Tag Archives: garbage

revenge of the hoard

Nothing will cure a hoard better than selling your home, though natural disasters might have a similar effect. We put our home in Kansas on the market in March and it went under contract within three days. A week later we were at our house to clean out what remained after five years of absence. Our tenant and good friend A. called me a tornado, because I whipped through the piles of stuff without mercy sending the bulk towards the trash heap. It is easy to sort unaffected when you have absolutely forgotten the things in the hall closet even existed. We took two car-fulls of useful things to the emergency shelter to donate (some of it belonged to A.) and were grateful for the tax receipts. In spite of this culling, there was still some furniture and exercise equipment lingering. The tenants posted items on craigslist, had a yard sale, sold a few more items of theirs and ours, took a commission, and donated the rest. Today the real estate agent told me that he removed 12 bags of trash from the house (what??!!) after the tenants moved out, and the house is now cleaned and empty. I wish I could see the empty house today, but that would be a long way to fly just to have the satisfaction of knowing our former home is ready for a new owner to love it.

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burn barrel worthy

The place where my HP father lives is about four miles outside of a smallish town, and although they have neighbors around them, it can be classified as in the country. In the backyard near the deer pen there is a burn barrel, which is basically an old rusted oil barrel – the kind you see hobos warming their hands over in grimy movies about New York. (Gawd, I hope that wasn’t an offensive image – at least not any more offensive than the image I’m painting of my parents. A nicer image might be of a steel drum?)

My parents keep their compost, basically feeding vegetable scraps to the deer. They recycle plastic and aluminium, which means hoarding cool whip containers and cans in the garage. They burn, however, the majority of their trash.

One day during university I was visiting my family and sorting through things I had left at their house. I made a pile that I decided to burn. I no longer remember what I burned exactly, since I know I still have boxes of notes and even printed emails that have been condensed but stored over the years. I do remember that I took the opportunity to burn some of my father’s things.

Each time I visited, my step-mother would lament how much these collected things weighed on her. She sometimes joked about getting her own place to live just to have space; but now I know that she, too, contributes to the piles.

If you ask my father politely if you can dispose of his 1980 phonebook from a town in another state, he will shriek, “No. I need that. There are numbers in there that are now unlisted. I use it still.” Instead, I took the stealthy strategy of quickly grabbing a couple of phonebooks from his stack. Not too many that he would notice, and not the oldest one. And oops, out they went into the burn barrel along with my things. I couldn’t pray for the flame to burn any faster and kept looking over my shoulder in case he noticed the pages of his beloved phonebook flying up in the air with the smoke. I don’t think he ever found out. At least no one ever mentioned it to me.

I read so many messages from other COHs about the valuable things that are lost in the hoard. Recently there was a story about a purple heart that had gone missing in the mess. I can’t even afford to think about what’s worth keeping in my parents’ house at this point. There probably are some wonderful treasures, valuable ones, in the stacks. Mostly I think there would be nothing more redeeming than watching it all go up in smoke once my parents are gone.

Wall-E, collector or hoarder?

S. loves WALL-E, and even though her attention wanes, she thinks the love relationship between Eva and WALL-E is charming. In fact, she says of Eva, “hers his mommy.” When the film was televised recently, I suddenly reanalyzed the scene where WALL-E takes Eva to his home.

WALL-E’s job is to compact trash and stack it up. In the process he finds all kinds of treasures, some only a robot would think to keep. I find this activity heart-warming, probably because I imagine my grandfather doing the same during his trash collecting days. He was always unearthing treasures that he stored up until he died.

WALL-E brings Eva to his home to show her his collected treasures and makes the effort to impress this fancy new she-bot with the things of earth: lighters, light bulbs, television, and a plant growing in a shoe. That is, of course, the turning point in their relationship.

The question I’ve been grappling with in my work on memory hoarding, however, is when collecting crosses the line into hoarding. Sure WALL-E’s place is a bit like the set of Sanford and Son, but he has everything neatly arranged and organized in trays that rotate so he can easily access them. He lives alone, can easily move about, and he uses many of the discarded scraps that he finds, especially the spare robot parts.

WALL-E’s collecting brings him out into the world, is a source of pride, and generally a social behavior. He is only too happy to bring Eva around to see his stuff. Had he been a robot-hoarder, he’d likely be less eager to bring by a lady-friend. Hoarding continually proves itself to be an isolating activity in which the relationship to stuff takes precedence over the relationship to loved-ones. Family is slowly ousted by things and friends are not welcome into the hoard. Fear and embarrassment seem to dictate much of what the outside world is allowed to see.

When the object of collecting, however, is memory itself, and sharing that memory becomes a social project, is it hoarded? Or would hoarded memory also necessarily isolate the individual?

professional hoarding

My new colleagues have engaged in an online discussion that happens in university departments everywhere: what should we do with the materials in this storage space that no one seems to be using? In this case there are video and audio cassette collections in addition to textbooks, DVDs, and so on. The colleague who began the discussion made proposals for some of the materials, including in caps “DUMP.” A second colleague responded that he needed the VHS tapes as backup for when DVD fails and, thus, he offered to store them in his office. I chimed in a suggestion to digitize the materials to save space while preserving content, and colleague 1 told colleague 2 that if he wishes to store all of the items, they will take up an onerous amount of space in his office.  Finally a staff administrator wrote in with the following advice: “The idea of this isn’t to make people throw out useful items or create a certain quota of space, it is to get you to toss out anything that no one ever uses so we can make space for things that actually do get used. My Rule Of Thumb: If no one has touched it In the last year there is a very good chance that no one will ever touch it again; therefore you toss it.”

I am especially enjoying the evoked vocabulary, “Dump, chuck, and toss,” added to suggestions such as “rehouse.”

This all ties back to the value of the objects and the sense of libraries. Once again I’ll be working in a country that is quite far from the source of the language resources. Every object becomes precious because it is imported at some expense. These are items we made space for in our suitcases or took the care to purchase and ship. With the advent of internet shopping and e-books, it has become quite a bit easier to access language resources, but no one can bring back those VHS tapes from the garbage or revive defunct language learning systems and texts that are forever out of print. We also have nostalgic attachment to our daily interaction with those sources that we may have used to teach for hours each day for a year at a time.

My personal library is full of rare and out of print texts fished out of street markets in France, Switzerland and Quebec. If you asked me to chuck, dump, or toss those items that I haven’t touched in a year, I might just bite your head off.

 

from treasure to trash

Yesterday my daughter came downstairs with me where the few remaining items to be sold are stacked on the bookshelves. She grabbed up some Bulgarian wooden dolls that have garnered no interest on craigslist, and I decided she might as well play with them.

Today I found a chunk of wood in our bay window seat. What was it from? One of the carved wood trinkets I’d been toting around in my knick-knack box for the past ten plus years. The dog had made it into her chew toy. Now to its rightful home, the garbage can.