I'm An Emotional Hoarder

On Oprah’s Life Class last week (stop laughing!), she talked about being addicted to your story. I realized that my “addictive story” was about who I used to be and who I should have been.
Publish date:
April 5, 2012
getting rid of stuff, emotional hoarding

My college poms

I’m a pack rat. I keep everything because I think, “Someday someone might ask me if I still have this and I need to be able to say 'yes.'” This is why I’m still in possession of my college dance team poms, my prom shoes, my favoriteT-shirt from 3rd grade and almost every English paper from high school on up.

If I hadn’t been living in New York when my parents moved from our old house to this current one, I’d have way more stuff. Instead, my mother thought it'd make sense to throw away my prom gown. SHE THREW IT AWAY LIKE IT WAS TRASH! Whether or not anyone ever asks me about my old stuff is totally immaterial. Now it's the principle of the matter.

This weekend, my brothers and my dad cleaned out the storage closet in the basement. A few of the items, though long forgotten, were necessary, like the box filled with old vinyl records (the original Thriller album!) and the barely used indoor grill. But most things (all my “stuff”) were just useless.

A bag filled with old, unopened bills. A box of old clothes that even if they fit, I wouldn’t think of wearing again. Every laptop I’ve ever owned since 1999. A manila envelope stuffed with photocopies of old (terrible, awful, hideous, nauseating) prose and poetry. I can’t even tell you what else.

Looking at about 10 years of my life scattered all over the basement floor, I started thinking, “Why the hell did I keep any of this?” I'm sure I had a good reason at the time, but standing there ankle deep in old papers and “stuff,” I couldn’t think of one.

I found the cord for one of the ancient laptops and plugged it in, interested to see what I was writing about during that time. I even found a journal that I was keeping and read a few of the entries. Is it possible to suffer second-hand embarrassment for yourself? Because I could barely read it, my eyes kept skipping down the page and scrolling -- it was that humiliating.

Then I started thinking about all the things that I “keep” not just physically but emotionally. I’m carrying around guilt and shame from things that happened months and in most cases years ago. I’ve apologized and atoned and asked for forgiveness from the people I hurt (most of them), but I recently realized that I hadn’t forgiven myself. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see me, I saw “the thing I did” even if that “thing” wasn’t my fault or couldn’t really be helped.

I’m an emotional hoarder. I hold on to the slightest feeling or sensation or memory for dear life even when it only makes sense to let it go. Being bombarded by thoughts of a situation or more often a person like a sudden hailstorm is annoying at best. It’s crippling at worst.

Actually, crippling might be a bit dramatic. What I mean is that out of nowhere, I’m gripped with this one thought and I analyze and turn it over in my head, remembering every single detail down to what I was wearing. I’m not sure why I do it. I could be in the best possible mood (like I am now) but start to worry about something that I can’t at all change or fix or even just simply pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I was thinking about you. I thought I’d call.”

Today, I got an text from a number I didn’t recognize. And for some strange reason, I thought it might be from someone I haven’t heard from in awhile -- someone I wanted to make amends with -- and I got a little excited. I texted back, “I’m sorry. This number isn’t saved in my phone. Who is this?”

When I got the text back about 5 minutes (felt like years) later, it was from someone I went to high school with who I randomly ran into a few weeks ago. I was disappointed. Not just “Oh, that’s too bad” disappointed but full on "Can’t do any more work for the rest of the day" disappointed.

It’s crazy because sometimes, I can walk away from a bad situation as if it never existed. But when I need to let go of something disappointg for my own emotional wellbeing, the letdown sticks to my spirit like glitter and magic.

Back to the clutter in the storage room.

I realized a lot of the stuff in the basement were remnants from my time in New York. A life to which I have no real connection anymore but was desperately holding on to. The clothes don’t fit. The ticket stubs and receipts can't be claimed on any tax return. If I wanted to move on both literally and figuratively with my life, I had to get rid of all this “stuff” holding me back.

A vintage tee that got the boot.

On Oprah’s Life Class last week (stop laughing!), she talked about being addicted to your story. I realized that my “addictive story” was about who I used to be and who I should have been, instead of making peace and being okay with whom I am now. So I took cues from

my favorite new website

and I got rid of all of it.

I dove in and sifted through every forgotten bag and box and ended up throwing away 95 percent of it. Then I went through my email inbox and deleted thousands of messages going back to 2004. I’m pretty sure I got rid of some stuff that I'm actually going to need later, but I was on a roll.

I’m working on being lighter and less hard on myself by remembering to leave the past in the past. Well, except for my dance poms. I still need those.