One of the most interesting things about my job is the sneak peek into people’s private lives. I often describe my work as a nonclinical helping profession with an in-the-trenches view of how people really live. Part of what makes an organizer a good one is being there with the client, in a completely nonjudgmental way, and helping them go through things that are at times painfully private, challenging and emotional.
I have a confidentiality agreement with all of my clients and I agree to share no information about them or even reveal their identity as a client. These examples are from a little research I did outside of my work about odd things people hold on to. I share these in hopes that they’ll normalize your own unique collection, or perhaps motivate you to purge the things you don’t need so you can make a little space for the things that matter most.
In the interest of fairness, I’ll start with my own confession: I keep my children’s teeth. And my nonscientific research shows that I am not the only parent who does this. I have every tooth my children have lost, stored in a silver box in my closet. I don’t know why I can’t part with them. I admire them every time I add to the box, and I’m amazed at how tiny they are. I think it is my way of hanging on to their childhood. Will I ever get rid of them? I don’t really know. But for now, I’m completely comfortable with my tooth collection and the amount of space it takes up in my life and home.
Interestingly, numerous people reported holding on to things related to teeth — extracted dog teeth, molds of pre-braces teeth, antique orthodontia and denture cleaning containers from great-grandparents. I’m not quite sure what all of this tooth-related hoarding says about us, but I’m sure Freud would have a field day with it.
There was no shortage of parts and pieces kept from beloved pets. One thoughtful friend shared this: “I kept a vial of bladder stones taken from my dog. I kept them because some were like grains of sand, and some had grown to be the size of a small rock. They reminded me of what happens when I don’t acknowledge and turn over tiny resentments when they’re still tiny. They grow large and block me from being a healthy person, quietly damaging my insides.” Some things we hold on to can teach life lessons for years to come.
A friend recently shared that she just now thawed out breast milk she had saved from nursing both of her children (who are now in sixth and eighth grade). She also saved a container of split pea soup made by her late mother-in-law. These connections to the past can be powerful! Even if covered in freezer frost. We tend to hold on to things that connect us to people and events that were precious.
Another kept a hospital pillow from a life-saving surgery. And yet another friend kept a bloody T-shirt from her son’s first significant boo-boo, as well as the last shirt her mother wore to the hospital before she died. These connections to both life and death can be quite strong. Perhaps they help us live in the moment more fully and appreciate the days we are given.
Many people shared holding on to stuffed animals, strips of wallpaper from a childhood home or a piece of old fabric. I imagine when I move into the retirement home I’ll have to decide between my silver and my stuffed Toto dog I got from the Land of Oz theme park in the N.C. mountains in 1975. I’ll probably take Toto with me and sell the silver. What we keep may not be tied to logic, but it’s more about a memory, or a representation of who we once were, and perhaps a small piece of that person is still in us or with us.
I have no organizational wisdom to share from these anecdotes. I think it illustrates how interesting we are as people and that underneath, we’re all a little weird! I’m just pleased that I occasionally get to peek into that weirdness and help people make decisions about the things that matter most to them. If you’ve held on to something strange in the past, feel free to share in the comments … I promise that all judgment will be withheld.