My late grandmother had a penchant for collecting glass and ceramic swans. My mother enjoys collecting black Christmas ornaments and home decor featuring seashells. I enjoy collecting….nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Marie Kondo acolyte. I possess physical and digital belongings and enjoy buying more from time to time. I’ve never liked tchotchkes or flipping through books of stamps or antique movie posters.
Periodically, I walk into my apartment and feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I own. I purge the shelves and closets of objects that have not seen the light of day for months. I find peace in not feeling attached to a bunch of physical objects. I have a mental short list of the items I would grab in case of disaster: laptop, journals, and photos. Oh and of course my passport. During these blitz purges, I sometimes stumble upon my old passport that I keep for only sentimental reasons. I’ll flip through to gaze at the old visas and smudged stamps, reflecting on past travels. This collection of memories inspires me to plan new trips, write, take photos…basically be more creative.
Earlier this year, I went to Mexico City for the first time. The trip was much shorter than I usually take because my boyfriend and I were heading to a wedding in Cuernavaca two days after our arrival. The problem with short trips is that you either over plan them in an attempt to cram in as many attractions as possible or you allow a combination of serendipity and luck to stumble across a unique experience. Given the traffic, we opted for the former. We popped over to a taco stand first. Touristing at a breakneck pace is always better with carne asada and carnitas topped with nopales. Bellies full, we caught an Uber toward Casa Azul, the former home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
The only other time that I’ve visited a home converted into a museum was the Anne Frank house in the Netherlands. I had forgotten how different the environment feels. In conventional museums, curators isolate objects from their original context, place them behind glass, unify them together in unexpected ways to tell a story, potentially different than the object’s origin. Objects that were belongings become artifacts instead. The white walls, the glass, and the isolation all contribute to a distancing from the objects collected, cuing you to examine them with an objective eye. The placard break down the objects further into component parts: the year, the materials, the method of construction. The whole is the same as the sum of its parts.
As we strolled around her home, I was struck by how the organic human arrangements shifted by interpretation of her life. I’ve seen the biopic Frida and had learn a great deal about her history and artwork as someone who has studied Spanish and lived in Latin America. But I felt a different kind of connection viewing her belongings within her home. When you’re inside someone’s home, everything remains in stasis for the purpose it was intended whether that’s purely functional or an expression of quirks or preference. The books are arranged in a particular way because they were the last ones read by the occupant. The paintbrushes are casually tossed into a cup next to the easel because they were left there to dry.
Visitors can infer a story from the placement of the objects rather than having one told to them through curation. Unlike my old passport stamps, Frida Kahlo’s paints left in a small box in her upstairs studio reveal her creative vision close to the time of her death. Rather than a collection artificially assembled to tell a story of totality or completeness, personal belongings in the home leave clues about functionality and state of mind frozen in time. I feel like I got to know her a bit as a person by walking within her home and seeing the objects she used everyday.
As someone who’s not a collector, I can’t really understand collectors. In a narrow sense, collections are a mode of expressing yourself to the world. I feel like they are more like museum collections: behind the glass and maintained in a bubble. I feel as though seeing found objects has shown the more human side of her that didn’t come through just seeing her artwork. And maybe that’s why I’m not a collector because I would rather my personal human side come through my belongings like my colorful clothing or those journals that I hope no one ever reads except for me.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.