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The Accumulator

April 4, 2014
The townhouse Mrs. Chatterbox and I currently live in has more square footage than any of our previous homes. I remember walking through it before we made our purchase; cabinets and storage space were plentiful and I figured it would be great having so many drawers that we could afford to leave a few empty. Six years later all of the drawers and cupboards are choked with stuff. How did this happen? Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet and everything in the world is made of metal.


I’ve often dreamed of living in confined quarters, like a tree house, sailboat or studio apartment, a place where accumulating art books, travel souvenirs and Hummels (Mrs. C. has a fine collection) wouldn’t be possible. I fantasized being like Bear Grylls, surviving with only the barest of necessities. Unfortunately, I’m a pack rat waiting to be featured on A&E’s  Hoarders, even though those people live in filth and our home, while crammed with stuff, is clean and organized.


The other day I was thinking about all the things I’ve managed to accumulate, including dozens of my paintings, pictures that, as Churchill once said of his own canvases, “Are too good to throw away but not good enough to sell.” I began wondering what single item I’ve owned the longest. It took awhile to figure it out. I had no problem with Mrs. C’s oldest possession, a Steiff teddy bear her parents gave her when she was only two. That bear has seen a lot of love. It currently rests on the bed in our guestroom.


I have a book on my shelf given to me on my thirteenth Christmas, The Horizon Book of Ancient Rome, but I decided to look for something even older. And I found it.


When I was eight and walking to school one morning I passed a trash can at the curb in front of the home of my neighbor and best friend Ricky Delgado. I was a well-known neighborhood scrounge, always on the prowl for interesting containers to store my boyhood treasures. On top of the can was an item I couldn’t resist—a black metal movie reel case. I set down my Yogi Bear lunchbox and plucked it from the garbage. When I pulled off the lid I was surprised to see red velvet lining the interior. I had no idea what this modified container had been used for but I couldn’t imagine anyone throwing it out. It was beyond me how Ricky could let this treasure slip out of his hands. I hid it in some bushes to retrieve after school.





The film reel case once held my precious marble collection, baseball cards, pictures of naked ladies I tore from a Playboy found in a Dumpster, drug paraphernalia in college, and leftover foreign currency from our travels. I can’t explain why fifty-three years later I still have it.


Both of my parents worked when I was growing up, unusual in the 50s and 60s. They were frugal with their money, earmarking much of it for future college expenses. We were, sometimes maliciously, referred to as the wealthiest family in the neighborhood. The Delgados were among the poorest, yet the item I’ve carried with me longer than any other was retrieved from their trash can.


Here’s an idea should anyone be looking for a meme (first time I’ve ever used that word and I’m probably using it incorrectly): What possession have you been lugging around the longest? What single item has attached itself to you like a barnacle?



I think like Mrs. C I still have some stuffed animals from when I was two or three, though in my case I think it's a stuffed Winnie the Pooh. You should take that case to Antiques Roadshow or one of those pawn shop TV shows and maybe they can tell you more about it.
By: PT Dilloway on April 4, 2014
I still have my "Lamby" a small stuffed lamb that I wore all the lambs woll off of and it's mainly just leather. Yes- my little lamb was made from a lamb. Eeek. Your post today is quite co-incidental as you will see when you peek at my blog posted today. Cheers and have a great weekend!
By: Kathe W. on April 4, 2014
I have some school reports from over 40 years ago, and a plumb-bob that I made in a metal-work class.
By: Bryan Jones on April 4, 2014
like your wife, i have my very first teddy bear - given to me as a child in the crib. it has a music box in it that played a lullaby. :)
By: TexWisGirl on April 4, 2014
I have little in the way of mementos from my past. Going through a divorce serves as a means in decluttering and downsizing one's worldly possessions.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 4, 2014
I used to be a collector and pack rat. Then experienced several down-sizes until finally moving with very little (well, comparatively little). It was a great feeling and I'm no longer amassing stuff. However, that movie reel case would be a definite keeper. I think the oldest item I retained is a tin souvenir tray from the 1964 NY World's Fair.
By: Mitchell is Moving on April 4, 2014
The oldest thing in my home, & one I've had the longest, is my husband!! (Goodwill doesn't want him--I've asked.)
By: fishducky on April 4, 2014
Ooh great question! And I know the answer. I'll have to do a blog post about it!
By: The Bug on April 4, 2014
It is a really ugly elk horn stand supporting a silver dinner gong. We traveled a lot and it always seemed like the new place was home when the gong was set up. It was the only heirloom I demanded though demand wasn't necessary. No one else You are right. This would make a blog post. Thanks.
By: Akansas Patti on April 4, 2014
I never was one to hold on to too much stuff. There are very few things that, looking back, I wish I had kept. I've moved many times, and had to pay for some moves myself. Great incentive to declutter! But I agree...stuff always makes it back into the house. Now I feel a blog post coming on! You are very inspirational today... :-) Probably the oldest things I have are a few books from my teenage years. I'll have to think about it...if I find something older, I will blog about it, too!
By: Pixel Peeper on April 4, 2014
My father gave me, carefully preserved in a picture frame, the tattered remnants of my blankie that i had from the time i was tiny until about age 5. It's so old, you can't even tell it used to be pink.
By: mimi on April 4, 2014
Good post.. good question. There are of course pieces which I've inherited from my parents which are older than I am but that's not exactly what you're after. Strangely, the one thing I can think of is a key ring/holder. When I was ten, my Dad took my best friend and me on a day trip into the U.S. (Plattsburgh, N.Y from our native Montreal). He bought us each a few little trinkets and among them was a keyring which had a square piece of leather backing glued to an embroidered butterfly on denim. Those pieces curled apart through the years and the denim piece eventually fell off. All that's left is a piece of blue leather, and yet I continue to use that key ring to this day... going 50 years later.
By: Hilary on April 4, 2014
If I had a house twice as big as this one it would be filled to the ceiling. Did you ever see a garage that wasn't full to the doors? As for a possession... I have my report card.
By: red on April 4, 2014
You've made me nostalgic. When I moved to Egypt, I left 95% of my belongings behind. I often miss them, especially as I get older. I miss the books, the international doll collection my father gave me, the photo albums of my childhood, family, and my different friends throughout the years. But I have to accept the loss of everything and my life here, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten to retire early or become a writer.
By: Lexa Cain on April 4, 2014
I have a big rag doll that my uncle gave me when I was one year old. They always said how the doll was bigger than I was at the time. She just turned 62. :)
By: soulcomfort on April 4, 2014
I've been decluttering for about two years now, and sometimes I can't remember what I kept in my big trunk and what I got rid of, but there are several storybooks from my childhood that I know I still have. I've been able to part with a lot of things, but not my favourite books!
By: jenny_o on April 4, 2014
Probably my high school year book. Though I have diaries of my mother and a scrapbook of my grandfather's. I don't know if any of these qualify. I had a Brooklyn Dodgers pennant from the 50's that was truly mine but I sold it on ebay a year or so ago. And got screwed!
By: Catalyst/Taylor on April 4, 2014
An empty drawer is a temporary situation. Anyway, for me, it's my coin collection, which I started in 5th grade when a friend of my dad's gave me ten Indian Head pennies for my b'day. I don't do much with it anymore; but I did add two Morgan silver dollars which I found at a flea market last summer.
By: tom sightings on April 5, 2014
People like me do not save things. We don't get attached to material things. I have started over a few times in my life and have been glad to do it. I do appreciate the sentimentality other people have regarding some special items and am happy they find comfort in them. I do have a very few photos from around age 13 and enjoy running across them occasionally and a ratty old scrap book from around that time, so I guess that would mean I do in fact lug something around with me.
By: CiCi on April 5, 2014
Still got my teddy bear. Plus a whole bunch of steiff animals that I accumulated gradually throughout childhood. Most art teachers are fabulous collectors-of-stuff, right?
By: Kerry Bliss on April 5, 2014
Like any good WASP, I have my silver baby spoon engrave with my initials when I was I was not born with it in my mouth.
By: Cranky on April 5, 2014
I would say that my bad attitude is the thing I have been dragging around the longest. It doesn't take up much room.
By: Val on April 5, 2014
A most interesting and thought provoking post Stephen. Fascinationg how an object can call to us?
By: John on April 6, 2014
It's a great story - especially including all the things it housed over the decades. For that reason alone, it was worth the save. I have the card my mom was given when I was born. It reads "Unnamed" and "to breast," along with my measurements. Be well. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on April 6, 2014
That's a great question, and I have no idea about the answer! I've got a Bible my Nan gave me when I was about 9/10 so that could be the oldest thing I own. I'll have to give it some thought!
By: LL Cool Joe on April 6, 2014
hi Stephen, a great post (as usual) and very thought provoking. i've been thinking about it since reading it (i had to go and make coffee and then clean the coffee machine and read all the comments). a few things come to mind. of course, you are talking about my favourite subject. decluttering. i think as we get older we tend to declutter a bit. it's amazing to think of all the 'stuff' we accumulate through the years.
By: Fran on April 6, 2014
An empty drawer is waiting to be filled! I'm going to have to think about what I've had the longest and will have to look through a lot to find it. As Tom and I would like to move house I'm in a constant state of decluttering, and buying more books!
By: Sharon Bradshaw on April 9, 2014
I was going to say too that I love Mrs C's teddy bear and the velvet lined case which kept your treasures safe for so long!
By: Sharon Bradshaw on April 9, 2014
Nothing made it out of my childhood so I would have to come up with things that we obtained when we got married 43 years ago. There are a number of things we got as wedding presents that are still around. Dishes that come out only at holidays, silverware, linens that were hand embroidered etc. Wayne has somethings like his boyhood baseball and football cards and a few old toys. You did use the word meme correctly BTW. We, too like to think about paring down and living in a small confined space. We moved from a 6 bedroom house to a five bedroom house and feel cramped. Kind of shoots the whole idea of moving into a tree house or boat to hell.
By: Cheryl P. on April 9, 2014

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