Overcoming a hoarding mentality

Perhaps the was the vast pile of stuff I realised I’d accumulated when I moved flats last year should have indicated something to me, but no. It wasn’t until my sister criticised me via Twitter in the autumn that I had an inkling that I might possibly be something of a hoarder. [I had discovered the letter sent to me informing me of the prizes I won at my school speech day the summer after my A-levels. Apparently ‘people’ just don’t keep ‘those things’…]

Obviously, I insisted she was wrong. I only keep the important things. Doesn’t everyone keep important correspondence, photos, diaries and travel journals? What about tickets to plays, programmes, random notes and cinema ticket stubs? [She continually brings up the fact that when we moved house in 2004, I discovered cinema tickets going back to 1996. I, on the other hand, was impressed to find one that revealed that I’d been watching Romeo + Juliet the day our neighbour gave birth to their third child.]

However, a couple of weeks ago I noticed a tissue on my bedside table. I moved to throw it in the bin and paused, realising I knew exactly when, where and who had given me it. I hesitated and left it there for sentimental reasons. When you discover you’re hoarding tissues, something has become an issue! [This is loosely true. I have now thrown that tissue away, but the thought process was there, which is terrifying.]

A tissue is one thing. Two archive boxes full of five years’ worth of academic work is quite another. I’d planned, while in Belfast, to locate my A-level RS notes and see if there was anything that might be worth keeping for my current theology degree. Of couse, those notes were right at the bottom of the box and by the time I’d got there I’d reached the conclusion that if I hadn’t needed any of it for 13 years, it probably wasn’t worth keeping. Once I’d rescued the RS notes, I figured I’d move on to my box of undergraduate notes. All I kept was marked essays and my dissertation notes – it was incredibly cathartic and produced a massive pile of recycling:

Along the way, I discovered a few things:

  • I’d actually gone to the effort of creating A1 size revision notes for my European History course. 
  • My multi-coloured revision timetable pointed towards a misspent study leave. 
  • Over the years, I have learnt a lot of stuff that I simply have no recollection of. My only essay to receive a 1st was on the Congo – honestly, I had no idea we’d ever covered the Congo in my degree! (On reflection, I suspect I wrote it the same year I read the Poisonwood Bible.) 
  • Essay comments were a major source of amusement. One lecturer remarked (on an essay that was slightly below par) that I had the makings of a good writer, if only I could learn not to waffle – not entirely sure if that lesson’s been learnt yet. Another began their comment with the statement: “You have clearly read Augustine’s City of God thoroughly…” – I can guarantee that this was almost certainly not the case!
  • The most interesting things were the bits of paper found amongst the files and the files themselves. I discovered the ‘Prefect Code of Conduct’ I’d had to sign before I could accept my Prefect badge and various bits of graffiti – most telling of all, the ornately designed ‘HELP!’ just inside the cover of my Philosophy & Ethics file.
  • I apparently go for men who have nearly identical handwriting. Spooky.

Best of all, the RS notes that may be useful were located in a ring binder that is typical of a teenage girl’s stationery c.1998 – surely all of us experienced the joy that was file collage? This was actually the only one of my folders to get this attention (though I believe at the time I had a matching notebook and pencil case), so at least I had some concept of time management aged 16…

Yes, basically all my 16 year old self cared about was Friends and Brad Pitt. 
I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.

This great purge now leaves me with virtually nothing left in my parents’ under-the-stairs cupboard. Literally, all that’s there now is: a small box of teenage memories; a larger box of primary school stuff [I chucked some of it last night, but didn’t have time to sort it totally]; a wicker basket of ‘sentimentally significant or culturally interesting’ toys; and a box of children’s books. I mean that’s practically nothing, right? 


  1. Ha ha ha! Liz, that file! I had so many like that! I actually recognise the pictures that must have been cut from the same teen magazines!

    I’m a total hoarder too. I get collection fever, can never have one of anything. But oh do I annoy myself when it comes to moving house. I’ll never learn!!

  2. I’m a pretty bad hoarder. My Dad still lives in the house I grew up in so all my old school stuff is still there in his loft. Probably mostly eaten by the mice now. Which in 99% of cases is fine but I really hope they haven’t destroyed the first book I made, when I was 6. It was called The Giant’s Footsteps. I keep meaning to look for it and then get scared of what state it will be in.

    And yes, I do keep every ticket stub, every theatre programme, every old diary and calendar, every letter (real letters, not bank/electric company ones) and every old essay. Is it odd that I am more ruthless about which books I keep than almost anything else? Yeah, it probably is.

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