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Obsessive Kompulsion: In Defense of Being a Pack Rat

I have a hoarding problem. It’s not a serious issue, like not being able to walk through my room because I have a mammoth collection of 80s Cabbage Patch Kids dolls — it’s more an issue of not being able to let go of memories and their physical manifestations, for fear that I’ll one day regret it.

For example, until this week, I subscribed to the Sunday New York Times solely to do the crossword, which appears in the magazine.  Despite this, I still felt the need to hold onto the main section of every paper I’d gotten in my brief subscription period. Maybe someday, ten or twenty or fifty years from now, it will bring me joy to know that I still have a copy of the paper from the day Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed.

But why would 29, 39, or 69 year-old me care when my current 19 year-old self didn’t bother to read even the front page of a product that, until this week, drained $48.94 out of his account every four weeks? (N.B. I unsubscribed this week because $48.94 was too much money in one billing session, but only in looking at my statements to write this column did I realize I that the per week price I paid to have the crossword sent to my P.O. Box was too embarrassing to write out.)

My answer is pretty simple. It’s history. And no one seems to value history as its happening, save for monumental moments — 9/11 and November 5, 2008 come to mind — at least I don’t; otherwise, I would read the paper every day. But I still save enough things, like 12 weeks worth of Sunday New York Times, to the point where I don’t know what to do with them.

Browsing through my computer files would reveal that this disorder trickles over into my digital life. I can’t delete anything from high school — not syllabi, not papers, and definitely not PDFs of e-mails I sent and received from teachers and friends (organized by person and sorted chronologically and dating as far back as August 2006). My “High School” folder takes up 32 gigabytes of my 250GB MacBookPro, though, to be fair, most are pictures. I have a folder for “Screenshots,” because I tend to find many things on the Internet that are worthy of being documented for eternity.

Though there is some semblance of rationality for holding onto the newspapers and things like copies of The Daily from when my first column ran or my Orange Bowl program, I can’t even begin to rationalize keeping the other items.  I hold onto things like receipts from trips to CVS, old fortunes from Chinese restaurants, pamphlets about Green Library, or the wrapper that once held my sandwich from the birthplace of the Philly Cheesesteak (to be fair, I was twelve when I first acquired it and threw it out only a few months after.)

Because I keep things like these, my desks and drawers, at Stanford and at home, are like mini time capsules that tend to be somewhat messy. It’s too painful to convince myself to throw out my receipt from the then-new Barnes & Noble on 86th and Lexington from that day in June of 2009, when I had last hung out with my friend before I went on a student trip to Italy for five weeks, which was the longest I’d ever been away from home, my first time in Europe and the source of my love for all things Italian. (*Takes a breath.*) I wish I could shorten this sentence, but I can’t, and for the same reason that I could not (and still have not) thrown out that receipt: I place meaning in the smallest of things based on the larger ramifications they once held, do hold, or one day will hold in my life.

I’ll admit that I hope someone — an anthropologist, maybe, but hopefully a biographer — might one day find all my belongings interesting. But barring that, I’ll also settle for the fact that my life — the people, the places and the events that comprise it — is extraordinarily interesting to me and that I never want to forget any of it. I already reminisce about the third, fourth and fifth grades being the best years of my life and lament the fact that I don’t remember much of why that was, so what’s wrong with keeping everything from the time that people tell me will be the “best four years of my life?”

For this reason, I’ve kept a journal since November 2008. But it’s the unreadable, the unwriteable, the unsaid that I want to remember — things like receipts that no one else will understand but that will prompt me to say, Oh, that was from the then-new Barnes & Noble on 86th and Lex from that day…

So, for now I’ll keep on hoarding.

Kristian is looking for free storage space. If you have any extra drawers or desk space, send him an e-mail (which he may keep forever) at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Kristian Davis Bailey

Kristian Davis Bailey

Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. A full time journalist/writer and occasional student, he's served as an Opinion section editor, News writer and desk editor for The Daily, is a community liaison for Stanford STATIC, the campus' progressive blog and journal, and maintains his own website, 'With a K.' He's interested in how the press perpetuates systems of oppression and seeks to use journalism as a tool for dismantling such systems.