Gold Medal Hoarder

We watched the closing ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games on a tiny, portable TV about the size of a postcard. We are currently in the process of moving, so our regular television has already been packaged in bubble wrap.

Thus it was, my wife and I sat in an empty living room, on a pile of cardboard boxes, eating reheated chicken pot pies, squinting at a tiny screen.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Olympics. The Beijing Games have been termed the weirdest, most contentious, most disappointing sporting event of the modern era, with the lowest TV viewership to boot.

Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva was suspended for alleged drug usage, Mikaela Shiffrin left without a medal, American athlete Vincent Zhou was quarantined. And there was an empty medal stand where team figure skaters were supposed to be standing until a doping scandal got in the way.

Although frankly, I haven’t had time for the Olympics this year, inasmuch as our entire lives are contained in U-Haul boxes right now.

We are moving to Birmingham next week, and we have approximately 3,201 carboard crates in our house. Even our silverware and toiletries are contained in unmarked parcel. This morning, for example, I was was in the restroom when I realized we were out of toilet paper.

“We’re out of toilet paper!” I shouted.

“I already packed it!” my wife said.

Then she slid a Scotch-Brite dish sponge beneath the restroom door.

Most of the boxes in our house are marked with my name because stuffwise, I definitely have more junk than my wife.

There are boxes labeled: SEAN’S MISCELLANEOUS, SEAN’S STUFF, SEAN’S CRAPOLA, SEAN’S BAGPIPES, SEAN’S ROTISSERIE, etc. There is even a refrigerator carton in our kitchen merely labeled SEAN. This is the cardboard box my wife will bury me in.

“I married a packrat!” my wife has shouted many times throughout the packing process.

She’s upset because I have won the gold medal in men’s indoor hoarding for the last 20 years in a row. I never throw anything away.

I freely admit it, I hate getting rid of stuff. I’ve kept everything I’ve ever owned since the third grade because, the way I see it, you never know when you’ll need a box of eight-track Bee Gees cassettes.

Some of the useless items I’ve found this past week have been: half of an Algebra II textbook; a pair of rollerblades missing the wheels; credit card statements from the 1990s; a laptop that hasn’t worked since Windows 98; and a random yearbook with photos of strangers who attended a school I’ve never heard of.

Meantime, my wife has been “purging” her belongings. Which is a tedious process that is almost painful for me to watch. She sifts through a pile of junk, frowns at it, then tosses it into a waste bin without remorse. She is merciless.

In only a few weeks my wife has managed to fill six Dumpsters with her discarded things. By the time the moving company arrives, my wife won’t have enough personal effects to fit into a coin purse.

She and I couldn’t be more different. I’m a nostalgic person. Every object I have ever accumulated has deep sentimental value to me. And even though sometimes I’m not, technically, sure what the sentimental value of an object is—say, a broken Rubik’s cube—I know the value is there.

So it’s been challenging to dispose of my things. During the past week I have found myself grieving the loss of items that were very, very special to me. My Evel Knievel lunchbox is only one example.

So anyway, watching the Olympics closing ceremony tonight was a nice diversion from the painful experience of purging. Although, truthfully, our screen was so small that I’m not entirely sure we were watching the Olympics at all.

Someone get me out of this box.


  1. Cheryl Helton - February 21, 2022 9:25 am

    Hey Sean, I feel your pain! We, too, are in the process of moving. T minus 7 days before we leave a house we built 17 years ago. It is bittersweet.

    Believe me when I say I understand how you are feeling! I, too, have kept many things over the past 35 years that can be labeled in a multitude boxes as “Cheryl’s crapola.” And I am okay with that.

    As I’ve went though closet after closet, and box after box, I found things that brought back so many wonderful memories. Some stuff I have been able to toss, while others “made the cut.”

    We will be moving from a 3400 square foot home to a 310 square foot camper. Even though totes are great, trying to find our necessary clothes (and toilet paper) presents many challenges in and of itself. And having luxury items, such as my favorite recliner and a big screen TV, will not be a part of the next few months of “camper life,” I have resigned myself to trying to accept this lifestyle for a few months.

    Will I survive this challenge? Yes, but there may be some ugly thoughts along the way. I know in the end this is the better plan, it’s just getting there. It’s simply life.

    *And, by the way, I live in Oneonta, about 35 miles from Birmingham. I am a part-time staff writer for our local paper. It is published one time per week and currently features your column. Of course, I’ve already read the feature, as I enjoy it daily through email.

    As your life moves you to Birmingham, I
    say, “Welcome, my friend!”

    • Debbie Thomas - February 26, 2022 8:19 am

      Cheryl Helton, years ago my husband and I lived in a 35 ft fifth wheel travel trailer for 3 years. We had 2 cats and a dog. Everything was great, we saved a lot of money, the only thing that experience left me with, I will never be one of those older people who decides to give up their house and hit the road in a travel trailer. I have done my time and only a hotel or condo for me!! 🤣

  2. Connie - February 21, 2022 12:12 pm

    I feel your pain. I’m a keepsake kind of person to. I will be moving in the next year from my decent sized ranch style house to a tiny house in the country next door to my granddaughter and her husband and baby. The goal is for me to retire. But that means purging 60+ years of my life. Things that mean nothing to anyone but me. I’m not ready. I wish you and Jamie much happiness in your new home.

  3. Susan W Fitch - February 21, 2022 12:15 pm

    Moving is not for sissies! We moved from our home of 35 years to a small town on the river. We love life here but our home has little storage and I also “keep things “. We’ve been here 3 years now and I’m still working slowly on purging! Good luck to you!

  4. Sandi Krym - February 21, 2022 12:47 pm

    My husband and I are currently in the same boat, so to speak, as you and Jamie are. We, too are leaving Florida permanently, moving to the north Georgia mountains. Although we are not Florida crackers, we have both lived in Florida since age 9 with an 8 1/2 year stint in another state. We’re both now in our 70’s, so with less than 17 1/2 years out of Florida, we are talking about a very large chunk of our lives! The last 21+ years have been mostly in the house I sit in now. The process of serious decluttering has been painful and filled with doubt at times, but it has also been freeing. As of tomorrow we will officially be living in a house that is no longer our home. The buyer graciously agreed to allow so to stay until we tie up the loose the ends of closing a major part of our lives. I wish you and Jamie a successful move and a new chapter of your lives filled with joy!

    • Margaret - February 25, 2022 3:17 am

      Sandi Krym, welcome to the North Georgia Mountains. There are plenty of really nice thrift stores here to refill those empty spots. I also am unable to purge stuff. I am a disgrace to my minimalist friends.

  5. KAY JENKINS - February 21, 2022 1:00 pm

    We moved 4 years ago and my daughter-in-love gave me a marvelous mantra: Look at it, love it, and let it go. This helped me and I hope it helps you too!

  6. Hawk - February 21, 2022 1:02 pm

    The truth is that all the “stuff” here on earth we work so hard to buy and accumulate does not mean a thing. At the end of the day…people will be cleaning out our ‘stuff’, going through your ‘stuff’, figuring out what to do with all of our ‘stuff’….this ‘stuff’ we’ve accumulated in our life. The only thing of value that remains are the memories and what we deposit into others. May we all learn to spend less time accumulating ‘stuff’ and spend way more time making memories.

  7. Kim Kennedy - February 21, 2022 1:13 pm

    I, too, am a packrat. What to do?

  8. Paul McCutchen - February 21, 2022 1:24 pm

    Yep you are like my wife. I replaced the fireplace door and she had me take the glass out of the door I was throwing away and save it. I still don’t know for what reason yet and they are still on the front porch. She saves everything so I feel for Jamie.

  9. Margaret Byrd - February 21, 2022 1:57 pm

    “ I plead with you to not dwell on days now gone nor yearn for yesterdays, however good these yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from flowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to know and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is ALWAYS POINTED TOWARD THE FUTURE.” Wishing you and Jamie many wonderful years as you move into this new and exciting phase of your lives,

  10. James Key - February 21, 2022 2:08 pm

    My comment regards the other topic you mentioned; the Olympics. I did not watch any of the woke mess nor will I in the future. Just saying.

  11. Stacey Wallace - February 21, 2022 2:16 pm

    Sean, you sound like my husband Mike; he has way too much junk. I’m nostalgic, too, but thankfully not as much as he is. Since moving to Auburn in 2015, when we can’t find something, we just say, “It’s in a box.” Moving is stressful, but hang in there; you’ll make it.

  12. Sonny Morris - February 21, 2022 2:23 pm

    Been there!!!

  13. William Lowe - February 21, 2022 2:36 pm

    In the process of purging I found things I needed, I is good to go through things ever fifteen years to find things you needed 14 years ago.

  14. Dottie Coltrane - February 21, 2022 2:54 pm

    In 2015, we downsized drastically before (and after) moving to Birmingham from Atlanta to be near our adult son and his family (including two wonderful grandchildren, then in middle school. One thing that made the process easier for me was the memory of clearing out my mother’s home of 65 years after her death in 1995. My brother and I made so many trips to the county landfill they knew us by name and car. I vowed that week that I would never put my middle aged children through that. Family pictures should be saved and people in them identified. And family members should be encouraged to take anything they want. Much should be donated to charitable organizations with thrift stores.
    Welcome to Birmingham, Sean and Jamie! It’s a great city, with the best medical care (important as we age), many good churches, neighborhoods, and cultural opportunities. We look forward to meeting you in person at the Hoover Library Theater on April 24!

  15. Cathy M - February 21, 2022 2:58 pm

    You and Jamie are going to love Birmingham❤️ Worth the pain of packing. Trust me. Safe travels🙏🏻

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  17. AlaRedClayGirl - February 21, 2022 3:32 pm

    It’s bad enough that I’m a packrat, but then I inherited all of my mother’s packrat stuff. One thing I discovered recently is that for some items (not everything) I can just take a picture of it and then let it go. So if I want to remember the bedspread I had as a 10-year-old, I can just look at a picture. It has helped me tremendously.

  18. Shelton A. - February 21, 2022 3:32 pm

    Best of luck and prayers for safe travel. Glad you found the courage and strength to discard a few ‘treasures’. Pain is one of life’s lessons and moving is truly a pain. May your move be uneventful and everything arrive in the condition it started out in. Peace, Sean and Jamie.

    • Karen - February 22, 2022 12:25 am

      Wishing you all the very best as you move. I have learned not letting go of stuff is stressful but freeing. My last big challenge is letting go of 4 bags of the teddy bears I have collected over many years.

  19. Shelton A. - February 21, 2022 3:39 pm

    p.s. Sorry about the toilet paper!

  20. Carol - February 21, 2022 3:41 pm

    I want to welcome you to Alabama. I live in DeKalb County right on top of Sand Mountain. I have lived on the same farm all my life. I can’t relate to the moving process of having to go through all the collected things of your life. But, I do know what it is like to lose most of a lifetime of memories after a house fire that took just about everything. We had to start over with very little. Thankfully, I had insurance that paid to rebuild. I do understand what it is like to have a spouse that will throw things away that they deem “not useful” any longer.

  21. Bob E - February 21, 2022 3:41 pm

    1. Give most of the ‘stuff’ away to any like-minded person;
    2. Get a (hopefully small) shed at your new home to keep the must-haves;
    3. Praise Jamie;
    4. Enjoy your move – you’ll love it.
    Brings back memories of my thirty-some moves – have actually lost count and don’t regret it/them.
    Keep writing your wonderful stories.

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  24. Nita Risher McGlawn - February 21, 2022 5:01 pm

    My engineer husband has carried old papers and books around the world. He thinks “someday” he will be able to use them. During one move (and we’ve had more than our share), I labeled a box Blane’s Pure-D Junk. My mother in law didn’t like that at all.

  25. Linda Moon - February 21, 2022 5:55 pm

    Have mercy on your husband, Jamie, but only if necessary and without interrupting your “purging”. Pack Away, and maybe keep your husband in the box while you’re doing it. Sean, I share your nostalgia and sentiments about accumulated stuff, so I get it….well, sort of, until I eventually think about it more sensibly like your wife does. And, being without toilet paper is an ordeal when one is needing it right now. Now, go make some adventure out of the packing ordeal right now, you two!

  26. Susie, as well - February 21, 2022 7:00 pm

    Loved this story! Don’t know when I have laughed so hard. My husband is a hopeless hoarder as well. Would like to welcome you guys to Alabama. Ya’ll are gonna fit right in.

  27. Kathy Szala - February 21, 2022 7:13 pm

    Sean, I am the same kind of hoarder of memory induced stuff. This packing and purging nonsense is killing me.

  28. Charlotte Rumore - February 21, 2022 8:31 pm

    Sean, I started working for the Birmingham Boys Choir in January and when I saw that we are doing a program together, I started subscribing to your emails. I have LOVED reading your stories, especially the one about finding your dad’s baseball glove. Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear you speak on April 24th!!! Looking forward to meeting you and having you in Birmingham!!!

  29. MAM - February 21, 2022 8:33 pm

    I, too, confess to being a packrat. More than once one of our daughters has tried to help me throw out stuff. One kept at it until we got pickup truck loads to the dump. The other gave up. I, once upon a time in a former location, wrote an article titled: Recycling Is for Packrats. If I can donate it or find a home for something somewhere, It’s MUCH easier to let go of it. But right now, I have a box in the closet with things to donate that hasn’t yet made it out of the closet. one of these days!

  30. Becky+Souders - February 21, 2022 9:47 pm

    The thing about memorabilia is that it holds a memory. It isn’t the object itself that is valuable; it’s the memory it holds. And Sean, no one can discard that memory. So, if it’s junk with a memory attached…. throw away the junk and hold on to the memory.

  31. Tracy Delaney - February 21, 2022 10:27 pm

    Welcome to Birmingham/ Avondale, Sean! Happy to have you here! I hope you guys love it!

  32. Melanie - February 21, 2022 10:41 pm

    Lord have mercy…Jamie, I know what it’s like. Nothing but junk. I tell my husband I will not grieve when he passes but I will find him and haunt him forever if he makes me clean out all of that useless, worthless stuff. Best of luck to both of you.

  33. B.E. Blue - February 22, 2022 12:15 am

    Hey Sean. >> I was going through boxes today from a recent move and came across deeds to my grandparents’ farm in Washington County. They kept them all, the first from the railroad that sold them the land in 1896. I almost tossed them without looking. >> No particular value to anyone except for memories of the family homestead.

  34. John - February 22, 2022 5:09 pm

    I realize that the main subject here was moving and purging the hoard. But I have to say that these Olympics were a total waste of time. But then I didn’t/couldn’t watch the so-called “coverage”. Curling? That appeared to be the main event of this Olympics. EVERY and I mean EVERY time I tuned into a channel it was curling. I never saw any luge, bobsled or biathlon. The “normal” Winter Olympics events were not covered by NBC nor any of the other networks. UGH!

  35. E M Hector - February 22, 2022 6:01 pm

    I think I have a Ninja Turtles thermos around here somewhere…I have a husband that rivals you. SO glad we have a detached garage (man cave). It’s his domain as is every flat surface in our humble abode. I’ll keep him around though, because I never know when I might need something in his stash.

  36. gwenthinks - February 22, 2022 9:19 pm

    Cleaning out my mom’s house and I know exactly what you mean. We have found an astonishing array of family history, which is very cool. But, tax records from the 1950s? Pay stubs from the 1930s? Winn-Dixie receipts from the 1960s? There is a lot to wade through…


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