As a child and adolescent I owned a lot.
My family are fans of souvenirs, ornaments, gifts and sentimental possessions. I took that on wholeheartedly and during my teenage years there was so much going on in my tiny bedroom I’m amazed that I ever used to get to sleep. I wanted everything on display. I wanted walls covered in posters. I had 4 different colour paints on my walls and glow in the dark stars stuck all over my room so that at night it felt like the Universe was in my bedroom.
When I first moved out of my parent’s house aged 18 I had two car loads of belongings (not including what I left behind to gather dust). By the time I moved to University these two cars were full to the brim and I was the only one who needed two cars to move me in to student accommodation. I felt ashamed and embarrassed but justified it to myself because I was bringing my whole life with me. After all I was moved to Leeds full time and I wasn’t going to be going home every holiday so it was reasonable that I took everything I owned with me.
As the years went on through University I gained more, including a desktop PC from the early noughties which was the size of a small car. Again, this is how I justified having so much. I couldn’t help that the computer was so big, and the TV, and of course there was no point in throwing out the herbs and spices collection every house move. But, I was moving on average every 6-12 months and the amount I owned was becoming more and more of a burden. The feelings of shame would mount up in the build up to moving and the inevitable comments from new housemates surprised at how much I could fit in to one bedroom and a kitchen cupboard would irritate me. Not to mention the comments that came from my parents who had the unenviable task of driving up to help me every time this process needed to happen again.
However, one thing I did discover about myself in all this is that I damn good at organising. Once I was unpacked (usually on the first evening as I obsessively wanted everything to be just so before I could go to sleep) you wouldn’t know just how much was there. I am the master of hiding things under the bed, in the wardrobe and on top of cupboards. My bedrooms are the equivalent of Mary Poppins’ handbag.
As I went through University and headed towards my mid-twenties, more and more I wanted space. I would see other people’s bedrooms with their clean white walls and I started making steps towards minimising. I confined my photos and posters to one wall. I put less and less on display and started to store it away more. I started to feel more confident that my personality was not contained in what I owned but was contained within me….
As silly as this sounds, this is not a trivial point. I was so insecure in my late teens and early twenties that I used my possessions to define who I was. I didn’t really know who I was and I didn’t feel confident of other people seeing me for who I was so I felt that having a DVD and CD collection or photographs of all my friends on display would provide some helpful cues. Moreover, I think I put them there to reassure myself of who I was.