Tag Archives: value

the value of things

A sweet tidbit posted by my HP on Facebook, reposted here without his knowledge. He was reflecting on the unexpected death of three of his deer.

I am so glad that the Lord has taught me not to hang on to “things”! In Job 1:21 it is reported that Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” At this point in my life, I could not agree more!

 

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abuse and hoarding

I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.

Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.

[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]

My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.

As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.

It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.

It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.

I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them.  I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.

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.

 

haunted by this object

This blog post has been nagging at me for more than a week, building in the back of my mind, much like the object inspiring it. It has bothered me so much that I wonder if the key to my memory hoarding lies within it.

I went to Iraq and Turkey in 2003 on a memorable, emotionally draining, terrifying and exhilarating journey. After our three days in Kurdistan with little time to do more than work and acknowledge the fragility of our lives, we returned to Istanbul to relax for a couple of days. My very favorite memory was a visit to a Turkish rug shop. After visiting the workshops, watching hunched-over women at their looms, seeing the silkworms, the dyed thread, and the extensive labor that went into each woven piece, our group was led into a grand room. We were seated on benches along the walls, served tea, and a spectacular display of color began. Several men came out with rugs in various sizes, and as they rolled them out across the floor, the fireworks began. It was like a splash of magnificent colors filled the room as each rug was dramatically unfurled before us.

I was still a newly employed academic at the time, struggling with student debt and a recent move across the U.S. I carefully weighed my options and I purchased a cotton on cotton rug, approximately 4′ x 2 1/2′, for a negotiated price of about $300. It was a sacrifice and a reward for me.

This rug, like most of my prized objects, has been rolled up and stored away for most of the time I’ve had it. I intended to hang it from the wall, but never managed to figure out how to display it. I had it out in my room a few times, and each time the cats scratched at it and broke threads. Then we remodeled our home a few years ago, and although it was rolled up, the rug was in our family room. The house sitter at the time had a puppy, and when we returned, I found a piece of the chewed rug, detached.

This is where I might have realized I had a problem. I was devastated. It made me sick to my stomach to see my beautiful tapestry “destroyed.” D. could not understand why I was so upset. After all, I had left the rug out and the house sitter was doing us a favor by being here. How could I be upset with him about a rug that only sat in a closet all this time?

I rolled up the rug and put it away. It has been in our daughter’s room until this morning when I finally dragged it out, afraid to unroll it and confront the damaged piece.

Two things occurred when I finally looked at the rug. I felt a warm moment of joy when seeing the beautiful and delicate pattern that drew me initially to this piece of art, and the chewed edge seemed far less onerous than I remembered it. I kept that separated chewed edge somewhere, but now I cannot find it … just another missing object that looms in my memory larger than life. The remaining rug, though, survives mostly intact.

I felt anxious every time I considered writing about the rug, and now that I’ve put it out there, I only feel I’ve honored both the object and the warm memory it represents – a beautiful fragment of nostalgia. Even the missing piece and the frayed edge seem to suddenly have a sense, a value, that adds to the meaning of the tapestry. Why would I cling to the ruined shard instead of the mostly intact object, and how did I recuperate it from ruins here in my writing?

hoarding in the profession

Part of my career is founded on using authentic resources from other countries. As such, I have spent the last 15 years transporting precious items from one country to another. This isn’t unique to me: most of my colleagues do the same, and many of them bring back trinkets for the rest of us. All these years of compiling treasures and souvenirs adds up. I now have countless little items that are either too valuable to be used or too intrinsically valueless to give away.

This problem resonates with most of my colleagues, but no one really talks about it. I just brought home three bags of Fauchon tea that I have been saving because I cannot easily get more – and it’s probably lost its flavor by now. I have tons of books that I have accumulated from tiny publishing companies during a variety of research trips. They are not available electronically and most libraries will not quickly provide them for me. But now that I’m confronted with moving to another country, I have to consider the value of each book. Will it cost more to move it or to chance forgetting or replacing it.

I posed the question to a colleague on Saturday, “What do you do with all of those beautiful Clairefontaine notebooks that you can only find in Europe?” She responded, “You use them up so you can buy more.”

i’m not a hoarder, yet

As I sift through the mass of objects behind me in this room, the objects become increasingly tangled and cumbersome. To go through it, I must bring it out, and leave it out, until I decide how to dispose of it. My office is quickly becoming a heap of things while the storage area becomes proportionately empty.

The recurring image as I sort out these things is the stereotypical hoarder. On Conan last night, Bruce Jenner and a hoarder were on stage with some Alaskan King Crabs to welcome him to cable. This hoarder, although a comedic image, had objects around her, to the ceiling. She was overweight, generally unattractive, and appeared frightened at her exposure. My repeated dangerous thought was and continues to be, “That’s not a hoarder; her room isn’t that bad.” What hypocrisy to deem someone not enough of a hoarder while I sit here in only a somewhat cluttered room writing about hoarding.

By all appearances, I am not a hoarder, but my mind latches on to these objects all the same. I went with D. to the recycling center this morning and felt internally upset to see architectural plans buried in one of the bins. His comment was that we haven’t looked at them more than once in all the years we’ve lived in this house. Truthfully, I would not have realized they disappeared if I had not been with him this morning. But still, it nagged at me that this potentially valuable set of blueprints was being tossed like garbage when someone had labored over it years ago.

Tomorrow “Deb” is meeting me to buy my turtle collection. It was so easy to find someone, a collector, to take it from me. And as I gathered up the set to estimate the value I attribute to it ($20 more or less), I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Would it be so bad if I kept one of them?” And then I chose my favorite one. It, like the others, rested completely forgotten in the bottom of a bin for the past 5 years. I do not know who gave it to me or where it came from, but I somehow want to keep it. I need to sell it to Deb as much as I feel I need to hang on.

roots in hoarding, hoarding treasure

D. and I were talking about this blog last week and something in our conversation reminded me of my grandfather. I’ve been trying to get at the root of this impulse to hoard, and I’ve only looked back to my father. When I mentioned my grandfather, however, I realized this may have been passed down the genealogy chart.

Family lore has it that my grandfather was a welder, trash collector, and jack of all trades. For example, he designed and built this groovy octagon shaped work shed and landscaped their terraced yard with little treasures all the way down to the lake. My memories of my grandfather are old and vague and really kind of magical, although no one ever told me he was much of an enchanting person.

On my desk in front of me as I type is a tiny cardboard square envelope that has been taped together. It makes me sad to look at it because it contains the tiniest penny I’ve ever seen, but it also used to contain my grandpa’s trick penny. That penny was given to me when he died, and I lost it sometime in college during a move. That absence tugs at my heart and makes me want to lose the cardboard that he fashioned as well.

Back to what I remember of my grandpa, though … he was a collector. From his years of trash collecting and using his metal detector, he had boxes of treasures. I don’t remember his house being particularly cluttered or untidy, but my grandmother is said to have been a very neat housekeeper. When she passed away, I believe things changed. I recall visiting his house after he had died to prepare for the auction. It was then that I got to choose what I wanted to keep, and along with the yellow towels and copper-bottom pots and pans that I would need for college, I took some of my grandma’s jewelry and photos of the couple when they were young. I do not know what happened to his elephant collection or his antique irons that used to sit by the fireplace … that is, if they existed and my memory is not inventing stuff.

My father has gone on to collect items he believes have value: hidden treasures in his house. He has a metal detector attaching him back to his father, and when I saw him in our yard with it two years ago, I could only think of him and my grandfather many years before going over our old yard (built on a former landfill), searching for treasure. Treasure in someone else’s garden. Treasure in my memory. But now empty trash here as I look at the only items remaining from Grandpa Herb.

from my hoard to yours

As we think about moving across the world, much of my attention has been focused on what material “things” really matter to me. I’ve begun posting anything of value on craigslist.org and it’s bringing me real pleasure to see some of these items go.

This week I posted free aloe vera plants, and at least 20 people in this relatively small town contacted me over a 3 day period. It was a little startling to see how quickly free stuff can be given away (and yet a few plants remain, in spite of the excited takers). I can’t help but imagine what life is like in the homes of craigslist shoppers. Are there piles and piles of things, or are they just thrifty people who like a good deal?