Life is not about stuff. The heart of life is not buying, owning, or collecting, but sometimes we can find clarity in certain objects that we hold dearly. They do not need to be expensive things. Small hallmarks and trinkets can offer powerful reminders for our day-to-day lives.
For me, the object that daily offers clarity and insight is a set of blue flowered dishes. They are the most precious thing I own, and the whole set has cost me less than $35.
When I was in college in the middle of an awful semester, I stumbled upon the set of dishes at a thrift store and fell in love. White with small blue flowers, the simple plates and shallow bowls were china-like, but heavier – perfect for someone clumsy like me.
I savoured eating off the plates, immensely and inexplicably. They gave me so much joy.
Over the course of the next three years, I found the matching teacups and dinner-sized plates at different thrift stores on different days. My roommate hung the impractical tea cups and we used the dinner plates to serve crepes, stuffed peppers, and chicken curry (on separate occasions, naturally).
I am oddly proud of my collection of matching dishes and the honeymoon has not worn off: ten years later, every bowl of oatmeal is still that much more delicious as a result of those blue flowers.
Recently I was separated from the majority of my possessions for an extended period of time. One night I was killing time at (yet another) thrift store, and I saw the familiar blue flowers peeking out from behind a large stack of plates.
Until then I had not realized how precious the dishes were to me. Ten years, 2 provinces, 4 different stores… what are the chances?
Looking at my plates is like a mini self-help book, written just for me. They are clarity, here and now. When I see that familiar pattern, I see a million images of myself spread over time. I see stories of myself that I am proud of intertwined with places I regret, life lessons, and those tough bits of wisdom.
Certainly we should not find our security in things. They will break, wear out, and get lost. We will be separated from them from time to time.
But it is nice to have tokens and mementos. It is good to have little things that are not necessarily especially beautiful or valuable, but are somehow layered with meaning. Objects can remind us about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to go.