Thoughts of a Memento Hoarder

“I have a habit of being an archaeologist of my own past, a sentimental collector of personal artefacts which may at first glance appear random, but each of which holds a unique significance. As the years pass me by, I find that the number of objects within my possession begins to accumulate. A torn map. A sealed letter. A boat full of paper animals. Each item encapsulates within itself a story, akin to an outward manifestation of my inner journey.” 
― Agnes Chew, The Desire for Elsewhere

The desire for elsewhere has led me to collect mementos of my travels and journeys throughout my life. But, why am I unable to throw any of my mementos away?

“At the end, all that’s left of you are your possessions. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been able to throw anything away. Perhaps that’s why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived.” 
― Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

I have hoarded the world. My collections are stories of my existence. I am hoarding stories of my life, afraid that I will lose the stories if I give away my travel mementos. And will I lose my existence in this world? Do my mementos hold onto my place in this world ever so briefly?

“Hoarding is holding onto what I can’t keep and all the while convincing myself that I can. And in the end, what I’m really hoarding is my need to believe something at the expense of my existence.” 
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Or can my collections be of making order from the chaos in the world? I get nervous when things are in disarray. I like order in the world.

The author describes a collector’s mental state as metaphysical angst…”perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.” 
― José Saramago, All the Names

A good photograph keeps a moment from running away. I make photographs like I make memories. Am I running away from my mortality? Are all photographs a warning or reminder that death inches closer, so we must preserve the moments in suspended time?

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” -Susan Sontag

I am a sentimental traveler, always trying to find a way to keep my trip memories alive in my home. It takes some work to turn travel knickknacks into art, but I have found a couple of organization ideas that would inspire any globe-trotter. I have shadow boxes, travel poster walls, shelves, journals, scrapbooks, rocks and sand bottles, and memory boxes.

But, are these objects I collect a bridge to my past, or merely an illusion?

“We keep stuff in order to hang on to what’s important, but it’s an illusion … These objects are not bridges to the past, they’re bridges to memories of the past. But they are not the past.” 
― Helen Fisher

My colorful and eclectic travel mementos give me joy. Until I began to write this article, I really hadn’t given much thought to my collections, other than…my goodness, every nook and cranny in my house has a memento and a story that accompanies it. What will happen to these things when I die? Who would like my llama toenail musical shakers or my rock collections? Our poor son!

“The items people own reveal something about the owners. Every quaint item that a person selects to surround themselves with has a basic quiddity, the essence, or inherent nature of things. As a people, we assign a value meaning not only to the things that we presently possess, but also to the items destined for one generation to hand down to the next generation.” 
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

I am sure I am not the only person in the world musing about my travel mementos and collections. I think I am normal, right? Don’t all travelers collect mementos of their trips?

Are you a sentimental traveler who collects mementos? How do you display them? What will you do with your mementos when you downsize, move, or transition or die?

9 thoughts on “Thoughts of a Memento Hoarder

  1. My mother had a houseful of lovely items and she kept asking us to tell her which ones we each wanted. The truth was we didn’t want any of them, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to tell her that.

    • Awww, Bob, I know the same thing will happen to me. Our children don’t want any of our mementos. 😢 But, I never saved them for the next generation anyway, I saved them for myself and my memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hello my dear!

    Thank you so much for all your very thought-provoking, well written, and highly relevant (to me, but hopefully to many other people as well) posts! They are always a delight! And always send me pondering, and questioning my life and my habits and believes…

    Today’s post touches upon a very difficult (for me) topic – hoarding. While I haven’t been able to stop hoarding building materias and tools (with the excuse that I am actively working on renovating a 1916 house, and that I would like to build my forever house once in Panama), I do have stopped collecting travel mementos – except for taking photographs.

    When I saw the movie “Up in the air” George Clooney’s character had this excellent analogy of a backpack filled with “stuff”, which we carry around. Since then, I am trying to let go of everything that I don’t need to have in “my backpack”, which is VERY hard. It’s easier, I find, to not add more stuff in the first place, than to get rid of it, once I have it!

    I once was at a space in my life where all I owned fit in two suitcases and two carry-on bags. I was travelling a lot then. And I felt free like never before in my life! Later, I met my partner and settled down again – and the mountain of stuff started to grow again… It’s a Sisyphus task!!!

    You’re a world champion in finding quotes!!! Fascinating!!! There is one this time, though, that really stirred me up: the one by Nicole Kraus.
    I strongly disagree with her! In the end all our possessions will have lost their meaning, as only we attach memories, stories, projects, plans to them. They are not what is left of us – they are usually disbursed – recycled or trashed – immediately after our death.

    What is left of us – and that is going to be left until eternity! – are the consequences of our actions! Most of the time, we don’t even realize our impact. But, like a stone dropped into a pond causes ripples, our actions cause consequences, which cause consequences, and so on and so on.

    We – and that’s the only important, meaningful difference between humans and animals – are change agents. Plants and other animals are system-perpetuators. We can actively participate in the continuation of the development of this amazing creation. And we do – whether we are aware of it or not, whether we want to or not. Every person we meet holds the potential of us planting a seed with them that will impact their life (and vice-versa). Every action, every smile, every word can be observed by somebody (often without us even noticing) and be the missing piece for their puzzle that they right now are trying to find…

    Possessions are not our legacy! Our actions, the way we lived our life, the part of the creation (not just people but all creation!) we impacted – that is our legacy.

    I think Craig Lounsbrough is on to something…

    I remember a former partner of mine once told me about her experience working in a nursing home. There was one person who had not much money and was in the cheapest room. Yet, he got the best care. Why? He had amazing stories to tell about his life. All the staff enjoyed spending time in his room! I also observe that when somebody is telling me about their vacation, I usually don’t really care too much about seeing their pictures (or other mementoes), but I always am eager to hear their stories!

    I guess, these two observations are my intellectual encouragement and permission to get rid of my stuff and to not feel I am missing out by not getting souvenirs…

    Thank you again for your wonderful posts! I am already looking forward to your next one – even though I haven’t yet completely pondered through the current one…


    • Thomas, what an amazing and thoughtful response to my post. Now, your comments give me more to think about. I am always questioning my beliefs, my actions, and wondering if I am “normal” in my reactions to life’s dilemmas. I find that the older I get, the more my life is a puzzle and I am determined to try to fit the pieces together to avoid chaos and turbulence in my life. It’s a difficult task, and that is why I write my blog. It is a therapeutic path forward because I truly believe we have all pondered these seemingly simple questions in our lives for which there are no simple answers. Life is complicated.
      Thank you so much for your thought provoking comments.

      • Thank you for your kind words!

        Your reply triggered a whole slew of thoughts… again! Some of which I tried to explain in my latest post (

        I hope it is ok with you to link to this post, as it is directly related and a consequence of this comment. I did link back to your blog, too – and I hope that is ok with you as well. If you prefer not, just let me know and I’ll remove it (and you can simply delete this comment as well. I’d still like your blog, and send it to my friends and family! 😜

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