A few weeks ago, my car window was smashed and my purse stolen.

I hated that purse. It was cumbersome, with a worn out strap from closing it in the car door too many times. After I’d taken care of the usual theft business—cancelling credit cards, getting a new license, trying to recall what exactly I had lost—I began to realize why it weighed so much.

There were the usual items: glasses, chapstick, a wallet with credit cards, membership cards, and photos. I carried various pens and pencils, a small notepad and some lotion.

But the fattest area was the side pocket, my “gift” section.

Over the years, I’ve gotten wonderful gift certificates and gift cards from students, friends and family. I’ve received certificates to my local craft store, restaurants, spas, iTunes, bookstores, and department stores. I had free movie passes (with popcorn!), deluxe yarn, a manicure, and any coffee drink I wanted, ten times over. I carried the certificates with me everywhere but rarely spent them. Having them made me feel rich.

And now they were gone.

When I realized this, I did a mental tally of the value of all those “gifts.” Ouch.

A gourmet coffee drink tastes good. Cashmere yarn is nice to knit with. But I was doing none of that. I was hoarding, so fearful of losing the opportunity that I never actually took those opportunities. And in hoarding, I felt richer, but in fact I was poorer. I had less fun, saw fewer movies, had one less massage.

I have mended my ways. Two weeks ago, I had fun spending a new gift certificate in one sitting. Today, I returned a piece of clothing that didn’t fit. Instead of credit I came home with four new pair of socks.

Writers hoard too. We save pet phrases, beautiful passages and compelling ideas for the absolutely perfect moment. We create characters that we can’t bear to make suffer, so we hold back, pull punches, save the day too early, keep our character from desolation or horror or good old-fashioned loneliness. All of this is hoarding.

Annie Dillard talks about holding back as a writer:
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I am no longer a hoarder. Of gifts, written or otherwise.