February 7, 2005

Are you a hoarder?

One of the gals in my Clandestine Canasta group, K, is quite adept at holding onto cards and then playing them at the most opportune of moments (at least for her and her partner). Many instances of raging Pile Envy have occurred as she picks up the entire discard pile after one of these swift moves. We refer to K as the “hoarder” (usually in naughty terms, of course). Regardless, I think she is secretly proud.

In life, as in cards, it can serve you well to hold onto things. But how much is too much? I have a few family members in this predicament. One of my great-aunts, quite simply, has inherited everything her family owned for the past TWO generations – she was an only child of divorced parents, was close to her grandparents, and had an unmarried aunt to boot. On the other hand, I have another relative who has a hoarding problem in addition to a shopping “issue”. Hoarding left unfettered has left these two relatives with rooms they can’t enter and narrow junk-free trails running throughout the rest. Imagine my shock when I tuned into my recording of Oprah a few weeks ago and discovered THERE ARE OTHERS. It’s not just MY family! A bit of relief mixed with horror swelled as I watched this episode.

The problem with the hoarders in my life is that they have scarred me so irreparably that I now yearn desperately to be a thrower*. For example, I am embarrassed that while the previous owners of the house are storing THEIR junk in our garage temporarily, the rest of the neighborhood thinks WE are the hoarders. Now, I admit that I used to be a hoarder. However, as the years passed and I saw the growing mounds of junk my family members collected, I began to see the error of my ways. I started by going through every box I owned about every 12-18 months which is easily done while living in an apartment. Now it is turning into every 6 months and I live in a house. I just went through my boxes last summer and am already getting the urge to go through my things again. I simply haven’t pared down enough – I really haven’t. The problem is that I HAVE thrown out some things that I did eventually need. Where do I stop? How do I distinguish a mere keepsake from an actual heirloom? Much of what lurks in my neatly organized tote boxes are such items. Then, you have what I like to call the "Where is it?" Factor. The last time I had a garage sale, we had to hastily hide things from my grandma when she pulled up to the house for fear she would discover that the 1970s plastic set of bowls from KMart hadn't made the cut for Keepsake or Heirloom. Last year, an auntgave me a beautiful, but MASSIVE silver tea service - she hasn't questioned why it isn't being given a place of honor in my dining room yet, but let's face it - the clock is ticking.

I discovered the true horror of this issue last Saturday when I went to great-aunt P's house to help her with laundry, dishes, etc. Afterwards, I walked to my car, the proud new owner of a 1950s physical globe (it's so COOL, people. I HAD to have it. Really!) AND a fine piece of 1930s Weller pottery (it IS gorgeous and she INSISTED I take it. Really!) Hell's bells -- I even had interesting Antiques Roadshow-worthy stories to boot. Then, as I opened my car trunk, it dawned on me.

Hoarders are akin to drug pushers.

*”Throwing” can mean many things such as 1)”putting in the trash” 2)”donating to charity” 3)”relegating for garage sale” or 4) “pawning off on friends and other family members”.

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