10/04/2013 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2013

I Love Trash

On any given Saturday morning in Brooklyn, I'd leave the house to buy a bagel and return with more than I'd planned; three of my neighbors' books (sometimes in Spanish); a used ceramic toothbrush holder; a framed poster of the doors of San Francisco; an LP of the Annie soundtrack for the record player I didn't own. I never understood why these brownstone dwellers who had bought before the Brooklyn boom chose to spend sunny Saturdays on their stoops, peddling their belongings for a dollar. Monday night was bulk garbage night, and I scavenged the streets for bookshelves, chairs, and tables; bedbug mania did nothing to quell my insatiable thirst for other people's things.

Practically penniless at 23, I was a rare winner of New York's rental real estate lottery. Two stories of a brownstone in Prospect Heights, Park Slope's cooler cousin, on a tree-lined street much like the Huxtables', with a subway station on the corner and enough supermarkets nearby to make me wish I cooked. Most importantly, I had space -- closets, hallways, built-in chests, more nooks and crannies than Thomas's English muffins.

At first, the four bedrooms were populated by my closest friends, a continuation of college. We prided ourselves on not spending a cent on our living room furniture. Couches, chairs, televisions and art were our families' refuse, our neighbors' trash. I continued to get older, as people do, and the neighborhood got even more desirable. At the same time, the minor cracks in our walls expanded, the banister continued to wobble, and the communal walk-in closet began to swell with massive unsteady piles of stuff that had been abandoned as roommates departed for their next adventure. Since I forgot to get married at 27 and didn't have the money or desire to live alone, Craigslisters eventually replaced friends. I inherited my friends' pre-wedding dishware as they filled their cabinets with fresh new items from their registries. Other people's memories became my own, while I waited for my life to start.

Last September I signed my seventh lease. I'd lived there longer than anyone I knew had lived in her apartment. I was the gatekeeper at a mausoleum filled with VHS tapes, books, and chipped plates. But the objects were a poor stand-in for the people who had left them behind. For the first time, when I heard footsteps, I wasn't glad. My house was no longer my home; it was just a crumbling brownstone where I'd spent my 20s.

So I decided to leave. An extremist like me can't move around the block; I'd move to L.A. As I attempted to pack, to determine what had meaning, I realized that while I had been waiting for my life to start I had been building a life. Filling the space with objects provided permanence that I otherwise lacked. It had been my way of attempting to deny the evanescence of life and holding onto the past. What I had failed to realize was that I had been burying myself in a mound of memories so heavy that moving forward felt impossible.

With the help of my minimalist friend, most of what was in those closets was carried to the curb. Every day I brought a few things that weren't garbage out to the stoop and watched the recycling process in action. When my father came to help me move, he rescued quite a few of his own books from the stoop and returned them to their rightful home on his bookshelf. He also loves trash.