My mom really likes to watch the show Hoarders because, according to her, it “makes her feel better about the state of her own house.”
I don’t like watching Hoarders because it bums me out. I think it reminds me a little too much of my past as a hoarder, which I hope to never revisit. I have grown up and moved on in every capacity except for one: I hoard paper goods.
I should be more specific. I don’t hoard tissues and paper towels, I hoard photographs, tickets, cards, notes, etc.– basically free memories. What I’m getting at is I would make an excellent historian.
The point of me hoarding paper is not so that my living space is particularly susceptible to fires, but rather to commemorate and celebrate everything from the mundane to the extraordinary. I will never remember every minute of the Imagine Dragons concert I went to, but when I flip through my ratchet scrapbook (it’s a very cheap, very small photo album) and see my concert ticket, parking vouchers, and confetti from the show in the sleeves, I can connect each scrap of paper to a very tangible and very awesome memory. It’s the same logic behind framing a college diploma and putting it on your wall: It’s not going to send every moment of your college years flashing before your eyes, but it commemorates the experience and reminds you of what you did.
I also like keeping certain papers because of the value of the relationship they represent. I keep birthday cards with handwritten inclusions and notes from friends, sisters, or coworkers; I still have a handout from Berlin that one of the chaperones gave me that says “Bitchy Friday.” The significance of these paper goods is the inherent compliment that someone took time out of his or her day to think of me. My grandma wasn’t obligated to send a card to me after I visited, but the fact that she did is very humbling. These notes make me feel loved and also make me feel pretty good about the people in my life. I really did a great job picking my blood relatives and the randomly assigned roommates I now consider friends.
But what I probably consider the neatest thing about hoarding paper is the feelings they represent. For example, here is a picture of my mom with my sister Becca and me on our first day of school:
(You can tell my dad took the picture because of the finger in the top right.) I don’t remember a damn thing about that day. This picture does not spark any memory about attending whatever school this is– I don’t even know if we lived in Georgia or Tennessee at the time. What it does spark is the feeling of how much my mom cared about us as my sister and I grew up. This picture of me and Becca with my dad works the same way:
It’s not like I forgot that I have parents who love me, but there’s a difference between realizing the concept and being confronted with the evidence. To make an unnecessarily morbid comparison, it’s the same difference between understanding that the Holocaust happened and seeing a concentration camp with your own eyes. I don’t remember sitting on Dad’s lap while he made faces at me and my sister when I look at this picture. What I do remember is the three of us watching American Idol on Tuesday nights, Dad pointing out deer trails on our Saturday morning hikes, and the songs he would play for us before bedtime when Mom wasn’t home. Basically, I remember having a rad dad.
I get that paper is really easy to throw out (and even easier to recycle. Love the planet.) I get that room keys or ticket stubs really aren’t materially valuable. Logically, I know that having a box filled with speeches or scripts isn’t going to help me in any way. But when I rifle through my unholy mass of pages, photos, sticky notes, etc., it feels wrong to strip these artifacts of their meaning and toss them in a recycling bin (seriously guys the ice caps are melting.) I’m sure someday my loved ones will plead with me on camera to do something about the piles upon piles of paper that have made my home virtually uninhabitable, but for the time being I will continue to diligently collect paper goods and store them in the boxes under my bed.