Jessica’s Billies
Jessica Svenningson is a 23-year old student of marketing in her final master's year. She has moved to Stockholm from Göteborg two and a half years ago. What brought her to Stockholm was a wish to live in a bigger city and master studies were a good excuse for that. Billy bookcase that she bought in Göteborg moved with her into the student campus Lappskärrsberget (Lappis). She now lives in a one room apartment with her own bathroom but shared kitchen and dining area.

Billy is positioned in the corner of a 17-square meter room and hasn’t been moved since originally placed there. She bought Billy five years ago at IKEA store in Göteborg. Her bookcase consists of two parts (both Billies). One is a classic Billy bookcase and the other is a smaller addition with doors at the bottom. She purchased both together. She doesn’t recall the price but remembers that it was very cheap. The reason for choosing these particular bookshelves was color. Oak color is her favorite furniture color, whereas she would never purchase lighter colors. If it wasn’t for the color she could have choose any other bookshelf as the placement of the shelves to her is not important. While we talk about her favorite furniture colors, she recalls that her family always had oak furniture and in a sense choosing the oak Billy bookcase is a continuation of her family style.
Smaller Billy was bought because she thought it fits nicely next to the bigger bookcase and because it contained a hidden compartment. “That is handy, because then I can just throw things in,” she explains, emphasizing the advantage of hidden objects that are not on display, don’t have an audience and therefore don’t need to be in order.

When she moved from Göteborg, Billy was put apart, but not completely. Shelves and the backside were removed, whereas the frame remained as a whole. Billy was moved like that, as she was afraid that it will be impossible to put it together again and preserve its stability. “I think the model is a bit stronger than the new ones, it has a solid back, but still, it is a cheap piece of furniture. When I was moving I knew I must be careful.”
The bookcase appears to be neatly organized and dust-free although she confesses that Billy is seldom cleaned. ”I dust it maybe twice a year. Last time was before Christmas. I don’t like to do it because there is a lot of stuff on it, so I just leave it as it is.” The objects on the shelves are never rearranged or moved. She might have changed a thing or two when she was moving but other than that, the objects remain where there are, once they are put on the shelves. The majority of the items on the bookshelf were bought by Jessica and minor part was given to her as a present from her sister, family and friends. She doesn’t care particularly where things stand on the shelves. The placement is more or less random. Usually the size of the object determines on which shelf it is going to be put. The only exception to this rule, is her collection of DVDs that are put on the upper shelf, “because it is easier to read the titles that way.”
Despite her claims that she doesn’t put much thought into the position of the objects on the shelves the CDs are alphabetically organized. She alphabetized the collection when she moved to the room in Lappis in order to find the CDs faster. Nowadays this has no practical function as she doesn’t listen to music much anymore. This makes the CD boxes a display of her past musical taste. ”Out of these CDs I only listen to Money brother. Now when looking all of these bands, I can say that my musical taste has changed a lot.”
In the same manner the books on the shelves do not display her current taste or even activity. There are many books, mostly novels which imply that she likes to read, but when we go through some titles she admits: “I don’t read much, because I have no time. I only read papers for school.” The books on the bookcase were read in the past though, but not all of them. About 8% were presents from friends and family and she never read them because she felt no interest in specific genre or title. Books are put on the shelf according to their size. The higher shelves take the higher books. Weight is also a determiner. Because of her concern about stability, heavier books are put on the lower shelves. Other than that, there is no order. When I try to look for some categorization maybe she isn’t aware of, she points to the Lord of the Rings trilogy that can be found on the same shelf but not together.
One of the first obvious items on the shelves besides books are glasses of various shapes and sizes. It looks like a collection, proudly displayed all over bookcases, but in fact they are there only because she has no other appropriate place in the room. “I have many, because in Göteborg I lived in the city centre and was often the host of the party. Many people always came, so I needed many glasses.” Glasses are not something she is proud to have on the bookcase and in her opinion they don’t look nice there and make the bookcase look “odd”. Glasses in her opinion belong to the cupboard and not on the bookcase. The same goes for the suncream and half empty alcohol bottles.

If we look at her Billy bookcase from top to bottom we find the DVDs on the highest shelf, together with four glasses, two small jewelry boxes and a bracelet. Second shelf from top to bottom is half filled with DVDs and half with books. It also contains four (martini) glasses, two small framed photos, Koala soap from her trip and a small bottle of liquor. Under that are eight small square compartments filled with CDs. Under that is a shelf with books, a sword (letter opener), two framed photos (one from her trip to Rome and one she took in the nature, just outside her family house) and a ceramic horse. Second shelf from bottom up is the most empty – filled up in ¾ with books. Where the books end there is a box of crayons and a calculator. Bottom shelf is filled with some books, but mostly folders that contain family photos and serve as albums. All the things that couldn’t be put on the shelves found their place on top of the bookcase. A big lamp that doesn’t fit the light in the room, two boxes of puzzles (one received as a gift and one bought as a souvenir because it depicts the Sistine chapel), two board games she bought herself (Lord of the Rings and Trivia pursuit), a box that once contained her mobile phone, big box that once contained a juicer but is not filled with Christmas decorations, one big fat plush cat toy and two smaller boxes. One filled with chargers, a blow dryer and some jewelry and another (the content was unknown to her until she pulled it down) filled with some old makeup, necklaces and bracelets that she no longer uses.

The smaller Billy bookcase has books on the top shelf and seven glasses, underneath more books and some empty notebooks, together with a sun cream, two sunglasses, one big mirror, a hairbrush and a box of matches. The lowest shelf contains pirate DVDs of films and series that she used to watch, three half-empty alcohol bottles and three unlit candles. On top of DVDs there is a book she recently purchased as a recommendation from her sister, but hasn’t had time to read it. The bottom part of the bookshelves has a door. Inside we find bank papers, more glasses, some washing products, a small mirror, business cards, printing paper, some school essays and manuals.
Things that are put on display are all positioned in front of books (ceramic horse, framed photos). Mostly those items are souvenirs from her trips or objects that hold special memories for her. Such is the photo of the path in the nature just outside her family home or a framed photo of a roman statue she took when traveling in Italy. Almost all items on the bookshelf tell something about her past. Where she has been, what music she listened to, what books she has read. Items that tell about her present life are scarce – there is a ceramic horse which could be connected to her passion – horse riding and some of the movies she recently watched. Out of the books only cooking books reflect her current interest – namely to learn to cook better. All other hobby oriented books are linked with her past and are no longer of interest to her. This finding supports Miller’s claims in the book The Comfort of Things, where he writes that very few people live with items of the moment. »On the contrary, home may be sometimes amost a refuge from fashion, a place of domestic rest and comfort, which may retain something of that history of domestic comfort that comes from parents or even grandparents« (Miller 2008: 122).
Jessica is a person with a sense of humor yet not many items on her bookshelf speak of that. Perhaps the only one is a framed photo of agent Dale Cooper from the series Twin Peaks that she used to watch. The bookcase speaks of a person who reads a lot (which she doesn’t because of lack of time), listens to music (which she does but not to the CDs on the bookshelf), and hosts many parties (which she doesn’t anymore, as the glasses are more of a consequence of her Göteborg flat position in the city). DVDs might be the only numerous items that still somehow reflect her likes and hobbies. There are a lot of object on the bookshelf that she doesn’t remember where she got them and from whom (for example the ceramic horse). The only thing she would feel sorry if she lost are the family photo albums. “Everything else is just stuff.” Her almost indifferent attitude towards the items on the bookshelf is not transparent as objects seem to be neatly organized, but in fact almost everything is random and more a consequence of the Billy´s physical attributes. She would love to have more space where she could hide things she thinks don’t belong on the bookcase. If she could change Billy it would have one more shelf. “There is a lot of space above the DVDs. It is unused and DVDs are not so strong so I can’t put anything on it. It would be nice if I could use that space as my whole room lacks some functional surfaces.” Her favorite things to buy are clothes. She would love to have more space for that.
Billy in her room is almost a monument of her past, full of items that do not require physical interaction. The visual display is has a possibility of a story or a memory but Jessica never looks at Billy and contemplates. I was the first person who confronted her with many objects on the shelves and a lot of things she had (especially in the boxes) was at the same time a discovery for me and her. The color of the Billy, that is exactly the same as the color of furniture in her parent’s house and some photos and items connected to her family are perhaps serving as a comfort zone for Jessica. It seems that where is comes from and what she was, is displayed in the Billy bookcase, but the meanings and memories are encoded and only Jessica fully reads that encryption.
In the future when she plans to get a job Billy will be replaced by a more expensive bookcase but the items will probably move into the new frame. “When I will have more money I will buy proper furniture. More massive and more unique. Billy is just for now. It is a cheap piece of furniture. The books will stay, I think.”

1 comment:

  1. "Billy in her room is almost a monument of her past, full of items that do not require physical interaction."

    This is really interesting b/c we get more of a sense of a past self than a present one.