Sunday, July 17, 2011

"the expectation that someday we would find a use for them"

I have a new research obsession, and a new inspiration of the negative kind.  Recently I picked up a copy of E.L. Doctorow's novel Homer and Langley, a fiction version of the story of the Collyer brothers, told from the point of view of Homer (the blind brother).  (It's this year's Community Read project with our town's library, by the way.)  I was horrified and riveted by the tale of hoarding, especially by how the author was able to show the justification to each step along the way to what can only be a form of madness.  I won't re-tell the Collyer brother's story in my blog, since you can read the Wikipedia article here (with photos of their stuff!!!!), but suffice to say that when they found Homer dead, it took the police something like 15 days to find the body of Langley, who had been killed in a booby trap of his own making, buried under piles of stuff just a few feet away.

Here's a quote from the book, from a part of the story where the firemen are called in due to a fire in the backyard (p.161):
"Why can't these people ever mind their own business, Langley muttered as the fire hose, connected now to the hydrant at the curb in the front of the house, pulsed through the labyrinth of baled newspapers and slapped this way and that into folded chairs and bridge tables, knocking down standing lamps, stacks of canvases, as the firemen aimed their nozzle through the back door down to the smoking racks of lumber, the used tires, and odd pieces of furniture, a legless bureau, a bedspring, two Adirondack chairs, and other items stored there in the expectation that someday we would find a use for them."

All this makes me think a lot about the blurry continuum that ranges from clutter to hoard.  Where is the line that denotes a problem?

Hmmmm.   Now, I am not particularly prone to keeping too much stuff around.  My weakness is clothing, but I DO clean out my closet regularly.  Otherwise, I have the usual bit of clutter in the basement, but I really like openness in my living space.  I also appreciate old-and-interesting things, and understand the pursuit of a collection and the reasons for keeping sentimental and historical items around.  However, there's a tendency towards "collecting" in my family, and sometimes that makes me nervous.

Reading up on the Collyer brothers has been a good kick in the pants to do some cleaning around here.  I recently helped someone near and dear to me (who said I could publish these photos as long as there is no name attached) clean out a particularly stubborn pocket of "things that might come in useful someday."  Wow, did that feel good to cart away the rusty bits and old rugs, and then recycle the cardboard and burn the bits of truly rotten wood and put a bunch of things down free by the road.

I'll leave you with a lesson a learned several years ago.  A friend had given me a big stack of Vegetarian Times magazines, no doubt chock-full of great recipes and articles and information that might come in useful (being vegetarian myself at the time, and learning to cook).  They sat in a pile on my floor, silently reproaching me for not getting around to reading them.  One day, I decided to just recycle the whole stack....and holycrow did I suddenly feel free.

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