Recently, one of my friends interviewed me and took photos of my apartment for her (gorgeous) style blog. Looking over the pictures and my answers to her questions, I realized that it would be hard to come away from the experience thinking anything other than “Gee, I have a f*ckload of stuff”. That, and my dog is unbelievably cute. But that’s beside the point, or rather, that’s always my point, so let’s talk about something else.
I started thinking, what is it with my (and so many other people’s) obsession with stuff? Materialism plays a strange role in our culture because while we are undeniably one of the wealthiest, most materialistic societies in existence, there’s also a lot of hate thrown at people who seem to over-value “things” as opposed to, say, relationships or experiences. But I’m here today to set the record straight. Sure, it would be awesome if the people building $100 million mansions would toss a little of that dough to the less fortunate, but the kind of materialism I subscribe to has very little to do with money. It’s just about the stuff. The piles and mounds and basements and attics and bedrooms of stuff. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with wanting a lot of stuff. I’ll even go so far as to say it can be great to surround yourself with stuff. Here’s why:
1. Stuff makes me happy. Before you freak out, let me clarify that it doesn’t make me as happy as the aforementioned pup, or my boyfriend, or my grandparents, or holidays or family vacations or laughing with my friends while watching a sunset and smelling a whole bunch of roses. But it definitely makes me happy! Surrounding myself with pretty things that I like to look at simply makes my life a better and happier place to be. The reason jail cells are so depressing is that they don’t have any stuff in them (that, and you’re in jail). Hence, it’s a luxury we too often take for granted that we can have as much of our stuff as we want displayed in our living space. My stuff – the Hello Kitty twinkle lights, the mermaid jewelry stand, the heart-shaped hanging terrarium – instantly picks me up or soothes me if I’m having a hard time with something. Plus, unlike sunsets and most grandparents, it’s portable. My home will feel like my home whether I’m in Santa Monica or the Arctic Circle, because I’ll have my stuff with me.
2. Stuff shows other people who I am. I don’t think most people would argue with the statement that our clothes express our personalities. Of course, everyone has a choice whether to play into that, but the girl dressed in the same outfit she wore three days in a row because she just, like, couldn’t care less is making a statement exactly as significant as the girl who plans her outfits weeks in advance. Ditto for stuff. While I’m no longer an angsty teen fighting with my mom over whether that blue sticky stuff leaves permanent marks on the walls underneath my Rent poster, my grown-up apartment is certainly still crammed with stuff, all of which expresses my personality. And not even purposefully! It’s just what happens when you have a lot of stuff. You keep the things you love, you display the things you love, and other people see those things displayed and consequently learn about what kinds of things you love. Without you even having to say a word. It’s as simple and as cool as that.
3. Stuff keeps my memories close to me. If you start thinking of stuff as souvenirs from your own life, it’s more understandable why some people have so much of it. That picture hanging above my couch that used to be in the hallway outside my childhood bedroom reminds me of home, every time I look at it. The ceramic magazine holder shaped like a dog? I bought it when I was living in Iowa, and when I look at it I see porches and prairies and the friends who don’t live near me anymore. So much of my love of stuff is really a love of nostalgia, a way of holding onto little parts of my former life and folding them into each new stage as I go. It’s small, beautiful doses of the past that you can actually hold in your hands and keep with you.
4. Stuff tells stories. Just as stuff is a way of keeping bits of your past with you, it’s also a way of keeping the stories of your life together in one place. I love it when friends come to my apartment for the first time and ask questions about the miniature objects lining my bookshelves or the sticker-covered lighters I’ve had since high school. If I had gotten rid of my stuff over the years, there would be entire stories of my life lost to Goodwill. Just as digging through a pile of photographs or reading an old diary reminds us of conversations and life events we would have probably forgotten, so does my stuff. And I love visiting a friend who has as much stuff as I do, because then I get to point to things and hear a million stories I never would have otherwise heard.
5. Stuff teaches me things. As someone who’s really into stuff, I naturally take a special interest in other people’s stuff and the stuff I see in stores, museums, houses, and so on. I’ve come to realize that stuff provides a deeply fascinating and accurate view into history, sociology, psychology, and all those other college-major-sounding words. Whether I’m looking through my mom’s closet, flipping through books at an antique store, or trolling Etsy for vintage charm bracelets, I’m discovering something much bigger. Sure, I’m not learning anything that would improve my SAT score, but I am getting answers to questions like, What toys came in cereal boxes in the 1960s? What kinds of books were teenage girls reading when my mom was in high school? In how many different eras has the “smiley face” motif been trendy? It sounds trivial but when you add it all up, I’ve learned so much about the ways our culture has both changed and stayed the same over time.
In not-so-short, stuff is important to me, and I am growing out of feeling the need to apologize for that. I’m sure some people think I’m too focused on material goods or, more salaciously, believe me to be a hoarder (I’m way too neat and compulsive, sorry), but it’s not even a choice at this point. My stuff is a big part of who I am and, guess what, it’s a big part of who you are too. The stuff you displayed in your seventh grade bedroom was probably a lot different than the stuff you have now, and in that sense, stuff is a way of marking growth. Of course if you look at it that way, one late night eBay search for “90s decor” could set you back a dozen years or so. But to me, it’s worth the risk. And yes, those are just some of my nail polishes.
Image via Phoebe Joy Photography