It seems that only when all your other needs are met, then you can start really worrying about how to decorate your house. Some experts say the cave paintings at Lascaux were incantations to gods, a way to ensure that the animals appearing on the walls would appear on the plains during the next hunt. But how can anyone know? I'd be willing to bet that those Gallic troglodytes were just well-fed and bored.

I have spent the last several weeks painting walls, rearranging furniture, considering new floors, and cleaning obsessively (anything to avoid writing). But I wasn't always this way.

I recently borrowed a scanner from my father-in-law (figuring he wouldn't need it during the second round of chemotherapy), and started scanning pictures from the last decade of my life. As I looked back on these pictures from college in the late nineties and beyond, it became clear that when surviving on $5,000 a year, you can't account for much in the way of good taste, either with how you dress or decorate your home. At least everything on my body or in my home looked exactly like what it was: two sizes too big and still smelling of thrift store. We did have a great affordable furniture store in town with a warehouse full of wild vintage crap and a showroom full of panther sculptures and brand-new purple velvet armchairs. One time Wood bought a "funky" vintage Swan chair repro for $15 and we didn't tie it down in the back of her truck so on the highway home we watched in the mirrors as it tumbled into the passing lane, shattering into pieces and rolling onto the median without disrupting traffic too much. We were lucky, however, that the salesman who sold her the Jacobsen-knockoff had thrown in a 1960s hairdryer chair, the kind old ladies once used to gossip in, nodding their curlered heads disapprovingly under steel bowls. It was free, and very heavy, and no threat to crush a tailgater's windshield.

That chair sat in her apartment under a patchouli-soaked Asian wall-hanging for years. When she moved she gave it to one of the aging prostitutes from the motel across the street who used to wait for rides home on Wood's front porch. We watched her drag it off into the sunset. She sure was excited. I'm sure it still has a good home.

But looking at the photos of myself in tapered thrift-store khakis standing in front of what passed for decoration in the houses I lived in with other men (posters with clever sayings about beer! inflatable furniture! ) and with my now-wife (matching maroon leather couch and recliner! A framed Klimt poster!) I am humbled. These were the days of empty liquor bottles on the mantle. I was so earnest and clueless. When poor, I guess I had more important things to worry about.

That is not to say that rich people are the only ones with good taste. I have stared long and hard at Walker Evans' photographs and understood that the dirt poor were the first true minimalists, long before Donald Judd was a pup and Wal-Mart made it affordable for everyone to be tacky. Because I had no sense of taste myself, it always seemed like the best way to decorate your house would be to take a middle-aged black woman to that store with the panther mirrors and velvet furniture and pick her brain for ideas, or drag one of those guys who sell Nascar tapestries out of conversion vans down by highway interchanges down to Big Lots and tell him money is no object. Either one could make a house so much cooler than some dipshit like me with a DWR catalog and some color swatches. I was driving alone to lake Michigan a few nights ago and I passed the house of the septuagenarian farmer who used to sell me pumpkins as a kid. His name was Gene Rhodes, and he still drives a 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood painted bright orange. His barn is orange. He only wears orange clothes. It was about 8:30 p.m. and I could see into about five windows of his farm house. In that brief moment it looked gloriously like hell's country kitchen. When asked about living with all that orange, Gene the Pumpkin Man once said, "I can do it and get away with it, so I do it. I always liked the color orange." I have hung out in trailers that looked as though they were decorated solely with items purchased (or more likely, won) at county fairs. These are the true visionaries, people.

Looking at the old photographs I've been scanning, it is easy to mock the decor, the furniture, or the subject's glasses, hairstyle, and clothes, particularly if you are the subject and consider your taste and wisdom to have improved with age. But I sometimes question this instinct. As with any derision, I wonder if it isn't sourced in some insecurity. That kid in those photos, he is still hungry. His needs aren't met: he has a hunger for sex and beer, ramen noodles and pizza, even poetry. Here is a boy so filled with passion for life he reads good poetry and writes plenty of bad. Nevertheless, he thinks it acceptable to read and write poetry! He makes translations from Greek and Latin on his own and gives them to his girlfriend because he's found some relevance in the ancient words. He dreams and yearns for things far greater than money. And yet he knows so little of the world and the compounded genius of others that he believes his ideas revolutionary, his thoughts new. This fire in his brain and in his belly obscures the ugliness of where he lives. He is still hungry for his future. Thread counts do not matter. All he needs is a bed to fuck and dream in.

As a new homeowner, I've spent so much time with color palettes, paused too long on HGTV while flipping channels. I have looked for midcentury pottery on eBay. Last Sunday I sat cramped in the backseat of our Volkswagen, my rib cage and lungs practically penetrated by the carseat, with the baby and the dog back there with me, while a vintage Herman Miller chair I picked up for $5 rested comfortably in the roomy passenger seat up front. This was the second such journey we have made from that side of the state this month. "I suffer for good design," I proclaimed halfway through the 120 mile journey. I have become a man who loves to buy beautiful things as cheaply as possible and make our home as beautiful as I can. I am always hauling unnecessary shit into our house. I have called Wood from a junk shoppe asking her what she would think about me bringing home some five foot letters from an old supermarket sign or a giant painting of the disembodied head of a sea captain looking wistfully out to sea at a lonely boat tossed by the waves. I have showed up with spider-filled dish stackers from old cafeterias and instead of a desk I use a 1960s scoring table recovered from a bowling alley that was being torn down. I now have more chairs than friends.

And yet I can remember a time when I didn't give a damn about a chair so long as it didn't collapse under me. I am sure that there will come a day when I will look back on pictures of this time of my life and think about how lucky I was to have the time and money to worry about furniture and the color of our walls.