Posted by: bipolarmystic | August 31, 2013

What story do your posessions tell?

In my last post I made reference to simplicity books I am reading right now.  I am reading the “100 thing challenge” by Dave Bruno.  This book chronicles Bruno’s journey to pare his personal possessions down to 100 items (he actually ends up with just under 100).  The most interesting part of his journey is the discovery of how unused items are creating a false narrative of the author’s life.  For example, most of us know by now that keeping items a size too small probably makes us feel guilty and pressured to lose weight.  But actually, we are creating an imaginary narrative of our lives where we are thinner.  And to most people, thinner means more successful, happier and sometimes a lot of other things, too.

So in our imaginary life we are thinner and happier, more successful and perhaps feel like a more worthwhile person.  If you are like Bruno (and me, and most people), lots of personal possessions are telling a false narrative about your life.  The problem with this is the stress it creates on our lives when we don’t achieve the skills/weight/time/etc to achieve our imaginary life.  Plus, we have no room in our lives to consider what our narrative truly is – or should be.  Until reading Bruno’s book, I never would have considered all the items I own that tell a false story about my life.

As a person with bipolar disorder, I feel particularly vulnerable to telling a “better” story with possessions.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve always felt “different” and the thing you wanted most was to be like everyone else.  I’ve pushed myself to the brink by trying to “do it all” and do everything just as well or better than most folks.  I feel like I have to prove to myself and everyone around me how “great” I am doing.  So I feel compelled to look perfect in my life and am tempted use my possessions to write a story about a happy, super successful and fulfilled life.

As my family prepares to move into a new home, I have tossed all sorts of items into boxes with little thought.  We did give about 11 boxes! of stuff to the Salvation Army.  But I still have so much more to purge.  Bruno tells several anecdotes about his narrative items.  One is a train set.  Bruno’s father like model trains and always said he’d get around to building a layout, but he never did.  This becomes the allegorical holy grail of happiness for Bruno.  If only he can complete a train layout, perhaps the minor tears in a mostly happy childhood can be repaired.

Bruno also owns a great deal of woodworking equipment at the outset of his project.  And yet, he acknowledges that he will never be the master builder he imagined himself to be, ‘complete with a taller, more muscular frame.’  His tools appear to be an affirmation of masculinity and a testimony to his usefulness.  Other examples include a rock climbing wall and gear (I will never be a rock climber Bruno says) and “professional” clothing that he no longer wears.

Bruno tells an especially sad and funny story about working for his father in a corporate position.  For this job, Bruno owned very nice clothing.  The problem was, none of it fit quite right.  His wool trousers had a tendency to bunch up in the crotch, earning double and triple takes when he sat in staff meetings.  Bruno’s dress shirts had no buttons because they were made with cuff links in mind, which he hates.  In all, these clothes tell an amazing story – but a story Bruno literally does not fit into.

I still keep in my closet a nice, professional suit even though I don’t want a nice, professional job.  I have structured outwear jackets that I don’t wear because I hate restrictive sleeves.  But they tell a story about me – that I am more stylish and cool than I really am, that I really care to be.  I have candy molds in cute designs from making chocolate candies once a few years back.  I have a candy thermometer that I have never used.  I suspect this has to do with ideas of what a cool mom/wife I would be if I made my own candy.  But, I don’t eat candy.  So I’ve made beautiful candies for other people that didn’t get eaten.

How about I create something wonderful for myself?  A narrative that is true to who I am.  And in the end, when I start to unpack what some of these items represent I can hardly believe that items have so much power.  And how silly it is to create an imaginary life with stuff I don’t need, won’t use, will feel resentful towards.  I don’t need to make candies to be cool – and I don’t need to keep stuff that makes me feel like I need to be someone I’m not.  What narrative are your possessions telling?  Is it a true story?



  1. I’m not sure bipolar has anything to do with attachment to property.

    The only property I’ve had trouble letting go of in my adult life has been books and records.

    Photographs of me in particular I have disliked since I was quite a young child – especially when someone else owns them and I couldn’t destroy them. In thirteen years of schooling they only managed to get three class photos of me and in one I had hidden my face behind a classmate.

    It was precisely because I felt photos could be used to tell a false story about me.

    Cameras really do steal your soul you know.

    • The article isn’t really about bipolar, per se, it’s about human nature. I think all humans typically have attachments to some stuff. And in my particular situation I feel like my bipolar has made it easier to build a life with nice possessions in the imaginary narrative that my life is just as good – or better than anyone else’s. It also stems from not feeling 100% good about myself, which I think is hard to do when you have a mental illness. I think all folks can benefit from ridding their lives of un-needed stuff that results in emotional and spiritual pressure. I know I personally can probably benefit from it more because I get overwhelmed easily by too much of anything. I usually do not like to be photographed either – but only because I don’t think I’m photogenic 🙂 In that sense, photos kind of do tell a false story because a photograph makes it easy to judge a person by arbitrary and false standards.

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