Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Lately I have been on a shameful binge of devouring Hulu episodes of the reality television show Hoarders. As a rule I do not find reality shows even the least bit interesting, yet I am drawn to Hoarders for some reason. I am not interested in the shallow lives of the Kardashians but I find myself morbidly fascinated by the poor souls who pull material items close to them as a way of placing physical barriers between themselves and the world. But maybe hoarders and the Kardashians are just two polar opposites of the same problem. They both have the need to constantly acquire material items to feel loved and comforted. The only difference between the pitiful, disastrous, sad hoarders and the Kardashians is that the latter can afford to hire someone to keep all their shit organized and they can acquire their comforts at Versace.
As one episode after another of Hoarders has unfolded before my eyes I am drawn to the never ending jumble of chaotic disasters that are televised for the entire world to see. I am mesmerized by hoarders- how does a person get to the point where they can no longer part with absolutely anything and the items grow into piles of debris that have to be climbed and navigated over and under? Teetering piles of papers, furniture, books, electronics, old bike parts, wadded rotting clothing, broken dishes, expired cans of food, cat litter boxes, fast food drink cups, cast off toys, unopened mail, broken appliances, pens, stuffed animals, paint cans, broken suitcases, and pet carriers. Why do some people feel the need to hang onto these items year after year even when the items have lost their usefulness and their value? Even when they have nowhere to sit and eat a simple meal, and they live amid broken refrigerators and toilets, too ashamed and embarrassed to have anyone enter their house to repair these necessities, they still hoard. Even when they risk losing loved ones or their children over their obsession for drowning their existence in ever increasing mounds of items, they still hoard. But how do items become more important than people? What is the catalysis? Personal tragedy? Each of us experiences personal tragedy if we live long enough. But perhaps the coping tools to live with personal tragedy do not exist for hard core hoarders.
I believe each of us has the potential to be a hoarder in this age of mass consumerism. After all, the ones with the most toys wins, right? So we collect our toys and our toys overtake us and as we collect more and more they eventually control us. We do not own them; they own us. But we can't take them with us, no matter how hard we may try. That's an inescapable fact.
I always try and look at the bright side, so a positive occurrence that has come from my obsession with hoarders is that my house is getting a thorough once over. I have cleaned out dresser drawers, thrown away clothes I haven’t worn in years, cleaned my office desk so I can actually see the surface, emptied the junk drawers of their junk, collected odd photos and put them in one box, thrown away pens that don’t write, and coats that won’t ever be worn.
But I can’t for the life of me bring myself to throw away even one of my many books, one of my hundreds of CDs and movie DVDs, old concert ticket stubs, or old or new love letters. My oldest and youngest sons’ tiny t-shirts that they wore home from the hospital over thirty and twenty years ago are folded and sitting on a closet shelf. Yellowing faded pictures that my children colored in kindergarten are carefully preserved in manila folders and filed away in a metal file cabinet. My dad’s notebooks of song lyrics he wrote so many years ago are within sight of my computer desk where I write. My grandmother's beige woolen sweater she wore when she was living is folded inside a plastic bag and stored with some samples of her embroidery. I still have a mood ring I wore eight years ago, Superman Mardi Gras beads a friend gave me over thirteen years ago, and hard copies of short stories I have written over the years. I won’t pretend that I can even entertain the notion of throwing any of these away, much less actually do it.
I am a collector of memories, memories that won’t mean a damned thing to anyone else once I am gone from this earth. I think most of us are collectors to a certain point. With time the items I am hanging onto might very well end up in the bottom of a trash dump under the memories of other people who have left this world, or else sold in some obscure thrift store. After all, I own fifteen black and white photos of an entire family that I’ve never met. I picked the photos up in a flea market one day because it hurt me to think that those people would be forgotten.
So maybe my obsession with the pitiful hoarders, and so many others’ obsession with them, stems from the fact that we all know that we are within a hair’s breadth of crossing over some invisible line where our possessions overtake our ability to separate our emotional identities from our physical identities. We fear becoming old, we fear becoming irrelevant and not remembered. We don’t want to become black and white photos collecting dust in some country thrift store. And while I am able to espouse on the psychology and existentialism of it all I still cannot bring myself to toss even a badly written book or a scratched CD. There is a secret hoarder in us all. What does your secret hoarder world contain?
Posted by Liti