There’s a box that lives in the back of my closet. Year after year, it sits there collecting dust. Every once in a while when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll open the box. Inside I find a few of my high school team shirts and embarrassing inflictions of the music taste I once had as evidenced by faded concert merch. The memory of these moments, otherwise tucked away in my mind, resurface by the existence of these objects.
Our items are a physical manifestation of our memories. The good, the bad, the lessons, the adventures. They are the parts of you that you leave at home every day. So in a New York apartment where every inch of real estate is coveted, what memories do we deem important enough to take up space?
If by any chance, I’ve caught you reading this from the comfort of your home, take a moment to look around. The objects you’ve surrounded yourself with, albeit material, tell your story. Perhaps it’s a souvenir that reminds you of travels to a far-off land. Maybe it’s the dining table where your partner once cooked a first-date dinner. It could be a chair where you sat to come up with your first business idea, or a vase that a friend made for you.
Put together, these items tell a larger picture of your life up until this very moment. Just like when you walk through a curated museum exhibit, a thematic narrative takes form in your own home. What’s on display takes part in exposing our history. Each item holding intrinsic value as a custodian of our very own story.
When I sat down to write this, I thought of my grandmother. I thought of all the things I wouldn’t know about her without the photo albums, storied recipes, and exotic keepsakes she displays in her home. How her life isn’t memorialized by selfies and Instagram stories that distracted and took the place of living that actual moment. And how a material object can somehow better capture our existence in ways a snap often can’t.
When we move our lives online, we can often assume the position of doing so for the sake of minimalism. If we look at minimalism holistically, it allows us to consider the broader scale of our mass consumption. However, there is an unfortunate consequence when something genuine gets distorted by its mass application. Today, you’ll hear all sorts of advice tied to minimalism. Digitize your photos. Everything important should fit into one bag. Pack up all of your things and if after a month you don’t miss them, toss them out.
Rooted in Shinto tradition, minimalism actually means that having fewer possessions allows us to care for those possessions as if they had souls. As you discard the objects in your home in pursuit of simpler pleasures, remind yourself what memories you might be throwing away with them. That doesn’t mean keeping everything. It means being good at your job as the curator of your own home museum. Consider that by downsizing your physical needs, you may be downsizing your emotional ones too. Take a look at the company you keep in your home and decide what tells your story.
So, how do we assess the value of an item in our home? It’s the value you don’t pay for that makes it priceless. When I first bought the desk I’m writing to you on, its value was the price tag for which I bought it. Well, plus shipping. I didn’t have the money for something I truly loved at the time, but now I think of all the memories it holds. Memories you couldn’t pay me to replace. And sure, someday this desk might be upgraded, but that comes with knowing that our exhibits are ever-evolving.
There is and always will be a permanent collection in the museum of you. But there’s a rotating one too. Our stories aren’t set in stone, and our items reflect what the story of our life is at that moment in time. Our permanent collection, however, is comprised of the things that remind us of where we’ve been. The things we can’t seem to get rid of, because, as Marie Kondo would say, they do spark joy.
When you look at your life, and the things in it, make sure it tells the authentic story of who you are. By reflecting on and connecting with the objects we choose to keep and display, we can start treating our museums with the thought and soul they deserve. In the process, you just might find you get to know yourself on a deeper level. Better yet, you get to know others on a deeper level. We can take the great pleasure of understanding what makes our stories different, and even more so, what makes them connect.
So don’t forget: You are your own curator, make your museum worth visiting.