What Crafting Does To And For You.

Arts and crafts are something most of us appreciate. We love seeing the results of great talent and skill. We also love engaging in crafting activities when we can. But crafting is a little like reading. Despite knowing that most of the happiest, wisest, healthiest people in the world craft, most people seem to avoid it.

It’s quite peculiar how we do this, because, however you look at it, crafting is innately human. From our earliest days, even if toys and paints aren’t available, we take mud and sand and sticks and stones and mash things together to make murals, sculptures and decorations. We are drawn to paint and stickers and glue. We make shiny, bright, ornamented versions of everyday items. In short, we are born with a desire to create. Which makes a lot of sense, really. A human is born a naked ape-grub without any sharp teeth or fangs, without the ability to even stand. We grow into gangly, nude primates that are slow, clumsy and weak compared to most of our would-be predators and prey. So crafting is one of our ways of surviving. By tinkering about with everything we are able to make houses, fire, weapons, traps, cooking utensils and preservation techniques. Crafting made the arrow, the tree-house, the fire pit and fermentation. It’s an instinctive drive.

And another unique trait of humans is that we use this tinkering to develop culture. At some point a good, strong arrowhead that felled five bison stops just being a good arrowhead and starts being a lucky arrowhead. At some point Mum’s copper pot stops being a cooking utensil and becomes an heirloom. The more we tinker, the more we develop, the more meaning we attach to things, until we start making this for meaning’s own sake. We find blue peaceful, so we seek out blue pigments. We like the little figures on Uncle’s bow, so we make our own figurines. We go from utilitarian, to utilitarian and meaningful, to purely meaningful.

And gradually these meanings form a culture. If women of a certain tribe wear neck-braces in solidarity with women who need them, women in the next tribe will be confused, because they will either not need braces or view them as simple medical treatment. If hunters of a certain tribe paint themselves blue to connect with the Gods, hunters from another tribe may see the blue as aggression or even aspiration to godhood. By creating a sort of secret language of meaning, we exclude others from out culture and make it ours. We gain solidarity.

Which is where we start losing our desire to craft in the modern world. We live in a world where we no longer need to craft or be inventive. Not only are we avid, hungry consumers, we seem to be trying to become culturally stagnant, merely observing past culture and global cultures and not engaging in any cultural or tribal behaviours of our own.

But crafting is still good for us. The pull is still there, even when you sit down a sixty year old office worker with finger paints. How many people do you know who would never doodle, paint, sculpt, write, sing, dance, build, shape, collage, etc if they could? If you sat a group of adults down in an arts and crafts room and told them to entertain themselves, how many would find nothing to do? We still love it and want to do it. It’s only natural to us.

Crafting is still one of the best ways of dealing with mental and personality disorders, as well as with non-clinical stress, depression, anxiety, fear or boredom. It evens us out and leaves us feeling soothed and satisfied by the end. And to boot, it shows its own fruits. When you work crunching numbers, or teaching a lesson a week, or cleaning machinery, it’s hard to see your own work in the finished product. But when you take your vision and slowly shape it into something, you are present in the end result. And that reward is one of the richest you can experience.

Humans really are meant to craft and create. And we should put more effort into doing some crafting daily.

What do you enjoy crafting? Do you craft as much as you would like? Are there any crafts you would like to learn?

Check out my Pinterest board of things to craft or that I have crafted.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

Why Do We Connect To “Things”?

In a world of abundance, it’s only rational to consider that people will want to have things. Humans are meant to accumulate, exchange and use resources, be they consumables, usables, culture or consumable replacements such as money.

But we also see an interesting phenomenon in the Western world that is not quite as strongly reflected anywhere else. We see an extreme attachment to physical objects that don’t have a specific use or job. And, because we have so many things, this attachment can happen in five, ten, a hundred objects. On a simple level, almost everyone has an item they feel attached to, such as a simple wedding band or a tatty childhood toy. In extreme cases we see problem hoarders: people who accumulate things everyone else would consider rubbish to an extent where their homes are full and their lives are impossible, but who can’t bear the thought of parting with it. Often we see a deeper attachment to these things than the person feels for unknown humans. Sometimes the person will feel better about driving away a loved one than parting with their things.

But why does this happen?

As mentioned above, there are only four purposes for something in a human’s life:

1: Consumables. Things you need to use to survive that cannot be reused or recycled. Water, food are the basics. Firewood, underwear and deodorant are less obvious consumables.

2: Usables. Similar to consumables except they are not quite as degraded by use and are often not absolute essentials. Houses, machines or phones come to mind.

3: Consumable replacements. Bartering chips we use to obtain consumables and usables. The main one today is money in physical and digital form.

4: Culture. Something that serves no utilitarian purpose, but provides entertainment, satisfaction and a bonding opportunity with the individual’s social group.

When we consider what these things often are, we realize they are not consumables, replacements or usables. They may have started out that way, such as a favourite jumper, a childhood toy or a phone, but they have been elevated beyond that. The jumper isn’t worn for warmth, the toy isn’t played with and the phone isn’t used only practically. They aren’t anything practical, they’re “just things”. These things must, therefore, be cultural.

However they aren’t cultural in the traditional sense. Art is culture, ceremony is culture, fashion is culture. These are things shared by groups of people. They are understood and appreciated. They have a shared meaning, shared rules, shared boundaries.

The things people become attached to don’t have that shared meaning. Nobody will know or understand why your toy cat is so special to you until you explain its history, its meaning to you. Even then they may not understand. Your phone does not bond you to people. At best it creates a weak association-by-trend between you and users of similar phones or brands. At worst it serves as a divider between you and the people you most often interact with.

So they aren’t culture. They are culture surrogates.

In societies where they still have faith, tradition, arts and a life rich with meaning, they rarely need such items. Parents will hand their last remaining childhood toy to their own children, knowing it might be torn apart. Children will more likely treasure an item with a shared meaning than a personal one. After all, this is how culture is born.

But our society rejects culture. We actively fight it. We seek to understand a little bit of every culture around us and embrace none of them.

So we have branded “things” as surrogates for religion. They help us bond, find new people, find some sort of a meaning to life.

We have childhood “things” as surrogates for memory and family. They help us remember pleasant times, feel loved, feel worthy.

We have nonsensical “things” as surrogates for art. They make us feel individual, unique, eclectic and special.

We keep all these things around us. When we are lacking associates we find a new brand to associate ourselves with. When we are lacking memory or love we find a new trinket to hold some memories in. When we are lacking individuality, artistic appreciation or visual stimulus and pleasure we find a new random item to put in our room to collect dust.

And I guess having a few of these things is just natural. We’re human, after all, so a family heirloom or a painting that actually resonates with us will elicit strong emotions of joy, belonging, satisfaction and meaning. But do we really need quite so many of them?

What about you? What “things” do you have in your home? Are you a clutter bug or a minimalist? Do you find yourself attaching meaning to objects easily? Or do you have one or two things you need in your life and everything else is disposable? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!