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When being a pack rat isn't so bad: Preserving a piece of personal history
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I'm a believer in getting rid of things you don't need, but my dad's approach to belongings has made me reconsider. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
From what I hear, my grandmother was a bit of a pack rat.

I never saw her house Fleeta died before I was born but my father tells me one of the big things he received as an inheritance from her after she died was a collection of Readers Digests she saved for years and years and years. She saved numerous paperback books, which he donated to a school back in the 80s.

I understand why my dad would donate those paperback books. Old paperback books are my least favorite. They smell, their pages are brittle, they rip and bend and fall over on the bookshelf. They lack the presentation of a spine and a cover, and I dont think theyre worth saving in large quantities. But still, I wonder, what titles did she have in her collection?

Fleeta saved things because she grew up during the Great Depression. Everything was useful and everything had meaning, but sometimes I wonder if her penchant for holding on to things is genetic. My dad is a bit of a pack rat, too. Several major moves have diminished his supplies, but he still stores old books, old coins and old stamps. And when the time comes that he must get rid of something to make more space, hell box it up and send it to his children so we must make the choice between holding on to his treasures and sending it to the thrift store. Or dumpster.

I know this about my family, so Im wary of being the same way.

We recently started some construction on the inside of my house, a project that involves our master bedroom, closet, and another bedroom and closet. As a result, things that should be hidden in a closet are in the living room. Boxes from the bedroom are in the hallway. And clutter begets clutter. I feel like I am writing that all of the time, but really, this time, we have stuff everywhere. It is spontaneously duplicating like a host of amoebas.

I feel guilty I have so much stuff.

So as we cleared space for our construction, I cleared bags of garbage from the boxes Ive been carrying around since college. I had decade-old bottles of lotion, clothes from my teenage years and satchels Ive never used in 20 years.

It felt good to purge.

I filled my car with boxes of clothes and goods that might be useful to someone else and dropped it off at a charity store, then came home with a sense of satisfaction and determination to get rid of more stuff.

Then the next day, two cardboard boxes arrived on my doorstep.

Packages from my dad.

Only this time, the contents of the boxes were mine. A few things went through my mind:

Oh no, more stuff.

Oh no, what is in there?

Oh no, how do I still have stuff at my parents' house?!

Oh no, each box cost $30 to mail.

Hmm. I wonder what is in there?

I stacked the boxes and moved them to the side of my landing, where they remained when my parents arrived a few days later.

I saw the boxes every time I went up and down my stairs, several times a day, but I just didnt have time to process the contents. The more I saw the boxes, the more I appreciated my dads tendencies to hold on to things.

Maybe he is more preservationist than pack rat.

He probably saw those boxes of mine and thought about how he would like someone to handle his own things. Rather than chuck my boxes in the garbage or send them off to Goodwill, he went to the post office, paid $60 and sent them in the mail. He probably thought the contents were very important to me. That is a gesture I wouldnt have required but wont soon forget.

My dad wanted to watch me go through my mementos while he was visiting, but I ran out of time until last night, when I tore open the lids at 2 a.m. There is nothing as surreal as looking through a time capsule of a short period of your life in the middle of the night, but that is a story for another day.