In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a collection of pieces in Room for Debate on 30 December 2011, “Why We Collect Stuff.” Randy O. Frost defines the moment when collecting becomes hoarding, and Philipp Blom has a well-written piece, “Objects of Desire and Dreams.” Blom explains:
Collected objects are like holy relics: conduits to another world. They have shed their original function and become totems, fetishes. Collecting by its very nature is animist and transcendental.
The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.
This gets to the crux of my interest in memory and hoarding. The objects we cling to attempt to say something about ourselves and tie us to a broader spectrum of people, eternalizing both the objects and the sentiments behind them. The object becomes symbol of both self and community.
This works for collecting, but what about hoarding? The desire to preserve begins the same but the attachment to the object seems to be as linked to decay and destruction as it is to safeguarding. Amassing the sheer volume of things surpasses the ability to control and the collection implodes. Items are lost in the debris even if they remain in the hoarder’s memory.