Surround Yourself with What You Love Most!

(My desk—while I was writing this blog—surrounded by some of the things I love and enjoy)

“I believe your home tells a story about who you are and who you aspire to be. We represent ourselves through the things we own. I don’t believe in trends. I believe in collecting things that you connect with. We should surround ourselves with things we care about, that have meaning.” -Nate Berkus

Some of my earliest memories as a young boy were Sunday dinners at Grandma Manning’s home. I think that one of the reasons I remember those dinners so well, was the fact that “Grandma Connie” always set the table with her best china. I can remember how special I felt sitting down at Grandma’s dining room table with its beautifully embroidered table cloth, lovely china and silver settings, and serving plates and dishes full of delicious food.

When I became an adult, I realized that the vividness of those early memories was due, in part, to the fact that what Grandma Connie did was unusual. I came to learn that most people with beautiful china and silver service only used them for “very special occasions.” To Grandma Connie, every meal with her extended family was a “very special occasion.”

When Grandma Connie passed, my wife and I inherited a piece of her china which was slightly faded from having been used for so many “very special occasions” over the years. Grandma’s philosophy was to surround yourself with the things you love and then use and enjoy them.

Grandma Connie’s example rubbed off on me as a young lad. When I received or purchased something I really liked, I wouldn’t store it in a box, I’d display it where I could enjoy looking at it—and be reminded to use it! Thus, our family room and my bedroom often had machines I created with my Erector Set; buildings I made with my Lincoln Logs, American Bricks, and Kenner Girders; new slot car layouts—and more—on display. Surrounding myself with the things I loved most brought me great joy then and has continued to bring me great joy throughout my entire life.

I am so fortunate that I married a woman who is also passionate about surrounding herself with the things she loves most—including her “Old Boy” (ha!).

A few years back, after a trip to Mexico to go scuba diving and explore the ruins at Chichen Itza, we purchased a large set of colorful tableware to remind us of our adventure. My wife carefully stored them in our cupboards. Then, one evening in the middle of the week, she called me for dinner. To my surprise, our table was set with a festive tablecloth and our colorful, Mexican tableware. I was overjoyed with the visual sensation.

When I asked my wife, “What’s the occasion?” She responded, “I decided that we don’t need a ‘special occasion’ to enjoy our beautiful dishes.” We both started laughing as we agreed that our beautiful dishes were not purchased to sit behind cupboard doors but to bring pizzazz to our dinner table!

When people first visit our home, they are often surprised by the visual overload they experience as they enter the front door. In fact, numerous guests have described our living room as a “boutique shop.” Kristie and I take that as a compliment. We have filled our home—not just our living room—with the things we love most, which we have collected over a lifetime. It is so fun to see what things people are drawn to as they survey our living space. Because each of our treasures has a story behind it, we enjoy sharing those stories as people admire the objects. Here are a few of our treasures:

The first picture shows some of the art we have collected, some of the art I have created, shadow boxes that contain special mementos, and some of our books.

The second picture shows a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed aluminum box, some of my sea shells, a shadow box with ancient ammonite fossils from the Cretaceous Period that I collected in Central Utah, and a display I made with sand from near the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

The third picture shows my Matchbox Car collection and some of our antique bottle collection.

The fourth picture shows my mineral cabinet with some of the specimens in my collection (many of which, I personally collected in the field).

The first picture shows some of the “glass” we have collected, including three, framed mosaics we purchased from the same gallery on three, separate trips to Maui.

The second picture shows a pyrite dodecahedron from Bingham Canyon; Seashells from Galveston Island in Texas; sand from Kauai, Hawaii; coral from a beach on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico; various pieces of pottery we have collected; a polished slab of coprolite (fossilized dinosaur dung) from the Jurassic Period from Utah; and a vase full of Utah Wonderstone (colorful, banded rhyolite).

The table in the first picture contains native american art and artifacts; kaleidoscopes; one of my pen & ink drawings of Florence, Italy; a print of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night;” fossil fish; and a model of the Space Shuttle which was a gift from a client (ATK).

The second picture shows a portion of my sand and pebble collection (in four dram vials). I have specimens from all over the world—many were gifts from my friends.

The third picture is a case with more of my sea shell collection.

Those of you who have had the experience of sorting through a loved one’s earthly possessions, after they have passed, have undoubtedly experienced the following. As you go through the boxes, bags, drawers, etc., you inevitably find items that are still wrapped and new as the day they were purchased. You may have found wonderful collections of interesting items that you hadn’t even been aware they collected. As you proceed, there comes a realization that many of those “treasures” don’t mean the same thing to you that they meant to your deceased loved one, so you sell them or give them away. As you go through this process, you probably wonder why they never used those things or displayed them where they could have enjoyed them more.

My wife and I have made a pact with each other that when we buy, collect, or receive things we really treasure, we will display them in our home and enjoy them while we have life. We both know—and have even been told by our children—that many of our treasures will not mean to them what they meant to us.

I encourage all of us to take an inventory of our personal “treasures” and decide whether they might bring us more joy if they were displayed where we could see, enjoy, and use them on a more regular basis. In closing, I’d like to thank my Grandma Connie for sharing her treasured china and silver service with her family on “special occasions,” which occurred every time we got together to share Sunday dinner—or dinner on any other day.

“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere—in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love…When we experience the beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”  -John O’Donohue

-Mark Swain

2 thoughts on “Surround Yourself with What You Love Most!

  1. While reading your post I was reminded of my own grandma and the awesome dinners we ate at the home of our grandparents. Those sweet memories. I have a piece of her China in my kitchen. I have many souvenirs from my travels in Asia. I went there 17 times in different countries. I love having collections and artwork to display in my home. They are my personal treasures!

    1. Connie, I’m happy that my post was a catalyst in bringing back such sweet memories for you. I believe the little treasures we are drawn to collect provide touchstones for special memories and the joy they brought to us. Having those little remembrances around us allows us to relive those special experiences and re-experience the original joy they brought to us.

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