Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cute stuff

Cute stuff. I have it, you have it. Well, maybe you call it something else, like a "cool collection." You have embroidered kitchen towels, you have Star Wars action figures, you have Lefton or Hall or Mikasa. It looks great when it's grouped. You can stand back and say "I love my collection of X's" with pride. I have a bunch of shells and fossils (love that Onion article with the guy with a basket of shells in his bathroom, do you know it?) vintage clothes (not so many any more, I've worn most of them out) and assorted doodads, mostly Victorian. I like thingies. And then there's
my job, where I see what happens to old collections that didn't get passed on when the thrill faded, or the thrill became an obsession, or a habit. You had to have the complete set of X's because...well, because it would be incomplete. And now you have all the X's. Now what?

One of the houses I worked on contained a big man and his big collections. One of the collections was inadvertent - he had red hearts on his heraldic device and then he had heart-shaped things. A lot of them. Some were gifts from admirers (he has those by the score). Some he picked up along the way. When they were all prominently displayed, his house looked like a Valentine's display case - as though the King of Hearts threw his own birthday heart-theme bash. He was much more than a collection of heart shapes. But can you imagine if they were all monograms? If it were his name, instead of the cute heart shape? It was hard, extremely hard, to figure out how to pare that collection down in a meaningful way, in a satisfying and purposeful way - but he began the work.

Talismans of this sort are a never-ending collection. Like flying pigs or beer labels, there are always new versions coming out. If you symbolize yourself in a semi-popular way, you're virtually guaranteed to be deluged with versions of it for every birthday and Christmas. People love you, they think of you every time they see the ceramic chicken at the home decor store, or the oak leaf themed necklace, and they want you to SEE that they care, so they buy or make you an object with your talisman. They are almost always knick-knacks, strictly for decoration, and therefore they must be displayed somehow in a way that takes up visual space. You lose the functionality of whatever space they occupy: if you have a couple per shelf, so you can see the space between them, you will either occupy all the square footage to the wall, or partially impede your way to get to whatever's behind it, like books. (If you don't ever pull out your books, they too are merely knick-knacks.) And if you aren't really careful and pare down your collections periodically, you will end up with a lot of dusty knick-knacks. And that is depressing for your company to look at, much less you. As a casual observer, unless you're also a collector of that thing you see the dust and not the object; and if you're also a collector, you feel anxiety and scorn that it's a neglected collection, along with admiration that they own it.

It doesn't seem like a burden to give someone a cat beanie baby. Until they have a basket of cat beanies that they feel awkward and uncomfortable about passing on, when they are done with the collection. What if the giver notices you don't have them any more, then what? Are you rejecting their gift? Are you rejecting their love? This creates more anxiety than most people have the time or energy to deal with. So the basket stays, and the beanies on the bottom are buried by ever more on top. We don't mean to neglect our things, just like we don't mean to neglect ourselves. Sometimes when I'm down, I dream to have someone come along and say "you! you are the most wonderful person, how is it that you are so neglected! Let me cherish you right now!" and even though I'd be mortified, I'd be a little thrilled that someone noticed me and found value in me even when I wasn't feeling that hot about myself.

I feel something of that when I see a little treasure at the thrift. I want to take it home and exalt it. But like most people I know I walk a fine line with my thingies, and I need a constant influx and outgoing process to keep things fresh and lively. When we have too many things, nothing is individual any more, it is a "collection," and the whole house is sometimes one big collection. There is too much for the eye to light upon, it is too exhausting to mind our collections. And so we don't mind them, or rather, we cease to "see" them. When you cease to see your possessions, it is time for them to move on. It is impossible to "love" every single thing indefinitely; like friends, only a handful will still delight you all your life.

You wish that you could? You want to love, you want to prove that everything you own is valuable? And what would that gain you? A sense of satisfaction, that YOU are the savior of the unloved and unwanted? You are not an object's savior if you have buried it. You are its gravemaster. Let it go. Let it live somewhere else, or let it return to the scrap heap to be reborn as something else.

You really can stop buying variations of your favorite object; it's not going to hurt its feelings if it's alone in its glory. It isn't lonely. Let it go somewhere else and "live," if you feel that objects are in a sense alive - or let it be useful elsewhere, if you hold on for an object's possible utility. You are not an upcycling/ recycling station (or if you are, get a license). You are not a junk shop (or if you are, start putting a price tag on things and let people in to buy). You are not a museum (or if you are, start curating responsibly). If you are any of those things, and note how I worded that carefully and purposefully, then step outside yourself, take a look in the mirror, and find a person who's alive and has something to do besides their "job" in life. You are not a subset of your collection. It is not your master.

The talisman is only a symbol of you, not you. Too many talismans and you become a fractured self, owned by your possessions. My friend gave me a toy tribble. For now, I'm going to leave it on my laptop, first because it will discourage my cat from sleeping there - but secondly, because it reminds me that even cute stuff can get overwhelming. One tribble is enough.

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