When I start to feel stressed, anxious or obsessive about something, I can usually remember to focus on my breath and calm myself. Other times I shop. As person who dislikes clutter but loves stuff, I’m constantly walking the tightrope between adding and subtracting things from my space. Recently I had a close call with a particularly enticing vase.

The vase was one of three mosaic pieces from an estate in San Francisco I was working on. They were obviously created by the same artist, but were of different colors and shapes. One was tall, with a large opening, and the tiles and ceramics in the mosaic were mostly yellow. Another was short and squat, with a white and orange design. The third was a very unique shape, flared at the bottom, with mirrored tiles trimming a green, pink and white design.

I felt a kinship with the woman who had owned the vases, though I had never met her. I was intrigued by her extensive travels and her quirky art collection. Her stuff had “good energy,”—you could sense that each piece had had meaning for the owner. All of it was a bit distressed, like things that were actually used and loved. I felt compelled to buy something.

I bought the mirrored mosaic vase. It was a little more expensive than I would have liked to spend on a vase, but it had pizazz and, of course, that “good energy.” I brought it home and tried it in the dining room. I tried it in the kitchen. I tried it in the bathroom. But it didn’t really look at home in my home.

I was so obsessed with the vase that I considered keeping it for the extremely remote possibility that I would someday move to a home that might suit it better. I considered having a niche built for it in a guest room, which would add trouble and expense to an already iffy purchase. I even considered buying the other two mosaic vases from the estate to try grouping them—maybe that would work better than just the single vase, fabulous though it might be.

These are the kinds of unrealistic thoughts around stuff that many of my clients share with me. It becomes clear that the attachment is not really about the stuff, but what it represents. In my case, it was no longer about the vase but about wanting to go back to the world the fascinating old lady represented: the relative ease of pre-9/11 travel, cold summer days in pre-climate change San Francisco and the contact high you were almost guaranteed at maskless Grateful Dead shows.

Being home so much more because of the pandemic has made me rationalize things like “treating” myself to an object of beauty. But it’s sort of like “treating” yourself to an ice cream sundae because you have been so good on your diet. The vase wasn’t going to bust my budget or turn me into a hoarder, yet I knew after playing with it for a few hours that it would end up in a cupboard and I would feel a little guilty every time I caught a glimpse of it.

I returned the vase. I haven’t regretted it. In fact, it made me feel quite responsible and grown-up to have not succumbed to the lure of something cool that just wasn’t meant for me.

Bringing stuff into the home is like creating a mosaic of sorts. When you place the piece of tile or ceramic, you have a few moments that you can adjust or remove it, but after a while, it’s really entrenched. It is a lot harder to chisel out possessions that have set a while—you’ve not only invested the money but now there’s a time investment attached to it. Think purchases through and pass on them before the metaphorical mortar hardens.