I'm Addicted to Stuffed Animals

Confessions of a Hoarder: I Can’t Let Go of My Stuffed Animals

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This post was originally published on August 12, 2016.

Stashed inside my closet are five stuffed dogs, nine stuffed teddy bears, a stuffed tiger, two stuffed Care Bears, four Cabbage Patch Kids and a Sally doll from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I’ve even got a few Beanie Babies hanging around the apartment, along with tiny teddy bears ex-boyfriends have gifted me. It doesn’t matter if the relationship ended with a big blowout and a chorus of “I hate yous,” I’ll still keep the bears. In fact, every time I move, I still schlep around a huge stuffed panda that a jerky ex gave to me 10 years ago. I hated that guy’s guts for years, but I refuse to take it out on the panda.

My latest ex—Horacio—gave me this clay turtle from Mexico. After we broke up I’d get really sad every time I looked at it, so I decided to leave it sitting on a little white table on the grass in front of my apartment, hoping someone would take the turtle home. An hour later, the table was gone, but the little turtle was still there, sitting in the grass as if in its natural habitat. I felt so sorry for it, I burst into tears (which made my roommate question my sanity), moped out to the grass, picked it up and reluctantly brought it back inside. It still sits on my bookshelf.

Then there was the dirty Cabbage Patch Kid that a homeless man gave to me when I worked at Starbucks in my early twenties. He found it in the trash and handed it to me as I stood behind the register, and I refused to throw it away even though my coworkers said it was a health hazard. I still have it.

It’s embarrassing to confess that I can’t get rid of any of my childhood dolls or stuffed animals, or even those I’ve acquired in adulthood—especially since I’m 37. My poor mother still has a huge bin of them stored in her garage that I have insisted she never throw away. I am especially attached to the Cabbage Patch Kids, and though three or four are stowed away at her house, there’s one—Minnie Marcy—who I keep with me. Yes, she is in my bed when I go to sleep at night.

My great-aunt gave me Minnie when I was four, and for some reason we grew really close. (She’s so cute! With her curly yellow hair made from yarn, big blue painted eyes and even her legs—which are now amorphous stumps since all the stitching’s popped out—are adorable.) I refused to leave for college without her, and even when boyfriends sleep over they have to deal with her being in the bed. Yes, it’s weird. No, I won’t change.

Since I’m nearing 40, I imagine this collection is somewhat aberrant if not all-out pathological. Though I’m not addicted to purchasing these toys (I don’t actually hoard stuffed animals and dolls), I’m certainly addicted and obsessive about keeping them. Maybe, in fact, it is a real form of hoarding, even though they’re only taking up space in my closet, not my whole apartment.

I know it’s weird to truly believe these toys are sentient beings, that they have souls. It’s extra weird since I don’t believe in God and even have a hard time buying into reincarnation. I can go on and on and on, explaining to those who believe in an afterlife about how we just turn to dust and our consciousness dies out right when our brain activity stops. I also don’t believe in ghosts. But for some reason, all these toys are very much alive to me. In truth, it probably reveals that I am emotionally stunted, underdeveloped and still living with the mindset of a six-year-old. That, or perhaps I read A Pocket for Corduroy too many times. I never saw Toy Story. I knew it would be too upsetting.

It’s especially hard to go to the grocery stores and see all those unsold bunny rabbits and teddy bears near the flower section. I mean, who buys those? It’s horrible! Honestly, if I had millions of dollars I’d probably purchase every one of them and stash them in my house so they wouldn’t feel rejected. Or at least donate them to a children’s hospital or something.

This leads me to my current dilemma—I am running out of space and need to get rid of these stuffed animals and dolls (not Minnie, of course). Even I can see that it’s gotten too ridiculous. My closet needs room for books, important documents, and—of course—clothes and shoes. It’s a mess and it can take up to 20 minutes to find a pair of shoes.

I Googled “unable to get rid of stuffed animals,” and, believe it or not, there are articles out there that prove I am not alone with this weird obsession. Still, every time I think of parting with them, donating them to Goodwill, a foster home or a school, I become terrified that they’ll eventually wind up in a dump somewhere and it breaks my heart.

The whole situation wouldn’t be too big of a problem if I wanted kids, but I don’t. Nope, no kids, which means I can’t just dump them on my own child eventually.

I would tell my therapist, but I’m just too ashamed. How exactly does one go about saying this out loud?

“How’s your week been, Tracy?”

“Oh, fine. But you know, I can’t get rid of my stuffed animals. Can you help me with that?”

“Uhhhhh…”

No way. I’m not going there. I’ll be laughed right out of the Kaiser department of mental health.

What I’ve decided to do is figure out exactly where I can donate these toys, do a non-attachment breathing meditation and let them go. Because at the end of the day, that’s what this is: an attachment. One friend suggested I do a sort of parting ritual, kissing them and saying goodbye before putting them in a box and dropping them off. I wish there was some way to know for sure whether they’ll be trashed one day—for me, it’s as hard as dropping off a pet at a shelter. You don’t want the animal to be put down, but as far as I know, there are zero no-kill shelters for stuffed animals in Los Angeles.

I’d like to think having compassion for my stuffed toys makes me more humane, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate (since I still love to curse at people while I’m driving). Regardless, I’ll just have to do it—just donate the toys and get it over with. But there’s no way I’ll part with Minnie, like ever. She’s going with me to the grave.

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2 Comments

  1. I think it’s worth remembering that these bears in our childhoods were like our guardians and in turn as an adult we feel like their guardian, responsible for them no matter what. It’s been proven with studies that children use stuffed animals to comfort themselves by projecting two versions of themselves on the toy. The one that needs comforting and the comforter, and it is through that imaginary process that they learn to self sooth and how to sooth others. In the instance of being unable to get rid of them you must practice 2 things; either the act of self soothing through grief and guilt or the act of guardian by finding a restoration service for it, or simply keeping it until you can find someone who will look after it as it is.

  2. Omg…i thought i was the only one. Except i got rid of most of my childhood toys, including a very specific monster that i used to have with me all the time. One night the guilt ate me up, i spent 5 YEARS on Ebay, going through pages and pages of stuffed animals. Literally every night. This resulted in me now having 9 large boxes of vintage soft toys and collectable handmade toys. I did EVENTUALLY find that little monster, i now own 4 mini versions of him, a handmade version of him(that i requested on etsy) and a brand new one, with a tag. The good news is i plan on having children so i will never need to buy them a teddy. The bad news is, the chances of me finding someone that will accept my 9 boxes of stuffed animals is going to be tough and no, i will never get rid of them for fear of them being thrown in the trash. It’s essentially the worn away ones that will end up in the dumpster, let’s face it. If i give a tatty bear away to charity, i have essentially sealed his fate. I just have these images stuck in my mind of them sitting in a massive pile of trash… 🙁

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.