I have a friend (it's Bianca Phillips) who notoriously holds on to outdated food. One time, she told me that something was still good because the package wasn't puffy yet. I just about fell over because I had heard this exact reasoning on an episode of Hoarders.
I get it. At any given time, my freezer is filled with leftover soups and disappointing bean patties. Last May, after the storm, I felt something like relief to dump all that food (except for that bag of IKEA meatballs). The decision had been made for me.
I had read years ago that hoarding is putting sentimental value on things that have no sentimental value. I believe it. A few years back when I moved, I got rid of about four boxes of sentiment. I had kept every letter I had ever received like someone someday was going to do my bio. I had all those school photos of folks whose names I've long since forgotten. I put it all in the trash can — the rolling city-issued kind. It filled the whole thing. I haven't really thought of it since.
I have become something of the family's Goodwill. Nine large boxes of various stuff from my mother's move, more boxes of family photos from a brother. I have all of my late father's diplomas in frames. What should I do with my late father's diplomas in frames? Someone told me to take the diplomas out of the frames and put them all in an envelop. But then I would still have the diplomas. And the frames.
I've been recently looking at condos, ready to downsize again. One was in a great old building downtown. It had exposed brick and large windows with great light. It screamed character. I was even charmed by the view into a dank alley and the weird stain on the tub. But it had no storage. Where would I put the 80 years of family albums and three sets of dishes?
The other side of the hoarding coin is the idea that this will come in handy some day. Old towels. Stacks of magazines (New Yorkers, natch) to be read. All the ratty t-shirts I will paint in (I will never paint). The large, nice panini press I've used exactly twice — once with the person who gave it to me. The plastic bags and odd containers that multiply by the day. The baskets to put more stuff in.
I've been thinking about all the stuff we (I) accumulate. The company is moving from its longtime headquarters in about a month. I've gone through my drawers once, tossing business cards and dozens of those paper salt and pepper packages. I saved a tiny cartoon of a baby putting a fork in an outlet, a weird one-eyed chicken thing, a bag from the Peanut Shoppe with a cute peanut on it reading "Happiness is a Peanut" (so true), a little bag of blue rock candy made to look like the meth from Breaking Bad, a knife Bruce gave me to stab people.
When I began here in the '90s, the bluff across the street was covered in trees where now mansions stand. There was some crime. We ate at Spaghetti Warehouse all the time. We had a party in the parking lot when the trolley began its Riverside loop. We've had plenty of dock parties since. There's been some arguments within these walls. But there's been way more good work and lots of laughter — those are the things worth hoarding.
firstname.lastname@example.org Bruce VanWyngarden is on vacation this week. His column returns when he does.