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Friday, April 22, 2011


I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder.

Your Honor, I am not a hoarder.

Am I?

For some years now my family and friends have been implying I might be a hoarder. Well okay, a few have come right out and said so. My position has been that I'm a collector. I collect lots of things. Books. Depression glass. Crystal candlesticks. Lamps. Picture frames. Antiques. Glass perfume bottles. Shoes. Christmas ornaments. China. Salt and pepper shakers. Rugs. Photos. Mexican artwork. Masks. Vases. I like stuff, I would tell frowning faces. Stuff makes me happy!


When I lived on Long Island, garbage day was the best day, not because I could get rid of my things, but because my neighbors usually got rid of great things. I have found remarkable items on the curb. In fact, many of these items now reside in my home: a reproduction Victorian sofa and matching chair,  bookshelves, tables, fireplace screens, dozens (no kidding) of straight-backed wooden chairs, porch furniture, chests, bed frames, and one of the best finds, a large wooden curio with 30 drawers. There is not a room in my house that doesn't have at least one piece that came from the street. My finds have been a proud accomplishment, primarily because I was lucky enough to have two houses...and two garages...to cram it all into.

I think the first glimmer of worry surfaced one day when I found myself stuffing a curbside bureau into my SUV. I recall wondering if there might be a problem here. Somehow, though, I always managed to fit it all in. If I can fit all my stuff in the house and not have to walk through aisles of falling collectibles then I'm okay! (said my little mind).

Then came October, 2010. Moving day. Two friends came to help me pack and were...I believe the only appropriate word to describe their reaction to how much stuff I had is...aghast. I assigned Jackie the tasks of books and closets. A polite soul, she managed to say nothing after packing 35 boxes of books. More silence during the first two closets, and low grumbling at the third. When she came to the fifth closet, which contained clothing that wouldn't fit me again short of my becoming a year-long contestant on The Biggest Loser, she cracked. "Kathy!" she screamed. "You ARE a hoarder!!" Meanwhile, Mark was outside sweating, tossing 12 years worth of my belongings into a 4-ton dumpster. He filled it to heaping and lost six pounds.

This, you might suspect, got me to thinking. Thoughts like, why do I keep so many cardboard boxes? (because I might need them someday). Why do I keep every single scrap of used wrapping paper? (because I might need it someday). And why do I have 200 pairs of curtains, 50 sheet sets, a beach towel from high school, and 18 remotes to televisions I don't even own anymore? (because...well you get the idea).

They say that true realization comes at unexpected times. One night I was watching the show, Hoarders: Buried Alive. Of course my house(s) never looked like the houses on that program, but as I sipped my wine I listened with dawning horror to the hoarders talking about their problem. "I'm a collector. I love garbage day. Stuff makes me happy. I keep it because I might need it someday." My eyes grew to the size of tin can bottoms. Most of these people (other than those who couldn't throw out real garbage or had sixty cats) weren't creepy or nuts. They were thrifty, not liking the idea of perfectly good merchandise going to waste. They appreciated the concept of one man's trash is another man's treasure. They were...oh dear god...like me.

My conclusion, your Honor, is this: I was not, and am not, a hoarder. But I'll tell you what: I was on the brink.

This discovery has been quite freeing. I now fling stuff into the garbage with great abandon. Cardboard boxes...OUT. Wrapping paper...OUT. Old broken furniture that I planned to fix and never did...OUT. It's been fabulous! While I still have far to go, which anyone who has ventured into my basement or carriage house would tell you, I'm making great progress. I'm going Zen. I shall no longer be a slave to meaningless crappie. Let somebody else come along and pick up the fine though useless items I have collected in my life's journey.

A final note: there is an object on my desk that's hard to describe. A little...thing. Six inches tall, a Lucite bottom, a chrome stick with a curly swirl on top that's supposed to hold notes. I've had it for maybe 20 years. It's been on every desk I've ever had in every office I've ever been in. Never, not once, have I put a note in it because when you do, it tips over. In my new free state, I picked it up today and chucked it into the trash bin. Bliss! Then I noticed a roll of stamps unfurling nearby and realized that if I slid the roll over the top of that thing it wouldn't tip over and I'd have a great stamp holder! So I pulled it out of the garbage, put the stamps on it, and admired my work. The minute I reached for the phone I knocked it over. But...I...can't...throw...it...out.

Your Honor, I swear I am not a hoarder.

Am I?

It's possible the jury is still out on this topic.


barbara said...

Be careful....very careful.....that house is known for it's ability to hold vast quantities of "stuff" and "things".

Kathleen Yasas said...

It's a vortex...and I know you know

aeba1a32-4a73-11e0-aec0-000bcdcb2996 said...

I had to laugh when I saw the photo of the fallen-over lucite thing.

Since you are aware of your tendency to, ahem, "collect," surely that's a healthy step in getting control of your stuff.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Thank you aeba1a32-4a73-11e0-aec0-000bcdcb2996 for your comment. The lucite thing, as it is now known, remains on my desk...holding stamps...tipped over. Rome wasn't built in a day.

aeba1a32-4a73-11e0-aec0-000bcdcb2996 said...

My friend used to tease her mother about saving laundry detergent scoops. "You never know when you might need one," her mother said primly. Sure enough, my pal bought a box of detergent with no scoop in it. (She never told her mother.)

It's fine to keep a few back-ups, but when you have a garbage bag full of scoops, there's a problem.

My father, bless his heart, was a hoarder. But I think all Depression-era survivors get a pass.

Kathleen Yasas said...

I am (like you) the proud product of Depression-era survivors. Sometimes I say I hope the children of our era don't have to go through a depression. Then again, I think maybe they should, or at the very least appreciate that it's a possibility. We don't need to keep every bread tie, every old sponge, every stick of wood. But it wouldn't hurt to think like a frugal human once in awhile. Your parents...and mine...understood that you never know when the s**t is going to hit the fan, when your concerns aren't will my IPad work right, but rather how do I put food on the table this evening. There is nothing wrong with a spot of caution in these strange and changing times.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum