02 December 2014

Fast Month #5 // Collecting Stories

Chaweng Pagoda bells // Koh Samui 2014 (iPhone 4)

Between my relaxing and enlightening trip in Thailand, moving twelve years of items out of my cellar as we moved out of my first appartment last week-end, and a great communication training I had for work, I have a lot of things to share with you this month. And that's without counting all the 2014 retrospectives December calls for. But first, here is the monthly recap of my ongoing Shopping Recasting.

In November, I tried something: I decided to actively stop myself from thinking about objects, whislists, Fast rules and other newsletters and browsing - and see if and how it impacts my daily life.

Of course, living in a consumerist society surrounded by ads, newsletters and other consumer peers, it is easier said than done. But I have made an active effort to stop myself when I was tempted to click on this or refine that wishlist. And this led to two things I'd like to develop:

  • I still did buy some items - but it was very interesting to see what type of items I bought and why, when I'm less "contaminated" by ads, wishlists and my own personal overthinking tendency.
  • I had extra free time (either mental, thinking space while I'm doing a chore for example, or actual free time to do something else) - what did I do with it?

The November "New Guests"

As I wrote last month, engaging in a shopping fast with rules and limits made me spend a lot of time thinking about objects, purchases, my consumer patterns, and I would like to test what happens when I focus my thoughts on other things instead, which I did in November. I still did buy a few items this month, but the resulting "November New Guest" list is a bit suprising. Here is what I purchased:

  • 1. A few small minerals to go with my childhood collection
  • 2. A couple of small glass cases and DIY boxes to create a display area for my minerals
  • 3. A comfortable bra and a warm nightrobe
  • 4. In Thailand, I purchased a couple of shorts and light pants because the weather was hotter, and clothes got dirty quicker, than I anticipated,
  • 5. Souvenirs for my friends and family,
  • 6. A beautiful scarf from a company that promotes traditional silk weaving craftsmanship
  • 7. And a couple of decoration items including a beautiful wooden Buddha which now holds a special space in my home.

While November wasn't a suspension of the shopping fast, nor an "all you can buy" bender, I decided to stop overthinking about my purchases - so any "wish" that made me doubt too much was a no-go, but anything I felt sure about went into my basket regardless of the shopping fast rules. Just to see what would end up in there and why.

In the end, I found two motivations for purchase:

  • Filling a necessity, or additional comfort and ease (numbers 3 and 4 above) -  for example I bought the bra after ruthlessly getting rid of any uncomfortable or worn out underwear; and I ended up buying bottoms in Thailand because the 2 summer dresses I brought were dirty in 2 days (there are still a couple of things I need to learn about packing for a different climate...)

  • Creating or sharing a story, a meaning - the minerals & boxes for display to mark my reconnection with this old passion of mine, Thai decoration items to keep a token of this wonderful travel in my home, a silk scarf found at the airport, as the symbol of supporting a brand which promotes ethical actions in Thailand, and the souvenirs to share this experience with my family and friends...

When most distractions, browsing and subsequent impulse purchases, overthinking about supposed needs and gaps and perfect collections are removed, what was left for me was "necessities" (that's quite logical in a way), and meaningful purchases. Of course, travelling for the first time alone with le fiancé called for an unusually high amount of "meaningful souvenirs", so I'd like to continue this little experiment in December, a more regular month (except for Christmas but this rather calls for presents).

Collecting Stories - Meaningful Objects

What is a "meaningful purchase", what is an object with a story? When I found the jewelry box in which my childhood minerals were stored, I felt overwhelmed by a rush of memories and emotions. The first time I saw a collection of minerals, how amazed I was at these beautiful stones nature slowly created over centuries. Slightly brushing over a beautiful and rare cristal as it reflected the sunlight. The first time we went to a minerals fare, a bourse aux minéraux, with my friend and her father, being in awe at all these beautiful things all around. The joy I felt when my father accepted to offer me a quartz aux cheveux d'anges for seventy francs. How I would spend hours scrutinizing my minerals, never stopping to be amazed at nature's resources. The day my mother found this jewelry box in which they have been stored, and travelled through years to be found in my cellar, one day in 2014, amidst the PlayStation games. The rush of happiness and nostalgia when I rediscovered them. The guilt for having forgotten that part of myself. The joy of reconnecting with it, finding myself as much in awe at nature's creations as I was twenty years ago.

So I decided to display them in my mini-palace. I bought some cheap DIY boxes, purchased a couple of new minerals to symbolize my reconnection with this hobby (there is even a line for "minerals" on my yearly budget sheet now), and displayed them in my living room.

These are objects with a story. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I lost my collection of minerals, because what matters is the memories, the joy of watching their details, the humbling awe at nature's work. If these are lost, I'll take time to find and select new minerals, which beauty touches me so deeply that they keep carrying my story.

Of course, this example is very personal and old - maybe an extreme case of a "meaningful object". To take a more moderate example, the Thai silk scarf - no childhood memories here. When I read about the brand's engagement in supporting traditional hand silk weaving in Siam, I decided this purchase wouldn't only be about gifting myself with a nice scarf, but also a symbol of my engagement as a consumer for more ethical production methods. When I wear that scarf, I can remember my travel in Thailand, but also how I discovered this beand by chance and decided to support its actions (as opposed to buying a cheaper silk scarf of a more murky origin).

I still have a lot of thoughts to collect on this subject - what is a meaningful story exactly? At what point does it become an excuse to keep buying more stuff? Is it legitimate to ask from a material item to carry our stories? What I know for sure, is that I prefer to surround myself with such objects, with their stories and memories. I think this is a part of my version of simplicity - collecting stories through the few objects I own and share their meaning.


  1. I can't wait to see the rest of this post. :)

    1. I'm working on it! It's taking a bit of time, precisely since I decided to spend less time in front of the laptop :)

  2. I believe being attached to objects that carry a story is simply healthy if we doesn't concern every item this way. I have a scarf that belonged to my grandmother and I won't get rid of it never ever. I also have souvenirs that I brought from holidays at the seaside with my parents when I was a child. They are displayed in my living room. I don"t think that keeping them is kind of an unhealthy link to the past. Yes, memories will always be with me and any object or lack of it will change them but when I look at them I stop for a moment and think how wonderful my childhood was and what kind of mother I want to be to my daughter. To sum up I think that unless we amass objects than it's ok to have a few refined ones that are of special meaning. Minimalism helps to seize the moment, enjoy our lives and if some pieces remind us to be grateful, to live and be aware that every moment is precious than why not? At least that's what I think:) Monika

    1. Thanks for your input, I agree with you on the amount part - I also believe it's healthy to have a few mementos, and to enjoy them (ie either use them if it's a usable object or display them somewhere), maybe as long as we don't mistake the memories for the objects themselves ie don't grant too much importance to the object itself. I think, as you say about your childhood holidays souvenirs, that it can be a reminder of important things in life, like you say about being the kind of mother you want to be. For example in Thailand I bought a small, simple bracelet made of little garnet pearls, that I wear everyday. It is a reminder of how great discovering a foreign country was, and next time I want to splurge on a material item the idea is to look at it and remind myself what I really want is save this money for another travel instead.

      I think the point of minimalism is to say that even if some objects can convey a meaning, they are not the meaning themselves and they aren't worth spending too much time or money on. For example I would never rent a storage space for my souvenirs. When I moved the contents of my cellar, I was ruthless in a "use, display or discard" way. Also it's not the end of the world if some of these objects get broken or lost...

  3. I'm hoping you expand upon the second point later on, as I would like to know what you ended up doing/thinking when you weren't item-hunting. :)

    For now I'd like to just touch upon how strongly your love for the home comes through. This is not going to sound super eloquent but I would think that meaningful objects are a reinforcement of our identities. "Here is my home, which I have furnished with things that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also speak about my preferences, beliefs, and hopes."

    I can relate to that sentiment in as far as once I should have my own home to adorn, I would want it to be a reflection of my essence--it should reflect the me that I am now. I like that the minerals for you are a way to acknowledge your former passions and self, but you're blending it into your current space.

    Will wait for your further comments on these topics. As always, thank you for the lovely thoughts to chew on!

    1. Oh I will definitely elaborate on the spending time part, I already have a draft with main ideas under my sleeve (for after the "Season: December" post), but ironically, since I've decided to spend less time on my laptop (the reason for which I'm planning to elaborate in that post precisely), I have less time to write and publish for my blog.

      On the meaningful objects part, I wonder to what extend it is or should be linked to our identity. On the other hand I agree that objects are a way to personalize our interior, and feel really at home with items we decided to surround ourselves with, that remind us of people or moments of life. You know when I read/watch the sneak peek posts of Design Sponge or Inside Closet (a French equivalent but more focused on clothing & accessories on top of interior decoration); I noticed the interiors that touch me most, even when I don't like the aesthetics themselves, are those made of travel souvenirs and other keepsakes, objects gathered around stories rather than tons of meaningless junk. If it makes any sense...

    2. It makes sense. Homes like that always make me ask why. Why was that--bottle cap collection or random gnome statue important to that person? Or why that photograph or these artworks? Aside from seeing what harmony (or dis-harmony!) a collection of knick-knacks and furniture might evoke, I hope people are doing things for a reason.

      And it's ok if they don't either, I'm sure not everyone operates the same way (imbuing sentiment into their furnishings, etc.) To each his own, though I am with you when you say it's easier to identify with a home that has a spirit in it, and not just a carbon-copy of a showroom.

  4. The objects I make room for in my home are those with nostalgic meaning. Most of these are pictures of family members, but some are keepsakes like a teapot, my grandma's china or silver, a sewing rocking chair or an antique sewing basket. I love these treasures from my grand-mothers who have since passed on. Other "collectibles" I have purchased might be sent on to new homes when I feel I have too many things, but my keepsakes will always stay with me. It is my way of keeping loved ones close.

    1. Pictures are also good keepsakes indeed :) It is true that this type of items help keep memories and people close to our heart. And I agree that simplicity is about making choices: discarding the superfluous to make room for what matters... That's also what made me think about these meaningful objects idea - when I sorted out my cellar and noticed what was left over the years (decoration items for example), through the many purges I did, only the objects attached to a story remained: hand made vases or ceramics, keepsakes from my parents or friends... I thought, I'm on to something here. Maybe when we simplify our lives and only keep the essential around us, then it becomes more important to carefully select what remains...

  5. I try to take from minimalism what makes me feel better and my life easier. So, yes, I still am emotionally attached to some objects. Some jewellery which holds memorie of travels. Some clothes that remind me of my years in the US. My mom's bag, straight from the 70s, to name a few. I wouldn't die if anything happened to these objects, but every time I see them a nice memory comes to mind and makes me feel well - and this is a good enough reason to take care of them.

    1. I think that's pretty much what I'm doing as well. I prefer the moderation of keeping some items that make me happy because they are beautiful or remind me good moments with people that matter, rather than ruthlessly getting rid of everything. But as you say, if something happened to these objects it wouldn't be the end of the world either. It's a subtle balance, I find - selecting objects that are useful, beautiful or meaningful, so objects that are important in a way, but still are only objects not worth getting a heart attack (or even an argument with loved ones) over.

  6. I've been abysmal at commenting here lately Kali, I feel so bad! I know exactly what you're saying: The minute I stopped browsing Asos and Topshop for "maybe later" items to pass the time I had so much extra time on my hands. Of course, I was effectively forced to do this when my tendonitis was at its worst, but I haven't picked the habit back up again now that my hands are better. I'd rather plan a blog post or watch something fun with The Boyfriend. I'm not big on meaningful objects myself, I think - I recently gave away some of my oldest and most cherished teddy bears, seeing as I no longer had any use for them and as the kids I might have one day will most likely be showered in brand new toy os their own. I don't know what happened, as I used to be the child who wouldn't let my mom throw old cushions away because I was attached to them :) I've kept a handful of sentimental jewelry though, things from my christening that were given to me by aunts, uncles and grandparents. Jewelry takes up no space at all, so I have no problem with that at all. I guess my favorite souvenir is photos. If I ever lost my huge collection of digital photos I would be completely heartbroken.

    1. Haha I see what you mean about the extra time on your hands when you stop browsing on the web. That's a part of the second part of the post I've planned for later this week (well I still need to write it today...). I should stop teasing too much, it's not that incredible of a post, mainly obvious things about how we spend our time...
      When it comes to meaningful objects, yes it can be a way to keep memories - and I agree that pictures are the best way to do so, especially with the digital age, it takes up no space at all :), and maybe a few keepsakes although I agree with you, our own children probably won't give a crap about our old toys... I did send a few boxes to be kept at my father's house - because I'm still hoping to have a bigger appartment once le fiancé and I finally find a job in the same city - but I got rid of most keepsakes as I knew I would never use or display them in my house. In that case I took a picture of them first. But I think "meaningful objects" isn't only about mementos or keepsakes, for me it's also about taking the time to select what daily objects surround us. Not necessarily having memories or a sentimental attachment to all of them, but being more mindful about what we buy and why. I think I gave the example of my coffee cup in a past post - it's a cup I bought from a craftsman in Provence. don't have any sentimental attachment to it, but it makes me happy to drink coffee in this cup everyday because it has a meaning - I met the guy who made it and all. I prefer to have one wuch cup, rather than 10 Ikea cups if you know what I mean.

  7. I tend to get sentimental about a lot of things so collecting 'meaningful' items is tricky for me. Also, most of the things I'm sentimental about are so ugly I don't want to have them on display! You're lucky there with your mineral collection ;). I'm thinking about old cards and trinkets people gave me for birthdays (sometimes even self-made) that I appreciated at the time but have turned dowdy and/or are too loud or childish for my current tastes. Or even my old piano that I haven't used in years, takes up a lot of space, and is a cheap model made out of a kind of tacky chipboard with a wood motif (too bad because I love a musical instrument in any interior!). My husband is like me but is less interested in esthetics, so I'm still in grave doubt over some displays that he didn't want me to get rid of or stuff in a box: a display of our favorite childhood stuffed animals (completely worn so that they even look kinda creepy ...) and a couple of posters that are either from bands of with little cartoon characters on them (this is the compromise that resulted after I got him at least to get rid of some teenage posters of hot scantily dressed female musicians and those typically morbid nineties record cover art!)
    Anyhow, apart from that I do try do make the things I purposefully use for decoration have some kind of meaning. I too live in a small apartment and I don't like heavy decoration, so when I do buy something to add to what I have, I try to do it when abroad, or when it's connected to a good cause (like you scarf I guess).

    1. I see what you mean about what to do with this kind of sentimental items. I have to admit that sorting out 12 years of memories in my cellar made me quite ruthless - it was either I can use them (coffee cups or a vase for flowers), or display them (like the minerals), or discard them. For those I decided to discard, the most meaningful ones I took pictures of before discarding. That way I can keep the memory, and still share it when showing the photograph to my close ones, but it doesn't clutter my home and I don't feel obliged to display them. Another idea, for the smaller ones, would be to display them in a closed area like a closet space, and sometimes you'd open it and enjoy these memories of home-made presents, but the rest of the time you keep it closed... I guess it's very personal in the end :)

      I agree with what you say about the other decoration items - gathering things that have some kind of meaning. Especially with clothes I'm becoming like that now. I have more than enough in my wardrobe for my needs, so when I decide to add something new, I prefer to carefully select what it will be and who I will give my money to. I guess I only "breach" that rule when I have a specific need (say, ski gear for example) and it's so specific I don't have so much choice and don't want to spend ages finding the right one.