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In Defense of Hoarding

“Hoarding” is presently a code word for “nutsy cuckoo,” or, “soon to be institutionalized for their own good.”  It’s a mental disorder.  I was in the hospital a few months back with a friend, and I heard her doctor tell her, in a kind but stern sotto-whisper, that she was a hoarder.  She needed help.  I thought, don’t come to my house with that checklist or society will be paying for my incarceration.  

I do save things.  However, I mastered the cardboard boxes a few years ago.  No need to nest them under the buffet!  Out with them.  Ow.  With that under my belt, I soon plan to conquer my inability to throw away rubber bands.  But why?  They are small as well as useful.  But saving them is an addiction.  One must master these things.  Get strong.  It’s either that or run away and roam the streets with a grocery cart full of similar items. 

Those boxes still come in the mail almost every day–lovely, perfect, cheap, useful boxes.  It really is a shame to throw them away.  Of course, you need one the very next day anyway.  Think about what went into the manufacture of these countless boxes!  This is my conundrum:  I cannot make my own cardboard boxes.  Instead, I am blessed to live in a world-time where others have thought out the process, built factories, contracted for  raw materials, stored, finished, and shipped containers that those in other or older cultures would deeply covet.  And don’t get me started on plastic deli take-out containers, the sturdy kind with lids. 

Here’s a quote from my story “Memory Dog,” which took second place in last year’s Sturgeon Awards:  

“We are in that heaven that all the saints so longed for and predicted, pens scritching across rough vellum in damp towers, heads bent beneath sputtering candles.  Heat, ample light, plenty, near-infinite knowing.  But man is still enemy to himself, and man still must find god within himself to go beyond the oppression; the killing.  And first, he must find killing wrong.  That seems to be a sticking point in some parts.  What if, suddenly, we all simply could not kill.  If it was impossible.  Memory drugs might do this.”

Okay, the second part of that went to the heart of what “Memory Dog” was all about.  But the first part is about how wondrous, technologically, our present surroundings are, each object with its provenance of thought and utility. 

In other words, it’s a damned shame to throw all this stuff away.   Sure, I recycle, but that removes the object’s utility.  Maybe we need a Craigslist category:  Hoarding Bounty.  It’s not that one necessesarily believes that he or she will suddenly open up a deli, or (more the way I think) that I will someday find a novel artistic use for a hundred sturdy airtight plastic containers, like melting them down with some bits of color and making them into iridescent earrings or–hmmm.  You see, this way lies madness.  But *someone* might have a need, a use. 

Let’s move on to that serious type of hoarding that even so-called rational folk might indulge in:  memory-hoarding. 

These memories might be in the form of mine, furniture that has been in the family for generations.  Some is probably valuable, but that’s not the point.  People had bigger houses in the Olden Days.  I remember our first tour of the model house in the Northern Virginia subdivision inwhich my father still lives.  It was 1962.  We moved past the tiny, carpeted bedrooms in a line, as if we were in a museum, for the rooms were protected by thick red velvet ropes with brass hooks on the ends.  The subdivision, on the Beltway (still unfinished at that time) was so popular that there truly was a line moving through the house.  I remember noticing that the bedrooms were tiny.  About the size of my grandparent’s closets.  Now, to others, perhaps the high-level military people who filled up a lot of the subdivision, this solved the problem of furnishing the damned house, because they were already tightly edited and hung on to nothing–not place, not stuff, nothing cept the job.  For my parents, buying this house meant an attic and a basement.  Too late for the basement, though, as the foundation for our house, on the lot my mother chose on an exhilarating day when she returned to our Falls Church apartment fairly lit up  her announcement to our father and us that she had finally found us a home, was already poured.   We had been in limbo for several years,  moving from Ohio to Hawaii to Virginia without buying a house.   And we.  Saved.  Stuff. 

So my father put down planks in the small attic of the house, which was instantly filled by things that had been in storage, along with antiques from my grandparent’s house, furniture from the nineteen-hundreds.

This is my true hoard.  Hands off!  (gripping a cutlass between my teeth) 

Ah.  More later.

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1 comment

1 Athelia H-K { 11.02.10 at 12:29 AM }

On the idea of not putting still-useful (or not-quite-useless) things to waste, there’s this wonderful thing called Freecycle. Like Craigslist Free section – but all free, with the objective not primarily of getting free stuff but recycling useful things through reuse. (Cardboard boxes show up a lot on Freecycle – everybody needs extra when they’re moving.)

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