A friend and I recently got into a discussion about hoarders and hoarding. I’m a little fascinated by it, and she had me enraptured with a story of her firsthand experience. I know you’re curious too. It goes like this:
Her neighbor’s front door was ajar for two days. My friend eventually knocked, received no answer and went inside, praying that she wouldn’t find the neighbor dead on the floor. The woman was nowhere to be found. Even if the old lady was there, however, my friend would have had no idea where to find her—trash and debris were stacked to waist-level. Newspapers three years old, mail from 1962, books and soda cans littered the floor. Narrow pathways flanked by hills of garbage meandered through the house. Greasy handprints smeared the wall where the old lady had tried to stabilize herself while navigating her living room. One lone burner was available on the stove; the rest were stacked with garbage and splattered with cooked food. A small worn spot on the couch and a ratty blanket served as the woman’s bed.
My friend left, baffled and a little sickened. The neighbor eventually returned from a long weekend. She never told her neighbor what she had found. My friend later realized that in all the time that they had lived next door to this woman, she had never seen her take her trash or recycling to the curb. Stuff and more stuff kept coming into the house, but nothing ever left.
As much as I was entertained by this story (the A&E show got me a little mesmerized by hoarders), I must admit that I could relate to this poor woman who was being swallowed, quite literally, by her house. The last few days, Husband has been laid up on the couch from surgery. I’ve been the sole Lucy caretaker, nurse to a sick husband, cook, maid, garbage taker-outer, toy putter-awayer, and general clutter master. The thing that has overwhelmed me the most has not been getting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table or getting my daughter bathed and to bed on time. It hasn’t been being on my feet 10 hours a day or trying to find a half hour to have a cup of coffee and read.
The things that have been the toughest are doing the dishes. Getting the bath toys in the tub. Getting the bath toys out of the tub. Hanging the wet towels. Washing the pajamas. Losing my shoes. Finding my shoes. Tripping over my shoes. Rinsing the coffee press. Locating my book. Locating the page that Lucy ripped out of my book. Trying to make my way through an obstacle course of toys so I can reach the couch so I can read my book. Getting frustrated with the sea of toys. Picking up the sea of toys. Watching my daughter create another sea of toys in 5 seconds flat. Going to Costco. Trying to fit the stuff from Costco into the car on top of the stroller. Unloading the stuff from Costco. Putting away the stuff from Costco. Realizing that I just brought a bunch of stuff into my house that I’ll only have to take care of, put away, recycle, throw out or use up. And the cycle continues.
I realize that I am nothing like a hoarder. If anything, I am a neat freak in a toddler’s world: there is a slim chance of survival. But what all of this fascination with hoarding got me wondering is this: how much of our stuff do we enjoy, and how much of it becomes a burden?
I enjoy reading books, but do I need to keep a collection of 700? Having a book collection means buying lots of bookshelves. Installing them. Organizing them. Dusting them. Lucy loves her toys, but does she need stuffed elephants and monkeys and bears and bunnies? I spend half my day plucking stuffed animals from every corner of the house. What about all of the other miscellaneous junk? Boxes full of office supplies, random electronics, old clothes that I “might” wear in another season. A million board games, ten tons of magazines, CDs up the wazzu. I feel like every year I pare down, making trips to Goodwill and donating stuff to friend’s garage sales. But when you’re constantly bringing more stuff that you don’t really need into your home, it’s a losing battle. It’s a war between what you use everyday and the items that you might use given the right circumstances.
I realize that what I’m complaining about is really a bourgeoisie dilemma. I am so lucky to have the money and the space to have all this stuff. Millions of people around the world would happily enjoy all of the comforts and pleasures that a home filled with stuff provides, or even a home with very little stuff. But are we, the lucky ones who have a world of merchandise at our fingertips, really any happier than the folks who have little? Besides the necessities: food, water, heat, a roof and a place to sleep, what use do we have for all of the other things?
I sound like a hippie. And for all of the fun I make of hippies, in certain areas they’re onto something. Less is more. Waste not, want not. Live Zen. Dog is my copilot.
Okay, scratch that last one. But seriously, people. I’m like two seconds away from selling this joint and moving into a tiny, tiny condo with one closet. My job, besides mother, wife, and blogger off her rocker, is manager of stuff. And it’s not a happy job. It’s messy, frustrating, time-consuming and tests my patience. And we’re not even close to being hoarders; we have very little stuff compared to most American households. My point, friends, if there is one, is how do you strike a balance between the enjoyment of the stuff and the managing of the stuff? Lately, because I’m worn down, worn out, and totally frustrated, I can’t seem to find the Zen. I feel like that old woman, wearing paths around her living room, hands reaching out to the walls to catch my balance.