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My wife and I were helping our daughter spring-clean her apartment when I came across a dusty puzzle book that had fallen behind a shoebox in the cupboard. Glancing at the cover, I instantly remembered that I bought the book for my daughter in 2003. As I turned the pages, something stirred inside me. I saw an assortment of partially completed crosswords, join-the-dots shapes, mazes and sundry other activities designed to occupy a youngster’s time rather than that of the parents.
“Do you remember it?” my daughter asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “You spent many hours on it during the vacation period.”
“Yeah, that was because it was raining nearly every day,” she recalled bitterly.
“Can I have it?” I inquired casually.
“Why?” my daughter asked with interest. “All the puzzles have been tried.”
“Eh, it has a nice cover,” I explained.
“Not again, dad,” my daughter complained. “You promised, no more hoarding.”
“It’s not hoarding,” I reasoned, “when there’s a real reason for wanting it.”
My daughter was skeptical. “What are you going to do with it?” she challenged.
“One day, when I have time, I might frame the cover and place it on my study wall. It’s very colourful,” I stated, trying to sound convincing.
“You’ll never end up doing it,” my wife interceded in support of my daughter. “And we’ve got enough junk in the house.”
“It’s not junk if you can find a use for it,” I opined emphatically.
“What about the broken electric pencil sharpener you brought home from work?” my wife asked.
I tried to maintain a steady stare and replied with, “When I eventually figure out the fault, we’ll be able to sharpen all our pencils in no time.”
“We never use pencils for writing, and when is the last time you needed the companionship of coloured pencils?” she enquired sarcastically, as my daughter laughed in the background.
“You’re a closet hoarder,” my wife contended, and then added, “You rationalise your obsession by being irrational.”
I had heard all this before, from the time I rescued a rusting anvil I came across in a tip to the serendipitous occasion when I found a box of ribbons designed for a dot-matrix brand of printer now only seen in a museum.
Teasing from family and friends does not bother me.
“Are you stockpiling for a new world after Armageddon?”
“You should have been a squirrel. You’d be great at gathering and storing nuts.”
“If everyone was like you, the world’s economy would collapse overnight because nothing would need replacing.”
I don’t think I fit the true definition of a classic hoarder. My home is not cluttered, and perchance, If, God forbid, it came to that state, I would not survive my wife’s retaliation. So why do I keep my daughter’s old puzzle book? For the memories it evokes; of my daughter’s struggle to write neatly, her thoughtful frown when she got stuck for the right word, and when she would raise her head in my direction and ask, “Dad, can you please help me finish this crossword?”
Do you fit the mould of a hoarder? See if you agree or disagree with the following criteria.
1. Do you furtively investigate your neighbours’ trash cans under the cloak of darkness?
We know “the grass is always greener on the other side,” so it makes sense to forage for possible treasures amongst the discarded refuse of your neighbours. There are stories circulating, perhaps apocryphal, of how diamonds have been found sewn in the lining of a $2 coat bought at a thrift shop, or how a supposed piece of costume jewellery turned out to be worth a fortune.
2. Do you salivate at the thought of attending a garage sale or a flea market?
There is a sense of urgency and excitement when you unexpectedly come across a garage sale. Bric-a-brac, household appliances, tools, and other paraphernalia draws you like a magnet, and you haggle with the salesman, who is probably a hoarder like yourself and is forced by an argumentative wife to downsize.
Your attendance at a flea market is more upmarket than the local garage sale. There are more people to deal with, and a wider range of goods are on display. You accept that some bargains may be possible, but impulse buying will be your primary reason for ultimately making a purchase.
3. Can you walk past a dumpster without investigating its contents?
Most dumpsters are usually containers for smelly food waste and other garbage, so you would have to be quite optimistic and determined to rifle through the contents. However, there are many “dumpster diving” videos that show people have had success, which lends validity to the saying that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
4. Do you keep old newspaper, magazines, empty jam jars, coffee tins, plastic ice-cream tubs, and other empty food containers?
Unless you intend to shrink-wrap your newspapers and magazines and store them for 50 years in anticipation that they appreciate in value, you’d be advised to discard them after they have been perused. However, it is permissible to retain a limited supply for emergency purposes such as for cat litter, to catch paint-drops and as cheap paper-hats and decorations for parties.
5. Can you walk past a building site without asking the site foreman if there are any discarded building materials?
When some renovations were being undertaken at my house, I asked the builder if I should keep several sheets of the unused aluminum roofing.
“Do you intend to use them within the next two years?” he asked me.
“Eh, I don’t think I will,” I replied.
“Then get rid of them,” he advised. Now, fifteen years later, they are still snuggly tucked away in the corner of my shed. I am still trying to come up with a good use for them.
So, as you walk by the security fence and lengths of two-by-four, half a bag of cement and a used paint tin catch your eye, do not offer the foreman a handful of dollars in exchange for these coveted goods. They may embellish your storeroom in the short-term, but in twenty years’ time, they will simply be known as clutter.
6. Do you accumulate unnecessary objects simply because they ‘look nice’?
My tool shed is replete with quality tools that haven’t really done an honest day’s work. I have bought old lawnmowers, power saws, electric drills and other equipment based on brand, a reputation for being reliable or because of their aesthetic appearance. Whether I needed them at the time of purchase was a consideration that did not come into the equation. In some cases, there are multiples of the same item. For example, I have a lawnmower, a backup to the lawnmower, and a backup to the backup of the lawnmower. It’s comforting to know you’ll always have a lawnmower when you need one and that nothing exceeds like excess, but is bulk ownership a touch extravagant?
7. Can you relinquish that 20-year-old faded and moth-eaten suit that doesn’t fit, or the well-worn pair of shoes made popular by Elvis Presley in the fifties?
My wife has threatened that if I don’t agree to donate at least half of my fifty or so suits to charity, she will file for divorce and then publicly humiliate me by revealing the extent of my obsession with outdated apparel. It’s best to make a clean break. Keep one good suit for your children’s wedding and keep another for your funeral.
8. Do you care more about finding room for ‘just one more thing’ than in maintaining an attractive home?
When you return home after a busy day of scavenging and are laden with the fruits of your labour, do you worry about where you will find room for your latest collection? The painting of a smoking bear, the Japanese dartboard and a turntable from the sixties all require their niche in your residence if they are to be appreciated for something other than “trash.” The wise will break the news gently to the family, arguing by degrees that it will be necessary to commandeer the closets, drawers and the display cabinets until your treasures can be advertised for sale to earn a handsome profit.
If you answered Yes to all eight questions, then you are cordially invited to join my band of merry hoarders. What we do may not be sensible, but it sure is fun!
© 2017 George Dimitriadis