published Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Harpe: Possession dilemma — to save or not to save

Corin Harpe
  • photo
    Corin Harpe writes a "My Life" column for the Life section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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I cleaned out my closet last weekend. Maybe that's not a big deal for most people, but for me it's a milestone.

I find it very difficult to throw something away, so I save almost everything.

Many people save items like birthday cards and wedding invitations for sentimental reasons. I keep these things too, but I also tend to save movie tickets and old clothes that I will never wear again.

I keep items because I am scared of losing memories. Some people keep journals or photo albums to remind them of times they want to remember. While I do some of that, I tend to capture moments with objects.

But that habit leads to clutter. I know there is a problem when I spend half a day organizing receipts or trying to find a place for old magazines containing interesting articles that someday I will surely go back and read.

I can tolerate stacks of papers and other "messes" more than most. But there are days when I feel completely overwhelmed and stressed, and I realize that most of these feelings can be attributed to my overflowing environment.

Part of the problem is that I have been raised by a family of English majors, so paper, books and the written word are sacred. Stacks of books and rows of bookshelves are a staple in our home.

As I have gotten older, I have learned to love the peace and clarity that a well-organized dwelling brings. Technology is helping with that.

Instead of having piles of paper everywhere, not even knowing what I have, I'm trying to become completely paperless and store everything on my computer. Now I can be productive with my resources, instead of bogged down.

Still, despite my efforts, I am not naturally inclined to throw things away.

I think it goes back to an incident in childhood. For a school carnival, I was convinced to contribute one of my beloved teddy bears to a toy exchange. At that young age, I did not fully understand that I wouldn't get the bear back, and I spent a couple of weeks crying over this lost possession.

This traumatizing event left an impression on me. I felt that if I let anything go, I would one day regret it.

It bothers me to see other people throw away possessions without a second thought -- clothes, luggage, office supplies, furniture, appliances -- items that I would not even think to toss. To me, this is when others should be criticized for not being pack rats. These items should not be sitting in a landfill.

Cleaning out the closet gave me a sense of satisfaction and pride. I would like to think that I am coming to terms with my fear of loss.

Eventually, I hope to break my old habits, establish new ones and experience the peace that a well-organized environment provides.

Email Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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