As the service coordinator at the car dealership finished up my receipt, he turned and opened up a small, flat cupboard that hangs beside his desk. It was filled with keyrings—or keychains, in some cases—and I was amazed at how similar they all were, and also how different they all were.

For one thing, they almost all had a black fob on them that could—if they had the right programming—activate the remote unlock feature of most of the cars in for service that day. Fortunately, while they share the same hardware, the programming makes them unique, so our cars stay locked unless we push the little button on our own key fob.

Most keyrings also had one or two or even more keys besides the car key. One could assume that some of these keys would fit the doors to apartments, condos, homes, and residences. Others were stamped “DO NOT DUPLICATE” and probably open doors in offices and workplaces.

Once again, the similarities were obvious—most of us have keys for work and home. However, the dissimilarities were essential: we can’t use our keys to get into other people’s homes or offices.

But what really caught my eye was EVERYTHING ELSE on those keyrings! There were medallions, thumbdrives, lanyards, bottle openers, nametags, screwdrivers, canisters for medications, electronic trackers, pink puffballs, plastic photo holders, flashlights, plastic barcode cards, team mascots, parking garage remotes, and fancy leather key fobs.

Local teams had logos, mascots, and memorabilia hanging on that board. Apple and Disney were well represented. And a lot of people who have keyrings are also quick to declare that “I HEART” something or somebody.

What is valued, what is cherished, what is loved and memorialized: all are present and accounted for on our key rings. Some rings are simple, containing only the essentials. (Marie Kondo would be proud.) Others are festooned with things that give their owners joy—pictures and charms and mementos. Or they are self-organizing eco-systems, with tools and essentials attached that go well beyond mere keys.

What’s on your keyring? What do you value so much that you always have it with you? What are the essentials that you must bring along—or the reminders of commitments you’ve made or experiences you want to always remember?

Each individual key and item on our keyrings represent something: the home we can go to, the responsibilities we carry, the points of entry into our lives, and the vehicles that propel us forward. The doors we can open or close behind us. Our cherished memories. Functional or decorative, they are, at least in a small way, indicators of who we believe ourselves to be and the things we love the most.

What’s on your keyring?