STAFF OPINION: You say clutter, I say mementos

By Kate Cuadrado | April 26, 2023 3:00pm
by Emma Sells / The Beacon

It's in the headline of every minimalist podcaster’s first episode and in the mantra of every spring cleaner’s mentality: Material things don't matter, and the only things that do matter are you and the people, pets and living things you love. 

While I believe that ​​the value of people, animals and other living things greatly trump those of material items, labeling material items as replaceable and meaningless negate such a large part of who we are. 

For starters, let's get this out of the way: I can be a bit of a collector. 

My bedroom is a minimalist hell with tchotchkes, knickknacks and trinkets littered upon every available surface and walls plastered with paintings, posters, photos and even a kalimba. 

On my dresser is a painted porcelain cat I bought at an antique store in Gresham while on my lunch break reporting there over the summer. It’s not exact, but it closely looks like one my grandmother could have owned in her own house that was sold in the estate sale following her passing. I like to pretend it's the same one. 

On my desk is a tiny bottle of maple syrup my parents sent me from their trip to Quebec last August. It reminds me of the blueberry pancakes my older sister would make for the family every Sunday morning while we watched bike races that my dad would set up on the TV.

A tiara from my 20th birthday sits perched on my lampshade and dried flowers from past bouquets rest on my windowsill. The tiara is plastic and cheap and the flowers are losing their petals by the hour and yet, I hold onto them. 

I think it comes from me being a deeply sentimental person. 

I hold onto every receipt, bus ticket, sticker or movie stub from important days so I can stick them in the pages of my journal when I get home. Pages are littered with, well, litter, but they all mean something to me, and that makes them worth saving.

American philosopher and psychiatrist William James identified the material self as both the physical body and the objects we surround ourselves with, seeing each as significant representations of who we are as people. 

His argument is that the items that belong to people, such as their clothes, house and belongings, hold a sense of self as well — it's not just a shirt, it's my shirt. It’s not just a bed, a bedroom, a blanket — it’s my bed, my bedroom and my blanket. 

Every object you choose to decorate your space with, to wear on your back, is a reflection of who you are. Each is a choice that reflects a laundry list of experiences and preferences you have gathered throughout your life.

I bought that porcelain cat because I grew up visiting my grandmother and seeing the way she decorated her home. I saved that glass bottle of maple syrup because of a small family tradition that started on a random Sunday one year when I was in high school. 

These things — like a lot of the things in my room — hold significance in the fact that they belong to me. Allow yourself to love your belongings deeply, to see them as irreplaceable in a world that tells you stuff is something to use and dispose of or to never have at all. 

Kate Cuadrado is the News and Managing Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at

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