On Being a Keeper

Don't go in my garage. You will likely not come out alive; or, at least, without imagining me as a 70 year old woman surrounded by boxes, cats and crying on television while the authorities tell me that they cannot find my husband underneath the vintage suitcases and extra chairs. Like this one.

It's not that bad - we clean it once a year-ish, throwing away things that no longer matter and organizing the things that do. But, to people who aren't what I am - a Keeper - it will simply look like piles of things -things - that aren't necessary. Things that make the garage messy and keep my guests from getting their own roll of paper towel.

I call myself a keeper, because that other word - the one that illustrates a popular and frustratingly sad television show - has that connotation that makes it seem as if its a bad thing. And that alone - the idea of Keeping being a bad thing - is something that I struggle with daily.
I have a collection, a massive collection, of vintage train cases and suitcases. None of them cost much, maybe $15 at the most, but most of them were found either dumped by someone else (a few weeks ago I found 4 on the side of the road!) or at thrift stores for pennies. I can't explain to you the feeling I get when I'm perusing the shelves at Goodwill and see a rectangular plastic case of goodness poking out from underneath the heaps of black zip-up rolling bags. Who could give this up? I think to myself. Who would throw such a beautiful and aged item in this bin with the likes of these generic, blah blahs? While I'm checking for fatal flaws (mold, major stains, major rust) I'm imagining where it came from . Who did it belong to? Was it bought by a young woman in 1954 for a cross country adventure? A birthday gift? Something bought but left in the closet until someone finally said "let's take this to Goodwill. You don't use it, you never have". You can always tell how beloved it was by how much wear it has.

And then, I bring it home, and store it with the others. In the garage.

There's so many other things, chairs that look beautiful, have character; the sewing table from the 60s given to me; old vintage radios that I found at Urban Ore for $1 a piece (and couldn't resist); pieces of paper and tidbits of things that I imagine drawing or painting on; knicknacks that call to me; and everything I've bought or been given that has, in my opinion, some use, some value, even if that value is simply a plan, an idea, in my long list of those.
Last year I fully battled my shopping mania and have been very, very successful at learning how to restrain myself and redirect myself. While doing that, I also began to understand why I surrounded myself in things, why it wasn't good for me, and that has helped in many ways to keep me from making lots of trips to the thrift store. However, restraining and fixing that part still hasn't killed the Keeper in me. That part is strong and alive.

I had an idea this morning that I should sell a few of my better train cases and suitcases on etsy, since a seller friend of mine has been very successful at getting great money from hers (she started finding them after I showed her mine). Sorrow came over me. What if a photo project comes along that would be PERFECT for the 20s green case?! And I had sold it off to some other girl somewhere else with another collection of her own.
Somewhere in the faces of these old things, these unique things, I find a personality. I find something I relate to, and a way that we can be mutually beneficial. This is fueled by what I call the Personification Complex (or Brave Little Toaster Syndrome) that affects me and so many kids of my age. The personification of anything that exists (lead by shows such as the Brave Little Toaster, The Velveteen Rabbit, anything made by Pixar, etc) To me, these treasures are alive. I am lucky to have found them; they are lucky to be given a home.

(Go ahead, roll your eyes. Call me crazy. But have you ever thrown a stuffed animal in the garbage?)

I sometimes have the sudden need to simplify. Get rid of everything in this house, everything I've kept just because, everything I've bought simply to make this a home, everything I said I'd do something with but then stored instead. Sometimes I imagine a clean office with no stacked canvases, craft papers, magazines and old sewing books, or irregular bathroom tiles. A garage without train cases. Shelves without oodles of 50s and 60s radios, unique owls, busts of Agatha Christie, and glass birds.

But more often than not, my need to simplify comes from the embarrassment I feel when I watch people discuss Hoarders, or even sometimes, me. I don't want to be the person who has piles so high that food and dead cats become rotten in between. I don't want to be dirty, horribly disorganized and unable to function in my home. Ever. I don't think anyone ever does. It's an illness, one that is sad and should be treated as such.

So, when I imagine my train cases, and my things, I feel tension. So much of what I have describes me - not in the way that a Lamborgini or Gucci dress describes someone - but in the way those things are, and the way they work with me. Is it wrong to want to conserve things that have character that others throw away? Is it wrong to collect?

Is there a happy medium between Keepers and Hoarders? Or, are Keepers always destined to be Hoarders in the end?

4 people's thoughts:

David March 9, 2010 at 4:25 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
David March 9, 2010 at 4:26 PM  

Agatha does not belong on that list...she keeps our books from falling over!

Monkeymama March 10, 2010 at 12:09 PM  

Maybe focus less on getting rid of stuff and more on finding an organized way to store it?

Perhaps if you try to clean and organize the garage/office you'd be able to part with a few extra items and then also be able to appreciate the rest more.

But, Dave might have stories of forced sisterly help in that area - so I'll not say any more!

C March 12, 2010 at 7:33 AM  

I don't think that just because you keep things means you'll inevitably become a hoarder. I think part of your problem is that you live in a tiny house with a tiny storage space, and you simply don't have the room to display these treasures properly. Once you get your own place someday you can make sure you do have adequate space for everything, and then you can start to really pare down to what you truly want.

I watch Clean House a lot, and sometimes they recommend if you buy one thing to let go of two- that will help keep the clutter under control and help you evaluate how badly you really want a new 'thing.' But this is for extreme cases. You could even just get rid of one thing for every new thing.

I myself have tried to keep my 'things' at bay in the past by getting rid of tons of them, but then my house starts looking so empty and before I know it I have new clutter, so I guess I'm not one to talk.

Your garage sounds absolutely magical, and I'm SO curious now :D

(Ps. I agree with David! Don't get rid of Agatha!)

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