Friday, June 17, 2011
I worry about my interest in hoarders.
They are, as the stars of reality shows like A&E's Hoarders and TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, the latest in a long line of Americans--right after celebrity drug addicts, obese weight-loss competitors, and tone-deaf teenagers who think they can sing--who are being exploited for our viewing pleasure. And ever since those two shows went on summer hiatus, I've been thinking about how I should start spending more time with my friend, Betty, who's a hoarder. I--and perhaps you, too--need a little hoarder time.
Betty is 81 and, about 40 years ago, she and her husband moved into his mother's house after the old lady passed away. Hubby's mom had tastefully decorated her big, sprawling ranch home with a lot of nice antiques, and when Betty and her husband moved in, they somehow never got around to unpacking. That's why, when you visit Betty, you walk around waist-high piles of carefully arranged cardboard boxes: because rather than clean out her mother-in-law's stuff and replace it with her own, she sort of merged her things with what was already there.
Betty used to tell me that it was her husband, Roger, who was the packrat. And it's true--Roger actually kept toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles after they were empty; I saw the evidence shortly after he died seven years ago.
But it turns out that Betty didn't stop accruing junk after Roger died. One of her sons drove down from Flagstaff the year after his dad died, to help Betty clear out some of the stuff, including a 60-year-old Pontiac parked in her carport that she was using as a makeshift storage unit for the empty Pringle's cans she was collecting ("They're great for mailing muffins in," she once confided in me. Do I need to mention that Betty, who doesn't drive, neither baked nor visited the post office?). Her son gave up and, after a very long weekend during which my friend refused to part with a single one of the several hundred Styrofoam meat trays in her basement ("They're perfectly good!" she argued), he went back home. He hasn't returned.
This real-life episode of Hoarders is what really got me thinking about why people won't part with their stuff. I still have a lot of the toys and crap--yearbooks, Partridge Family trading cards, old Tiger Beat magazines--of my youth, but I don't consider myself a hoarder. But lately I've been wondering if I don't secretly admire people who go berserk with accumulation.
I'm beginning to think the reason that we've become fascinated by the poor slobs whose homes are over-run with newspapers and baby clothes and candy wrappers has less to do with voyeurism or our own need for prime time schadenfreude. I think we're ogling hoarders because we secretly, and almost certainly unconsciously, admire them
(from an article by Robrt Pela)