Hoarding and Sentimentality

Trash cans at the end of trash day. Houston. November 18, 2013.

Trash cans at the end of trash day. Houston. November 18, 2013.

I stashed my cat Ginger’s first collar from kittenhood—including the bell—in a box in my dresser. I kept all the notes friends handed me in junior high hallways. I saved every birthday card. Tickets from concerts collected in my drawers.

And then I started moving.

I changed cities every few years, whether for college or graduate school or work. I didn’t want to pack so much stuff. Paying a fortune to move unnecessary junk seemed foolish.

The more I moved, the more I saw things as frivolous that I had previously felt were keepsakes.

Today, I summarily trash almost everything. I don’t keep race bibs. Ticket stubs go straight to the trash. Books I've loved find new homes if I don’t believe I’ll reference them again.

I have swung so far to the other end of the spectrum that I’ve regretted letting certain things go. I repurchased the psychology textbook from freshman year that I had found so mind-opening. I still regret selling the sewing machine my mother gave me.

Will I swing back?

For over a decade, I’ve lived in the same house. I no longer have an external impetus—moving—to purge. Meanwhile, life has become so much richer, the result of living in one place long enough to build deeper friendships. My brother has married and expects his first child soon. My parents get older. We all get older.

One of my grandmothers couldn’t bear to toss anything. Partly, she couldn’t bother. In some ways, the items had too much sentimental value. And maintaining a hoard of stuff helped her feel grounded, I believe, as she aged and lost control of so much else in her life.

In turn, will I too become sentimental?

I hope not. I’d prefer to lead a life filled with experiences and relationships—and not the physical detritus that activities and interaction leave behind. Accumulated stuff weights me down and distracts me from what really matters.

How do you decide what to keep?