On Packing and Hoarding

University is a magical land of unique perspectives and caffeine-induced superpowers. It’s about learning life skills—important ones, like how to scrub mould out of coffee mugs, write term papers in your sleep, and survive the pasta queue without being trampled. It’s about getting to know yourself—your pet peeves and priorities, your dreams and dreads.

It’s also about packing and unpacking four or six times a year.

Trust me, my stuff does not fit into one suitcase.

As a TCK, I should possess superhuman packing skills, but the truth is, I’m terrible. I blame apathy and packrat tendencies. So this year, struck by ambition, I began packing early. The first step of packing is throwing everything on the floor so I can see it all and, hopefully, pack in an organised manner. But when I saw my jumbled wannabe-Mount Everest, I realised that I should probably get rid of stuff. So I embarked on the terrifying task of sorting through my belongings.

And I discovered that picking through every item I own is far less frightening than getting rid of anything. A very pretty song begins with the lines,

Did you ever want to be overrun by bandits
To hand over all of your things and start over new?

And, holding up a shirt I forgot I owned, I thought, “Yes!” After several days of sorting, I’ve hollered, “Where did I get so much useless stuff?!” enough times that my suitemates have begun shushing me.

But when I tried actually giving things away, I found that I couldn’t. Never mind that I haven’t worn this shirt ever, or that I hate these shoes, or that nothing in my entire wardrobe matches that skirt. With each item, I thought, But what if I need this someday? What if it comes back into style and I can’t afford to buy a new one? Won’t I wish I had kept it?


That’s the simple answer.

So I began a pile of things to get rid of and, taking advice from a friend, forbade second guessing. Once something landed in the pile, it stayed there. And although I still have more useless stuff than I know what to do with, I’ve begun to free myself from extraneous things and, more importantly, from this fear of getting rid of stuff that, really, I don’t want anyway.

Annie Dillard wrote, “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it all, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. …Something more will arise for later, something better.”
writingAnd now, as the year draws to an end and I struggle with suitcase zippers and my dislike for goodbyes, I begin to understand that she wrote about writing—but also about life. This becomes more than a matter of hoarding clothes and knickknacks. It isn’t about those torn jeans I never wear; it’s about engaging in conversations with friends. It’s about embracing even dead week and finals as a rare opportunity to learn. It’s about refusing to hoard my time, emotions, and efforts—because if I don’t give everything I have right now, I never will.

And, paradoxically, I find that I can give everything and not run out. Always, I find a greater capacity to care. To engage. To learn. To be.

So yeah, I’m packing. Cramming stuff in boxes, finding forgotten treasures, asking, “Why do I have so much useless stuff?!”

I’m also giving. Clothes. Jewellery. Bits and bobs.

But also more important things. Time. Energy. Affection.

Because Annie Dillard is right: “Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”


2 thoughts on “On Packing and Hoarding

  1. You’re way ahead of me, Elizabeth! It took me until I was in my mid-30s to grasp the concept of letting stuff go. It took Flylady to spur me on. Glad you won’t have to face THAT many years of stuff, wondering “Why do I have this again?” *G*


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