The Power of Objects

I am surrounded by memories. The subway ticket from Chicago, mint tins, piles of books, my rock and beach glass collection, small wooden turtles from Mexico, and notes on the walls that remind me of events that have long passed and math equations I no longer need are all reminders of my past. They are proof of experiences that I’ve lived through and are physical continuations of the past. I always hesitate to throw anything out because I instinctively know that that receipt from the take-out place may now only be a worthless piece of paper, but, in a few years, it will be a portal to a memory of a very good day spent exploring a beautiful city. Humans, because they are such visual creatures, have a very strong attachment to objects, and I’m no different. We define ourselves largely through our material possessions. All that we own make up a small part of us, and, when one of these little pieces are lost, a small part of our identity dies.

I once owned a scientific calculator named Pete for about five years. He was of the Casio FX 115ES breed, and he has a very special place in my heart. He was there for me when I struggled with simple algebraic equations, and watched me thrive as I slowly gained confidence in Math through my high school years. We learned Trigonometry and studied functions together. He was patient with me as I attempted to type in complicated Chemical equations and wasn’t upset with me when I blamed him for giving me wrong answers. I spent long summer days with Pete studying for the SAT (a standardized test in the US), and we celebrated together when we received a perfect score. Towards the end of Pete’s time with me, there was dust between the keys and some of the symbols had started to wear off, but I didn’t care: Pete was going to be with me forever, I thought, until one day, I lost him.

It took me a while to fully accept that he was gone, and when I did, I felt a big hole in my soul. Pete had represented a significant part of my academic career. He was associated with so many memories, had served as an anchor to the past, and represented a continuity through time. Now a small part of my past became just a little less certain. Pete had transcended the plastic and metal that he was made up of. He wasn’t just a calculator. He was Pete.

I believe that a major reason why humans attach so much value to certain objects is because of our selfish desire to make the world work for us. Just like it may be difficult for us to believe that waiters at restaurants don’t really care if we have a good meal or not, or that the rain didn’t decide to descend upon the earth for the very purpose of thwarting our plans, it may be difficult for us to fully recognize that our phones are just metal and glass or that our favorite T-shirts are just pieces of fabric. We start to develop humanistic connections with some objects because, somewhere in the depths of our minds, we think that these objects care about us. We are just that flawed. Someone once told me that humans can’t truly think about the world from a scientific perspective, and won’t truly accept that everything is composed of atoms. Reality distorts in our minds. Teddy bears are friends. Books become our closest advisors. Calculators have human names and traits.

I have had so many meaningful objects throughout my life that define who I am as a person. Old ballet shoes laced with the pain of having to quit dancing, old and worn-out jeans with events and experiences weaved into the fabric, wooden turtles that envelope me in nostalgia, and artwork that my hands have created years ago all mean so much to me. The fact that simple objects are able to evoke such profound emotions and transport our minds to places buried so deeply under the fabric of time is truly an amazing part of the human experience.

The photograph above shows some of the objects that are very meaningful to me. This one photograph is filled with so many memories, yet all it shows is a couple of ordinary things. I might write a post about some of these in the future, but feel free to ask about any of them.


23 thoughts on “The Power of Objects

  1. What a sweet post about humanizing the existence of the material world around us. I know humans are “flawed” because they try and breathe life into everything (including inanimate objects), but I think that is the very beauty of our existence — the magic we disperse around us, onto things and places and people and memories and all of it. None of this, us living on this planet, would have meaning if we didn’t have attachment to any of it. 🙂

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    1. I fully agree with everything you said. The human mind has a way of making life much better than it really is. You’re totally right, it’s magic. If you think about the entirety of the universe, our ability to place meaning onto certain objects is truly impressive.

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  2. Thank you for posting this! It fascinates me that you and I sometimes have such different approaches to things and yet I feel a twinge of kinship with you — a recognition that you’re of my tribe, so to speak (although you need not reciprocate).

    Take memories, for instance. Very different approaches. Growing up, I would periodically toss out everything I had created that my mother hadn’t laid claim to. About once ever two or so years, I recall. I wasn’t happy with myself, and I didn’t want my past shaping my future — I thought tossing things out might prevent that.

    I still tend to shy away from anything — such as certain songs — that has too many memories for me, although I no longer toss out everything I’ve created.

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    1. You’re welcome, Paul. The feeling is definitely mutual.

      I know exactly what you mean, about the past shaping the future. I try to avoid that too, yet I still can’t get myself to through away those things that attach me to the past in a negative way. So I hide them away. You know those ballet shoes I talked about? I can’t look at them without feeling very sad. I keep them in my closet so that I don’t think about them too much.

      It’s interesting that you bring up music. It’s not a material object yet it has such a similar effect. There are two songs that I just can’t listen to because they remind me of times I’d rather not revisit, but its very comforting to know that these songs will be there for me when I’m ready.


  3. Sometimes I feel the objects have the spirit of their owner, my grandad’s hammer,his old drill. I pick it up ,this things he once held, and sometimes feel closer to him. I too have boxes of old things, perhaps ,one day, they will be the only things I have left.

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  4. When I escaped from my domestic violence situation, I left behind a lifetime of things-small things I had held on to that made me smile. But the one thing that I cried the most over was a pair of shoes. Decades later, I still get a pang of sadness when I think of those shoes, I even wrote a blog post about them, but I cannot figure out why they had a such a hold on me.

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    1. I’m so sorry. I think we all have those things with which we form inexplainable close connections. Though I think I understand your connection with the shoes. I’ve always hesitated with throwing out old shoes. I think it’s because shoes literally take us to all of our adventures and experiences. They are proof of all the places we’ve been with them, so it may be difficult to loose that.


  5. A beautiful post Kat. I too hold onto objects associated with moments and emotions. I have let a few of those things go but my house is largely a museum of my life. I am surrounded by the comfort given by these moments of triumph and loss. There is furniture that I built with my hands and visions, paintings, rocks, and strangest of all are the 18 military medals awarded for service to my country and yet there is the paradox. I cared nothing at all for recognition and yet each medal transports me to moments of extremes that somehow I survived and for what? Purpose eludes me at times. Those ballet shoes should never be disposed. They should stay with you and someday when you look at them they will remind you of your youth and how you sought to master a most difficult art and having been torn from it, how you went on to claim your life in other magnificent ways. Did you know that in your picture you clearly spelled out the word LOVE in all caps by the arrangement of your cherished objects. Can you see it? I do want to ask what the small twig represents to you. I recognize a clear tie to Shaman reading of branches to signify certain things in the human experience. Of course, I could easily read far too much, but isn‘t that what artistic expression is? The artist creates and the admirer interprets. You have created something lovely in my interpretation.

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    1. Thank you!
      A museum? That’s awesome. I hope one day I can have the same thing where I can walk around the house and marvel at all those memories that I have collected. I think that the most valuable objects are those that we ourselves assign value to. Those metals had each been assigned with a specific value by the military but the most important value is the one you gave them through the memories that you hold?
      I kind of see the LOVE, though I do really have to stretch my imagination. That twig is actually a dried rose. I picked it from the garden right before my family moved to a new house. We had a garden where the most beautiful wild roses grew. I picked that rose as a memory of that house. There had been something magical about that house, and I think the rose represents that sentiment perfectly. I’ve had the rose now for four years.

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      1. Personally, I think a deep sentiment is the true test of our humanity. That is a touching memory regarding your house and the rose. I happen to love roses for their delicate beauty and ferocious thorns. I have 16 rose bushes. Two are allowed to grow wild in the hedges and have vines more than 20 feet long. They make my hedges look like they are sprouting roses. I have a lot of people question me for choosing to grow flowers of all kinds in my yard and I explain that to me they bring a kind of peace because they demand an informed attention and reward the gardener with yearly beautiful displays as a reminder of the care they received. Much like my daughters and granddaughters.

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      2. Your analysis of roses is beautiful. I’ve always wondered how something so delicate and lovely as a flower could survive in nature, yet somehow those traits had been evolutionarily chosen through centuries. I’m not much of a gardener myself, but what you said about how flowers demand attention and are rewarding is exactly how I feel about baking. It’s so rewarding to see all the effort I put into making a pie by the flakiness of the crust or the rich taste of the filling. This is where I find some of my peace.

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      3. Yes, Kat! I think it’s the same. You are rewarded for your effort with something you can share of yourself with family or friends and at the same time see how your labor has transformed the basic ingredients into something so pleasurable as a fresh made pie. Yum! I’ve made myself hungry now. 😋

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  6. I love the picture! May be life is really made up of those little things we hold so dear, even if we do humanise them. I remember having a pencil box as a kid and when the flap came off one day I cried my heart out! I still gather little things, tickets (yes), a tissue with a date, key chains. Each of these hold a special place. They may be junk to any observer but represent of button to the past for me 🙂

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    1. Thank you! I totally understand your worry about the pencil box. I’m always upset the most when I loose the little things that I’ve had for a long time: those things filled with so many memories are are thus irreplaceable. Many of those things in the picture I can buy or find another copy of, but the new copy will have no meaning to me at all.

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  7. There is a Shinto concept: as you own, love, and handle an object, it develops its own soul. Maybe you’re Shinto at heart 🙂
    Me, I always found it freeing to get rid of things. I’m a minimalist. Relinquishing an object releases me from the past and keeps me grounded in the present. That said, I do keep things of my own with sentimental value: grandma’s jewelry, mom’s drawings. But only if it makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe I am Shinto. I should look into that. We definitely have different approaches to objects, but I do think that keeping certain things can also help one be grounded in the present. Some objects can serve as proof of have far we’ve come and can remind us that some moments are definitely over, if that makes any sense.

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