Reclamation and Renewal: The Museum of Wellbeing

It’s amazing how STUFF accumulates. I’ve always considered myself pretty good at having regular sort-outs, but I realised over lockdown how much I’ve got in drawers and cupboards that is just sitting there, taking up space. So, like many others, I’ve been making a real effort to have a big old sort out.

The sorting out process is quite a strange one. There are even programmes and books telling us how to do it (Does it ‘Spark Joy’?? If not, out it goes.) I’ve noticed I seem to put things into two categories. Firstly – use. Do I use it regularly? Will I be using it again in the future? If yes, it stays. Then there’s sentimentality, and general how-much-I-like-it-ness, and I find this one a lot harder. I’ve got some candlesticks that were bought as a wedding present, and if I’m honest I really don’t like them, and yet… there they still are, sitting on the shelf. I’ve got drawings and letters my children did when they were small, and things I’ve inherited from grandparents, and all kinds of other objects that might not have monetary value, but are invested with feelings and memories. And these are the things I find much harder to let go of.

We often hear that we live in a throwaway society, and this is hard to argue with, as any glance at landfill-related statistics would tell us. But despite this, keeping special things seems to be a very common trait. Many of us have cabinets or shelves at home on which we display important objects, and sometimes there’s even a hierarchy … My Nana for example puts things she values a lot on her mantelpiece, with less important things in other places. Viewed in this way, our homes become almost like little museums or galleries, curated by us.

The importance of objects, and particularly of reclaiming and renewing old objects, seems to have heightened during the pandemic. Perhaps in part this was because suddenly last year it became harder to actually get new things. I remember trying to order some DIY supplies and they just weren’t available … so we had to make do with what we had at home. Take a TV programme like The Repair Shop, which is now so popular it has shifted to a prime-time slot. There’s definite pleasure in watching the crafts associated with renovating old things, but perhaps the crux of the programme is seeing the meaning behind these reclaimed objects (and often there’s a few tears at the end). They seem to hold memories and feelings in a way that links the person to other people, places and times, so very different from something that might be shiny and new, but entirely without meaning.  

The idea that objects can help us in difficult times isn’t new. Perhaps you or someone you know had a teddy or a blanket as a child that went everywhere, and had such importance that if lost (or even washed) it would cause great distress. Donald Winnicott wrote in the 1970s about these ‘transitional objects’, which can form a link between the child and the outside world, and help them to navigate anxiety. So object meaning perhaps has little to do with use or monetary value, but rather is tied closely to our feelings, and who we are as people. And as much as these objects can be reclaimed and restored, so too can our wellbeing, even if it feels a bit rusty or dusty or hidden away.

As part of our series on reclaiming wellbeing, the Health and Wellbeing team have been reflecting on objects (or even concepts) that we would put in our virtual ‘Museum of Wellbeing’. We’re no Stephen Spielberg, but we’ve recorded some short videos discussing our entries. Check out the WGU Instagram stories @glyndwruni for their world premier!

We’d love you to get involved too. What would your entry for the Museum of Wellbeing be? Why not share your ideas on our Facebook @glyndwrhealth or Twitter @glyndwrhealth and help to inspire others to re-claim their wellbeing! 


Written by Rachel Byron, who is a lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at WGU.