Guest contributor: Kristen Keckler

Bad Advice Wednesday: A Life Stored in Clutter (Celebrate)

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

1 comment

What else is a dresser for?


I am a pack rat, a scrounger, a dumpster diva. A Sanford and Daughter. An Esty-a-holic. I hide it well, as many functional addicts do. If you walked into my kitchen for a glass of water, you’d find an empty sink. You could open the cabinet and select from an orderly, kitschy assortment of airport “state/city” mugs, odd goblets, snifters and tumblers.  

No shoplifting

But please don’t look in my closets. Or the attic. Or the garage at my parents’. (Every accumulator has at least one enabler.) When I watch Hoarders, I feel amazingly superior, mostly sad, then relieved.  I’m bad, but not that bad. No fucking way. My boyfriend collects, too. After we started cohabiting, his “pre-me” stuff (like boxes of French 70s comics) was not welcome. So he kept his storage unit, and once in a while, when I was grading on a weekend, he’d say, “Hey baby, I’m going out to my storage unit.” I understood this urge to, well, touch base.

He’d return with a vintage lemon squeezer. It was cute. We’re always downsizing, then creeping back up.

There was the Shangri-La of secondhand in Dallas called Genesis. Sometimes they’d get, like, thirty pairs of hot-pink Steve Madden gladiator sandals, all in a size 10, from Nordstrom. The best thing about Genesis (and the St. Vincent de Paul, for the Catholics) was that it bordered Highland Park: old estates and new Disney-esque McMansions with trees sculpted into lollipops. It got lots of primo stuff. I often dropped off a bag of clothes when the seasons changed, or whenever, just to free up closet space. One day, I was browsing through the shirts for something funky when my pre-owned antennae perked. Mesh material, Old Navy, Valentine red with a sort of bohemian paisley design. Size S! I wrinkled my nose not unlike Barbara Eden, feeling like I’d been here before. Then I realized that I was holding my own damn shirt!

Ask not for whom the crab claws…

I just love the genealogy of stuff. Take, for example, the brass crab sitting on my hutch—its abdomen is an ashtray; its claws can hold a cigarette. It hasn’t been used as an ashtray in decades (the tray can only hold two or three butts). Regardless, the cavity retains a charcoal-smudge. I remember the crab being in my mother’s living room throughout my childhood, where it might be used at dinner parties and other special occasions. My mother didn’t smoke openly very often, and never in front of my grandmother. I don’t recall when, exactly, I acquired it, but guess sometime after college—something to fill the bare shelves of my first apartment.

So my bad advice is to hoard, and, from time to time, reflect on what you collect, and remember. Listen to the stories that emerge from the souls of the inanimate. Let the object transport you to a time and place, to a moment, maybe two. And if you are one of those perfect Scandinavian-type modernist minimalists, well, go to the thrift store and let someone else’s junk fuel your psychic time machine, guilt-free.


Kristen Keckler


[Kristen Keckler is a writer living in Westchester County, New York, sometimes in Texas.  They both suit her.  She owns beautiful objects.  She teaches at Mercy College.  She is co-author of the new edition of Writing Life Stories.  She’s half Italian and knows her way around an espresso machine, also where to get one, cheap.]

  1. Elizabeth Hilts writes:

    “the genealogy of stuff”—yeah, like that. What a great post.