This Is How My 100-Piece Whitney Houston Collection Helped Me Heal

published Nov 14, 2023
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Credit: Chi Nwosu

Recluttering is a celebration of your stuff — stuff that you just want to hold on to, stuff that makes you happy, stuff that makes you feel nostalgic for a moment, a memory, or a loved one. We’re sharing stories from people about their collections, heirlooms, and more. Head here to read them all!

Your relationship with your stuff can be a complicated one — especially when you have a lot of it. Sometimes you hold on to things because you enjoy having and using them (like, say, my ever-growing collection of cozy throw pillows). Sometimes it’s because you just haven’t figured out how to bring yourself to declutter your useless items (travel mug collection, I’m looking at you). Other times, you keep things close by because they hold deep sentimental value and remind you of a time or feeling you never want to forget (wedding dress, you’re up!).

Then there are those items you cherish simply because they’ve helped you heal. For me, it’s my Whitney Houston memorabilia collection. 

I own over 100 pieces of Whitney Houston-inspired items. As a fellow Jersey girl — born and raised like her — I love her voice and musical legacy, but my fondness for the late, great singer runs much deeper than mere fan appreciation. I keep Houston close because releasing her would feel like I was letting go of one of the last true connections I still feel to my mother, who died suddenly over 30 years ago.

I grew up in the mid ‘80s, and there were no easy entertainment options for children riding in cars with adults. Everyone listened to the same thing at the same time — a cassette tape or the local radio station. I spent countless childhood hours listening to my mother play Houston’s early albums on repeat. I can barely remember anything that happened before my fourth birthday, but Houston’s music has always been the soundtrack to some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories with my mother.

My mother was a college professor who taught classes year-round. She drove over an hour on the highway back and forth to her campus daily. During summer breaks, I’d often take that drive with her (and Houston) in mom’s Honda Accord, and I can still remember how special it felt to sing our hearts out to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “So Emotional” with the windows down, wind in our curls and the volume dial turned up as far as it could go.

She was always my mother and teacher, but in those precious moments, she was my best friend, too. I didn’t know then just how fleeting they would be. Around that time, she’d been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, and was quietly fighting for her life. Looking back, I like to believe that Houston’s empowering vocals and lyrics made her feel strong and free at a time when she needed it most. I hope her music gave her the peace it would go on to bring me much later in my life.

Despite my mother’s best efforts to stay with us, she died in February 1992, when I was 9. She hadn’t ever wanted me to know she was sick, so her death was sudden and unexpected and I didn’t cope with it well. Years of therapy helped, but even as I began to learn how to process the grief, I couldn’t shake the emptiness I felt from the void she left behind. I was a pre-teen walking around with a giant hole in my heart that staring at old photos of my mom and I together just couldn’t seem to mend.

Then I found a new way to heal and honor her memory. Feeling nostalgic for better days with her, I bought a copy of Houston’s first album and played it in my Walkman. Just like that, I felt my mom’s love again — her support, her energy, her aura. My face flooded with tears, but they were happy ones this time. I didn’t want the songs to end — they felt so comforting; they felt like home. That was when I realized I feel most connected to my mother when I listen to Houston’s music. Doing so brought me back to life. To this day, playing Houston’s hits helps me to feel a warmth and protection that only a mother’s love can bring. The songs bring back memories that once felt so hard to hold on to.

That connection, through music, chooses me too. When I’m going through a tough time or need some encouragement, somehow Houston’s voice always seems to come on the radio or loudspeaker — wherever I may be in the world. When it does, I know my mom’s still right there with me, all these years later, and it brings me indescribable joy and a sense of peace. 

I choose to believe my mom’s spirit and love for me has lived on through Houston’s music. Over the years, that belief has drawn me to all things Houston. Right after college, I began collecting anything of Houston’s — vinyls, CDs, concert memorabilia, autographed photographs — that spoke to me. And my collection has only grown since then.

I have all sorts of different types of Whitney Houston memorabilia scattered throughout my home — some pieces neatly wrapped inside carefully labeled storage bins, and others on display in my home office, which is also my sanctuary. There, I have a set of Houston’s original vinyl albums on display next to a record player. I love to spin them in the background when I’m cozying up to write. There is also custom Houston-inspired artwork I’ve purchased over the years on display. If you look closely at my desktop you’ll spot a pinned photograph of Robyn Crawford — Houston’s oldest, dearest friend — that was taken back when I had the pleasure of interviewing her about their friendship and the bestselling memoir she wrote about their life together, A Song For You. (Which she also signed for me.)

From the tiny little enamel pin on my travel bag to the giant blown-up print of one of Houston’s ESSENCE magazine covers that’s sitting in my corner, I cherish each piece in my collection  — big or small, I love them all. I’ve transported the collection carefully from three different apartments and then to our first home, which my husband and I purchased without realizing it was in the same neighborhood in East Orange, New Jersey, where Houston grew up. (Isn’t the universe something?) Despite working in entertainment journalism for almost two decades, I never had the pleasure of meeting Houston before she died. I would have loved to tell her what her music meant to my mom, but most importantly, how I found a way to use it to keep her memory close.

I have other priceless keepsakes of my mother’s — mostly clothing, jewelry, and photographs — that also mean the world to me, but it’s through Houston’s music that I’ve felt the most covered in her love. But not everyone understands my collection. A family member once referred to it as my “Whitney Houston stuff,” but it is so much more than just “stuff” to me. It’s a coping mechanism that has helped me move on from the impossible.

Whenever it’s time to lift myself up after a fall or shake off the lingering pain from losing my mother before I had the chance to understand what it meant to be her daughter, I play “Love Will Save the Day” and escape to a happier place — even if only for a moment — and I feel centered and whole again. I’m grateful to have found an unexpected outlet for my grief, and leaning into it helped to shape my healing journey. I think I’m better for it and my mother would agree. Houston’s biggest hit was her rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” which feels fitting — my mother’s love transcends death and time every single time I listen to it.