towards a healthier relationship with stuff

I started this website with the mission of creating a healthier relationship towards stuff. But the truth is, I don’t know exactly what that relationship looks like… yet.

However, thanks to lots of reading and reflecting, I do have a number of theories. These are some of the ideas I’ve been working with that I’m hoping to expand upon on this site:

Stuff has value and meaning. There’s a lot of talk about how stuff is just stuff, and it doesn’t mean anything. But there’s a lot of research (from a number of different fields) that proves otherwise. In order for us to develop a healthier relationship with stuff, we need to acknowledge that not only does stuff have meaning and value, but that it really can help enhance our lives. I’m interested in the role stuff plays in our lives in several areas: as a way to communicate meaning and identity, as memory, souvenir, and connection, and as aesthetic and sensory experiences and fulfillment.

A healthy relationship with stuff will look different for every person. One of the ways I’ve been considering our relationship with stuff is through our relationship with food. Just like I believe that a diet doesn’t always lead to a healthy relationship with food, cutting out most stuff doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthier relationship with objects. Just like with food, we all have a natural tolerance for varying amounts of stuff. (A stuff metabolism, if you will.) Some people get overwhelmed by lots of stuff, others feel nourished by it. I think its important to understand that this varies from person to person, and also within individuals at varying stages in their lives.

A healthy relationship with stuff looks at the life cycle of objects and their impact. Most of the stuff produced today is produced as part of an unhealthy system. We can’t have a healthy relationship with objects if they’re created in ways that are harmful to our planet, to others, or to ourselves. A healthy relationship means understanding where objects come from and the impact that has.

Use is not the only indicator of value. I don’t think the usefulness of an object should be judged primarily by the number of times it is used. There is value in aesthetic and sensory pleasure, creative curation, and construction of identity (ie. style) and a healthy relationship looks at these values as well as those of use and beauty.

Consumption is not a wholly passive activity, but an opportunity for expression and nourishment. Consumption has gotten its negative implications because of its links to word like “conspicuous” and “over.” While consumption can be out of control, it is actually a natural part of life. We are all born consumers, whether it is air, information, experiences, or even stuff. Choosing the things we surround ourselves with can be an important activity for identity and creative expression, not just a negative.

A healthy relationship doesn’t mean keeping every object forever, but it also doesn’t mean pretending we aren’t more attached to some objects than others. There’s just no denying that some objects have more meaning for us than others. There is nothing wrong with this. Part of developing a healthy relationship with stuff means identifying which objects are meaningful over the long run, which objects are meaningful in the moment, and which are meaningless to us.

Nobody is perfect. Learning to have a healthier relationship with stuff is a journey, not a destination, and we’ll all makes mistakes along the way. We’ve all bought things we didn’t really need, or had to get rid of perfectly useful objects, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. I’m as interested in what these “mistakes” tell us about our complex relationship with stuff as anything else.

A lot of my research right now centers on the first idea, but I think they are all important in the long run when it comes to developing a healthier relationship with stuff.

My other aim with this site is to not only discuss research, but to reflect on my own and others experiences with stuff, and to examine the role stuff plays in my own life, not only as a maker, but as a person who seriously loves objects.

5 responses to “towards a healthier relationship with stuff”

  1. Evelise

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  4. Susy

    Hi Megan,

    I just listened to the After The Jump podcast, and came over here to check out the site. I just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed learning about your ideas, and to thank you for sharing your work on such a fascinating topic…definitely new ideas to me. I have been conflicted in my own attitude towards stuff – as a maker of it, and as a person who owns it, and it’s been really refreshing to feel my thoughts changing as I read along, and listen along.

    I’m so happy to see conversations like this in the online design world. I’m excited to see designers thinking while they are making. While I do like Pinterest, design blogs, magazines and all — at times, the culture seems to lack depth to me, and it’s great to come across people looking at things from a new angle, or with a new focus. I like the idea of thinking not just about what we are responding to, but why.

    Thanks Megan. : )

  5. Impressionist landscape

    Very nice post. Thank you so much for your sharing.I get a lot information from your artical.

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