Scott A.

The Psychological Value of Objects, Part 1

32 posts in this topic

This past October, my then-girlfriend, now-fiancé, and I decided to tackle the basement. It’s carpeted, painted, and roomy, but was somewhat loaded with a disorganized bunch of things. These included furniture, boxes of trinkets, books, and so forth. The space is entirely livable and comfortable, but we haven’t made use of it. So, our goal was to organize and get rid of things so that we can use the space.

Lyndsy is much better at getting rid of things than me. She has gently, but firmly, pointed this out to me. Her point was that I hold on to some things beyond their use and/or value. She is right.

However, in fairness to myself, I have lived alone for a number of years and haven’t had a strongly compelling reason to go through my possessions. They have sat in out-of-the-way, but visible, places with only a suggestion and hope in my mind that they might be put to some kind of future use. As I would discover, there were other reasons why they occupied such spaces.

Since I have wanted to make the basement more livable and use the space, I was excited to take the project on. In fact, it was I who pushed us forward into it on a Saturday afternoon. The work until dinner largely involved moving things around and out of the way, as well as cleaning. We ate and then went back to it. This time, though, the focus was on getting rid of things.

I was first asked to get rid of unwanted/unneeded books and other objects in or on top of a couple bookshelves. I knew the books were there, as they are in the open, and knew what a number of them were. However, I hadn’t actually gone through them and certainly not with an eye toward discarding any of them.

As I did, I realized that a number of the books and other things belonged to my dad. My dad died four years ago. I could say many things about the man, but will suffice it to say that he was my best friend. If I had never discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I can still say I would have lived a good and rational life because of my dad. That’s what he means to me.

I hadn’t looked seriously at any of his belongings since I put them where they were, which was shortly after his death. Some of the items were strictly his, others were given to him by me or my sisters. All of them brought into mind a flood of memories. It was difficult, and I felt the emotions rise up.

I didn’t want to break down in front of Lyndsy. She wouldn’t have minded, but I still didn’t want to. Also, the whole thing was unexpected; I simply wasn’t thinking about what I would uncover, or what it would uncover in me, when I delved in. But there it was, and I tried to contain it.

So we forged on and I was mostly quiet, except for explaining why to keep something, or get rid of it, or telling a story about the history of some item. But as we moved from books to paintings to furniture, the emotions kept coming. She could tell something was wrong with me, especially when I snapped at her unfairly. I finally explained that I hadn’t looked at these things in a long time and was having difficulty with it. I apologized. She understood and didn’t press. We continued on for about an hour.

I thought about what was happening mentally for me, in the moment, but much more afterward. There were several things.

I was experiencing memories and all the thoughts and emotions that went with them. I also had to judge whether or not to keep the objects. After all, that was the task at hand. Did it matter to me if I kept some book or picture that was important to my dad? Did the power of his interest in some object influence my own interest in it? If I kept something would I actually utilize or take pleasure in it? If I got rid of something, would I regret it? Would I be getting rid of some connection to him, even if the connection was only in my mind? By discarding some thing, would I also be discarding some experience or some person?

I remember after my dad died, I alternated between detached numbness and intense crying, multiple times a day. I recall thinking how I didn’t want to stop crying, because those tears were the most immediate, concrete things I had as a connection to him. I thought that if I stopped crying, he would be that much further away from me. But I also knew that I would stop crying, that he would want me to stop and move on, and that I’m not the type to cry that much. So, I stopped and moved on. Mostly.

There were still his possessions—those things I had put in known places, but didn’t regularly see, and so somewhat forgot.

Practically, there was no reason to put them in plain sight—the upstairs was fully (and to Lyndsy’s eye, overly) decorated.

Psychologically, I didn’t want to see them, by which I mean I didn’t want their constant presence to be a regular reminder of his permanent absence.

So I put them where there was space, and where I knew, at some level, I would see them again. But not too soon.

There were also my own possessions that I had to look at and evaluate. Books I haven’t read in years, but would like to again. Something given to me that I hoped would fill some space in the house, but hadn’t yet. Things that could serve a purpose, but only a small one, and so were not as important.

I had to choose which parts of my life to let go, if not totally, then at least physically.

I had to judge the psychological value of objects.

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This past October, my then-girlfriend, now-fiancé, and I decided to tackle the basement. It’s carpeted, painted, and roomy, but was somewhat loaded with a disorganized bunch of things. These included furniture, boxes of trinkets, books, and so forth. The space is entirely livable and comfortable, but we haven’t made use of it. So, our goal was to organize and get rid of things so that we can use the space.

Lyndsy is much better at getting rid of things than me. She has gently, but firmly, pointed this out to me. Her point was that I hold on to some things beyond their use and/or value. She is right.

However, in fairness to myself, I have lived alone for a number of years and haven’t had a strongly compelling reason to go through my possessions. They have sat in out-of-the-way, but visible, places with only a suggestion and hope in my mind that they might be put to some kind of future use. As I would discover, there were other reasons why they occupied such spaces.

Since I have wanted to make the basement more livable and use the space, I was excited to take the project on. In fact, it was I who pushed us forward into it on a Saturday afternoon. The work until dinner largely involved moving things around and out of the way, as well as cleaning. We ate and then went back to it. This time, though, the focus was on getting rid of things.

I was first asked to get rid of unwanted/unneeded books and other objects in or on top of a couple bookshelves. I knew the books were there, as they are in the open, and knew what a number of them were. However, I hadn’t actually gone through them and certainly not with an eye toward discarding any of them.

As I did, I realized that a number of the books and other things belonged to my dad. My dad died four years ago. I could say many things about the man, but will suffice it to say that he was my best friend. If I had never discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I can still say I would have lived a good and rational life because of my dad. That’s what he means to me.

I hadn’t looked seriously at any of his belongings since I put them where they were, which was shortly after his death. Some of the items were strictly his, others were given to him by me or my sisters. All of them brought into mind a flood of memories. It was difficult, and I felt the emotions rise up.

I didn’t want to break down in front of Lyndsy. She wouldn’t have minded, but I still didn’t want to. Also, the whole thing was unexpected; I simply wasn’t thinking about what I would uncover, or what it would uncover in me, when I delved in. But there it was, and I tried to contain it.

So we forged on and I was mostly quiet, except for explaining why to keep something, or get rid of it, or telling a story about the history of some item. But as we moved from books to paintings to furniture, the emotions kept coming. She could tell something was wrong with me, especially when I snapped at her unfairly. I finally explained that I hadn’t looked at these things in a long time and was having difficulty with it. I apologized. She understood and didn’t press. We continued on for about an hour.

I thought about what was happening mentally for me, in the moment, but much more afterward. There were several things.

I was experiencing memories and all the thoughts and emotions that went with them. I also had to judge whether or not to keep the objects. After all, that was the task at hand. Did it matter to me if I kept some book or picture that was important to my dad? Did the power of his interest in some object influence my own interest in it? If I kept something would I actually utilize or take pleasure in it? If I got rid of something, would I regret it? Would I be getting rid of some connection to him, even if the connection was only in my mind? By discarding some thing, would I also be discarding some experience or some person?

I remember after my dad died, I alternated between detached numbness and intense crying, multiple times a day. I recall thinking how I didn’t want to stop crying, because those tears were the most immediate, concrete things I had as a connection to him. I thought that if I stopped crying, he would be that much further away from me. But I also knew that I would stop crying, that he would want me to stop and move on, and that I’m not the type to cry that much. So, I stopped and moved on. Mostly.

There were still his possessions—those things I had put in known places, but didn’t regularly see, and so somewhat forgot.

Practically, there was no reason to put them in plain sight—the upstairs was fully (and to Lyndsy’s eye, overly) decorated.

Psychologically, I didn’t want to see them, by which I mean I didn’t want their constant presence to be a regular reminder of his permanent absence.

So I put them where there was space, and where I knew, at some level, I would see them again. But not too soon.

There were also my own possessions that I had to look at and evaluate. Books I haven’t read in years, but would like to again. Something given to me that I hoped would fill some space in the house, but hadn’t yet. Things that could serve a purpose, but only a small one, and so were not as important.

I had to choose which parts of my life to let go, if not totally, then at least physically.

I had to judge the psychological value of objects.

Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

ruveyn

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I understand your feelings, having often discussed my own attachment to objects tied to earlier parts of my life. I ask the question: what would one's life be like if one had no memory of his past?

The point being that we are the sum of our past, and a person with total amnesia becomes an empty vessel. Speaking for myself, my life has been a happy one, and I try to remember those instances from the past anyway I can. That is via photos, films or objects such as drawings or writings by those I have loved. By associating with objects they loved, I share a little of them too. What good is a fleeting memory in comparison with one that can be relived and enjoyed many times more?

As for unhappy times, I never hide from them, but focus actively on what was involved, deal with it, then put it in the unimportant basket, but I never ignore it.

As I put it to one person; if your happy times are not worth remembering or recording, perhaps they are not that happy to start with..

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

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The point being that we are the sum of our past, and a person with total amnesia becomes an empty vessel. Speaking for myself, my life has been a happy one, and I try to remember those instances from the past anyway I can. That is via photos, films or objects such as drawings or writings by those I have loved. By associating with objects they loved, I share a little of them too. What good is a fleeting memory in comparison with one that can be relived and enjoyed many times more?

Yes, Arnold, you get what I'm speaking to.

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Scott, here are two rules to follow:

1. Throwing something away guarantees you will need it shortly thereafter. If you are at all rational and not an addicted packrat-hoarder, you have the things you have for a reason, including the meaningful one's you described.

2. We don't need "houses", we need office/warehouse/museum space with an efficiency apartment attached. Look into many homes (like the ones advertised in real estate ads) and it's appalling how much wasted space they have, along with the meaningless "decorations" that are "supposed" to be there. Arrange your living quarters around your goals.

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

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I understand your feelings, having often discussed my own attachment to objects tied to earlier parts of my life. I ask the question: what would one's life be like if one had no memory of his past?

Scott's point is more than memory, it's the concretization of the past in a way that makes it real in the present in the only way possible.

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Scott, here are two rules to follow:

1. Throwing something away guarantees you will need it shortly thereafter.

I think that's one of the things I've been telling myself! ;)

If you are at all rational and not an addicted packrat-hoarder, you have the things you have for a reason, including the meaningful one's you described.

Yes, I definitely had/have them for a reason. That's one of the interesting parts...what is the reason? Was is to remember the past? What is it to hold on to something better let go? There are those points when we have to make choices about what to keep and what to let go, and life proceeds differently depending on our choices.

2. We don't need "houses", we need office/warehouse/museum space with an efficiency apartment attached.

Absolutely true. :)

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

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I understand your feelings, having often discussed my own attachment to objects tied to earlier parts of my life. I ask the question: what would one's life be like if one had no memory of his past?

Scott's point is more than memory, it's the concretization of the past in a way that makes it real in the present in the only way possible.

Yes. And I'll have more to say in future posts.

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

And how long have you felt this way?

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Years. ;)

You might find it interesting to know I have never asked this question. However, I have asked many times the question, "How long have you thought this (way)?"

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

And how long have you felt this way?

Years. You might find it interesting to know I have never asked this question. However, I have asked many times the question, "How long have you thought this (way)?"

Interesting. And these symptoms, they come and go?

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

And how long have you felt this way?

Years. You might find it interesting to know I have never asked this question. However, I have asked many times the question, "How long have you thought this (way)?"

Interesting. And these symptoms, they come and go?

You don't believe in the old dictum, "physician, heal thyself"? :)

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

And how long have you felt this way?

Years. You might find it interesting to know I have never asked this question. However, I have asked many times the question, "How long have you thought this (way)?"

Interesting. And these symptoms, they come and go?

Best leave this to the professionals. ;)

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Objects weight us down. Ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings weight a lot less and we can take them with us without using packing crates.

I'm not sure you understood the point being made. Perhaps it will be clearer in subsequent writings.

Spoken like a true therapist.

What can I say?

And how long have you felt this way?

Years. You might find it interesting to know I have never asked this question. However, I have asked many times the question, "How long have you thought this (way)?"

Interesting. And these symptoms, they come and go?

Best leave this to the professionals.

So, you're a professional?

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I found this a moving account of your experience, Scott.

Sorting through a deceased loved one’s possessions can be emotionally challenging. I look forward with interest to more of your professional insights to the Psychological Value of Objects.

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... I try to remember those instances from the past anyway I can. That is via photos, films or objects such as drawings or writings by those I have loved. By associating with objects they loved, I share a little of them too. What good is a fleeting memory in comparison with one that can be relived and enjoyed many times more? ...

I agree.

Also, I think the treasured “objects” of a deceased loved-one become more significant to us after the person has died. What perhaps were once mere objects become treasured items that are emotionally comforting to see and to hold. They’re a tangible link to our memories and the experiences/interactions we shared with the person and their treasured objects.

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... I try to remember those instances from the past anyway I can. That is via photos, films or objects such as drawings or writings by those I have loved. By associating with objects they loved, I share a little of them too. What good is a fleeting memory in comparison with one that can be relived and enjoyed many times more? ...

Also, I think the treasured “objects” of a deceased loved-one become more significant to us after the person has died. What perhaps were once mere objects become treasured items that are emotionally comforting to see and to hold. They’re a tangible link to our memories and the experiences/interactions we shared with the person and their treasured objects.

This topic is broader than personal significance of an object because of its being a former possession of the deceased. It pertains to anything of signifance from the past, including our own past, which may or may not relate directly to someone no longer alive. Scott refers, for example, to old books of his own, something we all share -- books; old toys; old models, musical instruments, etc from a hobby; scapbooks; photos; etc. Even for an object that once belonged to someone no longer alive, it's significance to us need not be entirely that if we came to appreciate it for its own nature before they died or later. It might also be an antique or some historical artifact whose former ownership is not personally relevant to us, but its age and place in history become in some sense personally important to us for what it tangibly represents from a past that no longer exists but is worth remembering.

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--------

There were also my own possessions that I had to look at and evaluate. Books I haven’t read in years, but would like to again. Something given to me that I hoped would fill some space in the house, but hadn’t yet. Things that could serve a purpose, but only a small one, and so were not as important.

I had to choose which parts of my life to let go, if not totally, then at least physically.

I had to judge the psychological value of objects.

I had similar experiences when I move and have to decide what to take with me and what to discard. I have many books and hundreds of records (yes, I still have records if you know what they are) and I relive the times when I was in school reading them and the many times listening to the music whenever I pack and unpack them. It is not just the reading of the specific book that my memory brings back but the entire context that I was living: young, struggling for information and knowledge, and experiencing a joyous sense of life found in music. These "objects" represent more than just faded memories, they represent parts of my life that made life worth living. And worth re-experiencing.

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--------

There were also my own possessions that I had to look at and evaluate. Books I haven’t read in years, but would like to again. Something given to me that I hoped would fill some space in the house, but hadn’t yet. Things that could serve a purpose, but only a small one, and so were not as important.

I had to choose which parts of my life to let go, if not totally, then at least physically.

I had to judge the psychological value of objects.

I had similar experiences when I move and have to decide what to take with me and what to discard. I have many books and hundreds of records (yes, I still have records if you know what they are) and I relive the times when I was in school reading them and the many times listening to the music whenever I pack and unpack them. It is not just the reading of the specific book that my memory brings back but the entire context that I was living: young, struggling for information and knowledge, and experiencing a joyous sense of life found in music. These "objects" represent more than just faded memories, they represent parts of my life that made life worth living. And worth re-experiencing.

The concrete, tangible form makes more possible than faded memories can alone: it connects to all your relevant senses. But I think there is a distinction between the re-experiencing, in a partial equivalent sense, of the past through the object, versus re-experiencing the same pleasure that the object still brings now on its own apart from memories, though both can be present. That is especially true of music. These are values with a permanence spanning time in accordance with standards held by the same person over a life integrated over time.

You describe deciding what you need to discard but apparently mostly keep, but it's not necessarily a dwindling and net outflow. I have retrieved replicas of items long ago lost, ranging from particularly desirable model cars once used as toys (and now becoming too expensive to continue adding to the collection), to books I once used from the library or owned and lost, from grade school through graduate school.

Around the 6th grade I started checking out books from the school library which were already old at the time (the school was built in 1924): some biography like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, some adventure, and some non-fiction on technology like how cars, trains and airplanes work. All of these added to a self-motivated education that was not being taught and is part of the kinds of things that helped make us what we are today.

One I tracked down, ordered, and read a few years ago that I had especially remembered from grade school -- though without details (including the full title or author) -- was The Cruise of the Lively Bee: or a Boy's Adventure in the War of 1812 (originally published in 1892).

Recently I came across a form I had filled out in grade school including name of "favorite book", which I had forgotten completely. The title Wide Road Ahead invokes a familiar sense of life not often found today, but I still didn't remember what it was about.

I found it in the form of a free pdf download (all of this would be all but impossible without the internet) and discovered the same sense of life -- even though it had been an older book written during the Great Depression -- in its surprisingly substantial contents intended for 10 year olds describing how, from "idea" to the "final tests", cars worked and were built in the early 1930s in terms which take for granted as natural the desire to understand and the excitement and value of the "how and why" of industry, industrialists, and the technology of internal combustion engines, factories, foundaries, and gasoline.

It contains descriptions, like this one, of the earliest cars which helped from the beginning to influence our attitudes and knowledge -- "With a chug, chug, chug, the rickety little buggy began to move. Down the street it went, snorting, in a cloud of dust and smoke. The people cheered. The 'gas buggy' really worked!... And what a racket these first automobiles made! Bang! Bang! Poppity-pop! . . . like a Fourth of July celebration on wheels." (Today's viros would writhe in revulsion over hate crimes against the earth, but we weren't subjected to that.)

Like Paul, I remember what "records" were and also have hundreds, along with 1/2" reel tapes -- and family heirlooms like a home-made record with the FDR 1941 Pearl Harbor speech made on my grandfather's home record-cutting machine in the radio console that was part of the living room furniture then. (No wax cylinders, but I did once for fun lead a group in a renactment of a jazz recording cut on an antique wax cylinder machine.)

I look forward, especially with the variations and aberrations we have added to the inventory, to Scott's part II analysis (now that he has extricated himself from the infinite loop with the Eliza of his own kind).

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I found this a moving account of your experience, Scott.

Sorting through a deceased loved one’s possessions can be emotionally challenging. I look forward with interest to more of your professional insights to the Psychological Value of Objects.

Thank you very much, Mary.

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Is there an established literature in your field on this topic that you could add to? I hope you are considering publishing your insights beyond just here on the Forum. It's something with meaning to a lot of people in many different ways.

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