Monday, June 17, 2013

My furniture and my brain

The walls of my apartment are blank by choice, but it might be a mistake. Surrounding yourself with photographs of happy experiences is a very important therapy. I suggest this because the scientific research found in the book The Emotional Life of Your Brain compels it. The authors suggest that meditating on happy and peaceful memories is as effective physically on the brain as physical exercise is on the muscles.

The furniture in my apartment is cheap but acceptably functional. It would be more expensive to move my furniture than it would cost to buy new furniture in my next home should I choose to move. I know people who take their furniture very seriously and invest heavily in antiques or high-quality pieces. I assume they are thinking of their furniture as an investment that eventually will cover the costs of settling their estates or serve to settle a small portion of debt in an emergency.

But people hang on to the strangest things, and even spend much more money than those items are worth to preserve or transport them. You could save money by owning a truck large enough to move your own furniture, but considering the cost of the fuel alone, the actual value of the investment plummets rapidly into the red.

For some people cost is not even a consideration. Words such as "nostalgia" and "sentimental" come into play. People hoard things perhaps for the emotional intensity of the memories evoked by those things, fear of reprisal for having discarded them, an aching notion that the thing will be needed almost as soon as it is discarded, or the sense that it might gain in value over time instead of lose value. I can remember some instances when I needed something after I discarded it. My great aunts had trunks filled with old processed bank checks dating back fifty years or more.

Except for money, the weight or degree of certain values we attach to things are different for everyone. I have a few different values besides memory triggers.

Distraction value: I need things to distract me from other emotions that take over in the absence of external stimuli. The emotions kept at bay by the distractions are driven by my chronic anxiety. The word "dour" is the best word that comes to mind. An overly criticizing shadowy behemoth pointing and insulting me with relentless memories of negative experiences. I don't need a relationship for that, it's built-in.

Social Attraction value: Can I use the thing to break the ice or invite favorable curiosity and create social activity? On some occasions while taking photographs I appear to others as a professional and they ask me to use their camera to take pictures of them. It's a nice experience but never goes beyond that because they are socially engaged with others. Social media so far has been my only solace. Sharing and commenting on social media gives me a small sense of validation when someone comments or favorably votes on my posts. 

I assign utilitarian value to things rather than sentimental value, unless it's a gift, which I call "etiquette judgement traps," another of my inherent distortions. To gifts I assign competitive values such as the ability to match the value and uniqueness of a gift in return, the ability to appear completely fair in situations where gifts are exchanged by multiple people. The stress can make one give up entirely on gift-related holidays. Church is bad enough brimming with vindictive judgemental competitors in the games of proper attire, ritual performance, and financial "sacrifices." Some of the scowls of disapproval at my inability to carry a tune while singing hymns in church were evidence enough for me to abandon those dens of gossip and religio-political intrigue. Christmas? No thanks.

Interestingly, the value of things you can't take with you change when you move across the country, and it changes how you feel about similar things in the future. I had a very expensive black leather high-backed swivel chair fit for a Supreme Court Justice, the kind with brass studs decorating the trim. It emitted an aura of intimidation and authority that impressed people on many occasions. I had to leave it behind and sometimes I miss it, but mostly I wonder what on earth I was thinking when I bought the thing back in 1995.

After moving twice and taking the furniture with me, I don't think I want to do that again, ever. I'll happily give my furniture to the NW Furniture Bank.
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