When to let go: old clothes and using possessions to create character.

I know I’m not alone in finding it difficult to let go. Whether it’s letting go of the past, a person or a place a lot of these feelings can manifest in our possessions, making it hard to let go of physical items.

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I kept a holey, shrunken dress for years just because I wore it on the first date with my boyfriend. It was also a great dress that went with everything and could be worn in all seasons with the help of layering, sigh I still miss it. Then, finally, when the fourth hole appeared in the dress, I let it go. That first date is in the past now and I will find a new great dress to wear.

It’s interesting how our belongings are not just objects but things that signify emotions, memories and relationships. I often explore this in my writing, from throwing things away to trying to figure out a person through their clothes. Thinking about your characters’ possessions is really helpful for developing compelling, real characters.

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As far as my own possessions go, I’ve become increasingly dedicated to throwing out unwanted clothes. As an ex-hoarder, I have to fight against the urge to cling onto my possessions and now I try to donate clothes that don’t fit, are uncomfortable, broken beyond repair or that I simply don’t enjoy wearing.

But interrogating why I want to hold onto certain items has helped me consider the ways in which our objects can reflect our traits. I wonder what my own possessions say about my personality and came up with a few ideas. Our possessions – and especially our clothes – can become a security blanket, a source of nostalgia, a confidence boost and more.

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Of course, in the context of stories, objects can also be plot devices, symbols, images or a source of conflict. But they can also be intrinsic to character. It’s hard to imagine Lyra from His Dark Materials without her Alethiometer or Gatsby without his silk shirts. Equally, possessions can play a less integral role, serving instead as little details that bring a character to life.

Thinking about why I own certain things and my characters’ possessions has been a really useful exercise for developing my characters. Of course, this is quite an obvious tip and, to some extent, I was already doing this. But now that I’m interrogating my own possessions, I am able to do this with more clarity.

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I’ve been doing some reading on the subject of possessions recently too. An article about cleaning out a late relative’s house describes possessions as one’s exoskeleton. And Ron Carey’s poem, Upstairs in which the speaker’s late father’s overcoat triggers a change in the speaker’s identity has also stuck with me.

I’m not sure how cohesive this blog was but I’m experimenting with this more casual stream-of-consciousness style blog that *hopefully* also has something interesting to say about writing.

Do you like having clear outs or do you tend to hoard your possessions? And if you write, do you sit down and decide your characters’ key possessions?

One Comment Add yours

  1. alicegristle says:

    I used to be a hoarder, esp. with books! 🙂 But after I moved and had a skirmish with bedbugs, I did 180. These days, I try to keep only those books I know I’m going to re-read some day.

    You also made me think about another thing related to possessions. What do you think about adopting a hoarder/discarder attitude toward texts? As in, should we throw out our old pieces of writing, or hold fast to them? I know some writers have this “every word is sacred” attitude, and they never delete anything. And certainly with digital storage, it’s easy to do. But ever since “The Master and Margarita” I’ve been thinking, could an attitude opposite to that be beneficial?

    Also, your post was very readable. Clearly this more casual style of yours works! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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