Life in the past lane
Here’s my confession: I am a low-level hoarder. I wear that badge with pride, so I’m quite happy to display it. I know exactly where I get this characteristic from – my mother. A few months ago, I spent couple of hours in my parents’ attic. I went up there for a specific reason which was to find a racing-green, glass jar that my mum was given by a German friend in the 1970s and which graced the ‘best room’ in our Yorkshire family home throughout my childhood. The need to rediscover this jar was triggered by re-decorating my own house. I’d seen something very similar in an Interiors magazine, which sparked my memory. But, did the jar survive the pre-move clear-out when my parents upped sticks and settled in Nottinghamshire several years ago?
I could always check out the website referenced in the magazine and buy a brand-new green jar but, if I did that, it would be devoid of any nostalgic association and, I have come to learn, I am a big fan of nostalgia. Most decorative items (and some furniture) in my home are somewhat old. Old things have a story to tell and that appeals to me.
My husband is the opposite of a hoarder (I cannot find a definitive term for this). When I arrived home with a boot-full of nostalgia, you can imagine the look on his face. What else did I discover in Aladdin’s attic? A pair of 1980s adjustable roller skates, an electronic battleships game, a porcelain figurine of Victoria Plum and my collection of erasers – or rubbers, as we called them at school – now bearing the sweet scent of nostalgia. Before you imagine my house looking like the Museum Of Childhood, please be assured that this is not the case. There are no dolls in glass cabinets.
The highlight of my stint in the attic was the discovery of several cases full of vinyl. I picked records out at random remembering a time when I had been newly trusted to play them on my mum’s music centre. While I’m sure there are plenty of folk who grew up with their parents’ music, I wonder how many other British children grew up listening to German beer-drinking songs. The funny thing is, it seemed very normal to me at the time.
The discovery of the vinyl was sending me on a whole new nostalgic journey. I plucked out Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers LP followed by Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, my first 7″. These records were played hundreds of times in the ’80s and I’m happy they’ve made it through to 2020 where I can still touch and hold and play them (and use the sleeves as art work if I wish). It got me wondering: how will it work for my own Spotify-generation kids when they get older? Does it have the same effect in a digital age? Will they ask their friends what the first tune they downloaded or streamed was? Maybe, but with so much music available to them at any time of day, will they even remember? Is it the same as saving up your pocket money, making a trip to your local record store and bringing home a shiny new 33 or 45, perhaps even in limited-edition-coloured vinyl?
Do my kids listen to the music of their mother’s childhood? Of course – they even have it on their Spotify playlists. Are they familiar with German beer-drinking songs? Maybe, but what’s evident is that they are happy to come along for the ride whilst I indulge in nostalgia and they discover Wham! and Five Star. Although they are too young to be nostalgic themselves, they show signs of nostalgic empathy. My son told me recently of a swimmer who wore his dad’s goggles during a race and a girl who used her mum’s tennis racket to win a match. These coveted items had been cherished and kept safe ready for those special moments. I’m sure there are many parents who have introduced their children to the concept of a memory box, in which such items can be kept.
Research has shown that re-visiting childhood memories evokes an emotion of belonging; we can’t get enough of that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes over us when presented with positive references from our past. In fact, the very nature of nostalgia has been proven to hold many psychological benefits. It makes people feel connected and – importantly – want to connect. It should come as no surprise to learn that brand marketers are using the nostalgia tool to connect with audiences. Using this technique enables us to reach people on an emotional level, creating a deeper sense of engagement. And there’s more.
Educational psychologist Jonathan Plucker says “nostalgia enables people to access more information in their brain which provides more material for creativity.” The sense of belonging, meaning and security enables us to open ourselves up to explore fresh concepts new experiences. Of course, nostalgia is just one item in our creative toolkit but if we merge the two together, we have creative collaboration which gives us the power to develop meaningful solutions. What if nostalgia is the key to unlocking new ideas?
My interior magazines tell me to de-clutter and only keep items which are either beautiful or have a purpose but I have another set of criteria – does it tell a story? My own Aladdin’s attic is shaping up nicely – is yours? What nostalgic item or event tells an important story about you?
Janina Monahan blogs over on Insta @styleatthehutch