Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Collecting vs. Hoarding or Another Man’s Treasure…

No matter how hard I try, gazing over the expansive room filled waist-high with boxes (some covered in sheets, some just stacked haphazardly in corners, a few with their flaps open and contents peeking out) it is really hard for me to see the value of this cardboard landscape.  All I can do is smile and hope that my host, the obviously proud owner of “all this stuff”, doesn’t notice the subtle shaking of my head as I look around.


The rest of the room is beautifully appointed with Persian carpets, English silk drapes, French picture frames and ancient Chinese porcelain vases and figurines on every table top and across the wide fireplace mantel.  To me, it is the most foreign mixture of opulence and indigence I have ever seen.  A palace fit for a bag queen.  But, this isn’t the home of a hoarder, I’ve been told this is a person of means, therefore – “all this stuff” belongs to a collector.


Collector versus Hoarder.  How fine is the line that separates these two?  I know it is a very complex difference in psychological wiring, but at some level it also seems to me that one significant difference is a matter of resources.  Hoarders accumulate their stuff by windfall or find while collectors plunk down hard-earned currency for theirs.  Hoarders typically fill a homes or auto with items and collectors often have multiple residences, vacation homes, storage units and sometimes even museums for their stuff (depending on the value, of course).


Two of history’s most famous hoarders were the Collyer Brothers, two Americans who compulsively collected newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments and loads of other stuff, but to make it more interesting?  These guys even set up booby traps in corridors and doorways in their Harlem home to protect all their stuff from intruders.  They lived like hermits and over several decades managed to amass over 130 tons of garbage, or treasure, depending one’s viewpoint.  The brothers may have believed they were storing up treasures, but when officers of the law searched their home (only to find the brothers deceased, buried under all their stuff) – their belongings were deemed mostly worthless and left in the gutter for the sanitation department.  What salvageable items were discovered brought a measly $2,000 at auction.  If you want a little not-so-light, but fascinating, reading, I encourage you to Google the boys, plus there is a small book called “Ghosty Men” by Franz Lidz you might find interesting (for those interested in New York history, it is a fun read).


Over the years I’ve been in the homes of friends and relatives who had wonderfully strange piles of crappity-crap-crap when you opened the right drawers or doors.  One woman had closets filled with so many paper and plastic bags that she’d have to live nine lives to re-use even half of them; there were more than a handful of men with garages and toolsheds that were piled high with parts and pieces that could build magnificent Rube Goldberg contraptions – but were not worthy to adequately repair faucets, drains or broken table legs (one of them used matchbooks for that sort of thing); and I cannot tell you the number of women I’ve known with kitchen cabinets piled deep and wide with plastic lids and containers that had not been paired for years (there really should be a Tupperware Divorce Court to deal with mismatched plastic mates issues).  Many of us know and love a number of quirky people with their odd assortment of stuff that borders on the obsessive, yet we usually turn a blind eye from these strange habits, chalking it up to Child of the Depression Era issues or a lifetime of fighting off siblings in large families for every toy, scrap of food or shred of dignity.  Wacky folks, to be sure but up until the New Millennium, they lived their overly crowded lives quietly and privately, until television outed them, or more accurately took us into their closets.  Now it seems that everyone can point (sometimes unfairly so) to someone they deem to be a hoarder.


Lest you think I’m flinging a big fat rock at the big glass house filled with all that stuff, please know that I know my collection of books absolutely borders on the obsessive.  The fact that I had a bookcase constructed last year that measures 11 feet by 11 feet just to house a small percentage of the lot is pretty telling, no?  Besides, having a beautifully crafted storage space looks better than boxes piled hither and thither, but I know in my heart if I didn’t take control of the collection, the collection would overwhelm and ultimately control me.


Collector versus Hoarder.  There is a difference.  A deep and profound psychological difference.  The simple definition of what hoarding means, as defined by doctors Randy Frost and Tamara Hartl is this: "(1) the acquisition of, and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value; (2) living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed; and (3) significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding." 


In other words, if your stuff gets in the way of your doing stuff?  You could be a hoarder.  That, right there, is when you have to start re-evaluating your stuff and your status.  It really is something to think about.  If for no other reason, than:


…to reconsider that box of rusty old pipe fittings you’ve been saving for “someday” (your local hardware store thanks you).


…for inspiration to clean out that junk drawer in your kitchen.


…to take some of the snow drift level of plastic bags back to the grocery store for recycling.


… to honestly sit down and determine what exactly is collectible and what is most definitely junk out of < fill in your own “all this stuff” here. >


Then, march what can and likely will be used by another human being to your local donation or recycling facility.  Someone else might be able to use and treasure “all that stuff” that was getting in your way.

“I know a man who doesn’t pay to have his trash taken out.  How does he get ride of his trash?  He gift wraps it and puts in into an unlocked car.”  — Henny Youngman

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