First things first: Watch the show Hoarders. It’s entertaining, horrifying, and brilliantly cautionary. You do NOT want to be one of the people that has to be restrained while a hazmat team throws out a two decade old deceased pet you wrapped in pages from expired TV Guide magazines and stowed on top of the refrigerator. It’s not a good look.
Most people watch that show and can’t begin to fathom how that type of situation even comes to be. Are the “hoarders” all crazy? Is it nature or nurture? I don’t have a solid answer, but I do know that these people place a fabricated value on material items that extend beyond the usual worldly idols like cash, jewelry or cars. These people feel a sense of deep loss to the point of mourning over throwing out three-year-old remnants of a half-eaten Egg McMuffin.
Basic hoarding starts unknowingly, or sometimes grows out of noble intent. I have three drawers full of clothes that “I’m totally going to be able to wear if I lose about 30 pounds,” (I tell myself). 5 years have passed. My drawers are still full of cotton garments that my current physique would surely cause to transform into spandex.
The reason I’m writing this letter is two-fold. First, I was making room in the freezer by throwing out a large, mostly empty Costco-sized box of Otter Pops (Why do you guys always eat every flavor but Alexander the Grape?) when I noticed that we had quite a bit of space being taken up by a wholly unnecessary possession- nearly 100 packets of uneaten Toaster Strudel frosting. You see, your mother likes to limit your morning sugar intake when you elect to make these frozen pastry squares your kick-off-the-day snack, so she never uses the suggested one-to-one frosting to strudel ratio. Over time, we have accumulated this enormous collection… which is a good thing if the monetary system collapses and we move to a frosting-based mode of currency, but a very bad thing if we ever want to convince houseguests that we’re not black-market dealers of frozen packets of a substance that strongly resembles bull seed.
Why don’t we throw this stuff out? It’s complicated, but probably has something to do with our parents reminding us that it was a privilege to eat our vegetables, because kids in China didn’t even get to smell green food in their lifetimes. Our parents have scared and scarred us from ever being able to dispose of food items without Vietnam-style dinner table flashbacks.
The second reason I’m telling you all this is that you’ve reached an age where we’re going to have to start throwing out some of your stuff- stuff you love… shoot, stuff that I love. Micah, I look at your copy of Amazing Insects, or that dinosaur book you read so many times that it doesn’t even have a cover or title page to help me remember what it was called, and I see real sentimental value in them. These are material items that helped awaken your curiosity and foster a thirst for knowledge that inspires me every day. Still, they’re just things, and they’re falling apart. It’s time to make room for new books, with new spines that can temporarily hold up to your reading style, which based on the condition of that dinosaur book, seems to take place when you’re inside a paint-mixer.
Things will come and go, and you can’t take any of it with you when you leave the earth. If you’re going to hoard anything, hoard experiences. Hoard positivity. Hoard friendships. Who knows, maybe one of those friends might even want to eat the world’s most over-frosted Toaster Strudel. We can make that happen.