Why do we keep so much ‘stuff’ – and how can The Story of Objects help?

Reading this article by Joshua Becker- 21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own reminded me of the early thinking about my project and the drivers. And this mass of ‘stuff’ is one of them.

There simply has to be a better way of managing these things, reducing the burden of them, without losing the emotional attachment we have for them. Easy to always refer to William Morris and his famous statement: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

My question to William, were he still alive, would have to be: “Well Bill, what about all those things your parents left behind when they died, and their parents? Ugly things that you can’t bear to part with, trinkets a lover once gave you, or a theatre ticket from a special performance? And all those lovely things you made – did you bequeath them to your friends and family, or did you leave instructions to drop them off at a charity shop after your death. If a friend gave you something you found distasteful and useless, did you tell them to take it away?”

Mr Morris will of course have made and owned beautiful things, but many people own cheap stuff from supermarkets, pound shops or from car boot sales. They can’t afford to commission a local carpenter to make them a table. Useful things, but certainly not beautiful in his terms. Cheap and plentiful, created with built-in obsolescence.

But that’s where the problem now lies –  we keep far more things that are neither useful or beautiful. And if we discard them, they are set loose into the world with no provenance, picked up by others and used again. We simply don’t have the space to keep all this stuff – and they become orphaned objects – aesthetics makes no difference at all, there’s no discrimination needed – just chuck it out. Or pay to store it, as Becker points out in his article.

BUT what if we were to upload these orphaned objects to a website, put up some photos, even videos (like the 30 second ones you can see here)? Add a story, detail of provenance, where we got it, why we kept it, and why we decided to let it go.

Would that make life richer? Might people enjoy that connection with the previous holder? Could it help people to track down things, or find out more about them from others?

Sharing things is a delight – who doesn’t love to share? Yet many of these things we care about are hidden away, no one knows about them. Their story dies when we die.

Of course there are practical barriers, many people dislike technology, don’t use computers. Some love to meet socially to share their stories (that’s part of the offer of Story of Object – to convene these meetups – presently for research purposes). Others are lonely and dislike talking about themselves – but find it cosy to talk about their own stories through the object they hold in their hand.

So what you see with Story of Objects is a culmination of many thoughts and feelings. It may make you feel slightly vulnerable to share like this, but it may also be a fantastic experience, and eventually leave you some more space in your home without paying for storage.

It will be an option.

Take a look at this film – it’s an invitation to have a deep meaningful conversation that is started through an object – it’s about sharing something that matters

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

2 thoughts on “Why do we keep so much ‘stuff’ – and how can The Story of Objects help?

    1. Hi Sara,yes, I do know the work well and it is interesting how it has impacted on his life. The destruction could also be deemed a selfish thing – he could have given those things away. His destruction was anti-collaborative, anti-social. story of Objects is the opposite – networking people, owners & makers, places and things, joining up, not destroying.The objects live longer than we do. That’s why we inherit stuff.

      I prefer to think of Story of Objects as a half-way house – one might get rid of something, but there are online traces of it after you have discarded it. The new owner could add the next phase of the objects life to it’s back-story. It would create a genealogy of things, as a museum does. But these things are not necessarily special or of any monetary value (though they could be). Wasn’t a lot of the concern about Landy’s work that he was destroying ‘art?’ (not just his but other peoples too).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: