The Village Idiot: Is this collecting, or hoarding?

Sunday Signal
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By Jim Mullen

Signal Contributing Writer

My house looks like the set of “Antiques Roadshow” — if the show was about useless, outdated junk instead of precious heirlooms.

Duck lamps, VHS tapes, CDs, computers that use floppy discs, a box of dot-matrix printer paper, books that I will never read again, shoeboxes full of photographs. I have clothes that look like they came from the original cast of “Saturday Night Fever” and sports equipment that no one will ever use. You know who wants old golf clubs and wooden tennis rackets? Nobody, that’s who.

It’s sad when even the guys from “American Pickers” won’t make an offer on your junk.

My junk isn’t the kind that reminds people of the good old days. It’s the kind of junk that reminds people how much money they wasted on fads and trends. What is the difference between “hoarding” and “collecting,” anyway? I think it’s a sliding scale, a matter of degree. When I drive past a house with 15 cars parked around the property that the owner is “meaning to fix up one day,” I think, “At least I’m not that bad.” But when I visit a neighbor’s spotless, spare, dust-free home, I wonder where they get the discipline. There must be some middle ground.

A few days ago, I was driving down a busy street and there was a pile of garbage that looked as if it had bounced out of the back of a pickup truck, half on the sidewalk and half in the road. I slowed down to avoid it and saw that it was a bag full of Beanie Babies that had broken open and spilled onto the street. No one was screeching to a stop to pick up these once-super-desirable things for free. Sure, some of them are still worth money, but probably not the ones you own. On eBay, there are hundreds of them selling for a dollar. With a $6 shipping fee.

Someday, hundreds and hundreds of years from now, my things might become campy collectibles worth thousands of dollars, but that’s iffy at best. Either way, it won’t be me who’s getting rich off of them. Right now, they are just garbage that doesn’t decompose. It’s as if I have my own personal landfill — in my house.

My junk is laughing at me. Why am I keeping this stuff? Like that blank piece of paper they gave me instead of a diploma at my high school graduation, to keep me from being embarrassed. It’s not impressing anyone anymore, even though it’s in a nice frame on my ego-wall.

What is this urge to save things? Why do we do it?

I’ve decided to take control of my life and get rid of the junk. I don’t want my heirs to end up owing money after my estate sale. Stuff that means something to me doesn’t mean anything to my heirs, after all; cleaning out my house will just be another chore for them, another hurdle they’ll have to jump before they can forget about me altogether. And by getting rid of it, I don’t mean moving it to the garage. I couldn’t do that anyway; it’s already full.

One thing that is helping me weed out the waste is my cellphone. Should I save this old photograph or toss it? I simply take a picture of it with my phone. Nine times out of 10, it looks better on the phone, and it’s easier to share with friends and family. I take pictures of the books I’ve read before donating them to the library. Those yellowing scrapbooks are now digital files on my phone.

Cellphones are great for practical reasons, too, not just sentimental ones. Now that the “flood of the century” happens every two or three years, I take pictures of everything in every room of the house, so my insurance company can offer me a fraction of what everything is worth, instead of a fraction of just the things I can remember having.

But what happens if I get rid of all my stuff and then decide that I miss all those dust catchers? No problem. I can always go down to the thrift store and visit them.

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