Were we were born with a genetic propensity to be a pitcher or a saver, a hoarder or a heaver? Some people like my sister never let unnecessary items accumulate; others like me have trouble throwing away anything.
While spring cleaning, I finally parted with possessions that had been with me for most of my European life like a bottle of Chanel perfume that I received as a gift in 1979, my first year in France. With my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I could never wear it, but every time I saw that bottle I was reminded of the kindness of strangers, those Parisians, who first welcomed me to their homeland.
I no longer have storage space for my coffee cup – gifts from family, friends and students – an eclectic collection of ISU, UWSP, Manchester, London, and my all time favorite a cream-colored cup imprinted with a sketch of the United Methodist Church, my dad designed. Some cups mean too much to me to use, so they decorate my mantel like the one with a photo of a former basketball team.
I also save baseball caps from every major sporting event I ever attended and every team I loved. Ditto for those team logo t-shirts.
My kids, young adults now living thousands of miles away, have no desire to keep old scrapbooks, school awards, sports medals, so why do I save them? Why keep the clay mold of a 5 year olds handprint, odd shaped vases, lumpy hand made pottery, a glazed chicken, and dozens of paintings. Silly me, hanging onto old toys like Playmobil and Beanie Babies for the memories they evoke.
I have good intentions. Every time the urge to organize strikes, I buy another beautiful colored folder that then sits empty on a shelf like a heirloom.
But by far my worst vice of all is an obsession with words. I saved cards from my grade school BFF, sketches from college roommates and letters from grandparents. Books spill off my shelves. I have – yes I counted – 86 binders in shades of red, blue, green, purple and orange filled with half-baked story ideas, travel notes, family research, book drafts and kids’ essays. For a writer, words are the hardest possession to part with.
Call me a hoarder, but I am not materialistic driven to buy, buy, buy and accumulate more goods. It’s just that pitching out sentimental, memory-evoking possessions feels like sacrilege. Out, out, out. Gone the memories.
Could our brains intentionally be wired this way into pitchers and savers? Some minds are designed to discard and downsize to make room for the next generation, while others like me cling to the past to record our passage in time.
I am like the beekeeper tending the hive, honing the busy nest of our lives, gathering the honey of our collective memories.