THE BEAUTY OF STUFF

As I clean my studio, I find my solace in a blog post I wrote six years ago on August 27, 2006. (I accidentally typed “1006″–ah, yes, my musings before the Norman Conquest….)

THE BEAUTY OF STUFF
I’m a highly successful hunter-gatherer. My home and studio reflect that.

I love yard sales, antique stores, thrift shops, craft galleries, hardware stores…you name almost any kind of store and I can happily shop in it for hours. I always find something that calls to be taken home. The bumper sticker “I brake for yard sales” could have been written for me.

It helps to know I’m not alone. Quilters hoard fabric, gardeners hoard seed catalogs and flower pots. Cooks collect exotic spices or recipes or kitchen gadgets. Woodworkers have barns full of wood and tools. Want to see my yarn collection? Ya got a few hours?

We collect stamps, coins, rocks, books and duck decoys. Even thrifty folks collect coupons and grocery bags. I’m told the new collectibles are those colorful cloth bags that are supposed to eliminate the need plastic bags.

Sometimes I think I have too much “stuff”. I know I could work more efficiently if my workspace were streamlined. I know my home would be easier to keep clean if it were more spare. I know there will come a time in my life where I’ll HAVE to cut down on the responsibility of owning so much stuff. And I know my relationships with people are much, much more important than anything I own.

But I still love, love, love my STUFF.

I had a delightful conversation about s*t*u*f*f a few daysyears ago with the owner of a flower shop here in Keene. In the Company of Flowers is a beautiful store, with lovely floral arrangements and potted plants. The owner, Mary, also offers an eclectic assortment of gifts and home accessories, all beautiful and unusual. (Note–still true!) I always enjoy browsing there and often leave with a trinket or two.

I’d just discovered a strand of unusual beads, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I could not take my eyes off them. My budget brain fought with my primitive hunter-gatherer brain, and the budget brain lost. The beads were soon mine. They sit by my keyboard even now as I write so I can enjoy looking at them. (Note–Now I have no idea where I put them.)

I asked Mary what she knew about them. She told me about the bead dealer she’d bought them from. I told her about my own bead collection, especially my strands of antique African trade beads. She told me about her collection of “kissy pennies”, antique metal pieces with enigmatic shapes. They’re used for money in some parts of Africa. “I just love how they look, so organic, so spiritual,” she said, her hands moving to illustrate their shape. “There’s something about them that moves me deeply.”

As we talked about our unusual collections, she told me the story of a good friend who had recently died. He’d amassed an amazing collection of objects. When his estate was dispersed, it was broken up and auctioned off in bits and pieces.

I made a little whimper of sympathy. No, she said. Instead of feeling sad, she felt elated. At peace. While he lived, he’d enjoyed his collection so much.

And now it was disassembled and put back out into the world. For many, many other people to see, to be collected and cherished all over again.

She said, “I’ve let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”

What a beautiful sentiment!

There are people who claim they hate shopping, or who periodically purge their belongings. We all go through periods of de-cluttering, letting go of certain things. After all, it is just “stuff”. And in the end, we all know that relationships and people are always more important than any “thing” we own.

But being attached to stuff is NOT just a nuisance, nor a character flaw. Nor is it self-deception about true priorities or our own mortality.

Collecting stuff is a deeply human activity. It tells us so much about who we are and who we’d like to be.

People come into the world as unique individuals. We feel connection to certain kinds of things.

We accrue those things, or collect them. These items aggregate around us. We pull them from the stream.

When we die, that aggregation is released again, like a dandelion’s seeds blowing into the wind. They return to the stream. And other people find those same pieces, find joy in them and gather them. The cycle continues again, over and over, century after century.

Each collection is unique. A stamp dealer once told me that in over 50 years of selling stamps, she never met two people who collected exactly the same stamps.

Certain objects speaks to us. And they speak for us.

From the collectors of the finest art in the world to the hoarder of string and rubber bands, what we collect says something about who we are, what we fear, what we value and what we yearn for. Our stuff helps us remember a certain time, a certain place, perhaps even a certain person. Our collections can give us solace and amusement, curiosity and knowledge, beauty and joy.

Yes, there is a spectrum, as in any human behavior, from one extreme to the other. I secretly fear my kids will nominate me for the show “Hoarders”….

But it is still a process that I find heart-breakingly human.

So go ahead and enjoy your stuff. You have my permission, as my friend Diane recently gave me hers. (Permission, not stuff.)

If it bothers you, sort out whether that comes from how you feel about it or how others feel about it. If others, how much do you care? Find your own balance point between the convenience of having less stuff and pleasure it brings you.

As another friend quipped years ago, “I love my stuff, and I’m not getting rid of it! I don’t care what they do with it after I’m dead. They can burn it or give it away. They can build a pyramid above me and fill it to the top with my stuff for all I care! I’ll be gone!!”

I can still see her face lifted to the heavens as her hands formed a giant pyramid over her head….

Laurie, you go, grrl!

You can see more pics of my stuff from last year’s open studio here.
Watch for new photos from this year’s open studio soon!

Ya like thread? I got thread.


Ya like sticks? Got sticks, too.


Beads? Got beads.


Dolls? Check.

More dolls? Yep.

Buttons? Yeah, I got buttons.

What color buttons?

Just come to my Open Studio this weekend. I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like to look at!

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14 Comments

Filed under art, cleaning the studio

14 responses to “THE BEAUTY OF STUFF

  1. As a fellow hunter-gatherer and one who is teetering on the edge of being labeled a hoarder myself I thank you for this post. I finished up the one show that I do each year and am trying to wrangle the beads and findings (who knew I had that many jump rings?) back into their nooks and crannies in a newer and hopefully improved system of categorizing and organizing so that I can be more productive and better prepared for the next leap. If I were closer it would give me great pleasure to sit and peruse your collections and share observations. Thank you for always being an inspiration! Enjoy the day. Erin

    • You made me laugh as I read your post, Erin. A friend came today to help, and I set her sorting out my work table. I gave her a large printer’s type tray, and said, “Just put blue things with blue things, silver things with silver things, etc.” She did great!
      And boy, was I embarrassed as we uncovered hundreds of little baggies, six micro-torches (six???!!), dozens of half-finished earrings, and 20 sanding sponges.
      Did she say anything about it? Only to say how much fun she was having! :^)

  2. “Let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”
    Beautiful vision regarding “stuff”
    Great article, thank you!

  3. Deb Sims

    We’re probably just doing what we’ve done for millions of years. Perhaps collecting things that are indicative of previous lives. I know my emotional and physical attraction to cave art and ancient things comes from a time long ago. It is visceral and immediate, no thinking involved. You’re not alone, Luann! There is a whole tribe of us out here!

    • Deb, my theory about beads… Nomadic woman from ancient times, gathering: “Edible root, edible root, berry, berry, berry, hey! Pretty pebble!” And yes, you are now an honorary member of the Modern Day Hunter-Gatherers Club. :^)

  4. Wonderful post, really resonated with me. Love the sentiment of not owning anything, makes collecting it all the more poignant.

  5. What a lovely post, Luann. I have less of a problem with stuff than some of my stuffy friends, but still love to have my things around me to enjoy. But I do like the idea of the stuff going back into the river to be enjoyed by others when the time comes.

    Stuff is getting a bad press recently and I have bought into it to some extent. Decluttering doesn’t come naturally to me but I do from time to time like to fill a bag or two without much though or angst and take it for recycling. The funny thing is that once it is gone I don’t miss it, it’s the initial decision to dispose that causes the problem.

    Bigger stuff I have a problem with, but that’s another story.

    Corinne at soulsnet.com

    • I think there comes a time when it’s natural to let go of stuff. It took years before I could give away the big bag of baby clothes, keeping only a few items I’d actually knit for my kids. And certain hobbies have lost their lure–it’s time for those supplies to go to new homes. Books went more easily when I realized our state prisons for women had abysmal libraries. Donating books to causes like that was almost joyful.

      And cleaning my studio is a perfect time to see what I’m excited to find as I sort, and what brings me down. If I think, “Oh, not THAT again!”, it goes.

      I’m really looking forward to an artist garage sale next spring. Not only to move stuff on, but to see what other people have that I want! :^D

  6. Thank you for permission. I always thought it was weird that I like sticks, wood from my trees actually. Now I know I’m okay as there are a lot of us “weirdos” out there!

  7. Elaine Luther

    Ooo, pictures! Thanks for the images. Funny that you mentioned the stamp collecting, I _just_ sent the link to the stamp collecting post to a friend.

    • Hey, there, Elaine!
      I’m finding it’s easier to take pics with my new smartphone than messing with a “real” camera. Hence, the oodles of pics lately. Yay, technology!

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