If any word best encapsulates the spirit of our age it’s ‘selfie’. Designated one of Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 words of the year, 93 million selfies are now taken each day and we spend an hour a week on selfie duty, whether it’s taking a photo, re-taking it or editing it. Research suggests that the average millennial is expected to take 25,700 selfies during their lifetime – and the rest of us aren’t far behind. Although 55 per cent of social media selfies come from millenials, Generation X follows with 24 per cent and baby boomers with nine per cent.



But it’s not just our own faces we’re snapping pictures of: we’re photographing ourmeals (69 per cent of us photograph their food before we eat it) and increasingly taking photos of their curated possessions, too, including their favourite books. Enter: the ‘shelfie’.

Since author Rick Riordan coined the word ‘shelfie’ in a Tweet to fans and the Wall Street Journal identified it as ‘Instagram’s next craze’ back in April 2014 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-shelfie-instagrams-next-craze-1398444667?tesla=y), both the word and concept have become a growing part of our social media lives. Writing in the Spectator in February 2014, journalist Sebastian Payne referred to the shelfie as ‘the ultimate antidote’ for those who find selfies ‘too gauche’ (https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2014/02/the-shelfie-the-ultimate-antidote-to-the-selfie/). He said: ‘Some of them are works of art while others are a great CV. How well-read the photographer is for a start; whether the shelfie’er is a hoarder or tidiness maniac, a fiction freak or a biography buff as well as their political persuasions.’ But shelfies are no longer just about books – many include objects d’arts, flowers, photos, crafting ephemera such as wooden cotton reels and even elaborate perfume bottles or make-up favourites.

Where selfies are the person themselves, shelfies are arguably an expression of self in so many other ways and in whatever way you want them to be. Not only that, but the shelfie phenomenon is on the rise (in February 2017 ‘shelfie’ came up with 582k Instagram hashtag hits but by October 2017 this was 850k – and rising. In other words, on its way to doubling in just eight months (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/interiors/home/rise-shelfie-good-looking-book-case/). Whether it’s snapping books in colour order, products for a marketing campaign, beauty product shelfies in our bathrooms (http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/glamour-beauty-team-shelfies) or simply our favourite personal objects snapped to share with our Instafriends, the shelfie is here to stay.

Our Victorian ancestors loved nothing more than collecting curios and ephemera such as fossils and feathers and putting them on display on shelves or in glass-fronted cupboards. But the way we now live our lives has sparked a revival and made having a dedicated space that’s a ‘little bit of us’ more important to our sense of self than ever before. What are the lifestyle factors that are fuelling the shelfie craze?

The tiny house trend

The UK already has a reputation as the ‘rabbit-hutch accommodation’ capital of Europe. House prices are 7.6 times the average annual salary, more than double the figure for 20 years ago, forcing us to sacrifice space to make our first tentative step onto even the lowest rung of the property ladder. New-build homes are 4sqm smaller than even the Government’s own guideline of 93sqm.



Research shows that between one-quarter and one-third of us is dissatisfied with this big squeeze which isn’t just a logistical nightmare but can actually lead to depression, relationship breakdown and physical symptoms such as asthma.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/10909403/British-homes-are-the-smallest-in-Europe-study-finds.html However, it’s predicted that by 2025, three-quarters of Europeans will be living in cities even though space is at a premium so it seems that the tiny house phenomenon – and finding ways of meaningfully living in them - is here to stay.

A nation of renters

Around 5million British households – that’s one in five – are in private rented accommodation, and this is expected to rise to one in four by the end of 2021. The proportion of households living in the private rented sector has doubled over the past decade, ranging from early 20-something ‘iGens’ through to ‘nesters’ (millennials to 40-somethings) to older ‘soloists’ and ‘sharers’ https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jun/12/one-in-four-households-in-britain-will-rent-privately-by-end-of-2021-says-report

Significantly, nearly 70 per cent of renters still expect to be living in rented accommodation in three years’ time but this may be in a different place (2014 data revealed that an average of 3.5 per cent of the UK population move within the UK each year, mostly young people). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11942613/Seven-things-you-did-not-know-about-migration-in-the-UK.html) Yet despite this seemingly transient scenario, research by Pinterest found that we also have a burning desire to make our living environment our own. Making reversible changes, like putting up temporary wallpaper or creating shelf art, are ideal ways of feeding this need without the risk of losing a hefty deposit!



Buying less – and wanting to declutter more

Since Marie Kondon wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, the world has taken to the idea of decluttering with alacrity (despite the fact that in Affluenza, psychologist Oliver James suggests that our identity is increasingly associated with physical things, and throwing them away is tantamount to discarding part of ourselves.) Professor Danny Dorling of Oxford University says we have six times more objects than our parents did – something we aren’t happy about. Research suggests we would rather have fewer possessions (and we certainly don’t want our parents’ stuff http://www.nextavenue.org/nobody-wants-parents-stuff/) which is maybe why we are now buying less than ever before and spending our money on ‘experiences’ instead. This makes it imperative that anything we do decide to buy has real context and personal meaning (and therefore a reason not to be binned).


Not going out

We may love going out but we love staying in more. Research shows we are no longer a party nation (even millennials like staying put) and we’d rather sit in front of the TV with a takeaway than go partying with our friends. Forget FOMO, Fear of Missing Out: we are celebrating JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out, instead. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/725454/Staying-in-new-going-out-Half-Brits-rather-stay-home-go-out-deliveroo When we stay in, we are intent on making our environment cosy (hence the ‘hygge’ phenomenon). Research by Larkin Brown for Pinterest revealed that self-care searches are up by 121 per cent, with people ‘prioritising personal comfort’. ‘Girls’ night in’ is also trending upwards of 35 per cent a year. Staying in seems to be here to stay.


The desire to make our mark

From the creation of cosy reading nooks, shunning minimalism in favour of evocative vintage pieces and opting for colours instead of stark white interiors (Pinterest stats show that navy bedrooms are up 182 per cent, and Millennial pink is all over Instagram like a rash), there’s never been a greater time to maximize people’s desire to create an environment that’s representative of who they believe they are.

A love affair with analogue

Although many of us are trying to slimline our ownership of ‘things’ by buying fewer objects and keeping memories in digital format, when we do actually make a decision to buy we want good styling – and hopefully a touch of nostalgia. At the same time we are being encouraged to undergo regular digital detoxes for our health and wellbeing, statistics have shown a resurgence in analogue goods including physical books, board games and vinyl records, especially amongst millennials. David Sax, author of ‘The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter’, says that we spend heaps of time dealing with disruptions due to digital technology and that these analogue goods are like “a life raft’, and the one sure means of grounding ourselves in a world that promises constant change.”

This very modern backdrop to the spaces we occupy and how we live in them is crying out for a modern solution, one that incorporates the following:

-          Our need to have a small but perfectly-formed, curated bank of objects to put on display that doesn’t clutter up our already challenged living space

-          Our hope that the beautiful things we are showcasing are truly representative of who we feel we are

-          Our desire to be able to change our interiors on a whim because of the transient nature of where we live/how we live our lives

-          Our love of being at home and our thirst for decorating our ‘nests’

The shelfie fulfils all of these. Commenting on a blog I wrote about the importance of shelfies, one of my Instagram followers summed it up beautifully: “I really do think people underestimate the positive visual mental power of having sentimental trinkets and beautiful objects in sight in your daily routine. For me it gives me comfort, safety and a feeling of being ‘home’ (I have moved around and been far away from family most of my life) and is a constant reminder to myself of beautiful times and memories I have with all sorts of great people in all sorts of places in life. It’s easy to get swamped under day-to-day emotions, but these nice things remind me to reflect, and uplift me daily.”

Book credit: Shelfie by Martha Roberts is published by Mitchell Beazley, £12.99. Photography by Nick Pope

Purchase link: https://amzn.to/2qEA14I