I've been thinking a lot lately about people and their relationships to objects. While it's cool to ponder things like whether or not a vase or coffee mug can bring us "joy", I think in many cases the interaction goes much deeper. There's a principle in feng shui (the ancient Chinese art/science of balancing energies in a space) that states a person's physical surroundings are a reflection of their current consciousness. Put another way, most of us like our stuff to reflect our personalities and state of mind to the outside world. And whether or not you put any stock in feng shui, it really makes sense.
It works in several ways. Take a hoarder, for example. Their connection to possessions (which in many instances are what most people would consider trash) is so entrenched that letting go of something is akin to cutting off a finger or toe. When I've watched hoarding shows, it seems to me that many of the people featured are actually using their hoard to hide, to cut themselves off - maybe because of a lack of perceived self-worth.
Or how about someone with ADD? The clutter in their spaces can be a reflection of their difficulty in reconciling their brain differences with the way most of the world is set up to function. Sometimes that makes for some amazing creativity and spontaneity, and sometimes it makes for high stress and chaos. All part of who they are.
What about the average person, with no major organizational issues or challenges? They still can feel a real sense of unease about having someone over because the house isn't "perfect" enough, and this is tied to the impression they want the world to have of them. Or, maybe they have a collection they proudly display in the home. Showing or talking about it gives them a way to communicate with family and friends about who they are, what makes them happy, and what makes them distinctive. Even a minimalist with bare bones surroundings is sending a message to others about who they are.
I sometimes ask people what their most prized possession is, and there is always a great story that goes with it. No one holds back on telling me about it. We like to talk about ourselves, and objects give us a great excuse. Sometimes, we even create a mystique or a connection with others through the possession. I have a Japanese Daruma doll that my husband brought me from one of his trips, and I really love it. The idea is that you color in one of his blank white eyes when you set a goal, and then color in the other when it is accomplished. When my kids ask me about it, I tell them I can't reveal the goal because I haven't achieved it yet (it's a big one). They love trying to trick me into saying what it is. Someday, when the second eye is colored in, I'll tell them.
People contact organizers for help because they want their spaces to give them something they aren't currently getting. Maybe it's efficiency, beauty, a sense of peace, or even self-esteem. But they need help because the thousands of decisions about their stuff required to achieve the goals are deeply personal, sometimes tough, and ultimately about their personality. It's kind of like deciding whether to be calm or angry in the face of unfairness. What will it say about me if I scream at the person who steals my parking space? Will it feel good to be self-righteous, or better to shrug it off? And what will it say about me if I give up grandma's tea service (even though I hate it)? What if I make the wrong decision, then what will people think and WHO will I be?
In essence, I think we surround ourselves with our selves. We can't help it. It's why artifacts from ancient civilizations fascinate us, and why anthropologists study something called material culture. It's why we post pictures of the things we own on social media (see what I read? what I listen to? what I bought on sale?).
What will your stuff ultimately tell the world about you?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?