|A dead, giant, plastic spider?|
Usually, it's gathering dust somewhere, under a bed, or blocking up the garage.
If you're like me, it is next to your bed to remind you to use it, but in fact being used as a temporary clothes horse for someone lazy (me).
Its proper function is, of course, as a support for doing core exercises. In our house it is known as the 'sit-up machine'.
I confess it hasn't had a heap of use in that role - I've been too sick, my muscles too wasted, to use it as I once did in my early 20s for toned abs. Instead, it has done time as an impromptu toy for the kids (the best kind), as a material reminder to do my physio exercises (fail), and, finally, as a place for draping whatever was in my hands, like clothes (ahem). My husband describes it in this last role as: "A dead, giant, plastic spider curled up on the floor, hiding under clothes." Yes, he hates it (in case you didn't infer that already).
The particular problem this object highlights is what psychologist Sam Gosling calls 'behavioural residue'. It reveals my habits, which in turn reveal the lack of time and energy I devote in my own space to putting things away in their proper place.
Most of the time, I do clear up mess, especially for the little people who live in my house. But the clutter around this sit-up machine shows up my personal lapses. As Gosling puts it: "the residue of actions that do leave their mark can tell us a lot about a person's traits, values and goals."
James Laver, theorist of taste and fashion, made a similar point about observation, decades earlier, when he wrote of what can be learned behind the scenes: "A more urban observer might... pick up from a woman's dressing table, or from the floor of her bedroom, no matter what trifle. It would tell him more of woman than most of the sages can..."
Why are these lapses important?
Sociologist Erving Goffman thought we were all trying to present ourselves to others in a particular (usually flattering) light. We are all like actors upon the stage, following scripts and trying to manage others' impressions of us - trying not to let anything slip that might discredit us.
In the glimpses backstage, we are exposed. The things we hide or cannot see are revealed to us and others. It's no coincidence that the sit-up machine sits in my bedroom where I get ready for the day's performance.
Of course, there is a degree of subjectivity to the interpretation of behavioural residue. These might not be big things, or even the slightest bit discrediting - one person's 'mess' and 'disorder' is another's idea of 'cosy' and 'warm' - but they often can point up a blind spot in our character. The spot where the normally consciousness person is slapdash.
As an experiment, I've sent the detested sit-up machine on its way to the garage. What will happen to my behavioural residue? Watch this slightly bigger, neater space.
|Look at all that space waiting to be claimed!|