THINGS: An Intimate History

As a child I collected countless things – rocks, marbles, stickers, sea glass – things that seemed so insignificant. A child can place the largest value upon the most mundane of things, something that becomes increasingly hard to grasp as one slips away into adulthood. As an outsider, banished from the imaginative wonderland of childhood, it’s hard to remember the feeling of losing your favourite pebble or toy car, despite their abundance. Why this thing? They’re asked. But does there have to be a reason?

Time passes. Our little trinkets and treasures get lost, stuck behind the couch, under the bed, the inside of the vacuum cleaner. As we begin to grow older, we develop a new sense of what it means to own things. I remember watching TV as a 7-year-old, and being fired with an artillery of obscenely colourful advertisements telling me not only that I wanted it but that I needed it. Some things become exclusive, others useless, some even shameful. Things become a disguise for money and a benchmark for comparison.

Things, once so innocent, become a disease. They fill our desks, bedrooms, kitchens, offices, our heads. They settle in drawers and cupboards until searching for one lost item becomes a deep dive into a commercial ocean. Things become STUFF. A single note of music is beautiful, like the song of a bird; yet too many notes becomes static.

During my final year of high school, the endless studying and looming deadlines were stressful. I needed a clear, unoccupied mind so that I could focus on my work. Meditation never worked out for me, nor did yoga, or sports; I always came back to my desk and felt the same. Mentally cluttered. So, I decided to get rid of my stuff. Some things were hard to part with, like old books from when I was younger and things I thought I might still use. . . one day. Yet, six bags of stuff later, I felt a sense of peace.

In honour of the glory of my childhood, I kept a wooden box to keep things in. Real things. The things that allow memory and emotion to transgress the metaphysical, something tangible that you can hold in your hand.

How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn’t care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.

– Emily Dickinson, ‘Simplicity’

Image disclaimer: All rights reserved to Studio Ghibli from 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle. I do NOT own this image nor do I intend to profit from said image.

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