Sunday, September 16, 2007
I’m what you call a “pack rat”. It’s not bad enough to be an illness but it does not endear me to my “neat freak” spouse. To say that we have an uneasy compromise going is to understate the actual tension of the condition.
I have a long memory and I think that I equate things with the memories attached to them. My theory is that I moved so much as a child that I became attached to portable things and not the home itself. In my case, home was not where you hang your hat but the hat itself.
As a kid I collected rocks, shells and stamps. The rocks and shells were souvenirs of my travels and the stamps were a hobby funded and encouraged by my father who collected stamps when he was a kid. In fact he gave me his collection to start my own so I wound up with some very old U.S. stamps. My grandfather (my mother’s father) also collected stamps so I have the collecting urge from both sides of my family. I’m not sure what happened to his collection. Perhaps it was sold or perhaps it is still in a bank vault somewhere.
I tried to get my kids hooked on stamps or coins, which their (paternal) grandfather collected, but they became caught up in the trading card games. Like myself as a child, my older boy would spend hours cataloging his cards and looking for ways to score better and rarer ones. Unlike stamps, though, the cards also came with games you could play with them. The use of the cards decreased their putative value but increased their fun. The kids have changed their allegiances from Pokemon to Yugioh to, most recently, Magic cards but the fascination remains.
I think I am more patient with their collections and more willing to aid and abet because I have the collector genes in my blood. My first E-Bay purchase was a Pokemon card for my son. Sometimes I cringe at what the cards have cost me but I enjoy my children’s intense interest and the social life they build around the card play. I think that the card games can be educational in their own way just as stamps or baseball cards were to earlier generations.
Unlike myself, my grandfather was a pack rat of note. We always attributed it to his living through the Great Depression. He accumulated a garage full of odd or useful items. Some things made sense, if you were planning to survive a flood, such as cases of canned goods, toilet paper, and other items, bought on sale, of course. I guess it is lucky for my long-suffering grandmother that Costco and Walmart hadn’t been invented yet. We have always joked that there is an old curse that applies to the older generation of our family: “May you go broke on bargains.”
The garage was also full of junk. In all honesty, I have no idea what else he kept in there. I would have been too afraid of encountering spiders to look closely. In California, black widow spiders were a very real possibility in places like my grandfather’s garage. I do know that the two car garage only had space for two slim walkways through it. When my grandfather died, my poor mother had to take charge of cleaning out the garage. I think she hired someone to do it.
As I said, we had a psychological explanation for my grandfather’s hoarding but as I work with individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who also hoard, I have come to believe that much of the instinct to hoard is genetically and biologically hard wired into the individual. Hoarding is hard to treat, sometimes because the individual has little desire to change. It is often the family (and occasionally the board of health) that wants the behavior to stop. Sometimes the issue is the expense, sometimes the clutter and at times the danger created by the mess. At its worst, hoarders may keep things that create disease risk, attract bugs and rodents, or cause a fire hazard.
Fortunately neither my grandfather nor I ever got that bad. My home is cluttered but manageable. Sometimes I envy those who are naturally neat and tidy but the things I accumulate also reflect who I am and where I’ve been. So I can tell you that last night I served honey out of a spoon that I picked up at a flea market in Lucca, Italy. I also slept on a vintage pillow case picked up in a shop in the same city. They don’t make linens like they used to. On my mantel, I have a vase I got in Costa Rica and an odd sculpture made by my son. I don’t acquire things because they are rare, trendy or expensive. I get them for their meaning and the meaning endures. Today, I also enjoy my new, virtual hobbies, blogging and photography which, fortunately for me and my spouse, clutter only my computer, which I don’t share.