Upon returning to my childhood home in the aftermath of UCSB canceling spring quarter, I realized that I would have to face the more intangible chaos and confusion of COVID-19 in the very palpable chaos and confusion of my bedroom.
Although I’ve come home multiple times since starting college, I never found the energy to clean my room because if I’m being completely honest, I’m a bit of a hoarder. My room is a physical manifestation of my camera roll: cluttered with irrelevance for memory’s sake. My desk hasn’t been used since the last school assignment from my senior year of high school. It’s dusty, there are pens that are older than the Walmart yodeling kid, and SAT vocabulary workbooks that I admittedly never touched. At the foot of my bed lies a box placed there during a vain attempt at decluttering, now toppling with old papers and souvenirs from high school. Not only do I have another drawer filled with mementos, but a whole section of my closet is also devoted to boxes packed with trinkets and miscellaneous notes from as far back as elementary school. My room is a mess—not necessarily Hoarders-worthy, but definitely in need of a clean.
All of the times that I’ve been home, cleaning my room was a chore that was always on my list but never got checked off due to the sheer magnanimity of the task. As I procrastinated the days away, I didn’t realize how much time was passing by. But the monster that I left untouched only became increasingly more daunting: there was so much to sift through, so many memories to filter.
The thought of going through the junk and deciding which junk is meaningful enough for me to keep is no small deed for a memento hoarder like me. I keep everything because I’m terrified of forgetting. I know it’s inevitable but I want to prolong my memories by holding on to remnants that give me little pockets of a past life.
I’m only 20 years old, but even at this age I am swept up in the spinning and rotating and orbiting of life. Each minute is fleeting; I blink and I lose another one to the past. As our planet spins the days away, I feel like I’m clinging on for dear life, as if my brain can feel the speed of the earth’s movement although my body cannot physically perceive it. And in this whirlwind, the days go by often without leaving any notable impression in my mind. I look back and find that I can’t remember huge chunks of my life, times that I’m sure were crucial in my development. All of the contents that make up the past twenty years are beginning to jumble together and I have no doubt that they will fade further because that’s just how life goes.
Hence, hoarding. Relentlessly collecting every card, every Post-It note, every seashell and every handout from any event ever because it reassures me that, even if I forget a moment now, I’ll have this tangible object to give me a lovely memory in the future. The thing is that so many of these memories have already become lost on me, but I never realize it until I’m sitting on the floor of my room sifting. Usually, each knickknack sparks a flashback, recovering a segment of my life that I had completely omitted, and endowing me a gift from the past. But sometimes, I pick up a scrap of paper with a scribble on it and find that it is as meaningless as trash. At that point, it doesn’t affect me because I’ve already lost it, making decluttering a simpler task. Other times, I remember the Silly Bandz that were my treasured status symbols in 5th grade, laugh, and toss them away because I feel ready to relinquish these memories to the archives of the past. The most wonderful thing about the past is that I tend to remember the good times more than the bad, and the bad times become good when I realize that I got through them and grew stronger. The memories often morph to become more magical than they were in the moment.
For me, the act of holding onto physical things gives me a sense of comfort. It distills my fear of forgetting and provides me with a therapeutic process when I take the time to clean through the mementos. It helps me to deal with my dread of letting go by allowing me to do it at my own pace. I’m able to reflect on the wonders of my life that I considered important enough to keep. It’s not a cute habit, despite the boxes of lovely cards and letters I have, because things get very cluttered. It’s not very Marie Kondo of me. Yet, I don’t think it’s a habit that I’ll ever stop. Hopefully, I’ll learn to moderate, but my memories make me who I am. Every stage in my life and every person I meet touches me deeply and becomes a part of my story; I don’t believe it’s a crime to want to preserve as much of my ever-evolving story as I can. As I morphe and my life shifts, my memories ground me and remind me of the great journey that I am embarking upon. I am a nostalgic (yes, I used it as a noun because that’s how nostalgic I am), a constant reminiscer, a lover of the little things. Maybe it’s messy and slightly socially reprehensible in our streamlined world, but the value of the little things far outweighs the negative connotations of that word: hoarder.