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!

8 Organization Tips to (Almost) Never Forget Anything.

I have a dreadful memory at times. Part of it is the same hormonal, mental, crazies problem that makes me want to sleep for days on end, hide from people, bite and break things or stare at walls rather than work. Part of it is just that I’m a forgetful sort of a person. With how long it takes me to learn names and get into routines and how hard it is for me to follow a set schedule, I’m sometimes surprised I’m functional. But I am functional, I do remember things, I do get things done (most of the time), and this is how I do it.

1. Lists.

I write lists for everything. Shopping lists, job lists, work lists, garden lists. Whatever you have to do, write it down and write it in context.

Good lists that I use regularly are “things I need to do today,” “steps to cleaning the (kitchen),” and “things to do in town.” Also, many websites have list functions. Not only do I have a list of blog posts to write, I make use of WordPress’s “Drafts” section on the dashboard to keep track of what I’m writing. I also use the beautifully organized “To Do” list on Fiverr and will flag any emails I need to respond to on Outlook. Lists do you good. Just remember to check and update them!

2. Strategic untidiness.

I’m hardly a minimalist, but I love to have a lot of clear surfaces, open floor space and bare wall patches in my house. However, I will strategically leave things in a mess on purpose. Why? Because that way I notice them!

When the pantry countertop is normally clear, but there’s a letter on it, I remember I need to post it when I next go out. When a wall is normally clear but there’s an ironing board with some shirts on it there, I remember I need to iron those shirts. When my sewing basket is normally in the wardrobe, but it’s next-to the sofa and a pile of things is on the coffee table, I remember I’m due a mending spree.

Plus, strategic untidiness also kills procrastination, because I can’t stand to leave things out of place a second longer than necessary!

3. Tell people.

Jon and I tend to relay things back to each other and ask each other odd questions all the time. We are basically walking dictionaries, encyclopedias, agendas and, in Jon’s case, a calculator for each other. But this will work on anyone who has a better memory than you or it will just increase the odds of you being reminded on time.

Tell someone what you need to remember. Try and make it someone who will be around at about the right time to remind you. It’s amazing how just by doubling the people who know something you increase the odds of remembering so much!

4. Fake deadlines.

Another one I do in part to curb procrastination, in part to remember things. If the deadline for an essay is Monday, my fake deadline will be Saturday or Sunday. If the deadline for booking an appointment is the 25th, my fake deadline will be the 20th. If the deadline for hoovering is 6pm, my fake deadline will be 3pm.

Simply set your deadline far back enough that it gives you time to remember it, panic and actually do it. That way you’re unlikely to be late or miss a deadline again.

5. Room by room.

A great way of reminding yourself of things is to sort similar tasks by room. Keep all your papers out in the office: one pile for things to send, one pile for things to file, one pile for things to copy, one pile for things to scan or transcribe. That way you get a visual reminder of what you have left to do at a time when it is convenient to do them.

Likewise with other rooms. Leave the ironing where your laundry dries or is folded once it’s dry. Keep the dishes in or by the sink for when you’re next washing. Try and think about what you would be doing in that part of the room and how you’d divide your time to make the tasks easier.

6. Notes.

Where lists fail, notes rescue you. Put notes everywhere. As text message drafts on your phone, stuck to calendars, next-to the things that need addressing, on your work desk, on your computer, on the fridge, anywhere and everywhere you will see them. The more important to remember, the more notes everywhere.

7. Folders.

For things that you need to remember on a monthly basis or even a quarterly or yearly basis, keep folders. The first thing in the folder should be a list of the last time you did it and what you did. The following pages should be records of the last times. This could be so you don’t repeat birthday presents, so you remember to save for the water bill or so you plant the vegetable seedlings out at the right time. Whatever it’s for, file it, label the folder and put a reminder on your calendar or phone that you need to check it a certain amount of time in advance.

8. Timetable.

Finally, timetables weren’t just good for school. Think about your typical week and write yourself a daily timetable. Do it hour by hour, so you can adjust things as you need. Write everything in it. Either print it out, write it on paper or do it on your computer, depending on what you’re more likely to look at.

For example, mine is on my computer because every day, first thing, I check my emails, student timetable and lists from the day before.

From around 4.30 until 5.15 I am seeing to the cat’s basics (food, water, litter, bedding), helping Jon get ready for work and doing any small jobs.

From 5.15 to 7.30 I am tidying the house, cleaning and doing odd jobs.

From 7.30 I am getting ready for work.

From 8.00 I am having lessons, writing for the blog, writing for money, writing my books.

From 16.00 I am tidying up, finishing my housework and cooking.

So usually by the evening I have done everything. And if I haven’t at least I have a few hours to finish everything.

And that’s how I try my hardest to remember everything. It isn’t failsafe. I still forget things. I sometimes forget to add something to a list or to check my list, even! But generally these tactics keep me organized, on track, low-stress and meeting all my deadlines.

How do you try and remember things? Got any tips or questions? It’s what the comments are for.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!