Sentimental Journey

Why do we hold onto so many of the things that we do? Is it because we’re sentimental? J.D. Salinger had one of his characters, Seymour Glass, define sentimentality as giving “to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.” Perhaps we ‘keepers’ need to become less tender and more tough with our things.

In their fascinating new book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Randy O. Frost and Gail Skeketee, say that one of the reasons we keep objects is that they preserve our personal history. Someone called these objects the ‘footprints of your soul’. (I love that phrase; does anyone know who said that?)

The Frost and Skeketee book is a comprehensive look at hoarding, including scientific studies of the behavior as well as personal stories. I found the case studies to be compelling, if a bit heartbreaking, and many of the reasons for hoarding to be enlightening – a real eye-opener for me. This book spoke to the ‘keeper’ in me and made me aware of some of the reasons why I keep things.

On the other end of the keeper-thrower spectrum is actor Harvey Fierstein, a ‘thrower’ who says he had no interest in keeping the memorabilia from his career: posters, flyers, scripts, photographs, and videotapes when he renovated his house. (Fortunately for theater lovers, he made a call before he tossed everything and the collection is now at Yale.) Fierstein credits a saying from a 12-step program for giving him good advice: Look back, but don’t stare. He feels you can’t live in yesterday.

Frost and Skeketee remind us that each possession holds a story and often just telling that story loosens the connection to the object and allows us to let it go. Perhaps Fierstein has told his story so often that he no longer needs the objects. For most of us ‘keepers’ the stories are ongoing.

What stories would you like to tell about your possessions?


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