Cleaning Up

“You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” – Johnny Thunders


 I’m fascinated by Hoarders.  I used to think I was one until I saw the TV shows.  I’ve seen collections of those weird troll figures before but not on the level of idolatry and the willingness to let stuff literally bury you.  Some of these people would rather fill their bathrooms up with things and poo outside.  If you think I’m exaggerating then you haven’t seen as many episodes of Hoarders as I have.


Most reality shows give out the vibe of “This can’t be real.  Those people are too loony.  They’re just wannabe actors from community theater groups.”  I have a tough time buying that argument with Hoarders.  Yes, you can write a script about people who live with 30 cats.  But can you really find someone who has emphasima and is willing to let themselves be filmed next to decayed animal corpses?  Maybe at a horror convention but Hoarders has people like this on every other week.  I’m assuming smoking two cartons of cowboy killers a week is way healthier than the way these people live.  Note to tobacco companies: this is not a good marketing tactic. 


The psychologists Hoarders hires point out collecting/hoarding/living with your dried poop is a serious mental disease.  The explanation of the behavior tends to boil down to some serious trauma the individual faced led them to a life of collecting cardboard boxes.  This is plausible until one considers all the maniacs, Jerry Sanduskys and Bernie Madoffs who all justify their horrible actions (through their attorneys) via some sort of incident that changed their mental outlook forever.  Phooey I say!  Phooey with a slice of Hong Kong on top.


Most of us know someone who has gone through what one would consider “serious trauma” be it divorce, bankruptcy or the death of someone near and dear.  Yet, the majority of humans do not go totally ass-bastard crazy nor do they decide to raise a barnyard in their kitchen.  It’s bothersome to listen to people with some sort of a college degree use the same explanation for hoarding as they do homicide.  Imagine, if you will: a world where Charles Manson convinced his “family” to perform compulsive garage sale-ing.  You will collect green glassware – you must collect green glassware.  If nothing else, Hoarders has demonstrated the complete inanity of getting a degree in psychology.


Yet, the same television stations who tell me how horrible hoarding is also believe I should be a pawn star, a storage warrior or a toy collector.  Apparently, Hoarders is in the eye of the beholder.  One man’s fecal mess is another man’s treasure trove.  I guess it just depends on what you find.  If the antique gladiators find a rare smurf figure beneath my pile of grease-filled tractor manuals, that’s awesome.  If they see a Shrek bathroom curtain used as my bedspread I must be a hoarder.  It’s all about perception.  One sees a gold mine or a pile of filth. 


I confessed earlier that I thought I was a hoarder.  My mother still thinks so.  My wife probably does but her collection of complimentary tote bags keeps her opinions relatively silent.  Truth be told, my hoards consist of baseball memorabilia, comic books, toys, movies, video games, board games, books, t-shirts, music and anything having to do with Billy Beer.  Geez, I guess that is a lot.  Most of these collections started when I was a teenager and grew to fruition as an adult when I became gainfully employed.  Some of these were cheap hobbies, some not so much.  I guess I could have saved up and bought a super-awesome Camaro instead.  That just wasn’t how I viewed my life at that time.  Is there a difference between three big toys and 500 little ones?  I guess if you trip over them all through your house.  I would venture to say I would describe my hoarding as purposeful, meaning I don’t keep broken or damaged items – except for my 45 of “The Crusher” by the Novas.  

My idealism of hoarding changed when I had my kids.  Cleaning up used to be cathartic, now it is filled with a tear or two when I clean their rooms.  Finding a pink mitten from when my now five-year-old daughter was a baby takes me back to times when I was getting her ready to go outside into the cold.  An unused Winnie the Pooh napkin from her first birthday just couldn’t find its way into the waste basket.  Indeed, there are unlimited supplies of pictures, Facebook and Twitter posts to remind us of our children.  But there’s something special attached to a random physical object.  It brings us back to where we were at a certain time and place.  It takes you back in time when loved ones passed away are still with us. 


As I go through my kids’ things, I rewind the past eight years of my life.  Building towers of Lego Duplos with Shane, making a bedful of stuffed animals for Romana to cuddle with, stealing Arden’s hat and hiding it somewhere in the house, all memories associated with objects.  Reading “Rosie Rabbit’s Colors” over and over and over again.  I think I found Rosie underneath the driver’s seat of our car.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw the fairly soiled book away.  My wife, who is far less attached to things, did the deed.  Then there’s Pinky, the giant stuffed dog we gave Arden for Christmas about eight years ago.  Arden rode Pinky, slept with her and cuddled for hours.  When Shane and Romana were born, they did the same.  Pinky was not only a great friend but an awesome pillow as well.  However, our cats thought she was something else entirely. 


I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t get the cat smell out of poor Pinky.  Rather than do what sane individual would have done, I put Pinky in my storage closet.  I just couldn’t bear to throw all those memories in the garbage.  I keep thinking I will run into somebody or some website that will help me get Pinky back to normal.  I almost did it this week.  Maybe after this essay, after Pinky is immortalized in print, I can let her go. 


Hard as it may be, we all have to let go of the little things.  Our memories should not just be filled of stuff, but of the love and laughter we share with our families and those around us.  We have to accept time goes forward.  Eventually, our house will be filled with various electronics and little else.  Rainbow nightlights will give way to iPads in a dark room throughout the midnight hours.  It can make one sad, but growing up and growing old happens and there is nothing to halt the progression.  It’s fine to hold on to some things, just not the “everythings.”  I’ve come to enjoy cleaning my house.  I hope you will, too.  Cherish the memories but please throw away the butt-paste.