Things I Collect Without Knowing

Do you ever look around your room and notice something you haven’t noticed in a while? I do this every so often, when I’m trying to purge some old, unnecessary stuff to make space for new, unnecessary stuff. When I look around, I find groups of items I’d completely forgotten about — almost as if I’ve been collecting them this whole time.

What constitutes collecting, anyway? One or two is hardly a collection. Three can happen accidentally. I’d say once you have four or five of an item, then you’re on your way to collector status. And as I look around my bedroom, I’m realizing I am an avid collector of random, specific shit — most of which I’ve stockpiled unconsciously.

You can learn a lot about people from what they collect habitually. What is he passionate about? What are her goals, her dreams? How does he deal with breakups? Why does she laugh like that when she mentions her grandmother? Are they happy?

Similarly, I think I can learn a lot about myself from looking around my room.

Am I clinging to the past?

Many of the items I seem to collect suggest I’m holding onto something that’s no longer there. I’ve yet to move childhood trophies — actual earned trophies, not just ones for participation — to my closet, attic, or garbage pail. Sure, a few have cool stories attached to them, but there’s really no reason to hang on to these things. I also keep game balls from old baseball games, most of which carry even cooler stories. Perhaps I just don’t want to forget those stories. Or maybe I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

I was always against collecting those commemorative state quarters released during the 2000s. Money was money — in my opinion — and it was silly to collect something I might need or want to spend in the future. That being said, there are several small boxes of commemorative coins in my room — one of the many items I took from my grandfather’s apartment after he died.

There are plenty of his belongings in my room, actually: his old cellphone, one of those balancing eagle desk ornaments. I also have his alarm clock, which has a funny story behind it. One morning, about seven or eight months after he passed away, I heard a beeping coming from somewhere in my room. It wasn’t my alarm clock or my phone. I got up and realized it was coming from my grandfather’s alarm clock, which was sitting on one of my shelves, battery dead and unplugged. I’d had the clock for the better part of a year and it had never made a sound before. But on this particular morning — before an important job interview nonetheless — it beeped incessantly at 7 a.m.

I don’t think I’ve used any of these items since I cleaned out Grandpa’s place, but I’m confident this collection will stay intact.

When I was in high school, my friends had a fire pit ceremony at the end of each school year. We burned notebooks and assignments to bid our classes good riddance, a metaphor for moving on only fit for an Usher music video. I participated every summer, yet my room remains stocked with notebooks from high school and college, as if I’d lose all the knowledge I’ve gained upon their disposal.

There is some useful information in some of them, sure. But is that a good enough reason to keep them? I know for a fact I’d like to refer back to notes I took in certain classes — such as Persuasion & Social Influence and some of my advertising courses— but most of them are just taking up space.

Have I built a monument to all my failures?

Another thing I’ve realized is that my room is full of unfinished projects and ideas — tasks I’d started with every intention of completing but ones that never panned out, for whatever reason. Sometimes, I get distracted or busy; other times, I feel uninspired and put the project on the shelf.

But my shelves are running out of room.

They’re filled with books I haven’t read and pieces of paper loaded with ideas I’ve never even bothered to pursue. My desk is covered with papers like this, with lists ranging from essay topics to film ideas to things I need to do. Every so often, I condense these lists onto a single sheet of paper or index card, omitting the ones I know won’t ripen.

With a steady flow of idea juice coursing through my veins, these master lists never get shorter. In a sense, I’m surrounding myself with reminders of my own unrealistic expectations — goals I will never accomplish because my productivity can never keep pace with my creativity.

But I’m not sure whether I stockpile these ideas with the intention of motivating myself to work on them or as a way to bring myself back down to Earth. Either way, my strategy has been effective.

If these items were anything else, would I have noticed them accumulating sooner?

Maybe it’s not so much the quantities of these items lying around my room but the items themselves. If there’s a pile of dirty laundry on the floor — which there will never be, because I’m neat — I’d get rid of it immediately. But for things like old notebooks and books I’ll probably never read, I just think, Oh, those go there.

I’ve convinced myself they belong, or at the very least become conditioned to assume they do. So, when I try to throw things away to create space, these items become a part of the background. In my mind, they are space.

When you see something every day, you stop noticing certain things. But then you have those moments of overwhelming clarity — when your mind identifies stimuli in a familiar environment and just says Hey, maybe that doesn’t belong here.

What do you collect?

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