The Comfort, The Promise and The Hope Of “Things”

I’ve been thinking a lot about things in the last few weeks. Not just “things” in the most general use of the word, but actual physical things. You know, objects, stuff.

I have long had a dichotomy within me that means that although I have certain hoarding and collecting traits (books, CDs, films, trainers, notebooks, pens), I often wish to cast aside all possessions I have and live like Thoreau in his little shack by Walden Pond.

In fact it was one of Thoreau’s observations that I first came across a decade or more ago that sums up the root of this idea of material burden.

He saw a man passing by, with all his worldly possessions tied up in a small bundle and carried over his shoulder. This was everything the man owned in the world, upon his back. Thoreau felt sorry for him, not for how few possessions he had, but for how many.

So why do “things” give us comfort, and promise, and hope?

Comfort

Physical possessions don’t have a mind and a will of their own. Owning stuff, and organising it around us exactly as we please makes us feel powerful, in control, safe even. In a world that, according to the media, is almost entirely unsafe and out of control, and where we often feel completely powerless.

This overrides what we may actually know deep down – that true comfort and security comes from an internal faith or belief that you can overcome adversity, that you can look after yourself, that life will work out ok in the end, and so on.

Promise

A new car may promise us happiness, or that we will be more attractive, or we will feel better driving it. It may well do, in the short term. But it won’t last. And if you had to stretch your means to fund such a new possession, that will only add to your stress or dissatisfaction, not bring happiness.

But still, shiny new stuff allures us. My head is easily turned by new gadgetry! Surely this is more about the doctrine of advertising we’ve been fed for so many years, rather than a natural instinct? Or is it?

Hope

Sometimes, things give us hope. A new notebook gives us the hope that we can fill it with wonderful flowing writing, maybe the best writing that’s ever left our mind. A new book might give us hope that we can escape to a fairytale land or that somewhere far better exists.

New equipment, a new studio, new materials, gives an artist that amazing, invincible feeling, that anything is within her reach, anything is possible, and potentially only moments away.

In all of these, once we delve a little deeper, as you can see, it’s not about the stuff at all. It’s about the feelings stuff gives us.

What if we could bring these kind of feelings to ourselves – feelings of hope, happiness, power, comfort – in another way?

Or, maybe even more important a question, what if we could evolve to a place where we didn’t NEED to feel these feelings so desperately as we think we do now?

What are your own thoughts on “things”?

15 thoughts on “The Comfort, The Promise and The Hope Of “Things””

  1. My weakness is holding onto antiques, no matter how small or trivial. It’s the only tangible connection to a time that no longer exists. I’m getting a little better about discarding newer things. Clutter, visual chaos, is definitely a hindrance to creativity.

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  2. Thanks for commenting Diane. Are they antiques with specific associations to people? Or just generally connected you with a time gone by? Just curious.

    I think whilst visual stimulation can be very useful for inspiring creativity, there comes a point (of, like you say – visual chaos) where we have to remove it, and focus on just creating with what we have already, not overloading ourselves with more and more stimulation.

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  3. Thanks for your comment Sali.

    It took me a long time to get that! Everything comes back to feelings – things, people, experiences. We value them because of the way they make us feel, that’s the ultimate measure of anything I think.

    This has sparked off a thought about people who want to give up habits such as smoking, or eating unhealthy foods. Unless you find something else (something preferably better for you!) that brings you the same feelings that the smoking or food did, then it’s very hard to give them up.

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  4. As someone who did recently go through a process of giving up most of my worldly comforts, but who has spent the past month excitedly acquiring things for a new living space, this article set off a lot of thoughts about the value and place of physical objects. One consideration that comes to mind is that any manufactured thing, no matter what its function, was designed by someone, and I believe the feelings associated with acquiring it are linked to a kind of aesthetic appreciation: the values associated with it are in part the values intended by its maker. As an offshoot of this, anything can be used to share creatively with others. A beautiful home set up with beautiful things to contemplate can be shared as an inspiring place to raise a family, or to host gatherings with friends and loved ones where they feel welcome, at ease, and where their imaginations can be recharged with all kinds of ideas and feelings triggered by their surroundings, for example. However, hoarding for the sake of hoarding — using acquisition simply to boost ego or obsessively clinging to things as a way of resisting change — certainly isn’t a very creative stance. Creators create things, or situations involving the use of things (even the body is a thing, in a sense), and professional creators offer these thingy creations for sale to others, so there must be some inherent connection between the material and spiritual.

    Hope this wasn’t too long-winded, but this is a hobbyhorse issue for me. Love your articles by the way — keep ’em coming!

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  5. Ye, though I dwell in the Valley of procrastination,I continue to create on my own terms as I hate having to paint in oils,but alas that is all the materials I have left in my studio. I prefer watercolors,but my creativity dictates that I move on and complete those many projects (100 or so)that have to be finished in oil. UGH!! how do I get past this? I get so easily distracted by more
    ideas flowing through me than I can handle and I race to get them down in sketches seems like 1 idea flows into 1000 and I hate to stop and paint. Any advice?
    Thanks in advance.

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  6. Jason, thanks for your comments, and feel free to hop on your hobby horse and come over here anytime!

    I like what you say about creating an atmosphere, or a situation for people, it’s an overlooked form of creating.

    This is a slight tangent, but it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that to be creative you must make art, physical art you can hold in your hands, or hang on a wall. It’s only one part of art, of being creative.

    Like you say, creating an ambiance, or simply having a party where people enjoy themselves, is a creative talent. As is every relationship we’re involved in, they take effort and creativity to keep them alive and thriving.

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  7. WilliamAJ,

    Thanks for your comment. It sounds like painting doesn’t actually hold that much pleasure for you? What you say about “my creativity dictates that I move on and complete those many projects…” and “I hate to stop and paint”?

    Creating must have an element of enjoyment, where is that coming from for you, with painting?

    A simple thing I would say is that ideas breed, endlessly. The more we have, the more we have!

    If we have the expectation that we must see every idea through to completion, we’re setting ourselves up for major disappointment.

    None of us, even if we created 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, would have enough time to develop every idea we have. But if we accept that we’ll only have the time and energy to develop a tiny fraction of them, and somehow let go of the rest, I think it takes off a huge amount of pressure, and frees us to make the most of, and enjoy creating those ideas we do pick.

    Hope that is of some help?

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  8. A little over 4 years ago, I lived with my fiance in a large 3-bedroom house with 2 bathrooms and a garage. It was deluxe and we really liked it. One month after I was married, my landlord’s 2-story quonset hut, which was about 40 feet from our house, caught fire and burnt to the ground. Our house with most of its windows open (or broken by the fire) was sprayed with water for 4 hours, and filled with hazmat toxic smoke. No one was hurt, no pets were injured, no other houses caught fire. We were all blessed.

    A lot of “stuff” was damaged, over a million dollars of antique cars and equipment, for instance.

    My husband and I had been systematically divesting ourselves of “things” for a year before this, but we still had a big house full of them, and I had just outfitted a new studio for myself and the “museum of me”. I’d always been the holder of our family stuff, in addition to my own collections of books, antique fabrics and laces, purses, and embroideries.

    From one day to the next, 60% of our stuff was soaked and smoked and not even negotiable. About half of the rest was questionable. We knew we were going to be living in a very small space afterward, so we had to divest ourselves of everything that wasn’t essential.

    I got down to 100 books, which alarmed some of my friends. I kept my art supplies and got rid of a bunch of projects I knew I’d never finish. Once I started letting things go, I was infused with a dynamic energy – the energy I had tied up in the emotions associated with those objects. It got easier and easier to let go of them.

    We have never moved back into a big space. We live in a 400 square foot apartment, that has a nice lanai where I can garden. My studio has been a desk or a lap tray for years and while I miss having my supplies spread out in their full glory, I don’t think my creativity has waned. Quite the reverse, my husband and I are constantly creating music and art and the harmony of living together in a very small space.

    It’s not how much you have, it’s how much you honor it and use it. “Things” do not like to sit on shelves and gather dust. Recycling them with honor has a higher purpose, and is free-ing, although I can’t recommend a house fire as a method to aid that purpose.

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  9. Peggy, thanks for commenting, what an amazing story.

    I think it’s a great real life example of how freeing yourself from “stuff” (though it was sudden and unplanned in your case!) actually liberates you.

    I love this part: “Once I started letting things go, I was infused with a dynamic energy – the energy I had tied up in the emotions associated with those objects. It got easier and easier to let go of them.”

    Dan

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  10. Hi Dan,

    I do like the transformation from say yarn into an afghan or a scarf of my own design. Art and craft supplies are one of the few places you can put your own stamp on “things”. I can’t make my own computer or frying pan, although I put stickers on my computer. 🙂 You and the responses have given me a lot of food for thought. I plan to read all your blog posts, maybe not today!

    Anne

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  11. Hi Anne, that is one of the core benefits and reasons we create I believe, that feeling of making something that wasn’t there before, bringing something beautiful into the world.

    We don’t do it just so there is more “stuff” in our lives, we do it for the good feelings.

    Thanks as always for your comments and interest. 🙂

    Dan

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