Every morning when I wake up, I do the exact same thing, Groundhog Day style. I put on my slippers, walk into the kitchen and open the cupboard where the various mugs I’ve collected from people and places over the years await.
Sometimes I only stand there for a moment, as I Where’s Waldo a specific mug I know I want to use for my morning tea. But often I’m there for minutes on end, eyes darting around the 50-plus stacked mugs, trying to decide what feeling I want to evoke that day.
The decision is no easy feat and there’s a psychology behind it. The same way one would select specific music to play to set a mood, I choose a mug based on the tone I want to set for the day ahead.
In this get-rid-of-everything, minimalist era, I’ve hung onto my constantly growing, storied collection of mugs, because each one offers me a piece of nostalgia.
I pay mind to how a mug’s shape, size, history and aura inspire and influence me, as each is a visual memory of a moment, a feeling or a person, and tells a story that has a visceral effect on my mood.
Lately, I’ve been favouring a porcelain, off-white, owl-shaped mug that I bought online at the start of the pandemic. It kept me cozy on the lonely nights I’d find myself getting lost in an endless loop of anxiety-induced thoughts. I’m drawn back to it now because it’s a sign of how far I’ve come since then.
Through the ritual of making tea and sipping it from this mug during moments when I’d spiral, I learned how to finally self-soothe, and it now offers me strength and comfort when I’m triggered by something.
As I type this, I’m sipping from a mug I got from Phoenix Hotel, a rock ‘n’ roll-style renovated motel in San Francisco, during a trip I went on a few years back. Like the owl, this one is in my frequent rotation. “Phoenix Hotel” is printed in a black funky font, with a sprawling orange phoenix below. It evokes a playful, free-spirited vibe in me, emulating the one I leaned into when I was on the trip. When I’m sipping from it while working from home, I catch myself writing with just a little more confidence, just a little more personality.
When sad or under the weather, I’ll grab one of the mugs my dad would use for his tea when I was growing up, which offers a sense of safety, connection and calm. If I’m feeling less than and need an extra dose of love in my day, I’ll reach for the mug I got out west with my boyfriend, commemorating a ride on the Banff Gondola during our first trip together, or perhaps the “very-me” one he got me (well-aware of my mug obsession) last Valentine’s Day, covered in vintage-inspired rose-coloured hearts. I have mugs from past lovers, which I avoided using while I picked myself back up after heartache. When I caught myself using them again, I knew I had come out of the other side, a subtle sign that I was ready to move forward as a whole person anew.
Sure, I admit matching mugs look beautiful in a glass cupboard or to offer when hosting others (remember that?), but I prefer the mismatched ones because they tell a story. I love going to a friend’s home or cottage and seeing what mug they pour my tea into. I love catching glimpses of a person’s mug on a Zoom chat or an Instagram story and creating my own story about what I think it says about them. And I love gifting people mugs that remind me of them, or ones I think will add a smile to their day. It’s the perfect forget-me-not.
Making a mindful decision about the vessel I pour my go-to hot drink in allows me to feel a semblance of control in these uncontrollable times. And maintaining my collection is a means of seeing how I’ve become who I’ve become, each mug representing a moment in time.
Productivity experts encourage people to make their bed every morning because it’s an easy task that allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment. Although it’s a small daily habit, it can have a profound effect that ripples through the rest of the day, ultimately making you more productive. Through my daily mug ritual, of taking the time to really consider how I want my day to be influenced, I’m giving myself the opportunity to choose my own adventure. Sure, it may be a placebo effect of sorts, but positive habits can lead to positive results and at this point, I’ll take what I can get.