In their recent deliberately controversial post about chores, Nicoleandmaggie argue that cleanliness is not necessarily as important as we sometimes make it out to be. In the comments, there was a discussion of "tschotkes" and whether or not they are worth keeping. Nicoleandmaggie make a good point that more stuff just means more stuff to clean, but.... I love my stuff!
In thinking about why, and which stuff, exactly, it is that I love, I realized that I usually hold on to things primarily because they remind me of something happy. There are the things that were given to me by people I care about, obviously, but I was somewhat surprised to discover that the things that matter most to me- i.e., that I would be least willing to give away- are things I've collected on my travels. One of the things I really enjoy when I'm traveling is looking for the "perfect" souvenir. Some of my favorites are absolutely useless but quirkily perfect for me, such as this large ceramic rabbit I bought in Orvieto, Italy, and then lugged back home.
We were in Italy (primarily Rome) for the period between Christmas and New Year's, 2001, traveling back home in early 2002. Everyone was still noticeably jittery about airplane security, so security was ultra-tight. The rabbit, wrapped carefully for transport, was x-rayed twice at the Rome airport, and I was sure they were going to unwrap the entire thing. But they just asked us what it was, nodded when I said "a ceramic rabbit" as if that was the most normal thing in the world for someone to be transporting in their carry-on luggage, and let us through. I smile every time I see it on our bookshelf: at the absurdity of the object itself, my memory of the pleasant day trip we took to Orvieto with my in-laws, and at the difficulty of transporting the thing back home.
Other things are decorative in the more usual sense, such as this buffalo hide carving of an elephant, which is hanging in our living room, next to another buffalo hide carving of traditional Thai dancers.
We bought the carvings at the weekend market in Bangkok, while on our big trip. The market is huge, and we spent several hours wandering around, looking at the stalls. We bought several things, too. These hide carvings were definitely the most expensive. I think the two of them set us back about $35, but I can't remember for certain. They were also among the last things to arrive home. We sent ourselves packages at various times on our trip, with souvenirs we'd bought and a CD copy of the pictures we'd taken since the last package, as a backup. These carvings were rolled up in a large tube. Even though it was sent roughly halfway through the four month trip, it didn't arrive at our home until weeks after we did. That was a nerve-wracking wait! We had told ourselves we were prepared to lose a package, but when faced with the possibility that we might actually lose one, we were quite sad. Luckily, it made it. Looking at those carvings reminds me of the wonderful times we had in Thailand, of the craziness that was the market, and of that slightly stressful wait.
Then there is our ukelele. My husband does actually know how to play the ukelele, but ours primarily hangs on our office wall.
It was a wedding gift from our best man, who is from the Cook Islands (where we got married). It was made by one of the people on his home island, and it is beautiful. Looking at it reminds me of our wedding, of course, but also of our good friend and his beautiful homeland.
There are more things, of course... the prints of pastels of clouds that we bought in New Mexico from local artist Kathleen O'Bryan (who, by a weird coincidence, had also spent time in the Cooks). The decorative plate I bought in Barcelona. Our pint glasses from Powell's Books in Portland. The tea set from Japan. The awesome little rabbit sculpture I picked up in Bath... Each one makes me happy to look at. But I will admit that we work to find the right balance between displaying the things we've picked up on our travels and keeping our house from being a cluttered mess.
Maybe that is why I particularly like finding interesting and unusual jewelry when I travel. It is small and almost practical! My all time favorite find may be the rabbit necklace charm from Ireland.
It is made from a piece of their old money- I think this one was money that was used before they went decimal (but still kept the Irish punt). So it is at least two iterations out of date by now, although it was only one step removed from legal tender when I bought the necklace. I thought the idea of turning unusable coins into jewelry was brilliant. And it was a rabbit, too! (Yes, I do have a thing for rabbits- but that is a story for a different post).
Another favorite is the braided leather and silver bracelet I bought when I spent a couple of months in Sweden during graduate school.
It is from the Sami people, who live in the Arctic region of Sweden and several other countries. I didn't make it to the northern part of Sweden at all, but a couple of the museums I visited had good sections explaining their culture. I think I bought this bracelet at a shop in Stockholm. It reminds me of my first big international travel, which I did solo. I flew into Stockholm and had to get myself to the train station and on a train for Lund, which is in the south of Sweden. I didn't understand how everything worked, and made several mistakes on that trip. But it all worked out, and I look back on that trip as one that gave me a lot of confidence in myself as a traveler.
I have other favorite jewelry from my travels, too: shell earrings from Easter Island, a greenstone necklace from New Zealand... none of it is worth much money, but they are all very dear to me.
I think this pattern started very early for me. There are specific items I had as a kid that were special because of where they came from, not what they were. Now that Pumpkin is old enough to ask for souvenirs when we travel, I see her doing something similar. She has started picking out pins, and putting them on her backpack. She has a couple of other "important" souvenirs, too. As much as I grumble about finding all of her precious things homes when we're picking up her room before the cleaner comes, I can't really begrudge her these souvenirs, because I have my own souvenirs, too. The cheap plastic toys that we get in favor bags and refuse to throw out... well, those are another story, and have been known to mysteriously disappear. Soon, she'll be old enough to make that distinction herself, I think. It will be interesting to see what things she holds most precious.
Do you buy souvenirs when you travel? What things are most precious to you? Bonus points if you catch the reference in the title of this post!