In Search of Truth and Beauty | The Nature of Stuff

Posted in Blogs, Literary

Jan. 28, 2015

I will be the first to admit how much I love my possessions, my beloved treasures that hold beauty and memory. They reside in two places at once, past and present, straddling the worlds both visible and unseen.

Emerald Isle

Emerald Isle

To prepare for a three-month sabbatical to Ireland in 2011, I gave away many of my possessions. For those treasured items I could not part with, I found a few friends willing to store a few boxes. When I returned home from my sabbatical, my life had been changed profoundly; I wanted to follow that thread of change. Part of my new journey seemed to include the need to be unencumbered by nothing more than a few suitcases.

I inhabited my beautiful island home by house-sitting for friends. This allowed me to have periods of travel: back to Ireland for two months, California for six weeks, Costa Rica for a month, the Netherlands and France for a short stay. Grand adventures, indeed! As a house-sitter I was surrounded by other peoples’ things, and that gave me a chance to reflect on “stuff” I had no personal history with. I have always loved looking at curios of all sorts, and it was lovely to explore my friends’ collections of objet d’art, books, paintings and photos.

Corner songs (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Corner songs (photo by Joni Takanikos)

I especially love the look of a shelf or table that has been lovingly curated. It becomes an altar for my eyes and heart to visit, and it allows me to lose track of my own wandering thoughts in a way that brings me back home to myself. I was with a friend at SAM many years ago and we were “lost” in an exhibit, a room full of cabinets of curios, carefully curated. As we silently made our way through the exhibit, gazing through the glass onto shelves that told story after story through the arrangement of the objects within, my friend turned to me and whispered, “This exhibit reminds me of your house.”

I loved her comment and took it to heart. I have a fondness for putting things together, letting each curious object—whether a book, photo, rock or dozens of other possible things—be in relationship to each other, playing with space and proximity. Once I had some interesting metal noise makers from a New Year’s Eve party that found their way around different parts of the house and each spot in turn was enlivened by their silent promise of noise making.

Curios in relationship (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Curios in relationship (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Most of my “stuff” at the present time occupies one small room. While I love most everything in my room, I exercise the need to fill a bag or two of stuff, even things I love, to drop off at Good Cheer or give to friends. This cycle needs to happen at least every couple of months. You see, I have wonderful friends who frequently give me lovely things that I need to incorporate into my room. Without this pruning of possessions, this careful curation of my “life exhibit,” I can start to feel crowded, heavy and dense, just like my room would. Perhaps this is why “sacred space” is often so spare. It makes room for contemplation.

In my zeal to not become surrounded by stacks of old New Yorker magazines, lovely birthday cards containing proof of love and affection, and twenty sweaters instead of ten, I have donated or given away many things I may later even come to regret. But in the end this pruning back is necessary and must remain continuous throughout the year to deal with this growing thicket of “stuff.”

Love, memory and dreams (photo by Joni Takanikos)

Love, memory and dreams (photo by Joni Takanikos)

My dearest friend, Virginia Burja Simpson, while discussing the dilemma of stuff, said, ” All I want to leave behind is a poem and a puff of pink smoke.” In that spirit, I offer you one poem on the subject (and admit I have more than a boxful of them).


“It’s not the load, it’s how you carry it.”—Lena Horne

I have carried a
handful of letters
for over thirty years.
Full of pain, misery,
despair and love.
I keep them like
sentries at the gate
of The Trauma.

They have migrated
to different houses
through the years
but have stayed in the
same nondescript
brown and beige file box.
They swim in the too-large
box, but at least they have
plenty of air to breathe.

Right now they ride in
the trunk of my car, traveling
the island roads, and the
potholes of my long driveway.
These letters I cannot
seem to let go of, although
the paper will eventually crumble,
the plastic file box may go on forever.

-Joni Takanikos

So, if you find you have stuff you are not using, why not donate it to a local charity like Good Cheer, Habitat for Humanity, Waif or Senior Thrift? And while I would not advocate a nomadic lifestyle for everyone, I suspect most of us could be better served by lightening our load.

Now just imagine this blog ends in a puff of pink smoke.

Joni Takanikos lives, writes, performs, teaches yoga and collects some lovely “stuff” right here on Whidbey Island.


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  1. Dearest Joni –

    What a beautiful description of your relationship to materials goods…and your unconscious ability and conscious effort to remain unencumbered. One needs to make sure there is enough space pink puffs…and you do this, as usual, with grace and beauty.

    Love you!

  2. Yes, indeed, those boxes of letters are a present conundrum for me, too. How diligently I have carried 30-year-old letters from place to place. But the letting go of things is essential and freeing. I understand the clean terrain of the temple for clearing the mind. But, you Joni, our little Island Priestess, you are special when embueing objects both given and received with the holiness of love and memory. You are a maker of small, sacred spaces which also includes my heart. And may we all be privvy to Gina’s pink vapors. 😉 xxpd

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