Behind Closed Doors: Confessions of a Sentimental Hoarder


My stacks of stuff rekindle many memories and moments of my life.

Long before we were in the grip of a global pandemic and surgical masks became fashion accessories, OR nurses were known to stash hard-to-come-by supplies such as gloves and gowns and, yes, N95s. Of course, COVID has only exacerbated the hoarding tendencies of providers everywhere.

I can relate.

I'm not a medical professional, but I know a thing or two about stockpiling. My name is Kay, and I'm a hoarder. I'm not the kind of hoarder who keeps so much stuff piled up that I need a snowblower and three machetes to cut a swath through my living room. I have no trouble discarding magazines, clothes and faulty small appliances.

I do keep the sentimental stuff, however — items that wouldn't mean anything to anyone but me. I have journals and diaries and scrapbooks stuffed full of mementos. File folders full of crayon drawings and old report cards. Drawers full of birthday cards and letters. I've been keeping diaries since the sixth grade, recording my deepest thoughts, feelings and activities, and threatening anyone with their life if they dared to read them. (I'm looking at you, Cindy, my nosy sister!) I've also held onto ticket stubs, lists of favorite songs and even a piece of straw I stole from the yard of a childhood crush. Hey, at least I didn't steal a lock of his hair! But there's still time (if he has any hair left).

I've made my living purveying humor in one form or another for over 30 years. It is interesting to look back and see how I became the person I am today. In the sixth grade, I wrote, "I read my theme to the class. Everyone laughed. It made me feel good." Well, I was off and running. Making people laugh was my ticket to acceptance and happiness. I also retained several of the detention notices I got in high school for "talking" and "unnecessary noise." What the teachers saw as class disruption was merely on-the-job training.

I come from a long line of sentimental hoarders. My closet is filled with things my mother and her mother held on to. Don't ask me why I feel compelled to keep a stack of canceled checks from the 1930s. Grandma felt the need to keep them, my mom agreed and now I'm the Keeper of the Checks.

I even still have my mother's diary. Her entries are so wholesome and sweet. No snarky remarks, long lists of crushes or revenge fantasies about Cindy. I wonder if Mom's posts were encoded like mine. Does I had cookies and milk with Anne after school really mean I kissed Johnny under the bleachers? Not that I would have done that.

I'll admit it's a little weird to save my gallstone from 1989, but the hospital gave it to me, and you know how hard it is to throw away gifts. Plus, I earned it; it was many years in the making. Hey, don't judge. At least I didn't follow through with my original plan to have it polyurethaned and made into a necklace. Having a conversation piece is one thing. Causing people to run screaming from the room is another matter altogether.

Why do I keep these things? Occasionally, I pull them out and "visit" with them. That's how it feels, like welcome stopovers with dear old friends. It's easier to have these sentimental objects prompt old memories than to carry everything around in my head. Mementoes can instantly transport you to another place and time, like a well-written book — or a gallstone. Actually, I am rethinking the gallstone. Maybe I'll throw it out tomorrow. Maybe... OSM

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