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The Psychology of Keychains

Oct 26 2019

Interpreting the World at the End of Our Keys

There’s something admirable about people who carry a lot of keys. How do they have so many places to be? So many people who trust them to be there? Each piece of serrated metal encompasses its own obligation, its own point of entry, its own cherished possession. A key has the ability to halt or propel our lives at any given moment. Despite an era of Touch ID and Tap & Go, they remain significant IRL. In 1998, Mercedes Benz introduced the first “keyless” entry car system, but to account for the riskiness of the device, they built in a backup—a key, ironically tucked into its crevice. Our lasting dependence on keys will always be relevant. As Snapchat’s life coach DJ Khaled says: “The key is to have every key.” If that’s the case, we should have every keychain, too. The items we attach to our trusted gadgets keep them safe, adorn them. We bring them with us everywhere we go. Their purpose is infinite—from decorative pom poms to souvenir bottle openers—our keychains can simply be personal treasures, or miniature extensions of our identity. So what’s the psychology behind how we choose them?

FINDERS, NOT LOSERS There’s likely nothing more panic-inducing than the realization that you’ve lost your keys. But according to Freud, we do it on purpose. We lose our objects “on account of hidden but powerful motives.” In , he tells a story about a man who lost his car keys right before leaving for an event his wife coerced him into attending. “Something is forgotten for its own sake,” Freud said. Perhaps that’s true, but try telling that to yourself next time you’re mid frantic search. Instead, you could intentionally keep your keys secured to you at all times. With a carabiner, or a metal leash—whatever your choice fastening—the only way your keys will get lost is if you do.

SENTIMENTAL SYMBOLOGY Last year, Thom Browne introduced his miniature wire-haired dachshund, Hector, as his best friend and muse. Since then, the designer has been reincarnating new versions of the Hector Bag—an ode to his wiener dog. For Fall/Winter 2017, Hector inspired another accessory: an engraved gold-tone keychain. He will always be the original, but his replication points to a truth—if keychains can embody our loved ones, they too can be worthy of cherishing. The cliche says to “wear your heart on your sleeve,” but why not try wearing it on your keys?

COLLECTOR'S CLOUD NINE Guinness World Records states that the largest collection of keychains resides in the small municipality of Consell, Spain. In a city of 3869 people lie 47200 distinct little charms. There’s a certain naivety to collecting that offers a tactical escape from reality. To immerse yourself in the objects you’ve accumulated is proof of your commitment to them. You’ve held them in your hands, you’ve given them names—you’ve acquired a world that only you can understand. And when that world happens to be pocket-sized, you have the ability to carry it with you everywhere. Suddenly, you become your own roaming fantasy—from Consell, to literally anywhere.

FUNCTION FIRST The contents of a purse—the “essentials” and the “must-haves”—are the frequent subject of women’s fashion magazines. It’s no wonder. The complexity of our fast-paced lives requires a constant preparedness and our bags can quickly become overwhelmed. A recent study found some British women to be carrying around the equivalent cost of a small car in their handbags. But our keychains can work double duty to help. Why rummage through a sea of headphones and coins if you don’t have to? With a keychain that’s its own container, your change is never loose. Your lipstick never astray.

ON BAG, ON BRAND If our objects are evidence of what we wish to see in ourselves, designer keychains are an interesting conduit. As the gateway to the world of luxury goods, they’re an opportunity to self-commodify. To identify with your brand of choice—think Kendall and Cara and their signature Karlitos, little balls of fur resembling their fashion father. Perhaps it’s something about the classic Gucci stripe, Loewe’s bulky knot, or Miu Miu’s youthful bow that ties you to your ideal self. Of course, we’re much more than the sum of what we carry, but there’s a tangible reality in what we do. Self-packaging at its core.

CONVERSATION CONVEYORS Our daily bus routes and trips on the subway are packed with distractions. It’s hard to be present when you’re replying to emails and catching up on tweets. So what if you've crossed paths with and never known it? You can't rely on Tinder for an old fashioned meet-cute. But you can start a conversation with a stranger by letting your keychain do the work for you. Nothing breaks the ice quite like an elephant-shaped pouch, so don’t be shy in your selection. No matter what you want to say, or who you’re trying to say it to, your keychain is like your romantic talisman—choose it wisely.