Inspired by a friend’s post and chat about things with meaning, I’ve been thinking about our need for things. Beyond the modern-day needs for owning stuff and consuming conspicuously, there is a need for people to have specific things that have meaning beyond their utility. Like icons or totems, these things become imbued with special powers for us, usually based in memories. Their history, and the stories that they are part of, become part of us and our legacy.
Think of a child with a special toy or blanket – how this item can feel to the child like the difference between complete contentment and deep despair (for both parent and child, actually). How a favourite bowl or special mug turns an ordinary breakfast into a brief reverie of a better/simpler/different time, making the start of the day just feel a bit better. Even more than books or photos, which tell stories more directly (but can still inspire a wistful remembrance), these things of ours become a record of our history, perhaps not one that anyone else can read without our guidance, but still a legacy of our time and life.
Sometimes this extends to things that are not ours, but things of our predecessors – things that we think must have meant something, else why did they keep it? (Of course, they could have been hoarders, which is a legacy in itself, I suppose. Especially if one hoards those hoards.) These icons of others connect us to our past, with their patina of meaning and memory that enhance their value and make them part of our own stories.
As a hoarder-in-denial, I tend to respond defensively whenever anyone asks, “Why do you keep this?” For most of these odd things, I can tell an emotive (or perhaps stridently defensive) tale about how I came to have it, how it represents some key moment in my life or my relationship with someone, or how it just makes me smile or feel comfortable. These favourite things – and there are more than a few – may be merely clutter in the eyes of others, but to me they tell the stories of my life in more compact and tangible ways than thoughts or words could capture.
The BBC did a series a while ago – A History of the World in 100 Objects. I wonder, could I tell my own history in (just) 100 objects? It might be interesting to try it, if only to record for posterity the meaning behind some of my odd and treasured items.The ground rules: Objects, not ideas or unattached memories. Not including books or photos or art* – things that tell a story of their own, or have some value beyond or in addition to my attachment. Basically, things requiring an explanation, an answer to that why question.
Perhaps these stories might help my antecedents (such as they are) understand and recognize some value in the ultimate jetsam of my life.
*Revised in 2015 to allow for books or art items that have meaning, things with no value beyond my attachment, objects that require an explanation as to “why keep this”. Books, art, and other ephemera that meet this criteria can be included.