A cozy, cluttered corner of a room, filled with items that narrate a personal history. There are old toys, worn books, a vintage camera, and family photos in various frames, all bathed in soft natural light. The scene captures a sense of warmth and depth, highlighting the complex emotions tied to these possessions.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a minimalist. I thought that famous photo of Steve Jobs sitting on the floor surrounded only by a very few possessions was something to which I should aspire.

As I’ve grown older, and especially since starting a family, I’ve realised that there are stories in our possessions. That’s not a reason to live in clutter, but as I’ve moved house recently, I’ve come to notice that I’ve held on to things that have no practical value, but which make me feel more like a fully-rounded human being.

This essay suggests that, for everyday, regular people, the stuff that is given to us and the things that evoke memories are the equivalent of haivng our names “carved into buildings or attached to scholarships”.

Cramming our spaces with painful tokens from the past can seem wrong. But according to Natalia Skritskaya, a clinical psychologist and research scientist at Columbia University’s Center for Prolonged Grief, holding on to objects that carry mixed feelings is natural. “We’re complex creatures,” she told me. When I reflect on the most memorable periods of my life, they’re not completely devoid of sadness; sorrow and disappointment often linger close by joy and belonging, giving the latter their weight. I want my home to reflect this nuance. Of course, in some cases, clinging to old belongings can keep someone from processing a loss, Skritskaya said. But avoiding all sad associations isn’t the solution either. Not only is clearing our spaces of all signs of grief impossible to sustain, but if every room is scrubbed of all suffering, it will also be scrubbed of its depth.

Deciding what to keep and what to lose is an ongoing, intuitive process that never feels quite finished or certain. The line between “just enough” and “too much” can fluctuate, even if I’m the one drawing it. A slight shift in my mood can transform a cherished heirloom into an obtrusive nuisance in a second. Never is this feeling stronger than when I’m frantically searching for my keys, or some important piece of mail. Such moments make me feel that my life is disordered, that I lack control over my surroundings (because many of my things were given to me, rather than intentionally chosen). Yet still more stuff finds its way into our limited space as our child receives toys and we acquire more gear. I do part with some of my stash semi-regularly. Even so, I’m sure that more remains than any professional organizer would recommend.

Source: The Atlantic

Image: DALL-E 3