I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of emotional responses I’ve received for my recent essay,“The Privilege of Clutter.” While I originally wrote it with the intention of looking at the refugee experience in particular, what I’ve learned from reading reader responses is that this tension between collecting or casting off seems to be universal. One of the most touching and beautiful responses I received was from a reader reflecting on an elderly couple who saved objects because one spouse was struggling with dementia. For this couple, objects are also about survival of the self, though in a very different way than my family.
A number of other responses I received had to do with the decision to get rid of or keep objects after death or ended relationships, all of which seem like intensely personal decisions, but are also equally shaped by culture and what manner of grief or “holding on to things” is considered healthy and acceptable.
I was surprised that some readers assumed that my essay was prescriptive. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be a minimalist, or that holding onto objects is superior to letting them go.