Dow: Reflections on hoarding

Marie Elizabeth Shade Dow
Valley Voices

I used to feel guilty about hoarding … how I have junked up my neat bookshelves in my library by stacking up extra books, extra interesting papers, boxes of prized stationery, instructions to replace the battery for our doorbell, a pocket dictionary and other necessities.

These items are carefully balanced horizontally on top of the already squished tomes which had been organized by subject or age in a logical order. Then I read John Steinbeck’s admission to doing the same in his book, “Travels With Charley.” He explained that hoarders keep crazy bits and pieces of broken objects because there may be a need for them some day in the future.

Marie Elizabeth Shade Dow

For instance, we moved into an old house, most likely owned by a previous compatriot hoarder who almost reneged on closing because he couldn’t find useful destinations for his collections. However, there were a few things left behind and I have taken up the baton.

One time we had trouble with leaks above the screened-in porch since leaves and the resulting compost had accumulated in the trenches of the metal roof, thus obstructing water run-off in the gutters and downspouts. I rather innocently asked the arborist who was trimming the culprit maple tree if he could clear the passageways.

He said, “This must have built up over the years. It is hard sludge. Do you have a tool such as an empty cottage cheese carton which will be flexible enough to scrape gunk out of these grooves?”

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Of course I had an empty cottage cheese container. I wash out and save them for many purposes, such as taking soup or homemade applesauce to a friend so she need not worry about returning the dish.

Well, that was not the ticket for success with the roof. Then I had a brainstorm. There was a sturdy plastic pink cup with a grip handle in the “shop” (a former garage when cars were very small in the 1930s).

The tree trimmer laughed and said “Where did you get this?” (It was a hospital urinal.)

I replied, “It came with the house,” and it worked perfectly.

However, the job morphed into a formidable task (as they usually do) requiring a modern day power washing (another big mess) and the kindly arborist declared that he would never start one of these horrendous endeavors again.

Steinbeck said that he once stopped to peruse the display yard of a junk dealer near Sag Harbor, New York, where he was living at the time, and he realized that he had more stock in his garage than this businessman had in his junk yard. Steinbeck rationalized that when a thing would break down, he usually had something in his collection to repair it, such as a toilet, or a motor, or a lawn mower. I must admit that I have two of these three items in the barn!

What other personal treasures come to mind? I could open a little theatre’s costume department. I have pots, flower arrangement trinkets, miniature gnomes and trolls for fairy gardens, thousands of “Southern Living” magazines … oh much, much more.

I remember my aunt Rhoda had a terra cotta looking army of Mrs. Butterworth empty syrup bottles on her ledge leading down to an abundantly-filled basement which only got cleaned out when flooded. I laughed at her, and I laugh at the filmed super clean-up of junk which is televised in “Hoarders,” and I say, “Oh, that’s not me.” However …

Finally, I have a friend who used to appraise antiques for insurance companies. She said, “Don’t buy anything because you think it might appreciate. It won’t. Buy what you like as far as art work and collectibles.”

She had beautifully displayed Indian pots, kachinas and an unbelievable collection of marbles all arranged in custom-made drawers (just to name a few), but she had museum quality quests. She remarked, “I know I have a collecting problem, but I am not going to worry about it or get rid of things that give me pleasure. If I did, I would ponder over each item as I am either sentimentally or aesthetically attached to this stuff. When I am gone, my children will have no problem just clearing out the house, lock stock and barrel.”

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