Hoardy? Me?

(No, the title is not a reference to The Bearded Iris‘s twittery use of “whorety” for forty, though I love that. Can’t wait to turn whorety next month. But this is about being hoardy. Read on.)

A post at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy had me thinking. She asked how we draw the line between collecting and hoarding. The clinical definition specifies that to be a hoarder you have to collect so much and be so unwilling to shed anything that you can’t maneuver in your house.

No problem. I have lots of space.

I used to be a collector. I treasured bits and pieces of my personal history, my family’s mementos, and objects that held special importance.

But after the fire, I changed. I still like to collect and to cling. But after a few months or years, I call treasures “clutter” and shove them all into the donation bag. I put into the garage sale pile things that should be important to me.

But they’re just things.

I learned what it means to keen for lost belongings and to forget them relatively quickly. I have found small bits of what I thought I lost and mourned as deeply as I thought possible for what I would never get back.

Because what you really lose in catastrophe is a sense of safety. Of permanence. Like nothing else, a home-demolishing fire teaches you nothing is forever. Especially stuff.

And I can tell you: what I cling to now—what I cannot live without—is memories. Even if they’re not permanent, and even if they change before I can document them and certainly each time I replay them, memories serve as a lasting link from who we were to who we are.

I don’t need stuff to remind me. I treasure words, I love photographs. But I need neither to remember who I am and who I’ve been.

I joked at Daily Plate of Crazy that maybe I’m so willing to toss what I collect even while longing to hear the stories behind friends’ collections because the adventures my tchotkes represent aren’t adventuresome enough.

Maybe if I lived large and loud I’ve have bigger memories and a better collection.

But it’s not true. No matter how I live it feels large. And I preserve the memories the best I can.

And I just don’t need to keep the dust-collectors to hang on to what I want to remember.

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21 thoughts on “Hoardy? Me?

  1. I remember reading this when I was drowning in baby collectibles;;;I couldn’t part with a thing that was theirs. And then I saw something, something like “the memories are in your heart, and the objects just take away the joy by weighing you down.”

    I try to remember that, the weight of objects.

    • I kept handmade baby things and will give them to the boys when they are ready.

      Other than that? Bye bye, sweet onesies. I have a photo of you on the sweetest little milk-breathed bunny ever grown.

  2. Wow. That fire story is intense. I can’t imagine. I love this post because I just cleaned out 15 years worth of papers and things. When I tossed it I was surprised how I knew I wouldn’t miss it. Which felt great. Just stuff.

    • I *adore* shredding paper. I keep everything as it comes in. Everything. It’s gross. And once a year, for a week, I sit in front of silly movies and sort. Scan or not. Then shred it all.

      Love that feeling.

      Now just scan all the boys’ art for me and I’ll be free at last, free at last! ;-)

  3. In a fire, I’d grab my kids and my laptop and my photo albums. My mother would be horrified that I wouldn’t take any clothes or jewelry. But what’s important to you is very personal, so what can I say? The wedding ring is on–what more do I need in that department?

    ps: for your amusement, it is almost 2 am and my husband is snoring like a warthog, so I am yet again awake in the middle of the night. The cat is confined to the basement because she is constantly howling and needy, and she’s scratching at the door like a heroin addict. Methinks I will look like a 90-year old hooker in the morning,

    Love you, Nap, for your pure and honest heart.

    pps: want a needy cat?

    • In reverse order, my darling:
      Hell no.
      Put him in the basement with the cat.
      Jewelry and clothes are replaceable. Though I have to say to everyone listening: keep a spare bra in your emergency bag and in your car. Some stores aren’t open at 7am on a Sunday when you’re in line at the Red Cross folding table, and being braless is the worst violation I felt in that fiasco.

      Pack a thumbdrive of all the photos and of the laptop backup. Update it every single fathermucking week. Put that in your car and another at your mom’s house. Done. Now all you need is the kids.

    • Me, either. That’s why I collect too much, then purge every year or so. I’ll find a balance some day.

      You will, too.

  4. I’m nodding my head at your words, Naptime. The proverbial “in a fire, what would you take” – you’ve lived. I can’t imagine the sense of insecurity that leaves.

    But oddly, I’m considering your words and realizing how much loss has to do with this. I’ve lost both my parents. I lost my marriage. I lost my ex-husband’s family whom I adored (they haven’t seen or spoken to me in 11 years, basically). I lost my once-upon-a-time career, I lost my home, now I’m at Empty Nest.

    These objects are pieces of a life and people I loved. They’re all that’s left, in many instances. Some of the art was literally done by artist friends, who have moved away or who live on the other side of the ocean. I look at something on the wall and I’m right back inside the experience of a 3-day piece of heaven inside a gallerist’s world meeting collectors and art writers and one extraordinary artist and his wife in particular. The tiny red chair is a relationship to me; the 1971 Plan de Paris was my first experience in France, very young. The charcoal drawing, one of my son’s at age 15, from his first “show” which we organized and hung together. A time of great bonding in a vast sea of struggles.

    My grandmother is all over this house in what remains – tiny things, handed down from her to my mother and to me – a teacup, a candy dish I remember as a child from her home which was a happy place, an oasis, a place of quiet and drawing and love without hurt.

    I do fear that if I were to let some of these things go, so, too, would the memories. And the loneliness would be terrible.

    • You made me weak-kneed with the weight of those memories, BLW.

      As I said in my comment, when I see objects in other people’s houses, I ache to hear the story behind them. I know most things are kept for a reason. And I don’t see clutter in other people’s stored memories.

      Objects from beloved gandparents bjects are ALWAYS for keeping. I have some of the most ridiculous things from my grandma and grandpa, and you will never ever ever ever see me parting with them. They both died after the fire, so I have extra space in my broken heart to keep their mementos.

      As I told Kitch, the way I handle the fear of loss is to scan everything, backup often, and keep electronic files in an emergency bag, in the car, and in a relative’s fire-proof safe. But really, hoarding the boys’ photos is just my way of hoarding their every breath. Someday they will leave. And I will be wrecked. And elated. And empty. And full.

      So sorry about your losses. Really. The loss of a former spouse’s family seems particularly cruel. I still adore my paternal grandparents for making sure nobody got lost after the divorce. Maybe that’s why I keep their transistor radio and moth-eaten shawl. I owe them that.

  5. Growing up with two artists for parents, collectors themselves in a 150 year old Victorian home, I understand this. Sadly, although I treasure my upbringing and the richness that came from my surroundings, I seem to have gone in the other direction. I am so overwhelmed now by clutter (even meaningful clutter) that I tend to have a bad habit of tossing things I shouldn’t. I am, however like my Dad in the preserving of memories through videos and photographs. We often felt that my Father’s addiction to the video camera kept him a bit distant from actually being present during special moments and events, But,now that he is gone, we cling to all he preserved this way. I have followed his lead and am obsessive about pictures and videos and organizing them in a way that is timeless. At least that’s my theory. I am behind on my yearly shutterfly photobooks. Three years behind, in fact. And, its amazing how much anxiety this thought provokes. As if these floating pictures will disappear if I don’t order and bind them.

    • Oh, darling, I get the anxiety.

      I print all the photos and put them in a box. And I would be out of my mind crazy if I didn’t also make an annual shutterfly album. The books of photos are not my ideal, for I’d like to take printed photos and adhere little black corners and paste them onto scrapbooks like my mom did for us. But the digitally printed books are our primary gift to the grandparents every year, since I’m *terrible* about sharing photos during the year. Terrible. Awful.

      So I spend five weeks every September-October compiling the books. It’s an insane amount of work, but it’s delightful in a hairshirt “you totally deserve this because you’re so disorganized the rest of the year” kind of way. I wait for pumpkin patch photos to come in and I print the books. In November. So they’re here and done and safe and double checked before I start my December “stress myself to death over expectations and details” festival of self destruction.

      The 11/11-10/12 books are almost done.

      But I don’t have two toddlers.

  6. Oh, I had no idea you’d gone through the fire like that. Even living in San Francisco at the time, I don’t recall knowing anyone who had lost everything in that fire. I’m so sorry you went through that.

    I love things. Love ’em! I love looking at things in a museum, a store, a friend’s house, wherever. And my things, oh they are wonderful to me. Maybe my things aren’t too extraordinary, but they are my things, many of which have shared my life for decades, weighted down with memories. I love living surrounded by my stuff, and I find an environment with some clutter to be comforting. I’m a definite pack rat, and it’s sometimes a struggle to keep from crossing the line into hoarder. But I am unapologetic. My things teach me, connect me to my past, and inspire me for the future. That said, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to suddenly lose everything, as you did. I can imagine myself experiencing every sort of reaction and response, from adjusting quickly to adjusting not at all. As I travel down the road of life, experiencing its twists and bumps, I’m increasingly aware that fate might separate me from my things somewhere along that journey. And I can reconcile myself to this thought by recognizing that I’ve grown more appreciative of life’s non-material qualities over the years. But still, I hope it doesn’t come to that.

    • I think that treasuring belongings and smiling each time you see them is reason enough to hang onto them.

      Your blog’s reverence for each photo is evidence of how you pause over each thing, think about it, and let it inform your life.

      And that seems to me the best kind of collecting. Well loved, meaningful, life enhancing accumulation isn’t clutter. It’s life!

      And I hope you’re with each piece until you actively decide you’re done with it, my friend.

  7. What a great discussion BLW started and you’ve continued!

    I’m neither a hoarder nor a collector of tangible things (other than, maybe, books), but I’ve recently learned that I’m a collector of emotional baggage. I store it in my neck, shoulders, and back and lately it’s gotten to the point where I wonder if I should start collecting bobble head dolls to see if that would help me externalize some of the stuff that I store inside.

    I’m joking, I guess, but not really.

    • Mmmm. Yes. Shoulders to ears baggage. I have plenty of that.

      Journaling? Yoga? Journaling and yoga? If I had two spare hours a day, maybe both would help. Won’t find out soon, though, because I’m still on “shower is luxury” mode.

  8. “But they’re just things.”
    No. They’re not.

    I had one box of “stuff” that was personal things. Birthday cards, photo albums, love letters, knick knacks, STICKERS, postcards, etc. It was a 12in x 12in x 18in small moving box that I carried with me from college to my fire. It was my happy scrapbook box. When I did summer internships, that box went with me. Everytime I moved (all 100+ times), that box was put in a place in my car that wouldn’t get squished. When I had a rough day, I would pull out a letter from a friend, or go through pictures of doing stupid shit at college, or rummage through my postcard travels (I send myself postcards on my travels… yes, I send myself a postcard everywhere I go). I can’t tell you how many times that little box saved me, saved my soul, and a put a desperately needed smile on my face. I think of that box, everything that was in the box, alot. That box was a witness to my life. The only way to describe that box to others who haven’t lost everything in a disaster…. it’s like the “Wilson” ball in the “Castaway” movie. I should have run into the burning building to get my box, like Tom Hanks jumped off his life raft for a ball.

    I’m almost ready to start a new little box. Since my fire, it’s been like my life is on hold for a box. I have a moving box picked out already for the job. It’s got a rainbow sticker on it.

    • I’m so sorry about your box, Unicorn. That’s not stuff. That’s external soul. My box of letters and treasures was at my mother’s house for some unknown reason. Letters from high school, a few photos. I got out of the fire with a purse, a pair of glasses, and the jammies I was wearing. Later, I collected a coffee mug with a piece of cement fused to it and a lump of pennies that had melted together. But my mom had my box.

      I can’t believe your box burned.

      I can’t believe you’re ready for a new one.

      A rainbow is a good place to start.

  9. I declutter as often as I can sneak the time. I would throw out and give away more if it all belonged to me; I reluctantly respect the hubby and children’s crap.
    I distribute a calendar with pictures of the kids to a dozen+ relatives every year – as brag books for the grandparents and reminders of their joy and active-ness for other people I love. In a couple of generations, I figure most people won’t know or care who is in those pictures, so we have to use them now.
    Thanks for posting!

    • Chickadee, I will admit to you, in a small voice here, that I only *mostly* honor spouse and kid clutter. I married and gave birth to *serious* hoarders. So I pare down a bit, twice a year, when they’re not home. Just a bit. Nobody has noticed yet. Don’t tell them.
      Love the calendar idea. Wish I could make June-June calendars because there’s no way I can organize books and calendars every December.

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