressing table, wearing heaps of ethnic necklaces—a tradition I’m doing my best to uphold. We use a lot of olive oil, as you can see, and that’s our favorite pepper grinder. The turtle is a Cambodian betel box that now holds dried red chiles pequins.



Speaking of flowers, B has outdone himself lately. Sometimes he and Issy conspire to create one-color arrangements. So when this creamy bouquet appeared one evening, I knew just where it belonged: next to the white tub in our white bathroom—along with an artfully draped white towel and a chunk of weathered coral from some trip somewhere…

The truth: I spent an hour and 24 minutes waiting for the natural light to move through the shutters until it was just right for the  photo. And I subtracted lots of seashells and a Moroccan perfume bottle from the frame, one object at a time.

Apparently I’m not alone. As Danika So, a Toronto student and Instagram fanatic told The Journal, “Some of the shots require a lot of preparation. I’ll rearrange large pieces of furniture and stand on chairs. It’s a miracle my roommate still thinks I’m sane.”

Maybe all the time I spent sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for the clouds to move is why the flowers are wilting.



And here’s my desk.  Uh, huh.  Actually it’s my desk after I was shamed into cleaning up piles of paper covered with illegible scribbles and rubbing lots of Briwax into the teacup stains.

Now this is the worst sort of shelfie: It’s just full of cliches. For instance: That Chinese parrot under what Mr Hrabi labels “The Haunted Glass Cloche”? Bad! (Even if the glass keeps the bird from being knocked off my overloaded desk.)

For the innocents among us, he explains: “Some ‘cabinet of curiosities’ object, like a tiny skull, is placed under a clear dome to underline its preciousness, often by people who refer to their habit of collecting beach stones as ‘curating.’

Ouch. Wouldn’t you know: I pick up beach stones all the time. I just love the smoothness of their surfaces and the look of oh, 50 or so piled up in a wooden bowl. (B will be the first to tell you how much fun it was to lug my bags home from Nantucket year after year.)

But I don’t call it curating–and you’ll notice that I’m keeping my beach stones to myself.

No, I think we can safely dub it the “collector gene”–as in, “I collect everything.”

Oh, and by the way, here’s my desk a few minutes later.  Thank heavens I left my glasses out of the previous shot—”evocative spectacles” are sure sign, it seems, of self-obsession.









4 Responses to “The “Shelfie”: It’s All About Me, Me, Me! Navigating the Shoals of Self-Obsession”

  1. but your self absorption draws us to you

  2. Blandina says:

    What an entertaining post! So full of humor and wit.
    By the way, I had no idea what a ‘shellfie’ is!

  3. Nancy says:

    The peacock feathers are very pretty. Are they just arranged as a decoration or are they perhaps a handheld fan?

  4. Blandina, you make me feel better! I didn’t know about shelfies either. I accept that I will never, ever keep abreast of what’s happening in social media. One of the many reasons it’s good to have children!

    Hi, Nancy! Yes, this is a handheld fan from India which I bought somewhere in Kerala. Later I saw them in Mumbai, spread out on a sidewalk. Wish I’d bought a dozen for gifts!

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