What’s the most embarrassing item you’ve ever stashed behind closed doors?
When we posed this question to unprepared survey respondents in five U.S. cities (Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle), their answers ran the acronym gamut from WTF to TMI. It’s all here, hundreds of closet skeletons; some priceless, some puzzling – and a few prosecutable.
To deal with this tidal wave of weirdness, we organized the responses into seven categories, then ran a representative sample of each by our organizing/hoarding experts for their thoughts on why people save the strangest things.
The following anonymous survey responses are verbatim. But brace yourself: you can’t unsee some of these buried treasures.
In the Bedroom
- A “sex doll” that I bought to settle a bet
- Pornography starring my sister that my ex-husband bought without telling me
- An old “sexy nurse” outfit
Matt Paxton, founder of Virginia-based Clutter Cleaner and host of the reality TV show “Hoarders,” wasn’t surprised to find sex at the top of the hidey-hole list.
“Don’t tell me; let me guess: dildos, diapers and diaries – the three Ds!” he Paxton said. “Your research hits on basically the first hour of my hoarding class, which is called, ‘How Are We Alike?’ To sum it up, we all hold onto the past. Hoarders always hold onto the past, but so do we.”
- A picture of my first girlfriend and I
- A list of famous actors I once thought were attractive
- An old crush’s lip balm
Mementos of young love are commonplace in our closets, according to Washington state organizing coach Terina Bainter.
“These memories trigger a connection to a simpler, younger, more positive time in our life,” she explained. “A lot of growth happens when you’re a teenager in love, but it’s hard to appreciate the beauty while you’re learning something. We often look back and say, ‘Man, that was a beautiful time’ because we don’t remember how hard it was to get through the process.”
- My old toenails
- My grade school lunchbox
- An unused maxi pad from junior high
“Childhood memories are totally normal,” Paxton said. “We find that all the time; books they didn’t read but keep anyway, awards from high school track. We felt really cool back then.”
Linda Samuels, president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, says former body parts are commonplace.
“People keep teeth, both baby and not-baby teeth, and all kinds of hair, whether with a hairbrush from the deceased or from different haircuts of their kids,” she said. “I had one client who kept hundreds of fingernail clips in Ziploc bags. It’s the sentimental attachment.”
- My great aunt’s adult diapers
- My mother’s dentures
- My child’s umbilical cord
- My dead mother’s wig
Bainter says family memories often take the strangest forms.
- Dead skin from a previous injury
- My gallstones
- My dried foreskin from my circumcision
Professional organizer Shawndra Holmberg frequently encounters – and tries to suggest substitutes for – holding onto biological pieces of the past.
“They have an emotional attachment to the times that the keepsake represents,” she explained. “I’ll suggest taking photos as another way to evoke that memory when they want to, not necessarily when they’re cleaning out the garage.”
- Plastic jars filled with my urine
- Bacteria I let grow in a bottle
- My used tampons
- A taco
“I would definitely connect those are items with obsessive-compulsive or hoarding disorder,” said Holmberg. “You generally see feces, adult diapers, all that stuff in a hoarding household.”
Samuels agrees. “In a hoarding situation, the bathroom might not be working,” as hoarders often let plumbing go unrepaired to avoid discovery.
Paxton, however, offers a different take.
“It’s real simple: some people are just bent,” he said. “That pile right there has nothing to do with hoarding; some people are just weird.”