Paula Zuccotti

Designer Paula Zuccotti asked 62 people from around the world to record every item they touched in a single day.

From the alarm that wakes you up in the morning to the toothbrush you use before bed, you’re constantly touching, holding, and manipulating objects—leaving your mark on the world in a tangible way. But what would all those items say about you in isolation, removed from their contexts and viewed in the aggregate? That’s the question at the heart of “Every Thing We Touch,” a photo project by London-based designer Paula Zuccotti.

Zuccotti asked 62 people from around the world to record every object they touched in a 24-hour period. Then, she photographed the results, which are compiled in a new book.

Each collection follows the same set of parameters: Participants were asked to hand over all their objects, along with a record of what they did during the day. Clothing was included, but large or permanent fixtures, such as cars, furniture, and light switches, were not; food items and money were replicated in the studio. Each person’s objects were then arranged chronologically (in the order in which they were touched) on a canvas and photographed from above.

(Paula Zuccotti)
(Paula Zuccotti)

The average number of objects touched was about 140, but since Zuccotti didn’t set any quotas, there’s a great deal of variation. Some inventories are cluttered with knickknacks, while others are relatively spare and dominated by a few large items, like Katsumi’s (above).

Familiar objects often served surprising purposes. For example, the blender in Nini’s inventory (below) wasn’t used for cooking at all; the 28-year-old artist from Shanghai was using it to mix paint.

(Paula Zuccotti)

While most participants picked a “typical” day to record their objects, others opted for the weekend “because they get to do things they really like,” Zuccotti says. “It depended really on what each person did for living.” Katsumi, for instance, chose a “very special day”—when he got to travel from London to Macau to perform in a show.

As a result, these inventories conceal as much as they reveal. Zuccotti calls them “future archaeology,” wondering what we can learn from the purely tactile detritus of daily life—especially as more and more of it migrates online and out of reach.

If you’re interested in excavating your own life, Zuccotti invites you to send a photo of the objects you touch to yourphoto@everythingwetouch.org.

Every Thing We Touch: A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives, £13.60 (about $21 USD) at Amazon UK.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A brownstone in Brooklyn, where Airbnb growth has been particularly strong in recent years.
    Life

    What Airbnb Did to New York City

    Airbnb’s effects on the city’s housing market have been dramatic, a report suggests. And other cities could soon see the same pattern.

  2. Design

    Will Copenhagen’s Eco-Friendly Man-Made Islands Pay Off?

    The Danish capital is expanding its land mass and creating climate resiliency. But is it sustainable?

  3. A photo of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct
    Transportation

    As an Elevated Highway Closes, Seattle Braces for Traffic Hell

    By closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle ushers in a period of short-term commuter pain for long-term waterfront redevelopment gain.

  4. Two men plant a young tree in a lot in Detroit.
    Environment

    Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting

    Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.

  5. A photo of a Family Mart convenience store in Japan.
    Life

    The Language Debate Inside Japan's Convenience Stores

    Throughout Japan, store clerks and other service industry workers are trained to use the elaborate honorific speech called “manual keigo.” But change is coming.