Waking up to the most terrifying storm of my life, seemed surreal. I was six. In an unfinished basement with my mother, father, and sister on a cold floor. My dad asked if I was okay. Was I? Shadows danced with light across the window and the siren beckoned her continuous wail. The room was nearly empty at the time. Stilts and slab. I recall seeing a few boxes at the time…
Five times. I have driven five times between my studio apartment to a room that I’ve all but forgot. It has been two years, but the memory is an etch-a-sketch. The car was piled with boxes. Piles and piles of boxes…
The year is 2020, January 1st. I am in China, Chongqing to be specific. I’m walking past Gate 5 or Wǔ hào mén, one of the things I do recall learning in Mandarin. Walking home, I notice the lights. Florescent blues with tints of orange and yellow, written in a language that I cannot comprehend. It probably says something like “Happy New Year Chongqing, Happy 70th birthday,” I do not know. I left in five days; I was saying goodbye to another home. I only had a few boxes…
This drawn out year, with the summer a remnant of drought. Packages at the door weekly, sometimes each day. A repetition of boxes; a moment of clarity.
It is October 2020, and many of you are wondering “What the HELL is this guy talking about?” To explain these episodes in my life, I’ll have to make the distinction between ‘hoarding’ and ‘collecting.’ Without going in laborious detail, my father was once a collector turned hoarder. Baseball memorabilla and any nickel and dime junk you would fondly remember if you were living in your past, haunting his life. Luckily, he’s an incredibly hard worker, working 60+ hours a week. He earns what he hoards. But his story will always be a part of my own.
This is where I fondly recall ALL those phases of mine. Dinosaurs, army men, Star Wars action figures, Nintendo 64, youth sports trophies, VHS tapes, burning mixtapes on CD, DVDs, comics, blu-rays, books…they all belong in boxes. I have always been a collector, not a hoarder. I can get rid of these boxes, unlike my father. But have they piled up?
Shelves take the corporeal form of these boxes. Sitting atop a carpeted floor, tucked within chestnut, hovering above empty space: the boxes are full. I have decided to declutter these shelves, starting with the clothes in my closet to the films, records, and books that occupy the area. It has been a process of renewal.
Over the past month and a half, I have been seriously considering the purpose of these boxes. They’ve taught the lessons of growing up in a family that rarely said “No,” they’ve taught the essence of insular materialism, they’ve taught me…to care for others and to prioritize what brings happiness to not only myself, but to those I love. All I had to do was open those cardboard folds, blow away the dust, and see what truly lay in front of my eyes.
This is not a unique experience, and I am fully aware of its privilege. The ability to collect is something that can be profoundly simple and sweet, yet it can become mundane and cyclic. I want to break the latter and place those boxes closer to my heart.
I did this to let go. That storm still brews in my mind in mountains of hoarded gold. A constant desire to fulfill the need to own everything. It will never go away, but it has been quelled. My thirst has been quenched. My father’s scope in full purview. Yet… I am still a collector. I just have fewer boxes.
What are your thoughts?