Mementos vs Minimalism

Updated: Oct 15, 2018


by Carmel MacPherson

For me, one of my favorite past-times is to bring back with me a memento from my travels—something that will take me back to that special place or experience when I look at it, hold it, use it.


I like to gaze at two beautiful blue vases that are now on my window sill. I am suddenly back inside a small shed in a remote northern part of the western coast of Scotland. It was here that my road-trip companion, Annie, and I saw a hand-written sign on the side of the road that took us up a road, then a track and finally to a private property where we found these beautiful objects (along with views that were breathtaking). I left with two blue vases, wondering how on earth I was going to get them back to Australia unbroken.


Back in Canberra, I picked up a small yellow vase, and I am back inside the place I bought it—the Forbidden City in Beijing!

I imagine what everyday life must have been like when it was filled with gorgeous gardens and an elite who could never imagine a person like me, from a continent they had never heard of, standing where they lived and loved, gazing at some of the same old trees that they gazed upon.


And then there is the Spode plate I found in a remote part of Utah when Annie and I were road-tripping from Boise to Los Angeles via Yosemite and Death Valley. If I turn slightly I can now see three items: one was bought in Los Angeles many years ago and was made by Adam Cramer, a very talented sculptor from Los Angeles.

Artist: Adam Cramer

Another is a thin circular vase on a stand that I found at the back of a shelf in a fishing village one hour south of Venice. I knew that it was a perfect book-end to Adam’s stunning sculpture. Between the two are a number of 'single flower' vases I bought at Fallingwater—that amazing house built in rural southern Pennsylvania by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was another road trip with Annie from Pittsburgh to northern Arkansas.




My kitchen plates are a totally disparate collection of plates and bowls that I have collected from strange places all over the world, and every time I use one of them I am back on that road, in that town, village or city, and I am smiling.


Dorothy Dunnet’s spirit (author of the brilliant Lymond Chronicles) sits beside me now as I glance at the bowl I bought in the wilds of Turkey.

In my mind's eye, I am now in the Topkapi Palace in Constantinople where Dorothy took me so many decades ago as part of the travels of her hero, Frances Crawford. Dorothy is the reason I even went to Turkey! I fiddle with the lapus-lazuli ring I bought at a second-hand shop in Chicago and remember Frances’s words to Phillipa:

I shall send gems of lapis lazuli: I shall make her fields into vineyards and her love into orchards…”

I love soaps! For the past month I have been bathing in Loch Lomond! Well, not quite, but the sensual soap I bought at Loch Lomond fills the bathroom, and I am smiling.

I look at my grand-daughter’s gifts for her 18th birthday—a collection gathered over 12 months from many places: some clothing from Lake Como and the Galleries Lafayette in Paris. Annie and I were only in the Galleries Lafayette because we wanted to see the beautiful stained-glass dome in the Tea Room.

Back at home I pick up a mug I bought at the Palais Garnier. Every time I drink from it I am back at that gloriously extravagant building, not only re-living scenes from Highlander that were shot there but also re-watching the ballet dancers rehearsing for some grand performance.


For decades I have been a Richard III fan and was overwhelmed when his body was rediscovered. As I sip my Lady Grey tea and wrap my hands around my mug I am back in Leicester Cathedral, paying homage at the new tomb of the last Plantagenet king of England.

I won’t even go into my many scarves. They wrap me up in memories of the Musee de Cluny or that little shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. What a find those 3 ruby glass dishes were from a boot sale in Queens—and a little white dish from a market in Rome—and beautiful books all loved and read by another decades (and centuries) ago!


So, where does minimalism come into this? Recently I radically downsized to a 1-bedroom apartment in Canberra. I love the concept of minimalism from a sustainability point of view and agree that we have too much 'stuff.' I have ruthlessly culled my wardrobe, art works, books (!!!), and crockery. Every month I take more items to local thrift shops.


I understand why some find it very easy: the more mind-driven, pragmatic and adaptable. I am adaptable, like change and variety, but am heart-driven. This will never change and thus, I fear, I will continue to bring home with me items that are rich in memories and make me smile.


For me, one of my favorite past-times is to bring back with me a memento from my travels—something that will take me back to that special place or experience when I look at it, hold it, use it.

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