Monday, September 3, 2012

morally superior souvenirs

Having just gotten back from a vacation, this New York Times article seems appropriate since it talks about the positive side to souvenirs. It's also a scathing retort to minimalists who use "living with less" as a way of making themselves feel morally superior. Perfect for those of you who have gotten sick of "I'm right, you're wrong minimalism."

My truth is somewhere in the middle. Souvenirs do matter to me. I'm a visual person and I like reminders of the fun I've had in life. 

But there gets to be a point where my souvenirs aren't doing their job efficiently. They multiply to the point where each one doesn't mean much. I can turn anything into a souvenir. Program from my 3rd grade cello concert? Check. Cereal box written in French and English from my family's trip to Canada? Check. Receipt from the bookstore in Austria where I bought the third Harry Potter book the day it came out? Check. 

Needing utterly useless and relatively (or completely) meaningless items to serve as reminders of the past can be a symptom of hoarding. I know this has been a problem for me in the past so I'm trying to reduce the numbers of souvenirs I collect, and to make the ones I do collect worthwhile. 

Last week the hubs and I went to Puerto Rico, checking one place to visit off my list of things I'd do if I won the lottery. I made a conscious effort this time to only pick a souvenir or two. The souvenirs needed to be either useful or *extremely* interesting. I only got two: 

1. A rock.

No kidding, I needed a doorstop at home because we have windows on three sides of our unit and the breeze is constantly making the doors slam. Found it washed up on the beach at our hotel. It's a five-pound coral skeleton and it's a great reminder of the coral we saw when we went snorkeling. 

2. Photos! 
At the Arecibo dish!
This was the photo I saw on a website that made me want to visit Puerto Rico
These are my own pictures of the place in that photo:

An artsy picture of the husband sitting on the wall in the picture that made me want to visit Puerto Rico
One of the world's top ten beaches...on a cloudy day

But that's it. A rock and some photos. I almost ponied up for a diffuser of the intoxicating fragrance that filled the open-air hallways at our hotel. But I refuse to buy anything directly from the hotel and it's available online from the family company that makes it so I can buy it anytime. Maybe I'll ask for it as a Christmas gift.

I like getting souvenirs after the fact. So much is available online direct from overseas retailers. That way I can take the time to decide if they're really worth it.

My engagement ring was actually one of those. Ten years ago I studied abroad in Spain. It was one of the best experiences of my life. While I was there the Crown Prince got engaged and this was the ring he gave to his fiancee, Letizia:

I was completely head-over-heels in all of the royal wedding craziness. So three years ago when my husband proposed and asked me to design my own ring, I jumped at the chance to make myself a reminder of the Boda Real (royal wedding) that I enjoyed so much to bring a little luck to my own marriage. My ring is the same style as Letizia's but in the yellow gold that I prefer (and the smaller price tag that my husband preferred). It's a bit of me, a bit of my husband, and a bit of a reminder of two of my fondest memories all in one object, and I think my favorite souvenir of any adventure in my life.

What's your take on souvenirs? Are they worth it? What were your most/least worthwhile souvenirs?


  1. Love, love, LOVE that coral doorstop!

    I get a bit torn on souvenirs. As a kid, I saved the oddest stuff, like a napkin from the Smithsonian where my sister broke this glass piece that you set your trays on in the cafeteria. You know, the important things ;) Now with kids, I have to resist the urge to bring them souvenirs. For our Newport Beach trip, I brought home some seashells from the beach and note pad from the hotel. As for stuff for me, I generally just bring home the hotel soaps since 1. I can use it and 2. it reminds me of the nice hotels haha. Otherwise, if I bring gifts, I tend to bring consumables, like foods specific to the area visited. Although, I've already planned on getting the boys UT shirts for trip to Austin later this month lol. Long winded--but consumables, hotel toiletries, and found natural objects.

    1. Are your kids good about not begging for souvenirs when they go on trips with you? my sister and I *always* had to stop at the gift shop any time we went anywhere to buy things for ourselves. I love the idea of using the free things you get along the way like soaps as souvenirs. I think this was the first trip where I thought to take the free stuff that well, floated my way.

      and OMG, are you guys moving to Austin? For some reason I thought it was San Antonio. Anyways, I'll definitely be there in May 2014 for a conference and hopefully sooner. We used to live there and had a blast! Lake Austin is always beautiful and good for lots of free fun. What an awesome town. Have fun!

  2. My mum brings me souvenirs from when she goes on holiday as a thank you for looking after her cat- she usually brings me something to knit or something to eat, or something pracical like a cheese dome (I eat a lot of cheese!) or slippers. So far they have all been useful!

    I think photos are one of the best souvenirs, if you cull out the rubbish ones (I always have rubbish ones) when you get clutter is a think I need to deal with!

    I used to go to each gift shop we visited on holiday and be disappointed if there was not something there that I wanted to buy...

    1. Yup, that was me as well, looking in every shop. It's still hard to tell myself that I shouldn't even go in.

      But you're absolutely right, the photo clutter is the next thing I'll have to deal with!

  3. I'm in the middle too. I no longer find appeal in the things they sell in souvenir shops; I even purged my shot glass collection. I do however sometimes buy things that catch my eye. I have a thing for Finnish glass, like Iitala. I tend to find things I have to have when going out of the country though.

    And most useless souvenir? Probably those shot glasses.

    1. I contemplated the shot glasses for a while. My sister actually has a collection and it never gets used and I think that convinced me not to start a collection. Sounds like you've found something worthwhile that you really love!

  4. I've never been big on souvenirs, but my favorite one ever is a small machete I bought in El Salvador. I could have just hung it up somewhere (it has a decorative sheath with El Salvador tooled into the leather), but instead I have used for everything from chopping bushes to large branches, cutting watermelons and other food.

    So, it's a working souvenir!

    1. Now *that*'s a practical souvenir! Love it!

      You've made some pretty powerful posts on your blog lately and I'm really sorry I haven't responded to them yet. They're such important topics that I don't want to write something fluffy in response. But I'm really inspired by the strength you've had and what you've gotten yourself through. You're awesome.

    2. Thanks! I'm glad you found those last few posts to be of interest. A lot issues that people have are related and I'm trying to see what mine are. The OCD is especially something that was hard to understand and deal with.

      And it's OK not to immediately respond, or at all! It's nice to have responses, but it isn't necessary :)

  5. As a kid I collected all kinds of souvenirs - keyrings, bookmarks, pencils, even those little fluffy bugs for a while. Nowadays I like to get postcards as they're light and are always much better photographs than I can take! But my new thing is fridge magnets from each place I visit so everytime I open the fridge I'm reminded of some great holidays. Love your new doorstop!

  6. The story of your ring is awesome!
    Also - Puerto Rico is super nice, too. Hope you enjoyed yourself while there!

  7. I'm with you on taking pictures as souvenirs, and, it's not very minimalist of me, but I like to get a piece of jewelry or perfume when I'm on vacation.
    Your post made me think of the piece of the Berlin Wall I found in one of Squirrel's stashes. I kept it simply because it's a piece of the Berlin Wall, but we haven't looked at it since.
    My immediate thought was - I should chuck it, but maybe it just needs to become a door stop. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Love the pictures too. You look so happy. : )

  8. I'm not big on souvenirs. That said, I hate to travel. We did go to Carlsbad Caverns one year at my urging and I bought myself a mini diorama of one of the caverns. It was housed in a little box and I fell in love with it because I remember seeing it on one of the shelves in my dad's workshop and so it had double meaning--it reminded me of my adult visit to the caverns and my childhood sitting and watching my dad in his shop. Hubby took it from me and put it in his room so it now ruined by the layers of dust. I guess ultimately it didn't mean that much to me if I never noticed it got removed from my stuff and put into the dirt cave.

    Another bizarre souvenir (or maybe it is a memento???) I have is the curved metal pipe that a shower head goes on. My grandmother in law (the same one who returned things to Target all the time) was ill and dying (although at that time we didn't know that) and wanted a shower head on a flexible tub thing--what are they called? Shower massagers? My little brother came over and replaced her shower head with it and kept the metal tube. It had a rounded end he kept poking it with me. We went to visit granny at the hospital and the only parking was handicapped. Suddenly he unzips his fly and pull the head of this shower fixture out of his pants and says I can park here I have an artificial penis! It broke the tension we'd had for weeks and we laughed until we howled. The artificial penis kept showing up in random places in my life from time to time as my brother moved it around so I would it unexpectedly. It is still around and it makes me smile and laugh whenever I see it.


Please be kind :o)

If you try to advertise your online business by writing a comment on this blog, please don't bother because I will delete it.