On personal collecting

I will freely admit that my room, when I’m living in it, is a mess. However, I will also – as I have already on several occasions – stress the difference between mess and dirt. My room is messy, not dirty. Now that we’ve gotten that clarification out of the way, let’s focus on the mess.

It drives my mother crazy. I’ve heard the words ‘whole world’s junk’ muttered more than once.

I keep meaning to clear it out but never do. Am I that lazy? Ok, maybe a little when it comes to putting away clothes, shoes, bags etc etc. But even if I did, even without all those things, I have clutter, and lots of it. So what is all that stuff, that pasaaraa as my grandmother used to say – why do I have it, and more importantly, why do I keep it?

I’ve recently been reading Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things, which is what got me thinking about all this. The author, an Anthropologist, went door to door along a random London street and interviewed thirty residents, studying their lives and personalities through things – things they had, collected and kept, and things they didn’t. Quite fascinating. As a result, I’ve been wondering about what might be made of me, viewed through my room and my things.

So, writing this, I look around. There’s the stuffed camel from Morocco, sand from the Sahara, bell from Macao, disc-like replica artefact from Crete, a Boston lobster, postcards from Sevilla, a Chinese finger-trap (I kid you not, one of the coolest objects I own), an evil-eye charm from Turkey, prints of New York and Bath, Portuguese dolls, a Kathakali mask, a British pub sign, an Egyptian papyrus painting, a scarab beetle, a hippo from South Africa, random wooden figurines from elsewhere on the African continent, more postcards from London, the British Museum and the Tate Modern….its not quite the whole world but I could actually go on.

I don’t know if its Anthropology, but I detect an obvious pattern.

I also see Teach Yourself Portuguese and Spanish books (not that I speak either language at the moment!), ooh and the clincher – a collection of Lonely Planets.

Have I been to all these places? Some, yes. The others, they’re on my ‘one day’ list. Along with absolutely everywhere else.

Because, I love travel – local, national, international – travel of any and every kind. There is little that gives me more joy than ticket bookings. I plan my life according to holidays I want to take, sometimes years into the future, often ones I will probably never be able to afford.

In his first two chapters, Miller juxtaposes an empty life, in a house devoid of objects and the meanings and memories those objects possess, with a life brimming with meaning, love and connections in a home that is full of things collected, made, treasured. I’d rather live the latter kind of life.

So perhaps my mess, my pasaaraa, is more than just that. I’d rather imagine it to be evidence of happy, exciting times, and the promise, even just the possibility, of more someday in the future. In the meantime, I’ll keep my collection, my mess…. along with that globe on my desk…


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