In Defense of “Just Things”

I’m unusual in the scope of Millennials and Young Gen-Xers in that I don’t fetishise the “Spartan” minimalist life.  While I don’t believe that I should acquire more than I need in this life, I recognize the spirits in that which many regard as “just things – you can replace things.”  Tell me, though — can you truly replace your child, or “at least” a beloved pet when they die?

My friend Cinamon and I are both long-time antique enthusiasts, and have discussed our animistic relationship with old things:  Antiques have spirits in them, wiser and oddly protective in ways that newer things aren’t yet capable of expressing.  Hell, pressboard furniture seems to understand that it was made to be disposable within a few years, and feels very helpless when I touch it — my computer desk is possibly the oldest surviving pressboard piece I’ve met, going on twenty-five years old, and inherited from an ex who knew I needed a desk in a pinch; he’s all but fallen apart, feel weary, practically begging me to find a new desk and “pull the plug” on him — though when I do, I intend to take him apart and give his larger panels to a friend who likes pressboard panels for her mixed-media art, it just feels like the least I can do to honour him for holding together long past his life expectancy.  Antiques, though, they have stories that you can feel, wen you touch them, and if you’re especially in tune with them, they can tell you parts of their lives.

I’ve seen many people of older generations than mine, especially Americans, lament how the younger generations have little to no interest in family histories, especially heirlooms, sometimes just after going on about how our belongings are “just things” and “things can be replaced.” Well, what do you expect young people to think of family heirlooms after raising them to believe everything is just disposable, replaceable things?

This is how we lose our family histories. When our histories become intangible abstract ideas, they become lost, and our things help tell our stories as much as our words do.

While I have no intentions of having children (in fact, since my hysterectomy and metoidioplasty going on two months ago, well, bearing any is now physically impossible), I do intend to assign an heir — if only to continue the teachings of Eros — and this heir will understand the importance of what American society likes to regard as “mere things” that as disposable, replaceable, and lacking any importance to our histories. These “mere things” give our histories a tangible element that we can not only see, but touch and feel and truly understand in ways that words on a screen, or even a page, simply cannot, and can never convey.

You may say that there’s “just things,” but I say that they’re a part of my history, they say something about who I am and where I came from.

I have a ninety-plus-years-old gown – vintage 1920s, black lace; I’ve only worn it twice, but I believe with everything in me, this dress has told me that it belonged to a former incarnation of my soul. She was a performer, and she died rather young, after losing her true love; the dress was sold “back” to me at a loss to my friend who owned the shop -she told me that she felt it rightfully belonged to me- and it’s told me that we need to find our soulmate again, in this lifetime, to right the heartbreak of nearly a century ago.

My couch has told me it used to host salons with its first owner. My chair was imported from France by a wealthy woman from the area. My floorlamp has no special stories, just that it was loved for a time, until it spent many years in storage until it was purchased by the friend who owns another store where I found it, and give it the love it had missed for several decades.

You may say that they’re “just things,” but they have lives older than my own, with stories to tell and a desire to shape my own history along with me, and let me pass that legacy to my heir who will understand that they’re more than mere things, but history, souls, and capable of loving us as much as we love them.

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