Early in 2017, my boyfriend and I decided to have a clear out. We were adamant that we would get rid of all the things that we have accumulated but no longer use. As Marie Kondo says, if things didn't "spark joy" in our lives, they would be gone. We got rid of a lot. A LOT. Old clothes, books, kitchen appliances and DVDs were the main offenders. There were some surprises along the way - we weren't sure how we had come to acquire seven cheese graters that were taking up an entire kitchen drawer.
Less clutter feels AMAZING. After the clear out, the house was easier on the eye, easier to tidy and easier to maintain. It's often said that for maximum happiness, we should spend money on experiences, not things. I could see why - I didn’t miss anything, and in fact, I didn't even know it was gone.
However, the cup cupboard was a different story. It was overflowing with different ragtag mugs precariously balanced on top of each other. My boyfriend was rubbing his hands together with eager anticipation at this moment, ready to tackle the mug mess. The following is exactly how our conversation went:
"Okay Alison, what about these mugs? I never liked these, they are too small". He showed me a set of mini-tankard style green and white striped mugs.
"No, you can't throw those away! My ex-team gave them to me as a leaving present. You know that time when you made me leave the job I loved to come live with you?!" He sheepishly places the mugs back into the cupboard.
"This one?" A clear glass cup with a small, round handle is waved in my face.
"No, that's when we went to Amsterdam! You can't get rid of that. Plus I enjoy having my green tea in that one. You can watch all the leaves unfurl and it's really pretty." Boyfriend starts shaking his head in quiet desperation.
"Okay, what about this pug mug. You can’t even drink out of it comfortably. Surely this one can go to charity?" He points to a mug that is the shape of a pug, exactly as its name implies.
"You bought that for me as inspiration for starting whattamug! That is like my good luck omen. We are definitely keeping it!"
Reader, you may be sensing a theme here….
My boyfriend's patience rapidly evaporated, and he politely suggested I go through the cupboard and select the mugs I no longer wanted. After a few minutes clanging around, I pulled out one purple flowery cup. "Here you go!" I announce, proudly. "I don't know where this one comes from, and I don't like it because the purple makes my drinks look weird."
"Just one?! You are only getting rid of one? Is that it?!!" He looked at me incredulously.
"Yep. All the others have memories! Someone gave them to us for some reason, or we got them on holiday. Your mum gave us these when we moved into our first apartment (blue striped mug). Your sister gave me this one for Christmas (white and pink floral mug). Your Gran gave you this for graduating (big white mug saying "Best Graduate"). They all mean something and have memories! I can't get rid of them." I close the cupboard door and pat it gently. "It's alright babe, we have more space now if we want to spread out - the cheese grater drawer is almost empty."
So while the rest of my house is as bare as an Ikea showroom, the cup cupboard has pretty much remained in its messy entirety.
It turns out that mugs tell our stories. Each of the mugs in my cupboard is no longer just a functional object to me. In the process of acquiring them, they have become entwined with experiences and emotion. Each time I use one, it reminds me of happy memories; what was happening at that time, or who gave it to me. In fact, each mug is a souvenir of a particular moment in my life and I won't be getting rid of them any time soon.
This experience was a big reason why I created whattamug! Yes, mugs are just mugs. But they can also be powerful reminders of who we are, where we have been, and where we want to go.