The Things We Can't Help Hanging On To

The Things We Can't Help Hanging On To

Carrie McBride
Aug 13, 2014
(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

I happened to come across the Japanese word "tsundoku" - accumulating piles of unread books - on the same day a friend was bemoaning the task of packing up his hundreds and hundreds of books for a cross-country move. (Update: his final tally was 1,301). In his case, he says, they are mostly books he has read and loves so he doesn't quite qualify as a tsundokuist, but it got me thinking about the different things we hoard in our homes and the complicated reasons we can't seem to let them go.

Hoard - that's a pretty loaded word. It conjures up images of ceiling-high stacks of newspapers and thirty cats crammed into a tiny apartment. But I'm not talking about compulsive hoarding which requires clinical intervention. The English language doesn't seem to have quite the word I'm looking for, but tsundoku is in the same spirit. I'm talking about a more casual, socially acceptable proclivity for hanging onto stuff you're not using. Holding onto it even though you know its taking up space you need for other things. Holding onto it for a jumble of complex emotional reasons.

Are you a book hoarder? There's a word for that by Hector Tobar, LA

Most people I know have some version of tsundoku at work in their home and psyche. Books is a biggie and, like my friend, many people don't realize how many they have until they have to move them. For me, it's fabric. Our apartment only has four closets and one of them is filled with fabric that, for the most part, I don't have time to make into anything. But I love fabric and the fact that most fabrics go out of print is an easy, if false, reason to justify collecting it.

Before I had children I did have time to sew so tangled up in all this are issues of identity and accepting where I am now in life. My husband has "his thing" which is keeping all his old photo gear even though he no longer works as a photographer. Sure, he uses some of it for personal reasons, but most of it goes untouched, yet it's still hanging around (including an entire crisper drawer of film in our fridge).

I'm not here to tell you what to do or scold you for your 1,301 books. After all, people who live in fabric houses shouldn't throw books. But my reaction to my friend's cache of books, viewing them as a burden (and, frankly, thinking he's a bit nutty to move them all), prompted me to take a more honest look at what I'm hoarding at home and what I want to do about it.

So, what are you holding onto at home? Remnants of an old hobby? Remnants of a new hobby that was a false start? Things related to an old career or aspiration? DVDs that form a timeline of your coming of age (and are now all on Netflix)?

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