It seems to me….

Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.” ~ John Dewey.

All of us have items we bought twenty years ago (or in my case, much longer) squirreled away in the garage or closets but no longer used. Our wives (spouses) always ask why we refuse to get rid of whatever is the current topic of conversation. “Why not let someone have it that would really use it?” The hand-router with a bad electrical cord and all its accessory tools, the coax cable crimpers for a coax size no longer used, the portable jigsaw for which we no longer have any saw blades….

It’s easy to see the apparently useless items with which someone else illogically refuses to part. We do not part so easy with our own items which we know with absolute certainty we will need the day after they are gone. The fondue pot never used in the ten years since it was purchased, the dozen mismatched porcelain tea cups and saucers never used since we inherited them. Everyone has their own collection of items we insist on keeping though there isn’t any way to justify it.

Am I ever really going to review those undergraduate college textbooks on advanced calculus, formal logic, or quantum mechanics that I haven’t opened in over fifty years? What about the literature anthologies or world history texts? They rarely have been read in the last half century. But I did get rid of most of my graduate school texts (hmm, have to think about that…).

And there are the unused auto maintenance and repair tools when I no longer even change the car’s oil myself. I still have boxes of electrical components – resistors, capacitors, inductors – and would not be surprised to find some old 12AU7 or 6L6 radio vacuum tubes hidden away somewhere. Let’s not even mention all the clothing too well worn to give away that no longer is in style or even fits.

Items have sentimental value; it is the memories those items represent that actually are of importance to us. We are not possessions and our memories are within us rather than in “things”. In truth, many of these seemingly no longer useful items are primarily about who we are or at least how we wish to see ourselves. It is a reminder of who we once were and wish we still could be.

My old backpack unused in years that I carried over several thousand miles of wilderness or mountain backcountry trails is an old friend I once depended on through many pleasant adventurers. While I still occasionally entertain fantasies of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, in saner moments realize that though I have not changed over the intervening years, the pack has become heavier, the trails longer, the mountains steeper, the ground harder, and the area under my sleeping bag less level with many more rocks. Though it now contains items to take in an emergency evacuation, using it in that capacity is only rationalization as a duffel bag or similar container would be more functional. That pack is part of who I once was and the way I prefer to still see myself.

Neither my wife nor I could be described as hoarders. Most items no longer being used are donated to charitable organizations but an undefined amorphous category of “things” remains. To part with these items would mean relinquishing many personal delusions we prefer to retain.

No, I think I’ll hold on to them a while longer. Self-deception? Maybe. But for now I prefer to hold on to those perceptions.

That’s what I think, what about you?

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Charity, Clocks, Dream, Hoarding, Items, Memories, Possessions, Self-Delusion, Sentiment, Textbook, Things, Useful, Value and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hoarding

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    We are going through a period of “de-cluttering” as our youngest daughter and her partner are moving in with us. They are bringing their own household. Room has to be created for their possessions. Questions are being asked why we are keeping things we haven’t used in decades. As you say, they were part of us and can only be understood through our emotional attachment.

    When we recycle an old book we throwing away memories. Not seeing that particular book might destroy the connection to the content. They are crying out , we don’t need a certain book it is now available for free as an e-book. It is funny, even after years one can find quickly a page. We did not need a special reading course to read a book. But needs a course to fully understand and work a tablet.


    • lewbornmann says:

      Your daughter is fortunate to feel sufficiently comfortable to move in with you even if that move is dictated by necessity or only for a limited time. There certainly will be challenges for all of you.

      “Decluttering” always is challenging for some of the reasons you mentioned. My wife, Barb, and I have frequently moved and always discarded all but what was considered essential. The term “essential” is sufficiently ambiguous to encompass those items to which either of us feel some emotional attachment. It is our memories that define us.

      Volunteering with Red Cross, I have on all too many occasions met with someone outside the remains of what had been their home. Most of the material items could be replaced but the memories represented by pictures of family or friends were considered irreplaceable. The books that were old friends. Other items that to us represent so much more than that item itself. These are what in many ways have made us who we are.


  2. clee says:

    Lew, I enjoy all of your posts, but this one really pulls at my heartstrings. I feel that I am always trying to declutter, and maybe I have been, for most of my life. I always said that I would not become like my father, who has a houseful of hoarded possessions of barely any worth, and will require months of “curation”, if not more, when it comes time. I’m nowhere near that level of hoarding, but you made me think of a way to make a good “first cut” by thinking of the selection process in a logical manner. How about rating items on a scale of how useful, and how memorable. The lower the rating, it’s gotta go. At least it would get the total volume down as a start.


    • lewbornmann says:

      I can empathize with your thoughts regarding your father as my parents having lived through the depression also were hoarders who rarely parted with anything. It was somewhat of a surprise when following their deaths to realize they not only had kept all the mail they ever had received but even the envelopes in which it had come. There were many gallon paint cans — all empty stacked in the basement. Years of old newspapers. While not readily apparent from within the house, both the basement and attic were completely filled.

      Unfortunately, while there were many items of theirs I might have liked to retain, there was so much useless accumulation it made separating the good from the bad impossible within the limited time I could take off from work when preparing the house for resale. Much was regrettably lost.

      My wife, Barb, and I have frequently moved necessitating parting with all but essential items. Still, that word “essential” places many of those items into a somewhat questionable category of whether they actually are worth retaining. While perhaps not justifiable, there always will be those items with which we will not part simply because of memory associations.

      Good luck.


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