Small enough to fit inside a closed fist, the black painted ox has lain quietly in its box for over thirty years. Inside its earthenware shell a hidden metal ball rattles and wards off bad luck like a witch doctors drum. Dewy painted eyes watch with the patience of a reliquary. Red rough vestiments tickle my fingertips like a secret confession. The little sentry is a moment from Kyoto, a memory of a lost parent and smokey sweet dumplings in the snow.
Had this souvenir survived snowbound Moscow studies, London’s film industry and, several children later, a move to New Zealand on its own, Marie Kondo would have been proud. Instead, the little ox transversed the globe happily amongst many, many friends. A cacophony of memories that swelled to drown out any notion of minimalism.
The boxed ox nuzzles deeply into a frayed scarlet cross-stitch of an embroidered vest, itself collected by my father on a journey to Georgia, the then USSR. Underneath is the china doll saved for and purchased at the local post office by a proud nine-year-old self in Sydney. Several layers down lurk handmade ballet costumes, hand-crocheted cardigans and the 1980s version of Instagram: exercise books stuffed with captioned and stickered party pictures.
Surely they mean more. We had to wait two weeks for the chemist to develop the photos our cameras didn’t even display. Commitment ran deep, hairspray giving us hope it would turn out.
With the travel of time so too arrived souvenirs of past Haupts, Graemes and Pooles.
At age eighteen a pair of thick leather pilot boots came my way. Worn by my Grandfather as he flew Hurricanes above Africa to halt Rommel, they clad my cold teenaged feet as I navigated the post-coup Moscow subway. The boots were old, my feet young but they worked in harmony across the salted Moscow streets. The boots subsequently disappeared, a pair of cheap white, less interesting ones grudgingly showed up in their place. Thin soled and slippery they lacked the gravitas of WW2 duty and caused several segues into icy gutters.
I have often wondered where they are now, perhaps it was their time to move on. I hope the new owners appreciate their service.
With the objects come the stories. An abundant life requires holding on to the past, but it also comes with a hefty cost, both in shipping and lifting. Would there be less “stuff” if I had stayed where I was born?
I, however, left Canberra aged two. With a rag doll. Which I still have.
Not all things were packed. There’s more at my family home. These are no less important, just earlier. The objects represent time and place, but they also let us hold onto our people. The heavy winter gloves and big fur hat my father wore. His father, the professional cyclist slash gold miner left his watch. A first writing desk resides with my mother near her childhood piano ( topped by a giant brass Samovar) and decades of books. A horse tooth reportedly from a famous steed another ancestor rode in South Africa. A framed copy of the Magna Carta bought in Rome casts its shadow in the Australian sun-protecting preschool drawings. The artist now well into middle age.
Each one meaningful. Arranged neatly, Marie Kondo would approve.
I’m just glad my ancestors didn’t play the tuba.
There is a place for minimalists. Marie Kondo serves a useful purpose, but there is a distinct divide. Watching the programme, I’m tempted to feel my collection more worthy than a garage full of plastic junk from Walmart. Elevated above “real junk” are baby blankets, childhood notebooks and a large pendulum clock. All have meaning that can’t be bought at a supermarket. They mean more.
Or do they? Beyond the monitory comparison comes emotion. Can someone feel the same pain felt on discovering my rag doll drawn and quartered (by a visiting toddler) when asked to finally give away that itchy nylon poncho they bought online? From the tears, it seems so.
Descending from a high horse is fraught with risk. Smart editors can encourage viewers superior tendencies. The real takeaway from Kondoism is to look behind, beneath and around all the belongings. The relief after clearing unneeded belongings seems to relight something deep within.
I have been looking for a place for our hobby horse. It’s not very high, but it’s in the way.
Memories are bulky. Some are cheap, some exquisite. Objects are more than what they say on the tin. However, sometimes the bandaid needs to be torn off, and the wounds below healed. Marie Kondo is the nurse to hold the patient’s hand during this process. We need to make the diagnosis.
However, I shall hang on to mine for now. I have a loophole. Allot will be handed down to my children. As they leave home and spread their wings, travelling the globe followed by several shipping containers.