When I was a kid, my stuffed animals were my best inanimate pals. I assume most of us, siblings or not, grew up with at least a few plush pals or cloth dolls.
But as an adult, it’s become kind of a problem. I still have a whole mess of my childhood stuffed animals for reasons I don’t quite understand. I’ve moved around a lot in the last few years, and my motley crew of bears and bunnies take up valuable storage space.
When I moved abroad a couple of years ago, I did the biggest purge of my life. I sold or gave away almost everything I owned and packed six boxes to be checked under the plane bound for Copenhagen. The only stuff I kept was in the trunk and backseat of my ancient Mercedes, parked in a suburban retiree’s detached garage for a monthly fee. A couple boxes of books, an old record player, and quilts made by my grandmas were top priority. Also? Two giant plastic bags of stuffed animals.
It still seems like a weird selection of items to choose to take up precious space reserved for the most essential keepsakes of my lifetime. And when I unpacked my car a few months ago, I pulled them out and thought, Huh, I kept these?
But even now, I feel guilty considering giving them away.
While living in Copenhagen, even though I sort of knew I had a problem, I got suckered into one more stuffed animal addition. A friend in her 50s had a birthday party at Build-A-Bear, and I point out her age to explain that it wasn’t a situation where I could simply help a small child dress her own bear. Half a dozen adult women showed up for cake and toy-making -- my Build-A-Cat was christened Vibeke, an old Danish woman’s name akin to Ethel -- and I had one more indispensable friend.
When I go to arcades or boardwalks -- which I apparently do more than most people because I’m obsessed with Galaxia and skeeball and have lived in or near awesome coastal cities for the past seven years -- I can’t ever play games that will dispense tickets to be traded for prizes. I try to give the tickets away to little kids clamoring for packets of old gum and those creepy little bamboo finger traps, but I still inevitably end up with a stuffed sea turtle I am unable to ever give it away. No kidding, it happened to me.
Similarly, please see gifts I should never be given for any sort of romantic or sentimental reason. Just say no to giving me a bear holding a heart or an STD-themed plushie. It’s not about style. It’s that I won’t be able to give it away, no matter what. I will name it and engrave its goofy little name on my own heart, forever and ever. Never forget takes on a new meaning over here.
To be fair, there was one point when I did actually get rid of some of my stuffed animals. I don’t remember when it was, but I do clearly remember the agony of putting friends like Big Kitty, Puff the bunny and an elephant named Catherine in a bag headed for a new home. A thrift store? A domestic violence shelter? How old was I? 15?2 25? I truly can’t recall. Maybe I blocked it out because I couldn’t stand the guilt. Obviously, I can remember the plush pals no longer with me and feel gross even writing this. That says a lot.
Currently, I live in an apartment that I’d generously estimate is 450 sq. ft. There really isn’t room for all of these stuffed toys -- bears, elephants, dogs and cats that aren’t even on display. They’re in a giant sack in my closet.
I don’t think my inability to get rid of my stuffed animals is weird, though. Most adult women I know still have a few, if not many. We’re not all crazy hoarders. (Are we?) I’ve pared down my life considerably in the past. I like to think I’m pretty far along the “able to give stuff away without massive panic or guilt” spectrum.
So seriously, why? Am I fixated on childhood comforts? Is it because a few of them belonged to my parents and I mistake dilapidated cloth-covered foam for an antique? What are the memories I’m hauling around, and why do I need the physical evidence to conjure them? What part of my brain activates guilt when I even think about parting with a stuffed koala or Hugh Manatee?