In Praise of Things

I am very attached to my bike and all the things that go with it.

Something we hear a lot about these days is that we should value experiences over things, and I agree that almost any bike ride is better than a big-screen TV. And camping with a view (and my dogs) beats a luxury car. And a fancy mixer/juicer/blender/appliance would just seem like clutter to me. But I think we can all agree there is a lot to be enjoyed and appreciated about certain things.

There is the gear, of course, that makes all the experiences possible: the bikes, tents, shoes, packs, skis, boots, rods, reels, and endless technical clothing. Many of these things are the result of hours of research, dollars spent, testing, and rejecting, all in the name of having the most perfect tool for the job. For example, sometimes it doesn’t matter if your pack is perfect: when I go to work in the morning, for example, and my shoulder straps are a little too wide for me, it’s no big deal. The bike ride is 3 miles, flat, and the pack has style points to cancel out any fit problems. But when I am riding a bike on a technical or steep trail, when I am on a long ride and need to carry extra clothing or food, that pack needs to be the best pack I can find, so that it does its job and I can ride without thinking about it. There is a lot of satisfaction in finding the perfect piece of gear, and I value the process and the result, but this is not necessarily what I am talking about.

Some people have called me a minimalist, or at least very discerning about stuff, but most horizontal surfaces in my house offer small curations: rocks, shells, seedpods, marbles, cricket balls… all carefully curated. They are not necessarily sentimental, but they provide me visual satisfaction. We have a small selection of antlers that we’ve found over the years (next to the lego deer head and the blown glass vases). One that Emma found last spring is maybe 8 inches long, the tiniest antler I have ever seen on or off a deer, with just the tiniest nubs for points. When she found it, it barely stuck out of the sides of her mouth. It is so precious that every time I look at it I feel incredibly lucky to have it.

The cutest antler ever found.
The cutest antler ever found.

RK found a paper wasp nest on a branch last fall. I have a few of these, but this one is a swirl of charcoal and light grays. It is smaller than most, feels dense and less fragile than others I have, and is striking. I don’t think about the wasps or their industry in making this nest. I admire the shape and colors as it sits on the window sill, whenever I wash the dishes or am at the kitchen sink for any length of time.

Objects that get daily use, especially, are such a bonus when they can be enjoyed. I have a Japanese chef’s knife that is not only sharp but beautiful. The blade is rippled with the overlaying of the thinnest layers of steel. The handle is dark and weighty. I have other knives, also functional, but I do not choose them as often and am not as enamored.

On the other hand, we have moved several times over the past 10 years and certain things have become a burden to me. I suspect their longevity in my life is somehow related to nostalgia and it is time for them to move on. How are they helping? If they aren’t, out they go.

I’m not sure that I can aspire to be a person who doesn’t want things. I don’t want the evil time- and money-sucking things, but I do like objects where I can rest my eye, where I can appreciate the craftsmanship, where they fill a space or do a job just perfectly. Bikes, iPads, antlers, tiny-tipped drafting pencils, a film canister filled with rusting carpet tacks, a too-short wool blanket (that is the exact color of the cat)… these things bring much random satisfaction. So let’s all work on un-attachment and de-cluttering, but keep your hands off the (actual) bowl of thorns.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA