One week ago today, after three days and 1178 miles, I completed my journey home from Walla Walla. I parked diagonally in the driveway (because the city of Hermosa Beach has apparently taken to ticketing cars parked in driveways that obstruct the sidewalk), popped the trunk and immediately embarked on my next journey: unpacking.
It ended up being far more formidable than the drive because it turns out I’m a pack-rat.
I’m not as bad as those people on the TLC show “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” While I have a lot of stuff, I maximize my space and am meticulously organized. But I do have a problem getting rid of things. I keep things for their sentimental value rather than for their raw utility: a nicknack from a trip to Mexico when I was five years old, an old belt I turned into a Quailman headdress for a costume party in high school, odds and ends that I’ve squirreled away for that mythical day when I’ll finally sit down to scrapbook.
It’s been like this for as long as I can remember. And it’s inherited, or, more correctly, I’ve been conditioned. Almost every room of my childhood home is stuffed to burst—from the kitchen to the laundry room to the garage—and whenever anyone in the family does a purge, the rest of us go through the rejects looking for hidden treasures.
Suffice it to say, upon arriving home my room was already filled to capacity, brimming with childhood keepsakes, forgotten or never-worn clothing, and the first carload of stuff my dad had schlepped home after graduation. For this reason, the most recent carload had to hang out in the living room as I undertook operation reorganization.
I started with my desk, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be hiding too many horrors in its depths. I was wrong. Soon I was up to my neck in old photos, junk mail, those miniature scissors middle school teachers make you buy for craft projects, Russian nesting dolls, every greeting card I’ve received since the age of 15.
It took me two goes at the desk over two days (I lost momentum when dinner interrupted the first bout and then ended up shoving all the semi-organized piles off of my bed and onto the floor so I could sleep).
After cleaning out the desk, it was time to load it back up. For want of any other viable shelf space, I decided to convert it into a shrine to my French degree. Now it’s burdened with binders brimming with class notes, handouts and articles; dictionaries, verb conjugation manuals and grammar reference books; books about French history; every French-language book I own, stacked and organized by period as an homage to my senior exams; my printed and bound thesis; my mortar board and diploma. The first time I gazed upon it in its finished form, I got teary-eyed (whether from a sense of pride and accomplishment or because I’m going slowly insane, I know not).
My battle against the rest of the room was more of the same. The closet was full of old shoes, retired prom dresses and a hideous two-tone vomit-colored bowling shirt I had to wear on high-school Model UN travel trips. The dresser was teeming with Christmas toe socks, old pajama pants and worn-out blue jeans, its surface coated with cheap jewelry, hair clips and scrunchies that had been staples of my seventh-grade wardrobe. Under the bed I discovered a bin that juxtaposed too-small t-shirts, a sparkly top hat and a collection of bandanas.
So now, after seven days, the purchase of a new bookshelf and a trip to Goodwill with a full car, I’m celebrating my victory against my pack-rat ways by lounging in my organized room and reading the second installment in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
But don’t worry, the mayhem will resume in t-minus two weeks when I attempt to pack all the necessities for seven plus months abroad into a large rolling suitcase, a sizable backpack and a “personal item.” Stay tuned, dear readers!