Though Marie Kondo’s rigorous organizing methods, detailed in her 2014 planetary bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, require much more discipline than most people deliver (who has the time and inclination to repurpose old shoe boxes into a low-brow California Closets-inspired system, anyway?), one of her litmus tests for deciding whether or not a forgotten object stays or goes has become part of the pop-culture lexicon: “Does [fill in the blank] spark joy?”
While enacting this simple phrase has spared many a treasure from the likes of a church bazaar (hello vintage Nirvana concert tee with ripped neckline from a liberating thrash around the mosh pit, circa 1992), there are pieces so beloved, so stitched into our lives, that such New Age triage isn’t necessary—their significance is simply unspoken.
“People can take ordinary things and transform them into meaningful symbols,” said psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszaentmihalyi in an Atlantic essay titled “For the Love of Stuff,” which explores the value of objects in relation to human connection, making a strong case for holding onto things that are “important because of the history and memories [they] represent.” By contrast, a Time article with the tough-love headline, “Do You Love Your Stuff Too Much? Maybe It’s Because No One Loves You,” grapples with the premise that material objects often substitute for real-life love and affection. To delve into the dark reaches of that theory, check your local listings for Hoarders re-runs.
Here, we’ll regularly showcase the singular prized possessions of ordinary people, and tell their stories about how this link to the past actually anchors them in the present. Think of it as a standard if-your-house-were-on-fire inventory of your most important personal effects, things so special they surpass a mere spark of joy, whether it’s your great-aunt’s tattered copy of Virginia Woolf’s feminist manifesto, A Room of One’s Own, or a 1975 World Series homerun ball cracked from the bat of Carlton Fisk or a humble wooden cooking spoon, darkly patinaed from a century of soup-stirring. So, tell us: What would you take with you?
Rock of Ages
Growing up in the 1970s, Amy Gershoni was part of a trendy movement prevalent in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles—the communal family. “My parents had these really good friends who decided to move in together, sharing resources and being there for each other like a family,” says Gershoni, cofounder of the San Francisco branding agency, Gershoni Creative. “To this day, everyone is still really close.”
Among the treasured pieces from the era of co-habitation is a quirky rocking chair, upholstered with gold velvet. Its wooden headrest is carved with the commanding countenance of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon (an identification based solely on tendrils of his beard forming a cresting wave), and its armrests culminate in chiseled gargoyles. On this chair, many children have been nursed, comforted, and swayed to sleep, including Gershoni, who welcomed the piece into her own SF home, an eclectic tableau of found objects, nearly 20 years ago.
“When I got it to my house, I had these incredible flashbacks to my mom rocking me. I used it in the same way for my baby—you know, midnight feedings and all of those sweet, quiet moments with him,” says Gershoni of her now 10-year-old son, G. “More than anything, it gives me a feeling of connection.” The family’s signature battle cry comes from a long history of toddlers learning to walk by approaching the gargoyles, intrigued by meeting these fang-bearing creatures eye-to-eye. “We’d tell them, ‘Kiss the gargoyle!’ and they’d kind of amble over and give them a peck. The saying just kind of stuck around,” says Gershoni, who still sits in the chair to read and relax. Even after decades of use, re-stuffing the lumpy seat or replacing the fabric, threadbare in spots, is a faraway notion. “The chair is terribly uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”