Feeling sorry for inanimate objects.

Originally posted on April 3, 2017

I’m posting this again because today I felt sorry for an ironing board.

My neighbors moved last week and left their ironing board out for the trash. A few days ago I looked at it and saw that it was intact. I hoped someone would rescue it and take it home (I don’t iron so I have no use for it). It was never picked up. Instead, some mean person broke its legs. That made me much sadder than it should have.

Here is the original post.


Credit: Danielle Hamer Photography/Abandoned Objects

I saw someone’s tweet today that caught my attention because I could relate to its sentiment.

True story @ work tonite I completely crushed a paper cup out of stress at work & almost threw it away but felt bad for the cup so I used it. 

And a few minutes later:

This falls under the same category as me feeling sad after accidentally stepping on an ant, but worse.

I thought I was the only one who ever had these absurd feelings of remorse or pity for inanimate objects, but apparently I’m not.

I remember a couple of years ago, when I was painting my kitchen Kelly green, I accidentally flung some of the paint from my brush all over a small throw pillow that had somehow wound up on the kitchen floor and I’d neglected to pick up and bring to safety.  (Don’t ask me how it wound up on the kitchen floor).   A small fake-velvet tan pillow with floral embroidery was permanently ruined with Kelly green paint and it was all my fault.  I had to throw it away and I felt like weeping.

How absurd is that?  I was never attached to that pillow; it was worth nothing.  I probably found it for a buck at some yard sale, but I remember feeling like the worst person in the world because the thing looked so pathetic with lurid green paint splattered over its delicate tan velvet adorned with Chinese-factory made embroidery.

I remember when my daughter was four, she tossed a Pound Puppy out of our car window to see what would happen to it.   Of course I had to keep going, but in my rearview mirror,  I saw the car behind me run over the stuffed toy and flatten it like a pancake.  Its petroleum-based stuffing exploded all over the road like popcorn.   My daughter laughed.  I felt inexplicably sad.

There have been other times like that too.   Like the time that, in frustration, I threw a paperback book (one I’d never read and never intended to read) against the wall and split its binding.  Or  the other time I accidentally burned a cheap oven mitt that had a cute lattice-like pattern on it.     I actually liked that oven mitt, but it had cost me $3 at Dollar General.   There were a gazillion more just like it. Besides, it was intended to be stuck inside a hot oven.   Getting burned was one of the risks that came with its intended use.

None of these were valuable objects, or even objects that had any special meaning to me.  They were just part of the background — things I’d acquired and that were just there.   Things I never thought much about.    Of course I realized they had no feelings, and could feel neither emotional or physical pain.   I’m not an idiot.

And yet, when bad things happened to them — or worse, when I did bad things to them — I felt just terrible, as if I’d killed someone.   Would these inexplicable feelings of guilt had been less had I loved those objects or had they been valuable, either financially or in the sentimental sense?    Maybe I’d have grieved over their loss but have been spared that guilt.   After all, those poor objects were never loved, and then were destroyed through my own carelessness.  Maybe if I’d cared, I wouldn’t have done things like spill green paint all over them or thrown them hard against a wall in frustration.

Sometimes I also feel bad for abandoned or neglected objects.    There’s a website I visit sometimes called Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos.  The site owner has a bizarre obsession with those ubiquitous plastic outdoor chairs.   He or she calls them the “garden chairs of solitude” and positions them in poignant configurations that just rip your heart out, like in this photo:


“Garden chairs of solitude”

Whenever I rescue some forgotten or abandoned object from certain destruction by the trash compactor that barrels down the road every Monday, I feel like I’ve done a good thing for it, as if the thing actually cares.


9 thoughts on “Feeling sorry for inanimate objects.

  1. I that wide diversity of “primitive” religion called Animism there is the belief that all things, even the rocks and waters, let alone all living things, have spirits or are home to spirits. I think that even 5,000 years of “civilization” and more formal gods have not been sufficient to extinguish that feeling entirely. Although it may seem silly at times, perhaps that is not a bad thing.

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  2. I know stuff are just things but those things can give us some joy and something comforting. When I prepare to part with something I always say thank you for your service to me or my family. It sounds nuts but it gives me some closure.

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    • That’s a good idea. I know some tribes of native Americans traditionally thank the animal they are about to slaughter for food or clothing. We can do the same thing with objects.


  3. My husband and I are in the process of moving, packing up everything we own, and throwing away things that aren’t worth taking to our new home. When I throw things away, even though they are broken, damaged in some way, or no longer fit, I feel a twinge of something bad. But I think it is more about not wanting to be wasteful, than about feeling sorry for the object. Although I have felt that, too, so I do know what you mean.

    Oh my goodness… I kind of wish I hadn’t read this post now!

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  4. Dear Lucky, that poor ironing board. Thinking about what you saw, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit, if you sensed that a cruel-hearted person (just for kicks) had broken the legs.

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