As you were interviewing people for What We Keep, what did you discover about memory and the power of meaningful objects?
We would ask, “What [object] has the most meaning in your life?” And they would rustle around and come back to the phone and say I’m holding it in my hand right now. They liked talking to us with it in their hand, touching it and getting sensation from it. If they think this got a crack when I fell off my bike or a chip here, it becomes a character in their life story instead of a grace note memory and it enlivens their memory. They talk about the moment they found it or it was given to them with such emotion. It transports them back to that time, and interestingly, it evokes the memory of how they felt then, but not the actual feeling.
Is memory stronger with the object? Or do they keep the object because the memory is so strong?
I think it’s both — and one feeds the other. Obviously if the event or moment wasn’t important, they wouldn’t keep it. But there’s no question that seeing it on your shelf or in the drawer reminds you of that moment in your life, the person who gave it to you, the crossroads that you were at. And that memory feeds into why that object is important to you and keeps it alive.
What we found is that people keep these objects because it speaks to this inner part of them that makes them who they really are. Most often, they got attached at a moment of transition or because someone important gave it to them, so it holds the core of their DNA, what they value. It’s who they are and it’s their north star.