Packrat, Full of Joy

I have a hard time throwing things away. Neatening is fine and all, but cleaning can get difficult, because I will probably need that unopened mail from six months ago sometime in the near future, or that manila envelope of drink recipes from that time I tried to be a bartender but got scammed by that guy from Craigslist posing as a bartending certification agency and then gave up. You never know about these things.

I have multiple items of clothing I wore in middle school, a few from elementary. If you hang-dry cheap clothes it makes them last longer; alternatively, you can never wear them. I have kept dresses I bought in my youth hoping I’d grow into the kind of person who might pull them off long enough to become that person, six years later. I have kept shirts I bought once in earnest identification long enough to wear them as costume pieces to parties. The moving process makes me weep. 

Everything sparks joy. Even the 26 movie tickets from high school ringed with coffee mug stains, and the tissue box full of lipglosses long molten into glop, and the laughing Buddha figurine Jourden Hovendick gave me in sixth grade when he was new in town so I was nice to him but then he had a crush on me so I stopped being friends with him and Esther pushed him in a bush on the walk home and we never talked after that despite attending the same schools for the next seven years. I only have three starred contacts in my phone and they’re my dad, Jourden Hovendick, and Jourden Hovendick, saved twice for good measure. I don’t even remember why. It was probably a joke, or a mistake, but I hold on to that, too. Safekeeping. One day I will have a heart attack in the street and the paramedics will call Jourden Hovendick to tell him I have died and he will respond, “Who?” 

Hysterical. I hold on to my bizarre joys.

I am a packrat because I bestow meaning on things that are objectively not valuable. Objective, by what reality? This one, I suppose–a capitalist one, where objects should be useful by a collective sense of worth. I like useful things, but I also like to keep, what my mother refers to fondly as, “garbage.” Stuff that cannot make money, or look beautiful, or be traded for something else. This stuff is assigned value to me by some inscrutable means; nevertheless, I cannot do without. Even the 1987 Dartmouth Yearbook I stole from in between forgotten picture books at my Oma’s house is a horcrux, there is a little piece of my life in there. It is worrisome to think about that piece of my being driven to the dump and compacted, shipped to a poorer state and buried, then returned to the earth over the course of a few centuries, if the earth is even around by then–and by that point, I will be long gone, yet not as gone as I have already been, that little bit of me torn away years ago. 

If mental illness describes a maladaptive, antisocial logic, i.e. an understanding of societal rule turned up a little too high, then hoarding might be understood as private property owned in vicious spite of its material value, laden with sentiment only individual owners can parse–alienating hoarders from family and friends who cannot understand. It is caused by capitalism, deemed illness by capitalism: a serpent feeding itself. 

Illness is always the product of historical and cultural context: this is exactly what makes it real.

My packrat-ism describes a low level of this identification illness, which becomes hoarding when enough symptoms present, as more heads begin to turn at the clutter, as finding joy in objects for obscure and divine reason becomes antisocial, makes one withdraw into all their stuff, their selfhood grown over and through so many objects there is no more room to walk through the kitchen. 

I have a hard time throwing things away because it all means so much to me: is me: how I have.

Sophie Dillon

Sophie Dillon


is still figuring it out.

Back to top