Tag Archives: cost

you can’t take it with you

A friend of mine commented on my recent post “Separation,” that I might be fooling myself in thinking that my parents’ hoard doesn’t bother me and that I might be able to escape it by moving so far away. Obviously she’s right. The problem affects me whether I’m near or far from the actual hoard – so much so that I have a blog about it. Add to that, I’m turning my research focus towards hoarding in exile autobiography. I know full well that this has not only deeply impacted me in the present; it will continue to haunt me in the future no matter my physical distance.

My organizational strategy over the past few months as we have prepared for the move that is perpetually delayed has been to ask myself if each object is worth the cost of shipping. Will I wear this particular garment enough to grant it a spot in my suitcase? Is this book so important to me that I should ship it? Yesterday I thought I’d send a nice crystal vodka set that I bought in Turkey to a friend in Switzerland – and the shipping ranged from $85 to $270, depending on insurance. I brought the set back home with me and decided to send her flowers. If you can’t take it with you, is it worth having in the present?

With that in mind, I think about the mess of a home my parents live in. They are radical right-wing Christians who believe in storing up treasures in Heaven. They are well aware that they cannot take any of the their earthly possessions with them; yet, they continue to hold on to the odd objects. Hundreds of cool-whip containers, travel mugs, empty cardboard boxes, used coffee cans … combined with collectibles like Fiesta-ware, miniature animals, and so on… the house is full, and they can’t take it with them.

But I will take it with me. The hoard has left an indelible mark on my mind and on my own relationship to stuff. No matter where I go, I will have this mountain of things in my memory that I need to sift through so that I can live in uncluttered freedom with my own family.

memory for stuff

For the past month my daughter and I have been searching for her Fisher Price pig that goes with her farm set. It nagged at me that I couldn’t place it, although I could identify the last time I’d seen it and the possible last places it could be lingering. Then, over the weekend, I was sorting through her pajama drawer when suddenly the pig emerged. I almost screamed out of joy, “Look who I found!” There was much celebrating with the pig that night as he drank and drank from his favorite bottle.

Lost objects weigh on me. They plague me. I cannot let them go. I lost my iPad stylus overnight on Saturday and on Sunday I emptied out my backpack and diaper bag looking everywhere for it. D. said jokingly, “It’s probably on your desk.” I took him seriously and checked. There it was. I probably spent an hour looking for something that was in the most obvious place.

And so it goes in this house as I seek to match PollyPocket shoes and accessories, identifying what’s gone missing. The moment this began in my life is as clear as the many objects I geographically map in my mind. I was about seven years old, standing in the hallway in my childhood home, asking my dad where a certain toy was. “Ask your mother,” he said. “She knows where everything is.”

I asked her and she knew the exact spot where the random item had been abandoned. I was amazed and took note, “This is behavior to emulate.” And since that time it’s always been important to me to know exactly where all of my stuff is. Now that there is a child in my life (and to be clear, she’s fairly tidy for a two year old), there’s only that much more stuff to catalog in my brain. I’m sure I’ve wasted more salary hours by tracking than the objects would cost to replace, but I still have not lost little items from my own childhood, at least until now as I choose to part with them.

professional hoarding

My new colleagues have engaged in an online discussion that happens in university departments everywhere: what should we do with the materials in this storage space that no one seems to be using? In this case there are video and audio cassette collections in addition to textbooks, DVDs, and so on. The colleague who began the discussion made proposals for some of the materials, including in caps “DUMP.” A second colleague responded that he needed the VHS tapes as backup for when DVD fails and, thus, he offered to store them in his office. I chimed in a suggestion to digitize the materials to save space while preserving content, and colleague 1 told colleague 2 that if he wishes to store all of the items, they will take up an onerous amount of space in his office.  Finally a staff administrator wrote in with the following advice: “The idea of this isn’t to make people throw out useful items or create a certain quota of space, it is to get you to toss out anything that no one ever uses so we can make space for things that actually do get used. My Rule Of Thumb: If no one has touched it In the last year there is a very good chance that no one will ever touch it again; therefore you toss it.”

I am especially enjoying the evoked vocabulary, “Dump, chuck, and toss,” added to suggestions such as “rehouse.”

This all ties back to the value of the objects and the sense of libraries. Once again I’ll be working in a country that is quite far from the source of the language resources. Every object becomes precious because it is imported at some expense. These are items we made space for in our suitcases or took the care to purchase and ship. With the advent of internet shopping and e-books, it has become quite a bit easier to access language resources, but no one can bring back those VHS tapes from the garbage or revive defunct language learning systems and texts that are forever out of print. We also have nostalgic attachment to our daily interaction with those sources that we may have used to teach for hours each day for a year at a time.

My personal library is full of rare and out of print texts fished out of street markets in France, Switzerland and Quebec. If you asked me to chuck, dump, or toss those items that I haven’t touched in a year, I might just bite your head off.