I’ve always been a hoarder. In my room sits a black wicker box storing party hats from childhood birthdays, a hand painted mug that’s never held a drink, the surviving glass-figurines I collected as a kid, terrible ceramics projects, a piece of red satin fabric from my prom dress, bookmarks, written feedback on essays, and more cards than I care to confess. My laptop is malfunctioning under the weight of writing pieces dating back to the fifth grade, outdated lists and notes, and most of all, too many photos.
A friend of mine said that, when he gets a new phone, he transfers his favorite pictures and lets go of the rest, a semi-clean slate every time. This sounds like ice down the shirt on a hot day, cream on a bug bite, aloe on a burn, tight boots slipped off. My desk drawers are overstuffed with external harddrives. How nice it must be to remain materially tied to so little.
Granted, my friend has a good memory, drunk nights aside. I do not. The past seeps through the colander of my mind, trickling down to my feet where it evaporates in the heat of my shoes. I forget things. I wish I could keep moments in display cases or snow globes, glass protecting my memory.
That must be why I take pictures. I’m afraid of losing good things. I know more will come and fill the space of what’s been left behind. But the thought of never again having that day, night, meal, joke, dance, experience, secret is daunting. While photos do not capture events or feelings in their entirety, they can seal them to a degree, creating a stamp or outline of what was.
One concern is I’ll spend my life in pursuit of preservation. That I’ll become desperate to create a museum for myself, bound to realize there’s no way to win. It’s a dead end. Not a through street. I’ll always be one photo short. So why do it?
My hoarding hasn’t always been expressed through pictures. As a teenager, I’d avoid them, too aware that they made me insecure. My mom would mourn if I did something, went somewhere, saw someone without taking photos for her. She was adamant that one day I would want them, pimples and frizzy-hair and awkward outfits and all. But more importantly, she wanted them. To look at when I moved out. To keep nestled in photo albums as I grew up. And so I began taking photos as safekeeping for my mom, and increasingly, for myself.
I like to think about how nice it is to have a life you can’t keep up with. One where there’s so many good pieces, you can’t log them all. I’ll keep taking pictures. When a moment arises that I’ll want to remember, my fingers twitch, wrist spasms and the camera is raised. The feelings I get from looking back are always worth the chase and the clutter. But I did have to learn how to stay present, not losing myself in the anxiety of knowing the moment I’m dipped in will pass. There will never be a complete archive of my life, but there’s a lot to see in the highlights. And hopefully, the good things will continue to fall so I can focus on catching them, instead of worrying about perfecting my portrait of the past.