Absence as presence on the bedside table?

Last year I collected together photographs and descriptions of the mantlepieces belonging to family and friends. This came after talking at college about collecting and being inspired by Rachel Hurdley‘s article about mantlepieces as a reflection of the self and a narration of part of a person’s life story.

This was a very interesting exercise and gave me some insight into the lives and personalities of some of my friends. I questioned whether these mantlepieces reflected a part of my friends’ personalities or their personal histories.

For some friends their mantlepiece acted as a visual biography, for some a shrine, for others it was a display cabinet for visitors (tidy), for others it was a dumping ground (messy). The mantlepiece could be a representation of the mind: a messy mind (mine) means a messy mantlepiece.  A tidy mind (you know who you are) needs a tidy mantlepiece. Or perhaps a person craving calm in a chaotic world needs a tidy mantlepiece? For most it seemed to me that the mantlepiece was an extension of personality. Mine is a little eccentric, it is  messy and full of cats wearing woolen hats – say no more.

My Mantelpiece

My Mantelpiece

So next, with my current college project in mind (absence as presence), I decided to look at bedside tables. People leave bits of themselves on their bedside tables (besides toe-nail clippings), which is their absence as presence. They are more likely to leave their personal stamp on their bedside table than they are on their mantlepieces. These areas are more personal and intimate. They aren’t on show to the world. They are the places where we put the things we might need at night, or things that we are very attached to (such as a stuffed penguin). They are also functional spaces: the place for an alarm clock, medication that might be needed at night, somewhere to put a drink (in my case this is essential). Does the messy / chaotic mind analogy still hold here? How about the tidy / calm mind? Do people leave parts of their history here too? Do bedside tables contain personal mementos from life, perhaps ones that are a little more precious than those in the more public forum of mantlepieces?

So here below are a selection of the bedside tables I have collected.

The Bedside Tables

Me – ‘An alarm clock, random dish, bubble bath that is too nice to use (about 2 years old), pebble light from Habitat that doesn’t work, lamp without glass top that doesn’t work, fury dice, random bracelets, my ‘to do’ pad, my brother’s kindle, necklace, heart shaped box, two pens and a coaster.’

This is tidy...

This is tidy…

My husband – ‘Clock, tea bag, inhaler, remote controls, glasses, random bill, note, broken watch, some skews, a puzzle, four pens, a pencil and rail card.’

Less pink than mine

Less pink than mine

My son (aged 9) – ‘Inhaler, a sock, money box, a huge pile of books, two clocks and puzzle ball.’

This is the boy who went for a one-night sleepover with nine books to read

This is the boy who went for a one-night sleepover with nine books to read

Friend One – ‘Tray full of letters, books, odds and ends which probably should be put away properly elsewhere. Headphones for late night insomniac music listening. Heart shaped box painted by daughter when she was 5. Basket full of assorted hand creams etc. mirror with cards from children and little hearts from husband.’

Friend One's bedside table

Friend One’s bedside table

Friend One’s husband – ‘Clock radio. Picture frame painted by daughter. Lamp. Fathers day cards and envelopes. Stone plate with various hearts collected over the years. Second stone plate with a watch, loose change and a random key on. Daughter’s ipod.’

Friend One's husband's bedside table

Friend One’s husband’s bedside table – yummy chocolates

Friend One’s daughter (aged 12) – ‘Lots of books (all on the go at once) a cushion she made herself, a Rubic cube, 20 questions electronic toy, orange box containing assorted treasures, a coaster, a black stone box sent from our stone suppliers in India…a hama bead teddy and a flower hair clip.’

This girl is a book worm I reckon

This girl likes to read

Friend Two – ‘Some books, glasses, railcard, a screwdriver and a penguin.’

This friend likes to read with his penguin

This friend likes to read with his penguin

Friend Three – ‘Phone charger, fan remote, 4head stick thing, 9 books, note pad, backscratcher, foot file, book light, box of tissues, phone, kindle, tube of Tyrozets, little purse (containing nail clippers, floss, lip balm and a Vicks inhaler), wake you up gradually with light and tweety birds alarm clock, 2 tubes foot cream, can of Magicool and a tube of after sun aloe gel.’

Nine books?? Friend Three doesn't sleep much

Nine books?? Friend Three doesn’t sleep much

Friend Three’s husband – ‘Phone charger, an empty box of tissues, an old cough sweet wrapper, a book, phone and 3 Father’s day cards.’

Friend Three's husband needs eight more books on his shelf

Friend Three’s husband needs eight more books on his shelf

Friend Four – ‘Tv, ps3, laptop, craft stuff, sewing machine, and lots of junk lol’

Friend Four is an arty farty student type

Friend Four is an arty farty student type

Friend Five – ‘Clock, painting of lilac (I think ) by my daughter. Various skin creams, water, wedding anniversary card, and under the card a book about the town I came from that my dad contributed to.’

Friend Five's bedside table

Friend Five’s bedside table

Friend Four’s client – ‘A lamp, note, meds, 2 bottles of lemonade, clock, a sweet, a coaster and 3 torches underneath.’

Does this bedside table belong to a man or a woman?

Does this bedside table belong to a man or a woman?

Friend Four’s second client – ‘3 glasses cases and 3 alarm clocks.’

This person doesn't like mornings

This person doesn’t like mornings

Friend Six – ‘ Everything!’

Friend Eight has a lot of stuff.

Friend Six has a lot of stuff.

Friend Seven’s daughter – ‘Lots of stuff!’

Sigh, teenagers!

Sigh, teenagers!

Friend Eight – ‘On top is a lamp, B&O phone, kindle, coaster. In the tray is hairbrush, hairbands and an eye mask.’

Friend Eight likes straight lines

Friend Eight likes straight lines

Friend Nine (Friend Eight’s husband) – ‘A notebook, cookery book, earphones, charger and jambox (wireless speaker) with ear phone case sitting on the top, sonos speaker and clip on reading lamp. Underneath are his puffers, wrist powerball (for strengthening wrist for sports not the other thing) and a charger.’

Gadget Man!

Gadget Man!

Friend Ten – ‘A lamp, a dish, a mobile phone, a kindle and glasses.’

Friend Elven says 'Tidy because the mess is hidden in the drawer!'

Friend Elven says ‘Tidy because the mess is hidden in the drawer!’

Friend Eleven -‘A lamp, a plug, two coasters, two clocks and a remote.’

Friend Ten is married to Friend Eleven.

Friend Eleven is married to Friend Twelve.

Friend Twelve (Friend Eleven’s wife) – ‘Lamp, jewellery box, hand cream, two dishes of bits and pieces, candle stick, bits of jewellery and a watch.’

Friend Eleven's wife

No clock? But then Friend Twelve’s husband has two

Friend Thirteen – ‘Beaconase for hayfever, loo roll to blow nose, earplugs, water, book, hair net from daughter’s birthday, Arial wig, daughter’s birthday learn to play guitar DVD, daughter’s birthday little pony hair beads, clock, light, nail biter, picture daughter drew that I use as bookmark, and one of daughter’s pencils.’

Friend Thirteen

Friend Thirteen


Gathering bedside table pictures has been much, much harder than gathering mantlepiece pictures. Why is this so? Why are people more reluctant to share their bedside tables? I wonder if it is because people are more willing to show their mantlepieces to the world because they are a part of themselves which is meant to be on display. They are proud of their mantlepieces. Whereas the bedside table is meant to be private and is actually a very personal reflection of the self.

I have quite a diverse range here; both sexes and all ages from teenage to elderly (Friend Four’s clients – who is a carer). Now I have a few examples, I wonder how much of a reflection of personality the bedside table really is? Do those with tidy bedside tables sleep better than those with chaotic messy ones? Do they have calmer minds? Are their lives better organized? I wouldn’t describe myself as a great sleeper (or particularly organized) and my bedside table is very cluttered. But then I do ‘park’ my daytime life on it every night (now with added digital camera for photo opportunities) so perhaps because of that I am able to sleep better.

I’ve enjoyed this little project and give my thanks to everyone who has contributed. My next interest is going to be staircases, not as a reflection of personality but just because…

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1 Response to Absence as presence on the bedside table?

  1. Pingback: The art of objects – this time clothes | BeckyBendyLegs

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