Random Access Memory

I’ve been wondering why I’m chasing my tail around the various tasks I need to do.

Everywhere I look, there’s a pile of ‘stuff’ that doesn’t have a home. And it’s not much better when I look at my computer, either.

I’m a paper hoarder, and in the digital age, that translates to RAM.

On my last tally, there were no less than nine functional hard drives cluttering my office, and that’s not counting other digital devices.

Multiple copies of multiple versions, back-ups of back-ups that eventually wind up on a CD stuffed somewhere in a drawer.

But it’s not just documents I hoard.

I collect keys like memories.

They sit in my top drawer, a pile of tiny clues, physical bits of evidence pointing to the fact that I was there, once.

Key1There’s the key to the dearly departed Mazda 121 representing more than just a car.

Key2Power. Control. A room of one’s own.

Keys to locked drawers and secret hideaways.

Key3To past houses that I’ve tenanted.

Of course, you’re supposed to hand the keys back. But since the real estate agent didn’t know about the extra set we had to cut…

It became my guilty secret. A link to an illicit imaginary self.

Just in case she felt the urge to stage a break-in.

Just in case she ever needed to revisit the tiny pieces of me that were left behind.

In that house.

It was a blue, double-fronted weatherboard that had seen better days.

But it had a veranda, and stained glass windows, and an open fireplace in every room.

An entrance hall, high ceilings, even a servery window between the kitchen and the lounge!

And, of course, an outside loo.

That was the worst part. No light, but plenty of spider webs since we were too scared to go in there and wipe them out.

I shared the house with my best friend from school. Along with Pepi and his brother, Chippy. And Bobbin, the cat.


It was our second attempt at sharing each other’s living space – a truce struck by a mutual need to reduce costs and earn something that passed for a degree.

This time will be different, we said, and for a while, everything was bliss.

We cooked meals and hosted dinner parties, rolled our own cigarettes and debated the intellectual merits of Xena and Friends.

She grew pot plants and I planted a garden.

The neighbours thanked us for being good tenants.

But it all started to go horribly wrong about the time we decided to find a friend for Pepi.

Just in case it didn’t last.

Just in case Pepi and Chippy had to go their separate ways.

How we went from being model tenants to having this shoved in our letterbox…

Just another piece of paper kept for future reference.

Just another piece of paper I’ve been hoarding.

…is a story for another post.

(Shut up, just shut up shut up!)

To be continued next week!

What random things do you collect? Do you have trouble Emptying the Trash?


  1. says

    I’ve moved so frequently that collecting things is a challenge. That said, I collect paper and books. I would guess that over the years, at a minimum, I’ve cleaned about 4,000 books out of my library. So now, I only have … mmmm…. no idea. Probably 400ish.

    Papers are my biggie. And digital photographs.

    • says

      Digital photographs, yes! Ever since we could take photos without worrying about developing costs, it’s gotten out of control. Books are a bummer to carry around and even harder to let go. How do you choose what stays and goes?

      • says

        Stays: 1. sentimental comfort books that I turn to and re-read over and over again and make me give a happy sigh that I’m hanging around with those people (aka characters) 2. reference books within reason: nonfiction that I’m interested in for one reason or another, dictionaries, etc. 3. research for whatever I’m writing 4. to be reads 5. astrology books because so many of them are out of print and hard to find, although I think the whole collection will be going to someone dear in my life who lost hers 6. I probably own too many cookbooks, a holdover from when vegetarianism was practically unknown in the US and one grew up with people steaming vegetables and not much else

        And every so often I look at the too be reads with an eye to culling them.

        That said, when I have a permanent home and am settled, I hope to have a library. We’ll see.

  2. says

    You have both halves of a broken car key? That definitely speaks to an eye for detail — the same acuity that I’m sure shines through in your fiction. Perhaps we are kindred spirits in that I have one of those car keys that automatically opens the door, but its battery has long since died.

  3. says

    When I was growing up with my wise old grandmother, she used to have a garage sale every six months. Her mantra was that if she had not used it in six months, sell it so someone else can use it.

    I don’t have garage sales, but if I haven’t used something in six months, I’ll donate it.

    Thus, the only things I collect are music (over 250,000 digital music files), photographs (over 500,000 digital photos), and money in my bank account………

  4. says

    I LOVE this post, especially this:

    “I collect keys like memories.

    They sit in my top drawer, a pile of tiny clues, physical bits of evidence pointing to the fact that I was there, once.”

    I felt such a pang of… I don’t know what exactly, when I read that. Recognition maybe. Not because I collect keys (though I seem to; I found 16 keys in a drawer in our kitchen, and I don’t know what they’re all from), but because I feel so strongly that very human need to say, in some tangible way to anyone who might hear me, “I was here. Stuff mattered to me RIGHT HERE, where you are now.”

    Isn’t it amazing to think that’s probably true everywhere we go. Everywhere is significant to someone? During a very troubled time in our marriage I once had a make or break conversation with my husband in our car in a Target parking lot…

    I’m so looking forward to next week.

    • says

      Judy, thank you for your beautiful comment. You have a way of seeing into the heart of things and touching the emotions there… You bring me tears, and that’s a gift.

      Place is so important and I agree – it’s amazing to think about its significance to others when we go about. Maybe that’s also why I prefer old to new – I like to imagine what a place meant to the people who were there before.

      The Target carpark. Wow. ‘Places’ like that are the real thing – the kind we don’t need physical reminders for because we carry them with us everywhere. I’ll remember that next time I visit Target 🙂 xox

  5. says

    My husband is like you Alarna as he keeps every single key he possessed in his life. I have to admit that there is something mysterious about keys… Especially the ones that are so old you don’t even remember what they open. Was so nice to meet you last week. Looking forward to the next part of this post!

    • says

      Wow, I am happy to hear other people also have these same little obsessions. There is indeed something mysterious or romantic about keys, and the problem is, once you start collecting them, its hard to stop! I was really happy to meet you, too, Rita – and now I am coming over to visit as I promised. Right. Now. 🙂

  6. says

    I love what you wrote about keys. It’s impossible to throw one away; what if you come back to the old door empty-handed, how would you ever get in?

  7. says

    Alarna I love collecting old keys, really ornate designs I have one in a box that I will use in one of my novels one day. My daughter has her eye on it though. I collect images on pinterest for character ideas and stories and have a huge problem throwing out any kids art, we had cupboards of preschool work at one stage. I hope you sorted out your hate mailers and I look forward to finding out next post.

    • says

      Those kind of keys need a special box. You’ll have to watch out for your daughter! But it sounds like maybe you could make a book together someday? I love that you keep the kids art – if they are anything like their mother, they will really treasure that when they are older.

  8. says

    No trouble emptying the trash, but I do seem to have a lot of shoes,many of them more than 10 years old. Maybe they’ll walk away on their own. Yes, and and a lot of keys. What a lovely ode to key collections and old room mates. Shut up Get lost? Ha! Are you sure you want to save the keys to that place?

    • says

      Shoes! They are hard to throw out…keep them long enough, they come back into vogue though. So there’s that. As for the Get Lost keys…that’s a good question. At least if I keep them, I might remember where NOT to go back 😉

  9. says

    Your writing is charming, Alarna. I especially loved this post, especially the line about collecting keys like memories. I’ve just discovered a website devoted to Minimalism. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting (especially their most recent post!): http://www.theminimalists.com/

    As for me, I can’t let go of my old work-in-progress stories. Most of them are horrible and have yellowing pages, but they are nice to look at when I can find space for them, to remind me of how much I’ve evolved creatively. Hey, maybe it’s a good thing. : )

    • says

      That is an interesting link, thank you! They listed many of my hoarder habits, actually…I might have to write a list soon and start culling!

      Old writing, especially the handwritten stuff, is so hard to let go of. It’s that first spark, the idea in germination, and it is fun to review that process. Who knows, it might even be worth something oneday, like the painter’s study? We can dream 🙂

  10. says

    So funny, Alarna! What do I collect? Hmmm…. Let’s see, dust is a biggie. 🙂 I do have an unlimited number of chap sticks and am constantly getting more. That’s more of an addiction than a collection. I would have to say FOOD is my biggest collection. I love it. All of it. 🙂

    • says

      DUST! I can do dust…I’m especially fond of dust bunnies 🙂 Food, we should all collect food, just in case we have to bunker down. Although if you saw my mums kitchen… She has all these old spices in jars collecting dust. Food and dust. Not a good combo 🙂

  11. says

    Key hoarding…interesting. I love hearing about secret hoarding.

    I have a weird one that I’ve noticed before but really owned up to when I was cleaning the hell out of my apartment today. I have a problem with hoarding plastic resealable bags, like the kind that originally housed a shower curtain or a set of sheets. Some of them I use to organize things, but there are always quite a few being stashed away for future organization emergencies.

    It’s weird. I’m proud to say that I got rid of a few today…but not all, just in case. (And cue, the Psycho theme song.)

    • says

      Haha 🙂 Well, that’s the thing, we always have more of all this plastic stuff than we will ever need! And it’s horrible throwing it out, because you know it’s not going to end up anywhere good. Besides, you might need it when you move…and yeah, okay. I have a whole cupboard full of potential recyclable gift packaging items, if it makes you feel any better.

  12. says

    Interesting! This IS a good way to get to know someone . . . what do we keep? What do we toss? I hardly keep anything– sometimes I regret it, but I cannot stand clutter. I do, however, have all the letters I received in high school and college. Not sure what to do with them, but I’ve kept them so long that it seems too horrible to toss them now.

    • says

      Funny, because I would never imagine you hoarding anything! You must keep those letters. Fold them out and store them in a binder full of plastic sleeves. You can leaf through them on a rainy day, when you’re writing your memoir. 🙂

  13. says

    I collect keys only because I worry that they actually go to something I will need to open one day — even if I can’t figure out what they open now! Obviously, I needed them for something important, right?

    I’m a collector of the sentimental kind. Anything that I can attach a special memory to, then I hang on to it. Mostly stuff having to do with my children.

    • says

      That brings me to another point. If it was important enough to keep, why don’t we label them, so we know what they are for?

      I have a feeling most collections start out being sentimental…

  14. Cristiano says

    Two years ago we had to sell our parent’s house. There I kept all my things (books, vinyl records, and other various collection). I put everything in a little storage box (sorry, I do not know whether I am using the correct word) and now that I managed to find the space for everything, you cannot imagine all my feelings and emotions when I examine each one of them to give them their proper place. It is like a time machine and in those moment I let myself drawn into the ocean of my memories…. E il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.

    • says

      Having one’s own space, and all the little reminders of our past selves, has got to be a sublime feeling. One of completeness – here I am, this is me. In all my adult life I’ve always had half my stuff in boxes. When the day comes and I can find a proper space for everything, I think I will feel like I am finally where I need to be. How lovely 🙂


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