“Alex says when he throws something away,
it’s like losing a part of himself.
And that’s really scary.”
— Missy, mom of seven-year-old Alex
I’ve been thinking a lot about “stuff” lately. Perhaps it’s the change of season. Or my new obsession with Hoarders. Or the projects I’m working on – two of which are so different that it makes me wonder: what makes us feel a connection with our stuff? And how do we know (or more importantly, not know) the point at which it becomes an unhealthy relationship?
My paternal grandmother was a hoarder. Of course we didn’t call it that at the time, but I will never forget cleaning out her apartment with my parents when she passed away. My parents had been cleaning for days (weeks?) and eventually got tired of leaving us with a babysitter, so all three of us went with them to finish the job. I remember playing on the rolling palette with my sister and brother – roaring down the hall at top speed in between loads of stuff being brought to the incinerator – and running through the maze that was her apartment playing hide and seek. Okay, so I guess mountains of newspapers are interpreted quite differently in a child’s mind. But when she was alive, I remember coming into the apartment and peeking around the mountains to find her sitting there, on her sofa – her usual spot amongst the stuff – waiting for us to visit.
When I think back and try to pinpoint why she was attached to her things, I can think of a few possible reasons: living through the Depression, being alone after her husband passed away and my dad was off at college, or having to leave her home in Queens to live closer to us in Massachusetts. Her stuff defined her, and in her case, it wasn’t all newspapers and trash (there was almost no trash, from what I can remember) but multiples of objects – special collection plates, purses, objet d’art. I guess it showed her status in the world in some way, becoming a comfort to her when everything – and everyone – she knew disappeared.
When I started my own interior design business, I knew I’d eventually come across folks with an unhealthy amount of stuff. I guess I never realized, though, that we all have some varying degree of possession-ness. Every object tells a story about our life, our experiences, our past. And it is these objects that start to define us. They have a soul and impart an emotional connection, which is part of why I love what I do. But it’s figuring out how to manage these objects and keep the soul alive and thriving – versus debilitatingly oppressive – that is the key.
Next week we’ll look at some specific examples of ways to look at and manage your own stuff, no matter where you fall on the spectrum.