Tag Archives: box

postcards from the edge, of reason

before

I’ve been considering selling my postcard collection on Craigslist for some time now, but the thought that some personal information might get misused has always interrupted my plan. I then offered the collection to a friend who has an affinity for postcards (and probably hoarding) and she smartly declined.

I finally tackled the box a few days ago, sorting the cards into four categories: received from someone, free cards, art cards, and cards from places I’ve been. I started collecting when I was about 15 years old and stopped not too long ago. I still have a habit of visiting art exhibits and picking one or two cards of the pieces that most affected me. As I was sorting, I fairly easily tossed the “free-card” pile with the exception of two or three cards I have often displayed in my office over the past 15 years. What surprised me most about the “places I’ve been pile,” though, was the careful chronicling of my travels. Places I have long since forgotten were documented there in pictures. Some of the most generic images (i.e. “Arizona Coyote”), I tossed willingly into the recycle bin, but I ended up keeping the majority. I stumbled across a few duplicates from Paris, and yet I couldn’t let go of the second copies. I feel compelled to find them a home.

Finally, I went through some of the “received” cards and was a bit dumbfounded. Some were cards that I had written home, but many were from people I no longer remember. I had a card, for example, from someone named Anastassia, and I have no recollection of ever meeting this person. Nonetheless, the card looked vaguely familiar. It somehow remains in the “keep” pile.

after

In the end, because I took the time to confront the memories in the card pile, I wasn’t able to let go of the bulk. I took too much pleasure in seeing my travels plainly documented in such a compact space. I do not have all the other souvenirs, because those did go onto Craigslist. Instead, I keep a condensed box of postcards without knowing if I’ll ever look inside it again.

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uncertain hoarding moments

Now that our departure is likely delayed for a few months, I’m a bit stalled with the project of this blog. I was at the point of beginning the serious removal of things and sifting through the real items of importance, including books or clothes that I’m not quite sure about. Today, as I started a new research project, I dipped into a packed up box and pulled out two theory books I wasn’t expecting to need. I also have a mental list of items in my campus office that have to come home to help me.

In addition to the physical aspect of hoarding and my current uncertainty, there is the parallel activity of memory hoarding that occurs. I was beginning to feel emotional about experiences that I thought were the “last time for a long time” such as our university’s pathetic bowl game that had me momentarily choked up. This, too, has gently subsided as I float along uncertain about the next few months.

from Elisabeth Fechner, Souvenirs d'Alger

This reminds me of a literary snippet that I cannot immediately locate in which the author, Marie Cardinal, complains (paraphrased in English here), “Had I known this was the last time I would see that beautiful port, and that sun on that sea from that angle, I would have soaked it up and treasured it.” Instead, she felt robbed of that memory because she left her homeland when it was still rather peaceful, fully expecting she would return. Then when (an expected) calamity struck, she was cut off for about twenty years, forced to remember her homeland and painstakingly recreate it in her writing. Cardinal was most definitely a memory hoarder who obsessively rewrote Algeria. I wonder if I might someday nostalgically rewrite my home or if my sense of home is sufficiently destabilized to keep my nostalgia at bay.

habit forming?

desktop today

We’ve been informed that our move is going to be delayed for a couple of months or more, and this, right at the moment when I was kicking the packing into a higher gear. I’ve boxed up some of my precious books that I won’t be teaching for a few semesters and am clearing off shelves in my office. I haven’t bought any new shampoo, conditioner, or other products in quite awhile, hoping to bring them down to a minimum right before we leave. Now I’m looking at my sparse environment and there’s a challenge in front of me. Can I maintain a sort of minimalist sense of living, bringing it down to life out of a suitcase for a couple of months? If I can manage to do that, there’s just enough time that I might form some positive habits before we go. Or… I could go the other direction and spread my books, papers, receipts, and other stuff all over the office again and be comfortable. What to do?

long lineage

During our trip to visit my extended family over the past few days, many stories about the hoarders in our family were recounted. It almost made me feel proud that my tendencies are so restrained in comparison. As I posted yesterday, my grandmother is not at all ashamed of her tendency to keep things and to get things for free. She lived through the Great Depression and it was engrained in her, “waste not, want not.” (On a side note– in a difficult moment, she offered me more handmade dish towels that I had to decline.)

In addition to my grandmother, though, I heard stories about her sister Bea and her closets full of collectibles. She had a family free-for-all when she moved into a smaller condo. Everyone was invited to come through the farm-house and take whatever antiques they desired, especially enamel dishes, wooden ironing boards, and old utensils.

My aunt was looking for a moment of solitude over the weekend when she could sneak piles of my  uncle’s things out of the house. Their house, in my view, is quite clean and under control. She said her method is to put unused things in a box. Then if six months have passed and she hasn’t looked in the box, she gets rid of the box. Even she has created coping mechanisms to deal with the clutter.

not my clutter

I think, as I digest all of this, that keeping things is sort of a normal human compulsion. We all accumulate things whether we like to or not. The problem arises for some of us when the anxiety of letting go becomes too great. I tried to explain to D. the other night what a big deal this really is to me. I never realized I had any type of problem with “stuff” until I started writing about it. Now that I’ve had several little breakdowns when asked to throw things out, I know there is a compulsion to hoard at work within me. If I were left alone (and indeed, when I did live alone), I would live in piles of clutter that would get cleaned up only when company was expected. I feel virtuous now for what I’ve been able to shed, and anguished when told it isn’t enough. I know I can live well and fine without my things, but confronting their absence is a constant and difficult battle for me.

advantages to hoarding

I just emptied out the small rubbermade box that has been sitting on the floor behind me for more than a week. I also decided I could fill it with the few things I’m allowing myself to keep in storage like Grandma’s jewelry, Great-Grandma’s wooden sleigh, a tiny box my best friend from ages 8-14 bought me in New Zealand … you know, stuff.

 

I said it was empty, not that I got rid of the stuff.

 

In the box I found a letter from an old boyfriend, ostensibly written long after we had broken up (maybe 4 years later). In it he spoke about finding lasting friendship and if that were possible in any form other than marriage. His letter was bright, full of humor, misspelled words and bad grammar – exactly what I remember about him. I chose not to recycle the letter and I quickly put it in a folder that contains notes written between me and friends in the 1980s (filed in chronological order). His letter doesn’t belong there, but it was an easy place to stash it.

And that folder contained a letter I had written in 1989 to “Mr. Journal” listing the pros and cons of a potential move to Missouri so my father could marry his now wife. The witty and poorly organized writing of a 14-year-old me further cracked me up. (One of my “cons” for moving was that I would have to go to church more often. And how would I live without my boyfriend at the time who I swore I was in love with – but also my crush at the time with whom I had no real relationship.) I got a few moments of real joy by reading crap that I have saved for more than 20 years and have now placed back onto a shelf.

Add to this, a Fedex truck sighting just interrupted this blog post because I’m awaiting some important documents. I scurried down to the garage to see if a package was left (it wasn’t), and looked into the garage for the first time since some friends used it to store their belongings during a move. D. had warned me that I might be unhappy about how much junk is in the garage. He vastly underestimates my tolerance for stuff. I laughed to myself, “That’s hardly anything. The garage is half-empty.” Second advantage to the hoarder: optimism regarding space’s capacity for holding things.

compulsion to sell

Our almost 2-year-old has a new favorite activity: throwing things in the trashcan. She especially enjoys stripping the “clothes” off of her crayons and throwing the paper away.

The desire to whittle away at piles of stuff is new to me, but the compulsion to eliminate grows. On Monday when it was time to start writing, I was overcome for the first time with the deep urge to sell something on craigslist. I felt it had been too many days since I’d last let go of my past.

A man who owns a thriftstore in a nearby town contacted me about a jewelry box I had listed. He asked me to bring any other collectibles, especially jewelry, but he was also interested in a number of items I do not own such as guns and knives. I scurried around the house grabbing objects without reflecting on them. For $20 Mike bought a big chunk of jewelry, some of it possibly valuable jade, lapis, silver and gold pieces, as well as a small box given to me by a friend when we were about 12 years old. The box was the only item to which I attached any meaning (significant given my first wedding band was in the lot), even though that friend is only a vague connection on facebook today. While that piece stirred the most hesitation in me, I had not thought of it again until writing this today. I have it captured on film. Its memory is enough.

 

exposure

If writing the self can be considered a transgressive act, what of showing the inside of your home in non-camera ready state? How often do we see the inside of a lived-in bedroom that is not our own? (How many years did I know my very open French host family before they showed me their master bedroom?) And rarer still, the inside of a stranger’s refrigerator, garage, or storage space.

I’ve had a recurring dream of exploring a haunted house, and the farther I climb into the attic, the ghosts become less frightening and more elusive. They recede from me as I seek to bring them to light.

What’s in those boxes in the far back of our mind, stored away for when we need them, but largely forgotten? Are the memories going to retreat further into the recesses when we seek to pull them to the fore? Is it fear itself that recedes when we seek to confront it?

I’m emptying the storage, gathering momentum, and longing to minimize the surrounding stuff that protects me; yet, I feel far from vulnerable by the exposure. Coming out, transgressing, normalizing what was hidden sometimes leaves me raw, sullen, and nostalgic, but on the whole I feel lightness as I untether myself from stuff.