Have you ever sworn off waste, only to find yourself dragging the cans to the curb once more? If you find yourself backsliding, remember the three Rs you learned in fifth grade: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Then, cut out two of those Rs and focus on the middle one: Reuse. If you adopt this approach — the Keep Everything method — you’ll never revert to discarding again.
Why can’t I stop throwing things away?
Every time you go to throw something away — an eggshell, a used wrapper, a straw, a dirty paper towel, a broken DVD player, a sock with a hole in the toe — pause, and gently ask yourself, How else can I use this? Give it time. Let the item speak to you, however quietly. Be patient. Perhaps keep the item — a screw of unknown origin, a ball of lint, a soiled Kleenex — around for a bit. Set it on the counter, stash it in a drawer. Behold the power of shelving — leaving things unused until their time, their power reveals itself to you.
Empty bottles, cardboard boxes, bubble wrap. Or, a place for future potions, the walls of cat forts, protection for your shoes. I’ve heard of people saving all of their chewed gum, which may sound extreme. I’m not here to tell you how to reuse. Remember, this is a personal journey. It’s between you and your things. But I am encouraging you to treat all of your things equally. To love every piece of threadbare furniture and old grocery list, every coupon, and every unworn, ill-fitting pair of shoes you bought on sale the same. To love them equally, to keep them safe.
How do I make room for everything?
As your collection grows and your waste decreases, you may find yourself craving space. It might be time to move somewhere vast — New Mexico, Siberia — where you can have a compound, some land, adobe walls to protect your wares, your family. Allow like-minded others to live on the compound with you and your things. Your ex-boyfriend, Jim. The Tibetan religious man you met in AA. They, too, are a part of your collection. They should not be thrown out. Perhaps, as time goes on, some of your new tenants have a mind to clean things up, pitch things out — a broken rowing machine, a legless desktop, a cockeyed lamp. Take these, cold from the curb, and find a home for them. Your front porch will do, in piles under tarps, or in the giant plastic garbage cans your son brought over when he offered to help you “get organized.” Place them alongside the ripped, disintegrating outdoor cushions that birds were nesting in when your tenants pitched them over the wall. The Tibetan can surely find a use for them. He built a prayer wheel from a garbage can and perched it atop the dead tree you’ve been keeping around. He will use the desktop to secure the walls of his trailer fortress in the driveway. Reuse is the perfect opportunity to exercise your creativity to its fullest potential.
What if I can no longer leave my house?
As your collection grows, you might stop leaving the house altogether. But do you need to leave the world you’ve created? This is why you have so many things: they are your memories, your friends, your outside world. Dead lightbulbs, scratched CDS, moldy succulents. Mold! One of the promises of keeping everything, especially if you expand outdoors. Collections breed collections of their own. Moths will flock to you, too. They will live in the floorboards. They will find plenty to eat among the vintage sweaters you bought and never wore. The moths are there to use them. Save cat hair from the vacuum cleaner in jars or bags. After all, Georgia O’Keeffe kept all her chow dogs’ fur and had it woven into a shawl. The possibilities are endless.
All great artists are hoarders. When you can’t find your copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book that at least three well-meaning, oblivious friends gave you in 2014, call up a better friend, a minimalist sculptor. She has a copy buried in a stack of thirty dusty books to lend you. Keep this book, along with all the library books you never returned, not to read, but for some other purpose: fashion a doorstop, a shelf, a low wall around yourself.
Andy Warhol wasn’t a hoarder, he was a collector. Take a page from his book. Place everything you might have thrown out over the course of a day into a box. Seal the box, sandwich crusts, beer cans, soggy newspapers, Life-Changing Magic and all, and place it in a stack in some heretofore underused corner of your property. Call it a time capsule, if anyone asks. An archive. A life.