Why I hold on to the things I no longer need or use
Without my history, I just wouldn’t be me.
No one could ever call me a minimalist. I use 10 words when five would do. I have more books than I can read. I remember music by the friends who first played me the song.
So it didn’t come as a great surprise when my life coach told me that one of my top five personality strengths is “collecting”.
For someone like me, apparently, the world is exciting because of its infinite variety and complexity.
I may not know why I need to collect and store knowledge, information, or objects, or when I will use them, or even what I’ll use them for. But who knows? I’ll be ready.
In the digital age, it’s easy enough to store knowledge and information. But books, baking tins, small bottles of sand from four continents, shoeboxes of letters from my best friend, written when we were 14…these things take up space.
Reading the report from my life coach made me realise I was spending more time and energy storing things than using them. That gave me a jolt. Still, I find it hard to throw things away.
As much as I remember how I met people by the book they loaned me or the song that was playing, I remember a version of myself by how I felt when I first saw something, collected it and brought it home.
I treasure my collection of the novels of Russell Hoban. He’s an obscure, underappreciated writer, but his versions of reality weave in and out of my life with each book.
When I read The Medusa Frequency, I fell in love with my boyfriend’s mother, who gave it to me.
When I read Kleinzeit, I realised I didn’t want to go into advertising after all.
As a young mother, I read The Marzipan Pig. Reading to my son about the little pig who fell behind the sofa and risked his sweetness being lost to the world, felt like a cautionary tale.
By collecting these books, I was collecting snapshots of myself. I remember those moments every time I see them on the shelf. I don’t even have to read the books again.
It’s harder to explain why I keep the things that no longer serve me. The jeans I’ve outgrown, those shoe boxes of old letters. They’re pieces of a past I know I won’t return to.
I don’t even want to go back. If I could wear that size again, I’d want a much newer pair. So what keeps me there? A little laziness, perhaps, but also some tenderness, wrapped up in nostalgia.
It’s good to know I still have traces of the girl I used to be. She’s not gone, lost or forgotten. Someone is looking after her treasures and memories.
I think of the famous quote by the writer, Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
All this collecting and preserving is what I love to do. It feels like this is the root of all my collecting. I’m preserving and cherishing little pieces of the universe that make my own world unique and precious.
It makes me slow down and pay attention to what matters to me now, and what mattered to me in the past. So what if it takes up more room in my cupboards?
Without my history, without the things I collect and store, I just wouldn’t be me.