One important lesson I learned as a child was to regularly evaluate everything I owned and throw away whatever was simply taking up space. I never liked doing it, but I had to do it anyway. If I looked at it and had no attachment to it, I had to throw it away because each thing took up space and it contributed to the weight of household goods that had to be carried from one place to another.
Sometimes things actually had negative feelings associated with them — they were only being kept out of a sense of obligation, not due to attachment or any perceived need — and those things also needed to be discarded.
I can’t say that this kind of decluttering ever became a habit, but it did become something I was used to doing. Probably the personal habit that developed out of this practice was the habit of carefully segregating anything I didn’t want to accidentally lose through the process of purging. Anything that I expected to value over time had to be categorized as part of a collection in order to assign it a collective value, a value through association with other examples of a type.
On the other hand, there were always a few items of unknown value. At the time they were acquired they seemed intuitively to have some value, but I wasn’t sure why. They couldn’t be categorized except as miscellaneous items, usually acquired without intention. Over time, I found when looking at these things, which at some point I might have called “treasures,” that the intuition had vanished and I could not remember what potential value they had.
After I was separated from the circumstances and viewpoint when these items were acquired, it seemed like their potential value had been imputed according to no principle. I could rationalize why they might have value, but I could not rationalize why they must have value; and this is a distinction of temporary preferences. Without the intuition in place, it was obvious that these things had not only no market value and no utilitarian application, but also no lasting attachment.
The only significance of an object representing a temporary preference is historical or archaeological. Historical significance is defined by a narrative, whether contemporaneous or retrospective. Archaeological significance is assigned based on material evidence or location, and then is placed within a historical narrative. Both are social processes of assigning meaning.
For years I would look over such items and imagine constructing a narrative around them that would give them significance. Sometimes I had boxed them up and stored them so that I wouldn’t have to figure out their significance, but then occasionally I would find them again, look at them in bewilderment, then store them again without determining their significance explicitly.
The significance of these relics was, indeed, that they were things I had kept only because, despite having no use and no value, they might have a meaning which I had not figured out yet. My account of my life, my personal mythology, included these things only because it seemed that by contemplation of them I might eventually discern a secret about myself.
But the missing element is the social construction of meaning. Without a shared narrative, there is no secret meaning, no key to understanding, no prophetic symbolism. There is only the evidence of an obsession to collect an artifact of preference — a passing feeling that has no meaning by itself. Having a hoard of disconnected artifacts does not elevate their significance; rather, it highlights a lack of meaning.