why stuff, why now?

I’ve cared about stuff pretty much my whole life, but I was compelled to start this site – this movement – because lately I’ve found myself increasingly angry.

I get angry when I hear minimalists say that stuff doesn’t matter. I get mad when I read Pinterest dismissed as trivial. I get frustrated when I see good people made to feel guilty because they have a desire to make (or own) things.

But I wasn’t quite sure why I was so angry.

And today I figured it out.

It starts with what I feel is a trivialization and marginalization of a whole gender. And it comes down to the meaning of a life.

As I was working on my graduate thesis, I read an amazing book called As Long as It’s Pink: The Sexual Politics of Taste. This book became the basis for my entire project, and it still influences my thinking to this day. And as I work to champion the value of stuff, I find myself turning to it more and more.

In the book, author Penny Sparke goes through the history of modern culture to examine how certain domestic activities first became associated with feminine culture and then became trivialized and marginalized. She shows how many of the stigmas we have about what is “real work” and what is “valuable” came to be and persist to this day.

And that is part of the reason I’m so angry. I see attacks on stuff (and on sites that help us share images of stuff, like Pinterest) as just another in a long line of attacks against certain activities that have come to be viewed predominantly as feminine.

Ultimately, I see them as attacks on some of the things I hold most dear.

I’m not the world’s best cook. And my house is usually a mess. But I’m a maker. And someone who sees the value in the creation of visual culture and personal style. And I’m willing to fight to make people see that value.

I’m frustrated by the trivialization of so much of what I value in life.

And I’m angry because I see this trivialization as a direct affront to the life of an incredible person, my mother.

My mother passed away in March of this year after a 2 1/2 year battle with ovarian cancer. And like so many people, this experience led me to examine what was valuable in my life.

My mother was an artist. A painter. A crafter.

She spent my entire life making things.

And more importantly, she spent my entire life helping me understand the importance of stuff.

In the month that she died, I visited twelve different museums in three different countries. As I was reflecting on what mattered to me, I viewed these visits not as random, but as a testament to just how much I value stuff. These trips were just some of the many times that I went out in search of inspiring objects. To be in the presence of amazing stuff. To connect with it. And that desire to connect with stuff, that was instilled in me by my mother.

And now that my mom is gone, what’s left is her stuff. Stuff that she made. Stuff that she collected. Stuff that she valued.

And more importantly, stuff that helps me connect to her. Stuff that I will eventually share with my own (not yet born) children to help them connect to their grandmother.

And I REFUSE to believe that this stuff doesn’t matter.

And I REFUSE to see a life of making and collecting and loving be trivialized by anyone because they don’t understand. Because it’s not the life they chose.

This may be what frustrates me the most.

Isn’t there space for all of us to value whatever it is we value? Why can’t I value stuff and you value travel, or leisure time, or whatever it is you value? Why is your way better than my way?

It’s not.

One way isn’t better than another. They are just different.

Just because your way is different than mine doesn’t mean it deserves to be dismissed or trivialized.

Just because something isn’t right for you, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

And I refuse to stand for it anymore.

13 responses to “why stuff, why now?”

  1. Catherine Chandler

    Hi Megan!

    First, I have to say that I was so excited when I saw your very first posts, and development of Stuff Does Matter, a couple months ago. I love this conversation! As much as I may dream about minimalism, it simply doesn’t fit my lifestyle. I can get rid of many many unnecessary items, but there will always be things like school documents, and family heirlooms, that I won’t let go of, and I have to come to terms with that. For me, it’s about balance.

    Secondly, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your mom. Losing a parent is one of the absolute most difficult things to go through, no matter how prepared you think you are. But their absence does make us reflect a lot, and grow, and discover new things. Even 7 years after my father passed away, I am still discovering new things inspired by him. They stay with us, forever.

    Once again, thank you for opening up such a valuable conversation!

    Catherine

  2. Janice Bear

    Megan,

    Wow. I spent half the day trying to compose my thoughts on this matter and then lost them all when I re-read your post. I too value stuff. More importantly,I try to make sure the stuff I have is stuff I value (and only stuff I value). As I write I look at the hand-embroidered table cloth I am using as a curtain. It is one of the few connections I have to my deceased grandmother. It makes me happy to put it to use.

    All of this reminds me of Tara Gentile’s addition to a discussion about $27 nail polish (here: http://www.taragentile.com/nail-polish/). Exactly who decided there was some sort of committee deciding what should be important and to whom? I make stuff and I wear stuff and I own stuff that help me remember who I am, how I got there, and where I want to go next. My clothes are my armor, putting them on is the ritual that helps set the tone for my day.

    On the other end, I place great import on keeping my home clean(ish) and on getting dinner on the table by 6:30 each night. Why? Because that is the best way I can contribute to my family’s well being. It is one way I nourish us all. Great clothes are a way I nourish myself. My daughter’s collection of bottle caps and various “straight things” nourish something in her (even though I’m sure they are just junk).

    Stuff DOES matter. And the stuff that is right for me only has to matter to me. I’ll leave your stuff to you.

  3. Kirsty

    Hi Megan

    I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your Mom this year. It’s lovely to hear about the treasured items that were your Mom’s, in hard times it is comforting to have these things close.

    I lost my Dad a few weeks ago and he had a care free attitude when it came to possessions and had very little, as it just wasn’t important to him. In an attempt to connect with him, I have been having all sorts of mighty clear outs, getting rid of junk. But it has made me appreciate the value of great ‘stuff’, stuff that is beautiful, well-made and memory inducing.

    There shouldn’t be a need to justify your stuff. Minimalism has it’s time and place for everyone.

  4. Dannielle Cresp

    Hi Megan,

    I think you just summed up why I have the connection to things that I do. I’m very sentimental and I keep things that have little or no value to others for what they mean to me.

    I’m sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. My own mother passed away when I was a child and it’s her things, her possessions that are links for me to her. Her stuff matters because she did. I value things that make memories and that hold them.

    I think stuff really does matter and that it’s time more people started to see that.

  5. Jamie Fellrath

    I think it really matters what stuff we’re talking about. I totally agree with you – things can carry memories and sentiment and all that important emotional content. Not a doubt in the world about that.

    But is that always the stuff that hangs us up? Or is it a copy of a magazine that has an article that we could just as easily get online and not have to keep around forever? A book that we bought on a whim a while back that we haven’t read and keep meaning to but keep finding more important things to do instead?

    Are we holding on to stuff because it means something to us? Or because we’re afraid to throw it out because there’s a tiny, tiny bit of chance we might need it someday in a really odd situation?

    There’s a fine line between keeping things that mean something and just being a hoarder. That line will vary for everyone, for sure, but it’s worth mentioning, I think. As someone who has been a bit of a pack rat in his life and seen it work to his own detriment at times, I think that line needs to be carefully and critically measured.

    1. Ruth

      I agree with you Jamie. Sometimes we keep things that we really wouldn’t miss if they were gone. I got rid of some magazines not long ago because I realised if I wanted to know how to do something, or some inspiration, I mostly looked online. Or sometimes in the library. As I clean out excess clutter I find I enjoy what I choose to keep more.

  6. Kelley Pounds

    What a great post! And an excellent reminder of how stuff is connected to our personalities, even our personhood. My mom died years ago, and I have some of the things she made, which I truly value. My dad, who is 84, restores antique cars–Model As and Model Ts–and he can take rusty hunks of metal and restore them to their former glory. He also owned and operated a small private museum when I was a child, so I know I’ll be dealing with lots of “stuff” when he passes, and I’m sure there will be some things I will value more than others, but all of it tells me the story of his life with my mom and what they both loved. My brother passed away last July, and my sister returned a stained glass name plate my husband and had made for my brother years ago. We forgot we had even made it! Stuff is filled with love and memories.

  7. Marcia

    Every time I take something that I no longer need or value and donate, sell, Freecycle or just throw it away, it feels like a weight lifting from my shoulders. That’s the easy part. The harder part is the stuff that has meaning because it belonged to someone you loved (like my mother’s lifelong passion — her Belleek china collection) or represents a stage in your life that you’ve outgrown but like to remember. In the end, it’s all stuff…but as long as it stirs a memory or brings me a feeling of gladness to have it in my life, it stays. (Though I am at the stage in my life when I wonder how much of it anyone else will want after I’m no longer around — which raises another whole issue!)

  8. Michaela Stephens

    Great post! I collect things galore! I can say that I have every Christmas/Birthday card from my childhood days (not everyone can say that). The things that are random to other people have sentimental value to me. :) The stuff I own is a part of who I am. :) My mom has always been artsy so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Random knickknacks, scrap booking supplies galore, an ample supply of fabric, shoes (old and new), artwork from my middle school days, ribbon galore, ect! I love stuff! :)

  9. Carla Redding

    Hi! Just wanted to say that I enjoyed this site. I have many cards, letters and things from my childhood that means alot to me…see, I have had 30+surgeries and had to spend the better part of my childhood in casts, tutors, and inside. My parents, siblings were wonderful! (My mom one year for Christmas day, brought in a little Christmas tree with tons of little presents that she got or my sister and brother made and I got to unwrap them all on Christmas while in the hospital !) I have lots of cards from that time period. I love them all! That is why I am designing my own cards….they meant so much to me, so hopefully they will inspire, touch others. I really appreciate this site! (BTW…I have listened to your online lab on ETSY 5 or more times and will do so again! Love it and am learning alot. I am so sorry for your loss of your mom…. I still have my parents and I will never take them for granted. Take care! Keep on with your awesome views and information!!!! You are appreciated :)

  10. Kate

    Thank you thank you thank you. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful your post has made me feel this morning. I immersed myself in the anti-stuff culture for over a year, reading article after article, feeling more and more guilty about the things around me.

    And then it hit me. These people have no objects of *real* value, so it’s logical for them to discard most of their lifestyle objects. They don’t have tangible connections to their past or don’t associate objects with memories the same way we do. And that’s okay.

    I am sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. My beloved grandmother died in October. She left her daughters and me lots of beautiful objects. Jewelry, Russian laquer boxes, silver, furniture, art… and almost all of them come with a story or deep family history.

    You’re right. We’re currently stuck in a throw-away culture. I’m having a hard time naming more than 5 things I’ve purchased in my 30+ years that will make it to the next generation. Thank you for the inspiration to try to do better and for the permission to love my stuff again. It seems like a little thing, but wow. I feel a huge sense of relief hearing you put my feelings into words.

  11. Paul Winstanley

    Dear Megan,

    Wow…. my heart is beating strong with the feelings of serendipitous epiphany.
    We are connecting with a very timely and copacetic concept.
    Ones possessions need not possess and oppress…..

    I hope to emulate your ability to express yourself so beautifully clear and simple.
    The Manifesto is art.
    I ‘ll be checking out Pinterest and sharing your site and Manifesto.

    Thank you so much for what you have enabled. Sincerely, Paul

  12. Anna

    I love this post. My husband passed away in the past few years and I was forced to move from the home we lived in for 23 years. That lead to my needed to reflect on my “stuff” and what was important. Being part of a family of “makers” I have quilts that my mother and a great cousin made. I have personal bibles from my grandmother and a beloved aunt. I take great comfort from the hand carved wooden Santa’s that my husband made that stay on the table by my work area all year long. It not only makes me still feel connected with them, but also gives me a way to share that connection with my grandchildren when they ask about the items. I hope they find the value in these items in the future for that connection with their past.
    Thank you for a wonderful site.
    Anna

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