It happened unexpectedly a few weeks ago. From the pile of dented-beyond-repair storage boxes, along with other moving-in detritus destined for the recycling bin of New Quincy basement, I rescued a perfectly good long cardboard tube. It’s the type that comes with a room rug wrapped around it.
“Stop!” I exclaimed as my roommate reached for it. “We should keep this. It could be useful ... for something.”
For what? I’m not sure yet, but when you look at it, the thing definitely has potential as a lightsaber–what if one of my friends wants to be a Jedi for Halloween? My roommate merely laughed it off, but I knew the moment had exposed the pack rat tendencies inside me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really hard time throwing things away. It isn’t that I hoard things on purpose, or that my room at home is filled to the brim with junk. But over the years, I have indulged a habit of keeping things that others wouldn’t think twice about before tossing.
Much of the time, I operated on the “this-could-come-in-handy-someday” principle, saving each and every item that held even the slightest potential for future use. While other kids gleefully burned their notebooks and homework when school let out for the summer, I carefully gathered old tests and handouts in binders to which I imagined I could turn if I was ever stumped on how to apply the quadratic formula, or if I needed to double check whether the clouds I was looking at were cumulus or cumulonimbus.
A trip through my extensive personal archives at home yields unexpected treasures. I have a recipe for making salt dough, a guide to solving the Rubik’s Cube, and a mysterious package that I bedazzled and enveloped in 10 layers of scotch tape when I was about five. Some things I save because they’re pretty. I even have a sheet of paper that translates Egyptian hieroglyphs into approximate Roman characters. I’ve saved every letter ever written to me, every postcard I’ve ever received. If you’ve sent me a birthday card, even if it was 10 years ago, I still have that too. Each time I come close to throwing one out, I consider the fact that somebody took the time to write something interesting or personal on a piece of paper and trusted me with its safekeeping: that’s when I promptly put it back in the box it came from.
My habit of saving everything finally came under fire when I packed up for college three years ago. Having to cram all my things into several large suitcases, and then subsequently into storage boxes that were not going to haul themselves up and down several flights of narrow stairs, caused me to reevaluate the marginal value of keeping items that had a dubious chance of being used.
Accumulating stuff is rather out of vogue these days. Photos, notes, invitations, and birthday cards can be exchanged online. I recently read a magazine feature lauding a family that had undertaken a quest to live as close to waste-and-clutter-free as possible. Instead of allowing her children to keep school projects, the mother had digital pictures taken of them before they were chucked into the recycling. Holding onto things seems somehow environmentally unfriendly, overly materialistic, perhaps a tad too sentimental.
I really have tried to change. Thanks to my active efforts at personal reform, one would hardly guess that the (relatively) clean and simple room I occupy in Quincy is the residence of a recovering pack rat. Sure, I still save the ticket stubs from every sports game and theatrical production I go to, but I use them as wall decoration, so I figure there’s some sort of compromise there.
As a result, here at school my life is ordered and efficient, with my habitation containing only just what I need to get through classes and nasty New England winters. But at home I reside among a tangle of artifacts, and that fact is comforting in a way that is hard to describe. I don’t regret the clutter. After all, pack rats surround themselves with objects they’ve collected to keep themselves warm and safe, and that seems like a valid enough reason to me.
— Adrienne Y. Lee ’12 is a history concentrator in Quincy House. She will probably clip this page out and save it.