A major plot point in the old movie “The Quiet Man” occurs when Maureen O’Hara’s character, who is separated from her household belongings by her brute of a brother, pleads to her new husband (played by John Wayne):
“I just want my things about me!”
O’Hara’s desperation is cast as the somewhat hysterical rantings of an overwrought woman.
All of the men around her diminish her priorities. But for this character, who is unable because of her gender and station in life to own land – her things represented her dreams, her fortune, her individual property.
I identify completely.
When it comes to my surroundings, I’m a maximalist. I just want my things around me.
I come by this tendency naturally. I was raised in a household surrounded by antiques, heirlooms, Victorian horsehair settees, mismatched teacups, books with leather bindings, oaky furniture, and thready rugs.
Several years ago, when I inherited my mother’s old house and barn (half-filled with the furniture and objects leftover after my sisters and I had divided them), I was forced into a task familiar to many at my stage of life: Figuring out what to keep, what to part with, and – in my case – what to burn.
(I had a few pieces of furniture repaired. If it was beyond repair – yes, I burned it in the yard.)
Many years later, the house is almost exactly the way I want it, and it turns out that the way I want it is – with many things around me.
I love old, used, worn “well loved” things – whether they came down through my own family, or someone else’s. I like being able to touch these many objects – I like to polish them, care for them, and use them.
And while I might forget your name when I run into you in the supermarket, I have an encyclopedic recall for each and every beloved object in my world.
I realize that this aesthetic flies in the face of the current vogue and movement toward minimalism, but … I don’t care.
The rest of the world can Marie Kondo-ize their surroundings – and I’ll happily take and love their castoffs.
[For a fun little look at the haunted upstairs of my house, watch the 6-minute video below, which I made last year when I was forced to record a radio show from a “home studio.”]
I’ve now finished figuring out the upstairs of the house; the results are below:
Haunted bedroom before:
Yes — I have definitely tidied up, but this mainly involved me reorganizing many little collections, and tucking the rest away, to enjoy later.
Because for me -- it isn’t just “stuff.”
Railey Jane Savage’s
JUNK FOOD: Rosebud by Proxy
“I had a nickname as a kid that resurfaced in college: Stuff Girl. My love for my things was evident, it seems, and only slightly less obvious was my compulsion to be prepared. Even as a young kid I would invariably be dragging a bag of stuff—books, blankets, toy horses, my rock collection: the essentials—because carrying these things seemed to keep the anxiety over being unprepared (and, by extension, irresponsible) at arm’s length.
I would have rather cried in pain because my bag was too heavy than rage with self-loathing because I’d forgotten something I’d really needed.
I’m half tempted to unpack this. I don’t think of my childhood as being financially insecure, so whence this fixation on preparedness? But, like, fantasy preparedness:
To this day my sisters make fun of me for, at one time, carrying both a lime and a golf ball in my purse.
I don’t feel quite as silly, or quite as burdened these days, but I still wonder about Stuff Girl’s origin story.
I suspect it involves two famous acquisitors: Charles Foster Kane, and Baron Munchausen.
I’m tempted to whisper “Rosebud” while carefully dusting a snow globe and call it a day, though the keyword in the Savage Stuff Girl version would be closer to “Baron.”
I have held a deep fascination with the Baron and his Adventures for as long as I can remember but, unlike my other junk food movies, I do not regularly engage with the 1988 Terry Gilliam version these days (especially since learning about Gilliam’s case of foot-in-mouth disease).
My memories of watching the tape and thinking about the story have supplanted the need for the physical VHS which, one could argue, is an appropriately meta response to the Munchausen stories about confabulation, misremembering, and not-so-subtle co-opting.
In the basement of my mental Xanadu lays an aged videotape with a fading, handwritten label curling at the edges that reads, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” Tucked invisibly inside the tape is Stuff Girl’s central worry that her needs will be a burden to others.
But Stuff Girl’s mental Xanadu is still standing and fire-free, thank you very much, and I’m finally comfortable with the number of physical things I own to help me feel prepared.
And, yes, that includes the Munchausen tape that I don’t even watch anymore.”
RJ Savage is the author of the book: A Century of Swindles: Ponzi Schemes, Con Men, and Fraudsters — available wherever fine books are sold
LAURA LIKES: (Where my friend Laura recommends great stuff)
“Anyone who ever drops by my house knows immediately that I'm not what you'd call a minimalist. My husband runs a record store, so we have a few thousand record albums and CDs and cassettes. I like to read, so we have a few thousand books. We both like movies and believe in the physical ownership of media, so we have a few hundred DVDs, Blu-rays, and videocassettes (yes, our VCR still works).
I am currently looking at a bunch of FunkoPop figurines here in my writing room (I lean heavily toward Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Star Wars). I practice calligraphy -- you don't even want to know how much ink I have in this house right now.
But all things being equal, I'm not all that attached to much of it. If the house were on fire I'd grab the dog, our document go-bag, my husband's laptop and a copy of Moby Dick and get out.
Stuff is just stuff. That being said, I am weirdly fond of vintage things, and if those things are useful, so much the better. This is why I own a bunch of cake carriers.
I buy them pretty much whenever I see them, which here in the Midwest is more often than you think.
You’ve got a flat tray on which you set the cake, a cover to go over the cake, and a (usually wire) handle to carry the whole thing.
The green one in this photo is a double (!) pie carrier. I also have a Tupperware one (just like my mom and my grandmother) with an gummed address label stuck to the bottom (just like they did), but it's not as photogenic.
They're incredibly useful, and unlikely to vanish after you drop off your cake at the potluck because they're identifiable. Oh, and you don't have to worry about your cake getting mangled on the way to the event. I adore them.”
[Laura Lorson lives in Kansas. You can follow her on social media: @prairielaura]
Emily Mason’s Targeted Upsell: What the Internet wants me to buy
Like so many people, I have stuff. Plenty of stuff. Arguably...too much stuff. Rather than pare down though, I have been encouraged to store it in The Capsule.
These travel containers come in sets of six. The Capsules are magnetic, so they’ll stick together! Look — it’s like a little honeycomb of containers! Throw them in your bag, it’ll be fine! They’re leak-proof and tough! ANDDD! They can store...stuff!
You know, stuff?
Apparently each capsule stores 1-2 weeks worth of chosen beauty products, such as shampoo or face wash. You can also use it for other teeny things like pills or jewelry!
(or...what’s that on the bottom right? Is that spaghetti?)
Yay! Travel storage is stylish! And...expensive! And sticky on purpose!
Why am I seeing this?
I’m hoping to go places this holiday—oh places, remember places? Clearly the internet noticed me making travel plans.
Did they sell me?
How do I put this politely…
No. No no no no no. No.
I don’t know what planet Capsule’s creators are living on, but there’s no way one of these things can store a week’s supply of shampoo— not for my hair at least. Capsules ads talk about how pretty and useful it is without actually presenting any information about how or why.
(Seriously, why should I trade in a travel shampoo bottle from Target for this thing?)
Really though, it comes down to what it always comes down to: the price tag.
A set of six of these is currently on sale for $70.
...I spent less than that on the beauty products I'd be storing inside the capsules.
So, I will stick with repurposing various mini-sample bottles.
They may not stick together (on purpose), but they get ‘er done.”
[Emily Mason lives and works in Chicago]
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My home is a veritable museum to the things my grandparents Dickinson had; their art, their vase, their rocking chair, their piano music, and so on. When my mother turned over some of the stuff she warned me not to have a yardsale because some of the things might be valuable but she missed the point entirely.
When I was a 17 year old “runaway” I put some of my dearest possessions in an oldtime suitcase (from before the era of rolling wheels) and carried it everywhere I went, from Detroit to Toronto to Montreal. One of the young men I hitchhiked with complained bitterly about what a burden the suitcase was but I wouldn’t hear of ditching it.
I feel compelled to comment on "stuff". My grandpa built his home in 1928. My dad was born and raised there, the only home he ever knew until he bought his own. I was raised across the street from it and since Grandpa retired when I was three I spent my life there hanging out with Grandpa until I discovered girls (which of course now I regret not still being with him). When Grandpa died Dad inherited the house and was going to sell it to the business next door so that they could tear it down to expand. My wife and I would have none of that so we bought it, remodeled it and have been here for twenty-five years this Christmas. We're going to die in this house! We are "collectors", not hoarders, we like to collect things that remind us of our family, friends and especially of our past. It's so comforting to come home from work and relax amid our past. We found so many keepsakes that others would've thrown away like a board that Grandpa wrote Leo and Loyal Sersig (Grandpa and Dad's names) November 21, 1954 on. The significance we'll never know but that board hangs over my workbench to this day. Or there's the sign that says "Sersig Kennels" we found from when Grandpa raised Boston Terriers. We even found an old bottle of "Hooch" marked 1965 from when he ran a still. These are our history and my comfort! One thing about our home, it's still Grandpa's home not ours, we just look after it for him. Keep up the great columns!