My Spirit Animal, the Pack Rat

Photo by Luu Nguyen Some things are worth keeping under the bed to serve as mementos, or to serve as historical references for future archaeologists.
Photo by Luu Nguyen

I have always been a collector. I’ve got hundreds of books, a set of Scandinavian trolls and a fairly large collection of bottles of sand from around the world. Under my bed in my childhood home I have a box of soccer trophies I can’t seem to part with even though I haven’t played the game since I was nine years old.  For some reason, it is really easy for me to form sentimental attachments to everyday objects.

And I started noticing that maybe my “collections” aren’t really valuable enough to be deemed “a collection.”  It’s often said the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So I’ll admit it — I’m a hoarder.

I don’t really associate myself with those horrifying cat ladies you see on TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” It’s not like I keep left over pizza boxes or mildewing fish tanks.

But after recently moving into a new apartment and unpacking everything, I have realized I hold onto loads of unnecessary junk.

A bumper sticker from my old car.  High school English papers. And we’re not talking a senior year portfolio, more like journal notes from freshman year. Four pocket lighters­­­ (I don’t even smoke). Feathers from what I presume came from a long dead bird.

My friend Isabelle was helping me with the move. After picking up a particularly heavy crate she turned and said to me, “What on Earth do you have in here? Rocks?”

Yes, I did have a box filled with rocks.

Photo by Luu Nguyen It may be considered clutter to one person, but a treasure to someone else.
Photo by Luu Nguyen

This hoarding problem has also gone digital. My email inbox holds a total of 3081 messages.  The desktop on my computer is covered in photos and files and has a folder titled, “stuff.”

And why do I keep all of these things? Do I really think I might need my expired light rail passes again? Or the souvenir spoon from a fro-yo place in California?

Truth is, no, definitely not. I honestly will probably never find another use for my racing number from a 5K I ran three years ago. And I don’t think anyone will ever ask to borrow the white plastic heels I used for my Halloween costume when I was 17.

However, one time I did use the sheets from my freshman dorm bed when I needed to make a toga dress for a party.  And one time I did find use for a cardboard box I had saved when I needed to send a birthday present to a friend.  Unfortunately, these are anomalies and are only perpetuating the problem.

According to American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hoarding is characterized by, “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.”

For some, hoarding can get pretty extreme. Last September, ABC news reported that a Texas woman had to be hospitalized after catching a virus linked to the unsafe mass of stuff she kept in her house.

I wouldn’t necessarily characterize myself as an out-of-control, stage five hoarder.  And it’s definitely not life threatening. I’m not literally being buried in my own junk.  But having a “difficulty discarding or parting with possessions”? I definitely fit that bill.

If I look at my own family I have reason to believe I may be predisposed to this tendency to keep “stuff.” My grandfather lived through the Great Depression. Though at the time it was important to find ways to reuse everything and anything, it isn’t necessary these days to save old tin foil and saran wrap.

And if anyone has ever visited my grandmother at Christmastime they’ll notice there are literally over a thousand Santa figurines scattered throughout her house.

I think it is in human nature to hold onto sentimental objects. Whenever I decide to do a deep cleaning of my room I often rediscover old articles I have written or notes passed between friends, and it’s nice to spend some time reliving past moments.

But enough is enough. Last semester I studied abroad in London and went the entire semester living out of two medium sized suitcases. It was really reassuring to know that I could live with so few possessions and it made me put a higher value on what I had with me.

Pack Rat Article from The State Press on Vimeo. Shot and edited by Luu Nguyen.

A few hundred years from now when an archaeologist stumbles across my decrepit remains, I imagine my plethora of possessions will make quite the find. They’ll have no problem figuring out my mile times from when I was a runner or even what my favorite color is (green, and trust me I’ve got a lot of stuff in various shades).  Though on further consideration maybe my old economics notes are not really something future generations will be interested in analyzing.

I’m proud to say I have been making some progress. Last week I pitched several pairs of shoes that I honestly never wear. I have every intention to go through the boxes under my bed and throw out everything I haven’t used in the past year—expired light rail passes included.

I know I’m not alone in this. Maybe not as drastic, but I’ve talked to many friends who complain about not being able to part with out of style clothing items because, “These jeans could possibly become cool again, you just never know!”  Virtually, everyone can look into their attic and find a token they have never had use for.

But hey, it’s not all needless clutter.

I will hold onto my orange rock from Sedona. And my sand collection is pretty cool. I mean, I’ve got sand from islands in the Pacific Ocean that I have never even been to.  Though I’ve read every single one of the books on my double-stacked shelf, I love being able to go back and look over my favorite passages and lend them out to friends.

The real challenge for me will not be departing with useless items, but discerning the difference between what is simply junk and what is a true treasure.


Reach the writer at or follow her @Newlin777

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.