I come from a line of sentimental hoarders and cat lovers (particularly of the black and white variety). In the last year, in moments of needing to clear out my father’s home – a home he has now not lived in for two years – I have cursed him, and his particular brand of “artistic hoarding” many times.
He saved everything. Well, at least everything he thought might be edible or creatively purposeful. Last summer, my brothers and I filled not one, but two, twenty foot dumpsters with our father’s belongings – some, probably prized possessions. He saved frame samples, mats, and papers. He saved rolls of canvases, and racks and drawers. He saved animals bones and trinkets and rolls of tape. He saved every colored pencil he ever stumbled across.
I am not this way. At least, I try not to be. That is what happens when you’re growing up, yes? You look toward your parents to find what you want to be. You look away from them when you discover what you’d like to avoid becoming. I do not identify as a hoarder. Though, in fairness, I’m sure that he didn’t either. Still, as I endeavor to pack up what has been my home for nearly the last three years, I have been forced to reckon with what I hold onto. And it is strikingly similar to what my father, and his mother, have also clung tightly to.
In my father’s home there is a wooden chest filled to the brim with old papers and pictures. My brothers and I recently dug into it, determined to empty it and to make some semblance of progress toward cleaning out our now deceased father’s home. Somewhat to my surprise, the chest was not filled with items solely from his lifetime, but from my grandmother’s lifetime. It held thousands of pictures of her childhood nearly the century that has followed. It held letters and cards from friends and pictorial proof of my cat-loving lineage. It held our family’s past, both distant and recent, including the story of my own childhood. It held proof of my mom and dad’s once-love. It held images of my grandparents long-ago beginnings, young smiles, and swim suits. It held most everything.
In my recent packing and organizing sessions, as I prepare to move into my first house, I discovered I am not so different. I have a tub of old journals, my collection ever-growing. I have dozens of cards and notes that I have received over the years; cards of sympathy, of love, of celebration. They mark important moments in my life and the relationships that have held (and still hold) me. I have the last card that my grandmother ever mailed me, her signature shaky and singular. I have cards from old jobs, signed by ten to twenty coworkers who either adored me or barely knew me. I have notes and postcards from friends, and pictures upon pictures from back when we all actually printed them, and even since then, when I made an exception to do so (to create something tangible from what isn’t).
I keep a tidy home. Some might even say somewhat minimalist, but I hold secret my sentimental-hoarder-self, who cannot, will not, part with objects that make up my story. To me, these objects tie thread by thread, to the amalgamation of stories and feelings that make up my heart.
Is this really a product of genetics? Maybe not. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that my father, his mother, and I all favor long-haired black and white cats, or that we all have kept physical records of our lives tucked away into boxes. Some might view this practice and the amassment of items that accompanies it as cumbersome, strange, or borderline nonsensical. But it is a part of me.
The sentiment I have about being so, well, sentimental is akin to a line from one of my favorite children’s books, The Big Orange Splot. In the book the main character suddenly decides to decorate his home and yard to fit who he is, much to the chagrin of his tidy, uptight neighbors. Mr. Plumbean says, “my house is me and I am it, and it looks like all my dreams.” My boxes of sentiment may be kept tucked away, far from visible by all, but they hold something invaluable to me. They are me, and I am them. If dreams are part past and present, as I hold them to be, they also look like all of my dreams.