I know why the pack rat sings

Cleaning my room has been a perpetual struggle ever since I was old enough to make it messy. So when I buckle down to do it, I make sure I do it well. No matter what size my room is, I always seem to have too much stuff.

I’m a pack rat, plain and simple.

Most people hold on to things. But sometimes, holding on to these physical items hampers our ability to function, and we cross the border into hoarding. I strive to be a fully functional human who does not buy things just for “havesies.”

But that’s not to say that I don’t build emotional attachments to objects. Au contraire, I have mementos all around my room: jewelry boxes my Nana left me, books my mother bought me, pictures of my siblings, diaries and so on. And that is perfectly fine, in moderation.

The moderation part is where cleaning my room comes in. I periodically am forced while in trying to organize my space to re-evaluate my memories to decide which things to keep and which things to let go. When I come across something that carries more baggage than it’s worth in nostalgic value, I give it the Hefty-bag treatment and send it on an express trip to the dumpster.

This is a good thing. We shouldn’t hold on to any emotion for longer than it serves its purpose, nor should we hold on to the items once their purposes have been fulfilled.

Angry letters I didn’t send? Hefty-bag. Half-filled yearbook from summer camp signed by people I haven’t spoken to in eight years? Hefty-bag. With each subsequent edition to the growing trash bag, I feel the emotional garbage being cleared as well.

Letting go is like cleaning your room. It is a sometimes painful, much undervalued process, but you feel better when it’s done.

There are of course some items I will hold on to for as long as I can, because the memories they represent are worth creation of extra space in my room and heart. Shelves are not just blocks of wood purchased at Ikea, put together with wooden dowels and a prayer. They are organizational tools for our nostalgia and memory. They are without and within us.

As writer Margaret Fairless Barber once said, “To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.”

Cleaning our rooms, organizing the spaces we inhabit, and doing the same for our memories and hearts is the closest thing we get to clean slate. It is the way we gain perspective. It is a beautiful thing.

 

Reach the columnist at Alexandria.tippings@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @Leij41.