connect, Inspiration, joy, meaning

Assigning Meaning

I enjoy making connections. Whether they are connections between people, ideas or things the connectivity of life excites and intrigues me. Sometimes I think I would have been a good detective. Being a librarian, however, I get to do plenty of sleuthing, finding and scoring in the search for information. 

That search for connection is part of my career path, part of my leisure and simply, part of me. 

I connect the dots.

Sometimes the dots are pretty faint. Sometimes you can barely see them. No matter. I can find connectedness when none is plainly in sight. 

Some years ago I read a book that made me pause. It made me wonder if my search for meaning and interconnectedness was a good thing after all. The book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Frost and Steketee make many observations about hoarders that were at once fascinating and terrifying. Although I read the book years ago, several things stay with me: 

1. Hoarders are experts at creating meaning even when there is no meaning discernable to the average person. The problem is that they are then unable to rank the meaning or value of items. They cannot distinguish so they keep everything.

2. It was striking how many of the hoarders were, or had been, librarians. It seems like I am in danger. It makes sense. As librarians we are trained to look for connections, for meaning. To assign meaning when we are cataloging. To find resources for any occasion, no matter how random. 

3. The authors state that people who they studied hadn’t always been hoarders. A loss, a stressful time, a shock could all send a perfectly reasonable person into a spiral of hoarding. 

I don’t want to give up the joy of making connections or of assigning meaning in my life. It brings much depth and beauty to my life. However, I do want to cultivate a more meditative sense of meaning. Rather than focusing on the ownership of that meaning, I am practicing an ability to notice the meaning, make the connections as let it go by me. Sometimes I create and let it go out in the world to touch others, sometimes I give it away, sometimes I do keep the end product. I am becoming more mindful about curating the materials I keep and letting others go. 

In art and life allowing the flow to be uninterrupted makes for less friction and more joy. That’s part one. Now I have to go fill another garbage bag. 

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  1. How fascinating. This sounds like an intriguing book. As I grow older I find the need, as many do, to pare down. Apart from art supplies and books, I don't think I border on hoarder — but one always wonders what that backbreaking straw will be!

  2. Glad you found my musing interesting. The book was compeling. If I remember correctly, the authors cited having a loss was often a trigger – loosing a loved one, etc.

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