June 7, 2019

Home Is Where Your Stuff Is

During my career in real estate, I was always so fascinated by the attachment people have to their ‘stuff’. Particularly as a younger person, I thought once you bought a house, you could fill it with matching furniture and create a display home feel because ‘style’ was more important than the specific nature of ‘stuff’; and that homes had to be beautiful.

But when you buy a property, as opposed to marketing one, you realise what you have purchased is a house. A house for your hopes and dreams, conveyed through ‘stuff’, the collection of which makes that property – your home.

Once upon a time we used to be who we were by virtue of our vocation. The blacksmith, the baker, the king; and all of these professions in a rigid class system had clear paraphernalia that expressed that identity. While there are artefacts to suggest at least some vestige of the blue and white collar allocation, mostly we forge our identities by collecting ‘stuff’.

I saw an interview recently with Rami Malek, who won an Oscar for his depiction of Freddie Mercury in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody where he was asked which ‘stuff’ he kept from the film. He kept the prosthetic teeth and the iconic armband that Mercury wore in the Live Aid concert but nothing else because he “didn’t want my [his] house to become a Freddie Mercury museum”. Although he had internalised Mercury to such an extent (he had watched the Live Aid performance over 1,400 times,) he was very clear that the collection in his home had to be Malek, of which Mercury was just a part.

A new home is an opportunity to re-invent yourself, based on what ‘stuff’ you bring to it and what ‘stuff’ you bring into it. Marie Kondo’s lifestyle show based on Shinto beliefs about the spirit of objects and a desire to surround ourselves with things that ‘spark joy’, has caused a lot of people to turn their minds to a deeper consideration of their stuff and get rid of a lot of stuff that isn’t joyful.

For me though, identity is a lot more than ‘joy’. The complete and complex, evolving and growing person that I call ‘me’ is not, as Kondo describes, always joyful. And that is important. The other emotions in the rainbow are also helpful.

The stuff that is in my home then is reflective of so much more than just joy because life is a rich tapestry of emotions and it would be pale and lack depth if it wasn’t.  I have journals, canvasses, paints, designs, laptops and thumb drives full of ideas and notes that have fueled some of my best creative work yet they all represent work done in frustration or impatience. Frustration drives me to be creative and to innovate.

Even a ‘bad’ emotion like sadness gives me time to reflect and make meaning and this is represented by hundreds of novels, movies and art pieces that have been my escape or healing. They might not spark joy but they bookmark life in a way that represents progress.

All of these things are the artefacts of ‘me’ which is not quite ‘joy’, but it is happiness. And maybe not even happiness but my ‘stuff’ is me. Walking through my home there are antiques left to me by my late father and they represent him, but I would be lying if they didn’t also represent grief.

There are new pieces I have selected based on a style I was trying to align myself with at the time I collected them; I’m thinking about the Morrocan hammered metal drum style coffee table I bought after visiting Marrakesh because I fancy myself to be worldly.

The self-indulgent investment in art that I couldn’t really justify as a young person owning, but I had to have them so I could project to myself some tangible measure of suffering for art. (Even if it wasn’t my art, it was a tough year on baked beans to pay for it).

There are tables around which I have sat with friends, playing card games and drinking wine, or celebrating Christmas, and those pieces in the collection represent family, community, friendship, and belonging.

My ‘stuff’ makes the house my home.