I have always been the hoarder of the family.

Picture a room with nametags from 2nd grade, a variety of pens and pencils, schoolwork that should have been thrown out last school year. Imagine half-eaten chocolate bars wrapped and preserved, lizard sheds, five volumes of The Practical Handyman’s Encyclopedia (Copyright 1963). There is a VHS rewinder for VHS movies (already owned on DVDs), a tiny sombrero, and an oversized clothespin; there are games that shouldn’t have been bought in a travel size but still were. This is my room. Among the masses of Coke cans and empty soda bottles reside twenty llamas.

Their history remains unknown. They are enigmas to the universe, perfect figurines of the ideal llama. Three shapes and two colors, all majestic in their own ways. In general summation, the count looks like this: two (2) small and brown in a sitting position, seven (7) similar but grazing, three (3) that are still the same small and brown but stand proudly instead, three (3) similar in stance and size but white, and five (5) that are larger, white and standing. Small Peruvian afghans included, in different colors.

The last two years of my life have been a blessing with these tiny companions. I have bought the llamas chairs, tiny baskets, and a fire pit. The supplier of all my hoarding needs: Goodwill.

I live dangerously close to Goodwill. I have a dangerous amount of money when it comes to shopping at Goodwill. Not only have my supplies come from Goodwill, but the llamas too.

It was a sunny Saturday in May of 2013. It was the 4th, and I was in the midst of a project. I needed things for this project: small objects, knickknacks, what other people consider garbage. In my search for usable supplies, I found a bin. But this was not just any bin. This was a bin full of small llama figurines. At the tender age of 14, I hadn’t realized what I had stumbled upon: perfection. At a dollar apiece, I asked for my mother’s permission to buy five. It felt good. I knew my project would be good because I had all I needed: five llamas.

Later that night I had a nightmare unlike any other. It was so real I woke up in a cold sweat. I knew I had a vision, and if I didn’t act on it, something would go wrong. I had a dream that involved me breaking into Goodwill, on a mission to get the rest of the llamas. I’m not saying I’m a thief or anything, but I’ve been known to accidentally steal things. It’s happened. I won’t deny it. I was scared I would never see the llamas again.

The next day I told my mom the horrors I had experienced the previous night. She told me I was ridiculous, that I didn’t need any more llamas. I had never felt so betrayed. I had reached the point in my life that not even my mother loved or supported me. After what felt like years of persuading her, she walked me to Goodwill. When we arrived, I hurried to the llamas. They were there. I was so relieved to see them, I felt like I was being reunited with my long lost love. Nervously, I asked my mom how many I could get. She asked me how many I needed, to which there was only one obvious answer: all of them. She told me no, and the feelings of betrayal were coming back. I felt so hurt. Defiantly, I told her I needed all the llamas, she doesn’t understand. We had to leave soon because it was Sunday, and I needed to get to my weekly visit to the library. She didn’t get it.

After haggling over an ideal number, we settled on fourteen. Don’t ask me why. She handed me $20 and told me if I really wanted them I could get them myself. I packed them into a bag and walk to the cashier. She believed me when I told her that I had fourteen. My conscience was cleansed — or so I thought.

That night I was struck with another terrible dream. This time there was a man, a culprit. He bought the llamas and did evil things to them. I knew deep in my heart that I needed these llamas. Purchasing the llamas would be a complete act of selflessness and helping the greater good. I approached my mother with this idea. She was not pleased. It took a while to talk her into taking me. When we got there, I felt my heart sink to the floor. The llamas were gone. I tore through the store. I asked the worker who had seen me the past two days. She said some man had bought them that morning. I knew my nightmare had come true.

Defeated, I went back home in search of consolation I knew could only be found in my nineteen llamas. After counting up once or twice, I realized I had twenty. I know twenty seems like a lot, but it didn’t feel like a lot. I don’t mean to be materialistic, but I find comfort in belongings. I look around my room, and I find meaning in old glow sticks, in scraps of paper, the extra copies of photographs that never made it into scrapbooks.

I do not feel cluttered or lost; instead I am whole, and the objects that I’ve accumulated over the years hold me together. I am not so much a hoarder as a collector. I do not regret empty hand sanitizer bottles or baby clothes. I do not regret my Valentine’s Day cards from middle school or crumpled, indecipherable fortune-tellers. I don’t regret the $19 I spent on twenty miniature llama figurines; my only regret was that I hadn’t bought more.


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