There isn’t any doubt that we’re taught, at least in a shallow way, to avoid materialism: you’re more than the money you make, your possessions are not a reflection of your character, you don’t need to own anything to be happy and all that jazz. I’m sure my recent status as a college kid and university grad helped keep my material urges at an all-time-low, but packing for my year-long trip to Chile made me realize I wasn’t as minimalistic as I had previously thought.
Deep breath. Hello, my name is Allie, and I am a validation hoarder.
I knew when I took my job in Santiago that I wouldn’t be able to take all of my stuff. Especially since I’m technically homeless, I was strongly urged by my family to get rid of everything I wasn’t going to take with me (under the idea that I probably wouldn’t miss it or need it). My limit? Three bags, thanks to American Airlines. With that in mind, I donated roughly 70% of my stuff. Clothing, books, presents that I meant to re-gift but never did, lotions and hair products that I never used went into giant black bags to Safe’s Attic and Goodwill. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t particularly hard. But then, while I was rummaging through all the back corners of my closets, I came upon my downfall; a brown, aged shoebox that contained every scrap of paper anyone had ever dedicated to me.
Now, when I say every scrap, I mean it. Drawings scribbled on the back of old receipts dating back to 2008, impersonal party invitations from my 7th grade class, a goodbye note from a 6th grade friend, notes passed during boring high school classes… From time to time over the years I would open that box and pick something at random to read, but I never went through the whole box. Riding the material-separation-high of packing, I felt it was time to purge. In rereading every single piece of paper in that dusty box, I finally understood why I’ve kept everything. Quite simply, it’s proof that throughout my life, I’ve been cared about.
I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words, and perhaps that stems from my childhood. I moved around a lot as a child, sometimes within six months of the last transition, so making friends was often extremely difficult. And when middle school rolled around and people actually began investing in relationships, a note or card was physical proof to me of a connection that, no matter how brief, was undeniable. Individuals can always say something in the moment without any real meaning, but even a simple act like writing something down takes a little time and a bit of thought.
I didn’t have the familiar urge to preserve my note collection, so I trashed most of what I had. But in the process, I found long-forgotten, priceless gems: an apology from a friend who was murdered earlier this year. A letter from a middle school crush which is the first time a boy called me beautiful. A heartfelt, homemade Christmas card from a dear friend. And these I could not throw away.
One of life’s cruelest jokes (and blessings) is that memories fade, or are changed over time. Feelings which once were solid become little more than a drop in the ocean of our past. But notes and letters permanently capture real emotions, no matter how fleeting. Even if the sentiments are no longer valid, and the friendship or relationship is long collecting dust, it was real once. And sometimes for me, that’s important to remember.
Will I ever read the notes again? Probably not. But I have them just in case. But, like I said, I’m a validation hoarder. And acceptance is the first step. In fact, since I only had a limited amount of items I could leave behind at my parent’s house, I actually took those few notes with me to Chile. Somewhere deep inside the (admittedly tacky) UNC duffel bag is a folder that is crammed with sentimentality and ready to whip out if I want to take a trip down memory lane. And posing in the airport before catching my flight out of the United States, I don’t mind that extra pound.