We are in the thick of the holiday season and so I've been thinking about the roles one's material objects play in the fabric of life (for lack of better pun). December is often a reflective time, as the days become shorter, and the weather colder. Pangs of melancholia are common during the holidays and into the New Year, as one revisits half-finished lists of goals, assessing achievements against ambitious resolutions from 12 months prior. Coupled with the complexity and occasional amnesia of nostalgia, memories from fiction and reality overwhelm me this time of year. I confront the bittersweetness in knowing my holiday-specific, childlike anticipation will only be a shadow of what it was when I used to stay up late, hoping to hear Santa. The holidays present a mixed bag of emotions for many, thus elevating the significance of rituals, traditions, and material goods.
For better or worse, my memories of the holidays (and in general) are often tied intrinsically to the ensembles of garments that outfitted me. I can describe in detail my "Christmas dresses" for every year of grade school. And today, when I thumb through my closet, (which by the way is from where my new header came), I see not just clothes but thick autobiographical details of their acquisitions and occasions. The muted orange velvet jumper is no longer merely 'that Anthropologie dress I scored for a song on ebay.' Material and personal histories have transformed it into 'the dress I wore a year ago when Chris proposed to me in the snow.'
As frivolous and vapid my consumption likely reads on the surface, I am certain that material culture is rich with meaning, symbolic value, and contextualities for just about everyone who would read this little blog. Whenever it has been tempting to dismiss my desire to participate in commodity fetishization, I've found comfort in recognizing that for better or worse, stuff matters. It is certainly not all that matters. But as an academic, sometimes I need reassurance that this hobby (that is admittedly so silly and indulgent) has meaning.
I can tell you exactly from where each piece of furniture in my home came. I can tell you exactly from when each band represented in my record collection impacted my life. I can tell you exactly from who each ornament on my tree was gifted. And with each inanimate object come memories and stories of the people, places, and times of my life. I have spent enough energy and time writing my dissertation (for which I will wrap another major section this week!) as I have justifying a lifetime of interest in things to myself. And for this next year, I resolve to continue my intellectual and critical curiosities about things. And simultaneously to try my best to take my interest in stuff less seriously. That apparently begins by displaying somewhat crass photographs of my obscenely tiny, but very well appointed dress closet.