Many years ago I read a book by a guy called Sam Gosling. The title of the book is ‘Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You‘ and I found its contents quite revolutionary. It claims that our stuff – our possessions, music, books, the items we own, etc – often tell others more about ourselves, our true selves, than what we or our friends do. After I read the book I discreetly analysed my colleagues’ workstations and made sense of it all. The book claimed that the most personalised workstations belonged to the most loyal employees. It also claimed that there’s a big difference between what we display in our offices or homes for ourselves vs what we display for other people. When I visited friends I’d look at their book collections and posters. The book had taught me that items in social spots in a home (such as the dining room or lounge), contained possessions that supported how the person wanted to be portrayed to others, and more personal areas such as bedrooms contained more cues to their inner selves. (Of course, I didn’t go snooping into friends’ bedrooms for research purposes!)
Any psychology enthusiast would find all of this fascinating.
Some of our things have a proportion of information that is there to emphasise a particular aspect our persona, our passions or our skills to others, and a proportion to substantiate aspects of ourselves to ourselves. If we take a different approach when looking at our things, we can learn a lot about ourselves.
Take a look at your things to see what you can learn about yourself from your possessions:
1) What you’re passionate about
Your music collection, book collection and what types of ingredients you have in the kitchen all tell a story about you. You’ll find cues about what eras you’re most fond of, what subject matters inspire you the most and what cuisines you like best. Example: My book collection. I confess I have somewhat of an addiction to buying books and I’m trying to control this, but not before I can stock my shelves with just a few more classics! What does all this tell me? I am passionate about words and stories.
2) How you want others to perceive you
Social and cultural items very often represent a side of us that we want others to see more of. Look at your workspace in particular, and make a note of which items are there because they have to be, which items are there for you and which items are there for others. In the home, check out what you display in a prominent area such as the entrance hall, the dining or lounge areas. Yes, often they’ll be in those areas because you want to see them, but certain items will be there because you want others to notice them. Example: Both at work and at home I have photos or art from my travels. Naturally, I find them nice to look at but I also like the fact that I’m perceived as well-travelled, and I like that the items are often conversation starters, too.
3) What your strengths and areas of knowledge are
You’ll be able to look around your home and find items that you could talk for hours about. You could pick up certain items and chew a guest’s ear off with the information you hold. Maybe it’s a musical instrument, an old record or an item of furniture. Example: My camera. I could talk for a very long time about what you can do with it.
4) What you want to be awesome at in the future
Check out what things you own that hold cues to your ambitions. You might see the beginnings of hobbies that you never had enough time for. Your documentary collection might be telling you that you’re not happy just watching them, but that you want to make them. You might have spices in the kitchen that you’re not sure how to use, but you know you want to create something amazing with. Example: Again, going back to books, but a specific genre: books about creativity and psychology. I have many of them and this tells me that it’s an area I want to learn more about and one day, be an expert at.
5) What you’ve achieved in the past
Stumbling upon things from the past help us remember how much we’ve changed and what we’ve done for our lives. Coming across items that we’re not prepared to give up shed light on another side of us. Why do certain items make us nostalgic? What made them special once, and why do we hold onto that? Example: Over the weekend I did a clothing Spring clean and came across an old pair of pants that I wouldn’t even want to give away because of the disastrous state they’re in, but I can’t bring myself to toss them, either. Why? I took them travelling with me in 2010 and they were with me for 7 months. I can remember wearing them in various cities across South and North America, and it comforts me having them still around. They remind me of an amazing time of my life.
6) The current state of your mind
Are your possessions tidy or messy? Have you accumulated too many items because you're too busy/stressed/tired to keep your possessions ordered? How about people who don't have very many possessions - what can we understand of them? We can assume that people who don't own much and keep things ordered have an ordered mind, too. They are often more at ease, they know what they want and when they need something, they know how to find it. People who've accumulated many items (short or long term) or whose possessions are disorganised are often edgier and less focused. Example: Some days I get home and look around - if things are unfinished, if clothes are not where they should be or my belongings are generally messy I know I'm not in my best state of mind and I need to find time to slow down, increase exercise and relax.
7) Your essence
Hidden away in your drawers, in boxes in the wardrobe, in bags under the bed – in places, essentially, where they’re not going to be found or seen by other people – you might find parts of your true self. They may be antique pieces of jewellery that have been passed down from another generation. They may be journals with words you wrote many years ago. Example: In one of my drawers I have a bracelet I bought in Paris on my first ever trip there in 2004. I loved but I was young, on a tight budget and it was expensive. It captivated me so much, however, that I made the decision to buy it. It’s so precious to me that I’ve hardly worn it but every time that I do pull it out to have a look, I’m reminded simultaneously of three things that are important to me: independence, beauty in design and lifelong adventure.
What do your things tell you about you?
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