I asked my son the other day, “You don’t think I’m a hoarder, do you?”
“No,” he said. “More like a crazed squirrel who doesn’t know it’s spring.”
This didn’t make me feel better, and I can tell you precisely why. A crazed squirrel is a hoarder with mouths to feed. Survival is her boss, and she’s on a deadline. Back in her tree cavity, a bunch of mewling babes await her, and they will be there tomorrow and the next day into infinity… poor thing.
I’d rather be a bachelor hoarder; one who amasses with no purpose, who answers to no one about his weird psychological compulsion.
A couple years ago I shopped the estate sale of a bachelor hoarder and it was fascinating. His midcentury-modern ranch sat on a wooded rise in bucolic Elm Grove, Wisconsin. As I waited in line I began to sense the scope of what lay beyond the front door. Shoppers entered and exited within minutes, hands empty, shaking their heads. One gentleman quipped, “Gonna need to hose off in my dog’s tub after walking through that!” I smiled at him but inwardly, I scoffed at his yellow-bellied squeamishness.
Note to the reader: I’m a big talker but a short walker. Within twenty minutes, I had my scarf to my mouth, breathing shallowly while stifling an urge to run after that man and get directions to his dog tub.
Never in my life have I seen such filth. I’ve seen summer camp filth… college dorm filth…. but this was different. This was aged filth. It raised up easily, turning into little personal tornados that encircled each shopper. Slow movements were best.
In the back bedroom piles of posters, still in their original plastic, leaned against the wall. Thank the Lord for plastic wrap! As I lifted a poster out of the stack, I noticed the carpet was edged in a thick layer of dirt. How odd that the dirt was so linear. I peered closer and realized it wasn’t technically dirt. It was a swath of dead bugs, thicker than my shoe, and it ran the perimeter of the room like a fringed border on a rug.
Yet even through the pestilence, I could see the man had an eye for the finer accoutrements of life: cameras and lenses; top-of-the-line stereo components; 1920s art deco pottery; rock ‘n roll memorabilia; albums for miles and a collection of road maps from every corner of the globe.
So let’s be clear. The only difference between a hoarder and an archivist is cleanliness. If this guy had employed a cleaning lady, his house would have been a virtual museum. He would swing open his door to reveal rooms full of interesting objects, evidence of a vibrant life well-lived. Instead, his place is Wisconsin’s version of Grey Gardens, a toxic embodiment of an unhinged soul.
If you are bothered by an inner voice–or an outer voice belonging to a concerned citizen–telling you that your accumulation of things is getting out of hand; that you are nearing the precipice of a neurosis; that you are engaged in hoarding; there exists a simple solution: Pick up the dust cloth and get to work.
Photo by Christopher Flynn.