When You Can't Bear to Throw It Out Many people have a difficult time discarding items from their past, from baseball cards to prom dresses. But when does collecting become hoarding? Guests explain why some people become "pack rats," and callers reveal the one utterly useless thing they can't bring themselves to throw away.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Your childhood retainers, those lanyards you made at summer camp, the loose hiking pamphlets you picked up on the way to Yosemite, dilapidated lawn furniture, vintage doorknobs, broken tennis rackets and the comic books that used to fit neatly on the shelf in the closet and now fill the whole thing -all across the country, vast piles of dubious value gather in attics, garages and living rooms. And over the past 35 years, an entire industry evolved to cater to what's been called disposaphobia - self-storage rentals where we stash the stuff we simply can't bring ourselves to throw away. I know, I know. It's not junk. It's a collection. And you really do plan to read that 10-year backlog of New Yorkers. And it would be heartless to chuck your daughter's stuffed animals - and so it begins.

We want to hear from you. What's the one utterly useless thing that you can't bring yourself to get rid of? Or do you keep too much of everything? Join the conversation: 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Email: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Later in the program: giant hard drives lead to a whole new generation of digital hording. But first, pack rats. We begin with Susanne Gannon. She's a freelance lifestyle writer and author of the New York Times article "Hooked on Storage." A reformed storage addict herself, she joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have on the program today.

Ms. SUSANNE GANNON (Writer, The New York Times): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: What kinds of things do people put away in storage? I mean, sometimes it makes perfect sense if you're in the middle of moving or - heaven help you - a divorce or something like that.

Ms. GANNON: That's certainly the seductive quality of it, is that you kind of get seduced into it as a temporary convenience during a move. But what I found is that the contents of these units really run the gamut from everything from, you know, a plush toy collection, stuffed animals to old vinyl LPs to old newspapers, fashions that have long lost their currency.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What did you keep in your rental unit?

Ms. GANNON: In my unit, I had some what I would classify as legitimate items, such as, you know, antiques that I found to be precious that I'm sure were not really worth anything, to things that were certainly something that you could classify as junk, such as old autograph books from, you know, yearbooks and old clothing and t-shirts from every party that I'd been at at college, etc.

CONAN: The antiques thing rang a bell. I mean, I think America's filled with people who are convinced that if the "Antiques Roadshow" would just come to their house...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GANNON: Exactly - that they would have a pot of gold at their feet. That is so true.

CONAN: Yeah. There are a whole bunch of things that people keep for sentimental reasons, but they're also - well, let me read you this email we got from Joanna in Salt Lake City.

I'm a terrible pack rat about clothes. I get really attached to clothes that remind me different times of my life - clothes that no longer fit me. Can't throw those out, because I'll get back in them someday. Clothes that I bought and never wore. Can't throw those out, because I paid good money for them. Clothes that I wear all the time and love to wear. How can I part with those? And on and on. The result is that I have boxes and boxes of clothes in my attic and spare room, and in reality, I wear only a handful of them. I think I inherited this clothes-hoarding behavior from my mother, but she at least had the good sense to have three daughters so she could pass the stuff along and go out shopping again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GANNON: That is so true. That sounds - that echoes very much a lot of what I heard from some of the women that I interviewed in doing this story. And even one woman who was in Manhattan - she had an attachment to the clothing of her young child, and he was only between one and two years old, I think, when I was reporting this story. And she had so many different items of his, including every new pair of shoes that he had worn and his first pacifier. And she was basically running a maternity clothing business out of her storage unit, giving her old maternity clothes to friends, and then they'd drop them back off at the storage unit when they were done with them. And then she'd loan them out to someone else. Very funny.

CONAN: It's funny, and it's interesting that, you know, a lot of people get the storage as, well, this is going to solve the problem. And that's not always what happens.

Ms. GANNON: That is not always what happens. As one of my editors kept saying, it's the gateway drug, it's the gateway drug. They sign on with the 10x6, and the next thing you know they have three that are, you know, 300 cubic feet each. What happens is that once they clear out, you know, our society, I think, tells us that, you know, the organizers are experiencing this little boom themselves. And our society tells us be organized. You know, have a Feng Shui environment, etc. So you de-clutter your immediate environment. You push it off to the side somewhere where you can't see it in the storage unit, and the next thing you know - like this woman in the Chicago area that I interviewed - the vacuum of space that was created by the storage unit then was filled in a matter of months with the new stuff that she had acquired.

CONAN: Plus you're paying, what, $4,000 dollars a year for a storage unit.

Ms. GANNON: Exactly. Exactly. And the thing about the $4,000 is the storage companies are brilliant in the way they've marketed themselves. They've struck a chord. And yet they often - you know, offer a first month free, or they're debiting the payment directly from your account, so you never - many of the consumers that I interviewed talked about I never get to see - you know, never even have to look at a bill. It's just a silent deduction that is, you know, out of sight, out of mind.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on this conversation - 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Kathleen. Kathleen is with us from Portland, Oregon.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Hi.


KATHLEEN: This is so perfect for me, because my husband is a pack rat. It's something he learned from his mom, who lived in wartime Germany. But he had so much stuff in his in our basement we couldn't even go down there, and I was so embarrassed. So I waited till he was out of town for two weeks. I got a dumpster...

Ms. GANNON: Uh-oh.

KATHLEEN: ...and I got my brother-in-law, who was just ruthless, and we went through there and we made five trips to Goodwill, filled the dumpster, gave away stuff. I found seven computer keyboards, three computers, five monitors, various recording equipment that we couldn't even identify...

Ms. GANNON: Well, my question is have the divorce papers been drawn up yet?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KATHLEEN: No. The best part was when I talked to him on the phone, I said what I want you to do is when you go down there, don't look at what you don't have. Look at what you do have, which is a clean basement. And he said...

CONAN: And you...


(Soundbite of laughter)

KATHLEEN: And he said thank you.

CONAN: He said thank you.

Ms. GANNON: Oh, my God.

KATHLEEN: He did. And it's been clean ever since.

Ms. GANNON: Good for him. He's involved.

KATHLEEN: He recognized it.

CONAN: You must have been trembling, though, when he first went down those steps.

KATHLEEN: Oh, God. It was daunting. It was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KATHLEEN: It was absolutely daunting. And it was almost embarrassing, but we have a clean basement. I can find things I need. I didn't throw away his eight to 10 skateboards. I kept those.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's probably what saved the marriage.

KATHLEEN: Exactly.

CONAN: I wonder now - how long are you projecting until that basement is filled up again?

KATHLEEN: Well, I've been watching it. I don't think we're going to have a problem till the kids become teenagers. Then we might have a problem.

CONAN: Well, good luck, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

Ms. GANNON: That is funny. You know, she raises an interesting point, Neal, in that a lot of the organizers that I spoke to said that they're most effective in having their clients get rid of their storage units when the client gets to participate in - yeah, so that's interesting that her husband was not...

CONAN: Not there.

Ms. GANNON: Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Well, joining us now is Celia Perez. She's a librarian at Harold Washington College in Chicago and author of "The Sassiest Girl in America," a piece she wrote for the zine Syndicate Product. And she's with us from our studios in Chicago. Nice to have you on the program.

Ms. CELIA PEREZ (Author, "The Sassiest Girl in America"): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And the title of that article ought to give us a hint on what it is that you cannot bring yourself to get rid of.

Ms. PEREZ: Yeah, I can't bring myself to get rid of those Sassy magazines. I've lugged them around for about 20 years now, and I will probably carry them around for the rest of my life.

CONAN: Why Sassy magazine?

Ms. PEREZ: I think like a lot of women my age who grew up reading Sassy, I'm very sentimental about it. That's the word for, you know, that comes up with pack rats - sentimental. And it influenced my adolescence and I think it influenced who I have become as an adult, and I enjoy every so often going back and flipping through them and...

CONAN: And so you read them?

Ms. PEREZ: I do. I still read them, yes.

CONAN: And it's also a comfort to know they're there, isn't it?

Ms. PEREZ: It is, yeah. I peek in the closet and see my pile of Sassies and get warm fuzzies. And I recently ordered - I didn't subscribe until about '89, so I recently ordered all of the issues that I didn't have.

CONAN: The back issues?

Ms. PEREZ: Up to '89. Yes, on eBay. Yup.

CONAN: And this can get pricy.

Ms. PEREZ: Well, now it's getting pricy, I think, because of the book that's come out. Everyone's trying to sell and everyone's trying to buy, but I managed to get pretty good prices on them.

CONAN: Now wait a minute. When you store them, do you put them in plastic bags with backings and, you know, put a little piece of scotch tape there to make sure the air doesn't get in?

Ms. PEREZ: I know. As a librarian I should, but I don't. They're in a pile in my one-year-old son's closet. He doesn't use the room, so everything that isn't used ends up in that room.

CONAN: And how big is this collection?

Ms. PEREZ: Let's see - I probably have around maybe 50 or so. It's from '88 till I think about '94, and I have some duplicates.

CONAN: Is this your only obsession?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEREZ: Obsession? I always - I don't collect things, but if there is one thing that I guess I collect, it would be paper. I have paper, all kinds of paper, letters, canceled stamps, overdue library book receipts, show flyers. I just keep a lot of paper.

CONAN: Canceled - this is not a stamp collection, these just happen to be canceled stamps.

Ms. PEREZ: Yeah, just stamps that I tear off envelopes and I plan to use them for something in the future.

CONAN: Like what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PEREZ: You know, art projects. I make zines. I use them as art for my zines, that kind of thing.

CONAN: Suzanne Gannon...

Ms. GANNON: Yeah.

CONAN: People have a lot of rationales for why they keep this stuff.

Ms. GANNON: They do. It's endless. I mean one guy that I spoke to who managed to maintain two units in two different parts of the country talked about if one has a tendency to squirrel things away, he said, there's no reason not to put it in storage if you can afford the storage.

CONAN: You will always find a reason to keep it.

Ms. GANNON: Exactly.

CONAN: Celia Perez, we just have a few seconds left, but how does your family feel about your stuff?

Ms. PEREZ: I think my husband would be very happy if I got rid of a lot of the paper. He figures if I haven't used it in the past six months, it needs to go. But I still think that once you get rid of it, that's when you're going to realize that you need it and you shouldn't have gotten rid of it, so..

CONAN: Hang on to those Sassies, though. They're going up in value. That's an investment.

Ms. PEREZ: That's right. That's right. That's history.

CONAN: Celia Perez, thanks very much.

Ms. PEREZ: Thank you.

CONAN: Celia Perez, a librarian, the author of "The Sassiest Girl in America," a piece that appeared in the zine Syndicate Product with us from our studios in Chicago. We'll talk more about the useless stuff we can't just bring ourselves to throw away after we come back. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There are collectors and then there are pack rats. Our focus today is on people who just can't throw things away no matter how useless they might be or how much space they might take up. In some cases, all those piles can become a real obsession. We'll get into that in a minute. Right now, our guest is Suzanne Gannon. She wrote about this in the New York Times in an article titled "Hooked on Storage." And let us know the one utterly useless thing you can't bring yourself to get rid of, or do you keep too much of everything? 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also weigh in at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And we'll begin with Selena. Selena is with us from California.

SELENA (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

SELENA: Okay. It's not about me, it's about my husband. I challenge anybody. He is the worst pack rat I've ever met. Like the kind of things that I find, he keeps coupons. He had a coupon that expired in 1981.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SELENA: And it was for a place that no longer exists.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SELENA: Like with Federated Department Stores or something like that, and there's no talking to him. I mean you're like what could you possibly do with this?

I also found, like, a two-for-one coupon for a water slide in upstate New York. It's in a place - he's never ever been to upstate New York, but he kept - he held on to this coupon. And I just wish that he would put things in a storage locker. He doesn't. He wants to keep everything at arm's reach so that he can get it at any moment for I don't know what. Like if a plate breaks or a cup or a teapot and it's in so many pieces you can't put it back together, he keeps it because he says, well, maybe I'll make an art project out of it. So we have like broken toasters and broken plates and all kinds of defunct machinery that one day he says he's going to make into an art project.

CONAN: And where does he keep all this stuff?

SELENA: Well, we live in the country and we have three acres and we have a huge barn, and so like a lot of it is just like he puts it in the barn. He like tries to like hide it, you know, under things, and I - I was - what I was saying earlier is I actually - I find that every once in a while, when he's not looking - and I don't do it that often because he would divorce me if I did what that other woman did with the dumpster - is I'll take like some of his newspapers from, like, you know, 17 years ago and I'll put them in the recycling on recycling day. And he has this sixth sense about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SELENA: He actually goes through the recycling every single time I do it. He just senses that day that I did something, and he pulls it out of the trash or the recycling and then he puts it back in the house.

CONAN: Do you ever wonder what the archaeologists from, you know, 2,000 years in the future are going to think when they uncover your barn?

SELENA: I know. I mean, it's so out of control. And like, he just - it - I mean it's a sickness, and I know you guys are going to get into that, because he can't give me any good reason. I say, just give me a plausible scenario in which you could possibly utilize one of these things, and he can't. He just knows that it's his and he found it, or someone gave it to him - oh, not even to mention ugly presents that people have given to us - and he will not let go of it.

Ms. GANNON: The experts who study this - I mean, there's definitely a continuum here between, you know, that stretches from those who are mild clutterers to those who have an obsessive-compulsive hoarding situation. But the experts say that it's not about the things as much as it is about an emotional or psychological attachment that the person has to these things. So...

SELENA: I've always felt like it's kind of territorial because I moved into his house when we got engaged.

Ms. GANNON: Interesting.

SELENA: And it was filled with his things. And if his things were in there, then there was no room for my things. And every time I take out one of his things, he interprets it like it's just to make more room for my things.


SELENA: It's almost like our things are at battle with each other.

CONAN: Well...

Ms. GANNON: The battle of the things.

CONAN: Selena, I sometimes wonder when people say I'm calling about my husband. You know, I'm calling about a friend who's got a problem...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I believe you. I believe you. It's his problem.

SELENA: Well, I mean, I literally have fantasies - I mean, seriously - I get sometimes these fantasies of, like, putting kerosene all over his things and just, like, lighting it up. I mean, you know, of bringing dusters in. But I know it would - it just would end our marriage. He'd be so hurt and he'd feel so betrayed. I just can't do it to him.

CONAN: Well, hang in there, and don't go down that kerosene road.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Selena.

SELENA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Hoarding things can be a true compulsion, as we just heard. There is another end of the continuum. Joining us now is Linda Mackintosh. She is one of at least two million people in the U.S. who suffer from a crippling inability to discard. They are known as compulsive hoarders. Linda joins us now from her home in Connecticut. And thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. LINDA MACKINTOSH (Former Medical Technologist): Oh, thank you for having me.

CONAN: And we're laughing, but this can be a real problem.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Oh, it certainly is. It definitely affects your social life. It affects the anxiety level that I live with daily. It affects who can come and visit and who you can have stay over, you know.

CONAN: I read a story about you. It cost you a marriage.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Yes. Yeah.

CONAN: Your boyfriend just couldn't deal with it.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: That's correct.

CONAN: Was he right?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: It actually was a partner.

CONAN: It was a partner.


CONAN: Okay.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: They had their own problems also.

CONAN: Oh, that tends to happen, yeah.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Between the two of us, it was very difficult at that time for her to deal with my issue as well as her own.

CONAN: What kind of things do you hoard?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Oh, anything that I think still has use to it. I'll drive down the street and I'll see a gas grill out, and it's very hard for me to continue driving down. To me, you know, it looks okay on the outside; all you need is a new burner on the inside and you're good to go. Why throw the whole thing out when all you need is to replace one small part?

CONAN: And do you ever replace that one small part?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Yes, I do.

CONAN: So it does become of practical use.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Yes. I have many things in my home that are of great practical use to me, many of my fans. I also have - all of my outdoor furniture came from someone else's trash. To me, a lot of the things that we Americans throw out is stuff that does not need to be thrown out, that is salvageable.

CONAN: It's not your personal responsibility, though, to save it.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MACKINTOSH: And unfortunately, at one point, I did take it as my own responsibility. I'd drive through some of the better neighborhoods and I'd be one of 20 cars out there at trash night picking through and getting things out.

CONAN: So you're not alone.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: No, no. And some of the people, I mean, for them it's something that they need to live. Some people, it's what they're going to sell. For me, it was just, my God, they can't put this stuff in a landfill. I have a very strong feeling about the environment and am trying to do what I can to protect it. And so I had that issue along with, oh, this has life in it still.

CONAN: But what about the environment inside your house? This stuff takes up a lot of room.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: It's poisonous. My father's here visiting, and he's laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GANNON: I bet my family members are laughing as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MACKINTOSH: It's very difficult. My mom hasn't been able to visit right now because she's in a nursing home and can no longer walk on her own. But even if I had a handicapped van that could bring her here and if I could get her through, you know, the doors with a wheelchair, I still could not have her here. The path is not that wide.

CONAN: Because it's filled with stuff.


CONAN: Yeah. I understand that for a television story they did a scan of your brain...


CONAN: And found that when they tried to throw - you tried to throw something away, it - well, what was the effect?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Well, they say that those of us who are hoarders react very differently when a piece of old mail that you haven't seen in two years -because many of us hold on to mail. And I have boxes and boxes of mail; some of it is, like I said, two years old. And they had me bring in a bag of old, old mail that I hadn't gone through in two years, and they had me watch through a camera link in the MRI as they held it up and said, you know, do you want me to shred it or save it? And when I pressed shred it, my brain reacted entirely different from anybody else who has normal ability to throw things out.

Ms. GANNON: That is fascinating.

CONAN: That's interesting.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: It's part of a pre-test study that I was in. They've actually contacted me since and asked me to be part of the actual study now.

CONAN: I wonder - do you, in addition to putting stuff in your house, do you rent storage space?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: I had to when we cleaned out my mom's house. Many of the things that I inherited ended up not having room for in my house, things that I'd really love to have here. But I just simply don't have room.

CONAN: And I know you've also spoken with counselors and that they say this behavior can be modified, it can be somewhat improved, but you're always going to feel like this.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Yeah, I think so. But I've got to tell you that three years ago, I think it was, that I stopped picking things up from the trash. And although it's still hard to drive by when I see good things, it doesn't give me the same feeling as it did three years ago when I first started driving by it.

CONAN: Well, Linda Mackintosh, congratulations.

Ms. MACKINTOSH: Thank you.

Ms. GANNON: Congratulations.

CONAN: Linda Mackintosh joined us today from her home in Connecticut. That's a - well, let's get another caller on the line. This is Randy. Randy's with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

RANDY (Caller): Hey. How are you doing today?

CONAN: All right.

RANDY: I actually was a pack rat in my mid to late 20s and the habit was broken by using mini-storage.

CONAN: So it worked for you. You got the stuff...

RANDY: I'm sorry.

CONAN: ...you got the stuff into mini-storage, got it out of your house, and it broke you of the habit? You didn't just fill up your house again?

RANDY: Well, no. I was actually in service and I got stationed overseas. And after a couple of years of being in East Asia, I actually lost track of my bills, didn't pay the storage fee. And they did what they always do, and that's lock it up and sell it off.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GANNON: Mm-hmm.

RANDY: As soon as I came back from overseas and realized that it was gone and was heartbroken - I lost over 1,500 books that I had saved. I saved every book I ever read. But once that happened, I decided, well, I'm not going to trust anybody else. If I can't keep it my house, then I don't need to keep it.

And fortunately, I was married to a very strong woman who said you will not keep it in my house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RANDY: I ended up having no place to put anything, so I had to break that habit. I still catch myself starting collections every now and then, and my wife stops me and says no. You know, we're out of bookshelves, stop. And so she stops it for me.

CONAN: It sounds like you've married well.

RANDY: Yeah. I made a good choice.

CONAN: Congratulations, Randy.

RANDY: All right. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks. Bye-bye. This does become an interpersonal problem. A lot of the people you spoke with, Suzanne Gannon, you know, their partners and boyfriends and girlfriends just don't understand this.

Ms. GANNON: Yes, and even - it goes generationally. I spoke to several children of people who are, you know, somewhat addicted to their storage units. And in the children's view, they couldn't wait, you know, to have authority over it to be able to dispose of it. So they obviously had not inherited that acquisitive, holding-on-to gene.

CONAN: Paul in Columbus, Ohio, sent this email. I have 23 years of birthday, Valentines Day, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween and graduation cards - none of which cost more than $1.99 - all from relatives, stored away in my closet. Not only does the pile get bigger every year, but I've begun to sort and file the cards according to sender, occasion and year.

Ms. GANNON: Wow. That's quite organized.

CONAN: It's very organized. And that speaks to the - obviously talking to Linda Mackintosh, this plays into obsessive-compulsive disorder, doesn't it ?

Ms. MACKINTOSH: It definitely does. I mean I'm certainly not a psychologist, but that is what those that I interviewed had to say.

CONAN: We're talking to Suzanne Gannon, freelance lifestyle writer, author of the New York Times article "Hooked on Storage." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get John on the line. John's with us from Oregon.

JOHN (Caller): You know, one of the things that happens is when I get something - as opposed to it being in your possession - once it's mine, it's worth twice as much.

Ms. GANNON: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: And so...

JOHN: It's just worth more because it's mine. I have an organizational disorder myself. I cannot - if you gave me five black squares and five round, white balls and said put them in two categories, before I was done, I would need a third category for some reason. I need a 12-step program for organization.

Ms. GANNON: For getting organized.

CONAN: Yeah.

JOHN: Yeah, or a dominatrix with a whip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: Whack - pick that up! I just can't do it by myself. Lord, it's bigger than me.

CONAN: Yeah. Well, you can hire professional help, can't you?

JOHN: I can't find one.

Ms. GANNON: Oh, they're all over the place. There are a couple of Web sites that specifically cater to the kind of need that you have, and many of the organizers that I spoke to actually said that they guess that their clients who have storage units do not know what - that 80 percent of them don't even know what is in...

CONAN: The storage unit.

Ms. GANNON: ...the storage unit. Yeah.

JOHN: Well, I don't need a storage unit because I've got a small path through my house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: But I maintain that path, by golly.

CONAN: Well, good luck, John. And keep the path open.

JOHN: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Right. Bye-bye. Let's talk to Mike, and Mike is with us from Florida.

MIKE (Caller): Hey, how you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MIKE: Well, you know, I'm not a pack rat, but I've got one item in my attic that I just can't get rid of, and it's a 30-year-old parachute that I used to jump with. And Lord knows I'm not going to try to use it anymore, but it's just something that has hung around. And my wife says, when are you going get rid of that, and I just - I can't bring myself to just toss it on the curb.


MIKE: I don't know. It's just - maybe it's the fond memories that I had of skydiving 30 years ago. And Lord knows I'm smart enough not to go out and use it again.

CONAN: I was going to say, nobody would want to use a 30-year-old parachute.

Ms. GANNON: Now, see, that's interesting that Neal's reaction was why and my reaction was, oh, how sweet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GANNON: You can see on what side of the fence I fall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIKE: Yeah.

CONAN: Happy landings, Mike.

MIKE: Okay. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can go now to - this is the Reverend Wiggins, and he's calling us from Tanzania.

Ms. GANNON: Oh, my goodness.

REVEREND WIGGINS (Caller): Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.

Rev. WIGGINS: Yeah. Well, we couldn't throw anything away, either. But when we decided to move to Africa, we knew we couldn't afford to bring everything. So we ended up giving or selling away everything and coming with only two suitcases.


Ms. GANNON: Wow.

Rev. WIGGINS: It was very difficult.

CONAN: I bet it was a traumatic...

Rev. WIGGINS: ... we had to empty storage containers...

CONAN: And do you miss...

Rev. WIGGINS: But it was very freeing.

CONAN: I was going to say, do you miss the stuff?

Rev. WIGGINS: No, we really don't. But there are other missionaries here who have had 40-foot containers shipped to them that they have never opened, because it was the stuff that was at their storage containers in the U.S.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GANNON: I've heard this story before.

CONAN: I did store stuff in a storage unit when my family moved to London when I was bureau chief in London for National Public Radio. And when we got back and got the stuff back, I said why did I keep this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, Reverend Wiggins, congratulations, and we appreciate your taking the time to call us.

Rev. WIGGINS: Okay. It was hard at first to get rid of the stuff, but then it became exciting because we would think, oh, we know somebody who could use this. They've got a collection of these.

CONAN: Well, that's because you're a good...

Ms. GANNON: Yeah.

Rev. WIGGINS: ...we kind of helped other people clutter up their homes.

CONAN: Well, thank you again. Appreciate it. And Suzanne Gannon, thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. GANNON: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Suzanne Gannon, a freelance lifestyle writer, author of the New York Times article "Hooked on Storage". She joined us today from our bureau in New York. Of course new technology gives us even more ways to hoard things. Computers and the giant-sized hard drives that come with them, yesiree, storage by the terabit. We'll be on that after this.

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