I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hoarding.
No, I am not in any danger of having a house filled several feet deep with old newspapers, empty pizza boxes and cat poop. Or at least, I don’t think I’m in danger of that. I am guessing the man currently tunneling through an apartment piled to the ceiling in filth at one time didn’t think he would ever be living like that, and yet…there he is.
No, I am thinking about my own personal hoarding demon. Perhaps a more insidious form of crazy because it’s less obvious. I am thinking about the way I endlessly pin things on Pinterest for “later” that I never look at again—clothes, decorating ideas, DIY projects and recipes. I am thinking of the GB of emails and files I have saved to “read later” and for projects I never get around to. I look at the box of “too small” clothes in the spare closet that I might fit into again one day, and the box of “too big” clothes I may have to wear again one day.
Then there’s the “just in case” food storage rotting away in the cupboard, the flower pots I bought for an herb garden I haven’t started…yet…two years later. The cracked watercolors and warped paintbrushes I have lugged around since college through several moves, packing and unpacking but never using. Because one mysterious and magical day, I will have time again to paint and have a garden and do all of the cooking and DIY projects I imagine I could do…probably in the same imaginary world where I am a size 2 again.
Mostly I think about why I keep all of these things. I know the reasons I give my long-suffering husband, especially about the piles of cooking magazines and endless Tupperware collections. I tell myself I am being thrifty, not wasting or throwing away “perfectly good” ratty towels and squeaky shoes, and how I will need all of these things later. Probably tomorrow actually. But why am I really hanging on?
I remember during our last move, I finally went through a bin of old college notes and papers I was saving for when I went to grad school. And I couldn’t just throw the entire bin away, I had to pour over old handwritten notes I didn’t even really understand anymore. I wasn’t throwing away college notes and papers, I was throwing away a dream, a dusty, deteriorating dream that sat in a closet too long.
The other day, I was trying to remember some Shakespeare minutiae during a random conversation. I can’t even remember why it was so important that I recall a bunch of factoids from an old college class, but it suddenly struck me how much I had forgotten about a subject I used to be very knowledgeable and passionate about. I finally had to admit that I wasn’t sure anymore.
“You know, you can’t hoard knowledge,” I said to my husband, feeling a little deflated. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
This realization is disheartening. A part of me wants to save as much as I can—ideas, things, plans—when they’re available, and even if I don’t use something for a decade, it should still be shiny and new and just as useful as the day I stored it away. But in real life, that doesn’t happen. Pant seams fray, that gaudy “gold” ring turns brassy, the colors fade on that poster you planned to frame eventually, and the last few drops of your favorite perfume sour while you wait for the special occasion to use them.
I don’t understand what fears of mine are being assuaged by holding on. But I am starting to understand that if you hang onto something that you aren’t using, you are wasting it. And by the time you finally get around to using it, there probably won’t be much left to work with anyway. If you don’t use it, you lose it, even if it’s still stowed safely in a drawer somewhere waiting for the perfect moment.