This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
When my husband and I moved into a new apartment a few months ago, I stared at the blank canvas before me and made a declaration: No decor with quotes would grace these walls.
I had never been truly into what I will call the “Home Goods quote aesthetic.” I have always rolled my eyes at “Live, Laugh, Love” signs and would never think to hang a “But First, Coffee” decal in my kitchen. But you can’t outrun your birthright, and I am a millennial, after all. Over time, a few signs crept into my Home Goods basket and, eventually, my home. I never had anything declaring my devotion to coffee or wine, but I did at one point own a sign that read: “Espresso Yourself.”
Pretty soon after moving in, though, I broke my own rule. I had hung on to one small sign I bought years ago, featuring a quip about cocktails. This past weekend, as I styled a new bookshelf with some nice glasses and cookbooks in our kitchen, I put the sign on the shelf. When I asked my husband what he thought of the display, he said he loved it all — except the sign. “Isn’t that a little...cheugy?” he asked, his brow furrowed.
This is not going to be a conversation about the word “cheugy,” a previously obscure synonym for “basic” that has, for some reason, taken over online discourse. Nor is it a screed in the increasingly present and tiresome online “war” between millennials and Gen Z (if I read another thinkpiece about skinny jeans, I may scream).
However, the cheugy discourse and some extremely hilarious teens on TikTok have forced me to declare something I have known in my heart for a while: The Home Goods quote aesthetic is, sorry, kind of uncool. And basic white ladies, we kinda deserve to be roasted for it, but maybe we should take it in stride.
I first stumbled upon Gen Z’s mockery of the Home Goods quote aesthetic with a particular genre of video on TikTok: young people mocking their parents’ earnest devotion to themed vacation homes. I sadly can’t find the first one I saw, which had me in tears of laughter, but similar videos abound.
The trend consists of children going around and enthusiastically reading the signs in their lake or beach house, which tend to say, over and over again, that you are at the lake (or the beach).
The funniest thing about these videos is that they just keep going. The amount of lake-themed decor is honestly astounding.
Also, once someone reads all the signs out loud, they really do seem absurd.
This week, amid the “cheugy” discourse that named Home Goods quote aesthetic as one of the main identifiers of the cheugy lifestyle, I saw this TikTok from recent grad Peyton and her friends that made me lol. In the video, the girls take turns naming all of the many, many, many signs in Peyton’s house, with exaggerated Southern accents.
Peyton told me that yes, all of these signs are really in just her house alone. Her friend Hailey, who appears in the video, added that the teens made the clip because they were actually following another TikTok trend: people talking in ridiculously over-the-top Southern accents.
These videos are so funny because they demonstrate one universal truth: Millennials (and some Boomers and Gen X) absolutely love the Home Goods quote aesthetic. It is a huge trend, and you’ll find at least one of these signs in many modern millennial homes.
Some of this decor has even sparked an obsession. Rae Dunn, who I would argue is the queen of the Home Goods quote aesthetic, has made this style of decor so popular that some people have turned her work into collector’s items and own literally hundreds of mugs, signs, or kitchenware for any personality, season, or holiday they could possibly ever have (I highly recommend looking up the #raedunn hashtag on Instagram if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
I’ve been doing some thinking about why this type of home decor has both become so popular among my ilk and why it is now ripe for teasing by the younger generation. My best theory has a few parts, one of which my colleague Lauren Strapagiel brilliantly broke down last year in her piece about how Gen Z is making fun of millennials on TikTok (and how, tbh, we kind of deserve it).
As she wrote, the stereotype of millennials is that we are “earnest, obsessive, and love a good label.” By label, she means millennials are obsessed with putting ourselves into neat boxes and wearing our likes, dislikes, and personality quirks on our sleeve — no matter how mundane (Harry Potter houses, anyone?). What could be more millennial, by these standards, than covering your home in declarations of your likes and dislikes?
My second theory has to do with — what else? — influencers and social media. One thing that influencer culture has done is make certain fashion and taste somewhat uniform among certain groups of women. I’m not a fashion expert, so I don’t know how common this kind of uniformity was before social media, but it certainly seems to me through my own anecdotal observations that many items in women’s homes and closets look similar because they are mimicking their favorite creators, who tend to drive trends among themselves.
The tie-dye sweatsuit of spring 2020, which I dubbed the #quarantineuniform, is a great example of this. A bunch of influencers all started wearing the sweatsuits, and then I noticed tons of women I knew wearing them, as if we all secretly got a memo to buy them.
The same goes for home decor. Many times over the years I have chuckled when entering a friend’s home and seen a piece of decor, wall art, or furniture that I just know they saw on Instagram. This isn’t shade at all, it’s simply true! Instagram drives trends, and that makes things like a big sign in your house declaring your love for coffee an easy choice for a trendy millennial. What better way to show who you are online than with a big sign that says it for you, and that you can then post on Instagram as an easy indicator of your trendiness?
It’s not a shocker that it took the lighthearted and clever ribbing of the younger generation to point out that these signs are rather silly. Gen Z is adept at using humor to get their point across and tend to have a more nihilistic and less earnest view of the world than my fellow millennials and I do, as Lauren wrote. I tend to agree with them, and I think we can all acknowledge that yes, these signs can be corny and cheesy.
But I also think this can be a case of “don’t yuck my yum.” I don’t want anyone to think I am telling them to get rid of their “Rosé All Day” signs. One thing I have found so annoying about the “generation war” discourse is the notion that just because some people think an aspect of what another person or generation likes is not cool, we all need to freak out about it.
Sure, the Home Goods quote aesthetic may be basic, but if you like your signs, who cares? One of the most important things about home design is creating a space that makes you happy and comfortable. If staring at a “Life Happens, Wine Helps” sign while you cook dinner every night puts a smile on your face, that is all that matters.
Peyton, who made that TikTok with the Southern accents, told me that her mom loved the video, and said she didn’t even realize how many signs she had in her home before the teens pointed it out. For Peyton’s mom, the signs were just a way to make her family feel happy and loved in their space.
“She is all about words of affirmation and this is one way she shows it,” Peyton said.
Now, who can be mad at that? As the saying goes: live, laugh, love.