The Things We Keep

I tend to run a pretty tight ship, which you have to do when you are accustomed to living in houses approximately the size of a postage stamp and you don’t really have room for all of your belongings, let alone the inevitable clutter of life; when you have to rearrange the entire house to fit in a vacuum cleaner, you start to wonder about what you can jettison to make more space. My new house is the largest house I’ve ever lived in on my own and it causes me to luxuriate in space—I have a hall! And an office! It’s very exciting.

I am always struck by the detritus I uncover when I go on one of my periodic ruthless cleaning rounds, the things I’ve kept, sometimes for years, that I finally decide to discard, because, really, who needs a horse windup toy or a broken soap dinosaur or a jar of face cream someone gave you that you are never, ever going to use even though the person was very nice in thinking of you. Why would I want to hold on to a party noisemaker from a new year’s I can’t even remember, an assortment of broken coloured pencils that have gone slightly dusky and waxy with time, a hideous stuffed seal someone gave me that I didn’t even want when I got it and somehow ended up keeping through three moves?

Books are the bulk of what I keep, as I am loath to get rid of books unless I am under extreme duress or I end up with multiple copies, but there are oddments, too. Strange little tokens and charms acquired over the course of my life that have no real meaning or value, but I can’t quite bring myself to throw away, or to give away. Other things I can discard without a thought, like all the random cat crap people buy me because evidently, if you have cats, what you want, what you need, what you pine for, is random cat crap.

Stuffed cats, ceramic cats, metal cats, wood carvings of cats, plastic cats, cat clocks, cat calendars, books about cats, pictures of cats, cat potholders, cat plates, seriously, I’m pretty sure there is nothing on earth people haven’t stuck a tacky transfer of a cat on, and I’m also pretty sure that 90% of the cat crap ever made has been given to me at some point and it is so painfully hideous that I often find a way to ditch it before I even have to bring it into the house, propping it up against the garbage can in the hopes that one of the alley scroungers will take a shining to it and whisk it away or dumping it in the donation box at the thrift store (I had to stop doing that after people would pick things up at the thrift store ‘because they reminded me of you’ and hated cat crap would boomerang back into my house despite my best efforts).

Where’s the dividing line, for me, when I decide to keep a cootie catcher someone made for me in high school, while discarding the hideous crystal Jesus holding a goldleafed Bible someone thought I really needed in my life? Both have some kind of sentimental value to the giver, and thus to me, because even when people give me ugly things, I feel like there’s some sort of connection established there, some sort of fellowship between us, because obviously the person was thinking of me, even if in a slightly peculiar and twisted kind of way.

Clunky things usually get the heave just because I can’t fit them in the house. Art I’ll keep but not necessarily display, although I do rotate my art periodically. I just have aesthetic objections to looking at ugly art, even well-meaning art, while at the same time I feel a twinge of guilt at the thought of discarding it because someone, somewhere, put effort into it, so when people ask me where it is I can say ‘it’s in storage’ without having to lie, because, well, yes, it is stored, in the box marked ‘ugly art’ so I can differentiate from ‘art I want to display.’

Odd little things I will keep, as long as they are small enough to fit in one of my odd little thing baskets. Sometimes I appreciate the sheer level of quirkery embodied in some of these objects, particularly the found ones, and I want to ask people what about a jelly slug or a blue marble made them think specifically of me, and made them feel compelled to present it to me, often with great solemnity, even though they know that I keep my house plain and largely undecorated; it’s not that these objects will ever be displayed and most of them I never look at again until I am sorting through my odd little thing baskets and going ‘who gave this to me again?’

What makes us keep the things we do? Whence comes that strong sentimental attachment to random and sometimes peculiar objects? As I grow more and more settled, I notice my need to keep odd things increasing, and it worries me, the thought of someday waking up and realising that I’ve walled myself in with baskets of weird stuff I want to keep even though I never use it or look at it, I mean, at least they are classy baskets, but, really, one starts to wonder if there’s going to be an end in sight or if my house, like my website, is eventually going to become such a tangled clutter of sentimentality and objects that no one, not even me, will be able to find anything.