This January, we’re looking at getting a “fresh start” through decorating choices.
Sometimes, re-evaluating our spaces and making a few changes on what we have displayed can affect far more than just the visual appeal of our space.
Take an incident that happened with my brother and I over the holidays, as an example of why the Emotional Life of Stuff is such a powerful thing to have around us, and why we need to use more objectivity when we’re choosing objects that define our environment.
It all started with a framed photo I gave my brother for Christmas. It was of his now-16-year-old son, who is a stern non-smiley guy in photos usually, but was cracking up as a caricature artist with a rubber chicken made his funny-bone come alive while making a sketch so his father could have a fun memento of their travels. On the right of my photo is the artist working on the canvas of said-smiley son. Later, my brother spent a lot of money getting the kid’s caricature professionally framed as a vacation keepsake.
He loved the photo, because it’s a whole lot of fun memories packed into one small 11×14 package.
Pictures are powerful. They’re often taken when we’re making good memories, and surrounding ourselves with ones that conjure those good times is like being surrounded by us and those we love when we’re all at our best.
But when we’ve got stuff around us that ain’t so happy, well, that can be like tying a ball and chain to our emotional state. Somewhere in the back of our minds, BOOM, the bad memory lingers, and every single time we see those things, subconscious ripples of bad times wash over us.
The Weird Art Choice
So, imagine my reaction when I saw, for the first time, my brother’s bedroom in the new place he shares with a roomie. With very little wallspace available, I was shocked to see this massive 32×46” canvas my mom had gotten from an old artist friend. It’s not that I don’t like the painting — I do. For a large space, it’s a powerful work. It’s edgy and modern, of a woman with an exposed breast. The thing is, when my brother and I see it, it’s not just a painting, but a memory of the artist’s two 18-year-old boys who were killed on Mother’s Day by a drunk. It’s also filled with recollections of fun banter between my brother and my mom, who died long ago.
My brother, it turns out, has been waking up and seeing this first thing in the morning since he moved. I asked him how he felt when he saw it in the morning, if it made him happy or gave him anything to look forward to or fun to remember, and he realized it didn’t, ever.
If I Only Had A Hammer
“That’s not okay,” I said. Right then, he found some picture hangers and a hammer, and we took that painting down, turned it around, and put it in the back of his closet.
Then he grabbed a pile of pictures he’d never hung — mostly gifts of mine over the years, because he’s goofy like that. He said he’d like them up. They included him as a toddler, an elaborate cartoon he’d drawn in elementary school that I found in my papers, him as a kid with my mom, her cracking up at something, and a few of him and his kid.
He went away, I hung them up, and he walked into his room with a smile. Because that’s what the Nice Stuff does for us.
Minimizing The Emotional Life of Your Stuff
This year, reevaluate your stuff. Don’t keep it because you’re expected to keep it. If it makes you think sad, or bad, things about a person or place in your life, it’s holding you back. If it makes you recall unhappy times, then it’s holding you back.
Even if it’s “worth” something or is in great condition, it’s not something you should keep around you. Even in storage, you’ll go in there time to time and get confronted with this thing.
Instead, you can remember the item and memorialize it. Take a few photos of it, print the pictures, and make a scrapbook of things that mattered once but you just couldn’t keep around you. Donate it, consign it, sell it, anything you want, but just don’t keep it.
Let someone else come upon it, by way of gift, donation, or thrift-store purchase, without the emotional baggage, and let them start a new life with it.
Surround yourself by things that make you smile when you see them, things that make you aspire for better things or celebrate qualities you love about yourself. Or surround yourself with less, so you’re not cluttering your mind during the day. Either way, you’ll get a handle on the emotional life of your stuff.
After all, like they say, home’s where the heart is. Let’s make it a contented heart.