Things we have in our homes

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful _ William Morris

Devices that are too slow, out of date, obsolete – we ditch.

Fashion that no longer fits, or looks good, we pass on, sell or use as dusters. 

Household items that are broken or worn-out, we replace. 

And yet… in almost every home there are useless things sitting in the corner, under the stairs, under the bed, in the roof-space or garage.

These ‘things’ occupy valuable space in our homes until…. ‘a decision’ is made about what to do with them. 

Moving to new technology can make it difficult to access old content.

How many of us still have CD’s, DVD’s and videos lurking in a drawer?

A tape cassette or a floppy disk?

Despite regular clear-outs I have a box full of leads, chargers and attachments from decades of laptops, kindles, mobiles and PC’s past. ( They might be useful)

I also have a very fine collection of single earrings. Optimistically, I live in hope the other earring will show up.

It is irrational to keep things I never use, look at, notice or enjoy. But it is also human. It’s who I am. 

Things in the home: old pebble mobile phone
My old Samsung pebble phone

Why do I give these things house room?

Is it perhaps procrastination, sentimentality and/or laziness. Or maybe deep down for some reason I still value these items. 

Every ‘thing’ has an inherent sliding scale of desirability, usefulness and worth.

Brand new ‘things’ soon become out-dated, old-fashioned, old, obsolete – and perhaps vintage.

But they will also become worn, broken, unusable and shabby.

My mother used to say: “Keep a thing for seven years, and you will always find a use for it.” 

Fashion trends come and go ( fast fashion) but a classic quality item from a top brand maintains its value. There is always a new generation for whom the ‘look’ is new.

There are items in my wardrobe that are well past their best. But I also have good clothing in my wardrobe that I know I will never wear again.

Even though, I know that does not make any sense.

‘Things’ circulate first within families. They are borrowed, donated, passed on, pinched – or left in a legacy.  

With valued goods – as opposed to valuable goods –  there may be a backstory that has gives an item meaning and significance within families. Granny’s ring, dad’s pipe, mum’s wedding dress…

There is satisfaction in being able to pass on pre-loved clothing, toys, books and furniture. It comes from knowing that it will make a difference to someone else.

Things in the home: old hi-fi stereo
My dad’s hi-fi

New products and technology are about innovation and ‘the new’, the improved must-have item

And yet bucking the trend, vinyl records and hi-fi stereos have suddenly become fashionable and highly prized.

Who saw that coming?

Some design styles are timeless and highly collectable. Even retro 1950’s style toasters and fridges for example, add a classic period ‘look’ to every home – and photoshoots.

Design and marketing and experts may hound and pursue us but not everyone will fall in with contemporary trends and styles. There are some who actively eschew modern looks, products and lifestyles. Lovers of all things vintage, they like to dress and live in  homes decked out in a particular period.

We all have our own personal sense of aesthetics. We know when something makes us feel good. 

Things in the home: old Tv's in shop
Peter Geo – Unsplash

The Marie Kondo method of de-cluttering our homes suggests that we should only keep things that ‘spark joy’.

We should actively  ‘choose’ what we want to keep. That is: ‘ items that speak to your heart’.

She advocates that we should think more about what we are not ready  to lose. And if we choose to keep it, it must have some meaning for us.  

Every time we decide we need more space, or a tidier home, we have to decide: does it still mean something to us – or not.

The tidiness of our homes lies somewhere between hoarding and compulsive decluttering. Both of which signify a mental disorder.

The Clutter Imaging Rating Scale is a helpful reference to keep our homes and our mental health in check

home office things

I love my home, but I don’t ‘love’ everything in it.

Not everything sparks ‘joy’.

Not everything is beautiful or useful.

As I sit at my desk I am surrounded by …a box of paper clips, pens, some CD roms…curtains given to me by my sister 22 years ago. There is a new-ish printer that doesn’t work well…a fold-up mattress for visitors….and various computer storage drives.

On the shelves there are paintbrushes…new birthday cards,..wrapping paper for gifts.. hand cream…framed photos.

Collectively they are all practical items.

But they are also… just-in case items, handy items, occasional use items. There are things I like to look at, things I just like to have and things I haven’t quite figured what do with – yet.

If there was a fire I would rescue none of these things.

I am lucky to have the stability of a home of my own. If I lived in a smaller, a temporary or a rented home I would not have or be able to keep all these things.

Most of the books on the bookshelf I will probably never read again. But I like owning them and having them in my home, and can’t bear to throw them out. 

These books spark memories that connect me to a different time and place in my life. They are also visible, physical expression of my very widest interests and tastes. Chinese embroidery, gardening, cultural anthropology, cooking, myths and legends, photography, philosophy, Irish writers, art and design. 

random things on bookshelf

A book is an intimate experience.

I know that having ready access to all these thoughts, ideas and images will excite my ideas and memories. For me, therefore this is a very personal catchment of influences and knowledge collected over the years.

Something that sparks ‘joy’ may have little do with what it looks like – or how useful it is.

My justification for keeping certain things is about the connection to who I am and where I am in my life. 

Things in the home: old hairdryer
Old hairdryer

When we cleared out our parents’ home it was full of use-less things.

The roof space was a virtual design museum of redundant products.

We had to be clear about what we wanted to keep and what had to go. But it wasn’t easy.

One of the things I chose to keep was an old, worn placemat featuring a view of London.

Sentimentality overriding rationality, this placemat was deeply embedded in my earliest memory of family. That embedded memory of eating my dinner, staring at this placement and imagining…What is this amazing, magical place called Piccadilly Circus.

I still have my childhood dressing dolls.

They were my first introduction to fashion and somehow they still spark my imagination. Instantly, they connect me to the child within.

When I eventually downsize most of these things will have to go.

At that point I will evaluate things differently. I will have to be ruthless about what I allow myself to keep.  

In The New Yorker, the writer, Anne Patchett, describes her rationale for clearing out her home.

I was starting to get rid of my possessions, at least the useless ones, because possessions stood between me and death.” 

Confronting her everyday life against a lifetime  of owning, having, being given  and keeping possessions she  put herself in a mindset to look at ‘things’ differently.

“....I struggled to open a drawer with about thirty-five dish towels crammed inside. They were charming dish towels, many unused, patterned with images of dogs, birds, koala bears, the great state of Tennessee. I decided that ten would be plenty….I revelled in the ease with which the drawer now opened and shut.”

Things in the home: tea towels in drawer
Some of my many tea towels

When we expunge the unused and the ‘use-less’, the space in our everyday life can be used more efficiently.

When a decision is made and then executed we re-gain a sense of control.

According to Victor Pananek design is:  ‘the conscious effort to impose meaningful order’. 

He suggests that ‘clearing out a drawer’ is a process of design.

Design imposes order and clarity.

Anne Patchett wonders about her rationale for keeping things.

“I found little things that had become important over time for no reason other than that I’d kept them for so long.”

These are not just random ‘things’.  

She describes the small heart-wrenching moments of coming to terms with the fact that her grandmother’s trinkets  had to go.

The simple fact: there was no-one else to whom these things meant anything.

The memory and attachment was hers alone. A trinket is … a trinket.

Things in the home: figurines and ornaments

The world changes, and we change. 

As human beings, at different times of our life we express ourselves and our surroundings in different ways. Bedding into a space we allow ourselves to be ‘irrational’ in what we have and what we keep.

In the end, it’s just stuff.

No-one will ever look at what you own the way you do.

Beyond sentiment, the value of an object/artefact is only what someone is prepared to pay for it. 

I don’t ‘think’ about every object every time I use it. 

The ‘presence’ or ‘existence’ of every single object is subsumed into what makes my house my home. It’s what makes it work.

When it comes to introducing new technology into the home this inevitably involves a round of research.

It starts with asking other people what they have. Then making comparisons, availability, checking reviews and narrowing down  choices by price,  colour, style, size. 

Advances in technology mean we now get more options, gadgetry, speeds, programmes and systems. It makes choosing one over another more difficult to assess. 

I find acquiring new technology a daunting and confusing experience.

I have to update my existing/current knowledge with the latest, new, improved ways of doing things. 

Until I do that first web search (followed by a trip to Currys) I have no idea what’s ‘new’ in the world of …washing machines…printers…televisions…

Because up to that point, I have no interest.

Buying a new washing machine is not about replacing ‘like for like’.

You have to brace yourself for a flood of new data, lingo, systems and tech-speak. And dealing with sales people who seem to know and care about this stuff.

washing machine dial
Ulrike Mai – Pixabay

Two years ago I became aware that everyone seemed to have a smart TV – and I didn’t. And yes, it would be nice to be able to record programmes, to watch Netflix, to surf the net and watch videos on a big screen.

Now that I have acquired a smart TV it means I am (somewhat) on par with everyone else –  or not quite left behind.

Introducing brand new technology to my life and home is empowering. I can enjoy my TV in new ways than before – and I was able to pass on my old TV to a charity.

Discontentment is a driver for change.

That is, falling out of love for something, looking for something new, something better.

Recognising that ‘things’ have moved on.

Ten years ago I re-modelled my bathroom and was delighted with the result. I would stand in the doorway… just staring at it… drinking in the new look.

It was feeling of pride.

My new bathroom was a transformative experience. From that to this, from ‘before’ to ‘after’. 

I was thrilled with the change, but also that I had made the change, and  I had made the change happen.

Good design, when it improves our lives, is a wholly positive experience.

My new bathroom soon became part of my everyday life and I stopped noticing it.  But, I can still ‘remember’ the thrill it gave me – even though that strength of feeling is not there any more. 

Even the most minimalist modern home will become more ‘lived-in’, shabby and dated. And, our once highly prized and desirable ‘must-have’ thing may well become clutter and junk.  

As new trends, fads and tech emerge our tastes change.

Dissatisfaction and boredom creates a desire for new things and new experiences.

With change we want things to be different.

And yet, sometimes we want to be assured that what we have is what everybody wants/ has. We also want something that will work well – and last.

Every ‘thing’ that belongs to someone contributes to their  spatial story.

A recent report by Accenture, suggests business should move from ‘customer centricity to life centricity’. That is: to think about more about customers in their ‘full life’.

“The net-effect is a growing acceptance of paradoxes, in which people make peace with the often contradictory and conflicting consumption decisions they make moment to moment.”

That makes sense.

I am a real life person, with a past, present, future – and things. I am not a persona – and therefore do not behave/think rationally like AI.

What Accenture calls “The Human Paradox” recognises (at last)  that people’s lives occur against a backdrop of change: in tech, society, culture and lifestyle. But also in a  pandemic, illness, an energy crisis, in war and instability. 

Every thing that enters my life for the first time, or stays in my home for many years, becomes part of my everyday life.

User-centred aspects may look at how I use things and how I behave but should not ignore why and where I keep things – and for long. Something may mean a lot to me – or it may mean nothing.

Things, belongings, possessions are what makes our homes – our homes.

We may surround yourself with ‘things’ that mean ‘something’ to us – fully in the knowledge they mean nothing to anyone else.

Things in the home: linen collection
Linen collection

Business drives demand for new products that… maybe we don’t really need, and maybe can do without.

Some people don’t want to constantly change the way they live – even if it is deemed to be an upgrade.

As Accenture  point out:

“To bridge the gap, businesses need to widen their aperture and move from focusing only on the consumption of customers to seeing their customers as they see themselves: multifaceted, complex and doing their best to adapt to unpredictable life circumstances out of their control.

It’s time for companies to move from customer centricity to life centricity.”

We are humans.

Will AI understand why we keep clothes we no longer wear? That we have rich and intimate memories of people, places and things and we like to be surrounded by personal items.

Robots do not need things, but humans do.

As the advertising executive Rory Sutherland puts it:

“Not everything that makes sense works, and not everything that works makes sense.”

Being irrational – it’s what makes us human!

Things in the home: dressing dolls

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.