Monday, April 26, 2010

Hoarder or Connector?

This will be or should be - could be? - one of a series (if I feel like it) of posts about Why I Spend. The writing would be therapeutic but the sharing might be embarrassing... Making a public photo album of all the art I have bought in just a few months was my first attempt at disclosure (but I kind of hope not many of y'all noticed it online). I wouldn't say I've hit financial bottom yet but I'm definitely scraping bottom with a spoon - metal against metal, hitting bare spots as I stir.

In addition to adoring everything I buy, there is the element of getting used to being out of control - I've never lived debt-free but in the past year or so I guess I've gotten more comfortable (for want of a better term) with living with more debt. Yes, it bothers me at night and other times, but I keep breathing...and spending. Similarly, I've learned to live with a tire of belly fat - something that would have been intolerable in my younger life - so intolerable it would have been unthinkable. I had at least 3 quasi-anorexic phases and for many years my danger zone was weight over 115. Yeah. Seems so distant... I couldn't get comfortable in a chair if I felt any belly against my waistband. Wow. Yes, that's distant.

So - in some ways I'm just another addict or at least OCD type, but if I look for things unique to me, back-story or big picture, I come up with a lot of stuff to discuss...

Here is a start:

I am from a family where both sides are what used to be called packrats, now more clinically called hoarders. For good or ill I mated with my opposite - my favorite example of how different Craig is, is that after he pays a bill he shreds the statement. Once he lost a credit card and had absolutely no record of the number. Because he's paperless! and wasn't then yet online. I, on the other hand, have a hard time parting with any scrap of paper. Being on anxiety meds the last 3 years has helped - I obsess less about every keep vs. toss decision. But my natural bent would be to KEEP.

Sibling genetics on this - my brother Dave either doesn't have the gene or has bent over backward fighting it. He has no stuff, really no history of himself in his own house. He is a great dad and does keep a stuff-history of his children's lives, but of Dave-stuff there is little.

But my older brother Tim, poor guy - maybe as the eldest son, especially of a family that had lost their mother and became subsumed by another, larger family - he thought he should keep things. Whatever the triggers, there were probably many, because he kept LOTS. In his car trunk, in the body of his car, in his office, his attic, and an entire Tim Room of his house - a room that was packed so densely it was, yes, as bad as what you see on the TV show Hoarders. He was a real fighter through his 5 years of illness and didn’t really see his death coming, so didn’t prepare for it. Not that he would have been able to clean up his stuff - didn't have the time, energy, or ability to make the Keep vs. Toss decisions - but his passing left his widow with much Tim stuff.

That same year, 2005, I noticed a media trend – more articles and TV programs about hoarding. I remember forwarding one article I especially liked that made points including these: hoarders tend to be highly intelligent. They make connections, often emotional, with the items they keep. Many things matter to them. When I sent the article to my sister-in-law she was really touched by it and said it helped her to understand things like why Tim kept a paper ornament one of his music students made 15 years before. The ornament reminded him of the student, and the student was important. So...

Yes. I totally relate to that. So many different objects are important to me for so many different reasons. Eons ago, my first therapist in Dallas kept trying to tell me I was like everybody else - not a comfort! My second therapist I liked so much better because I could tell he admired my uniqueness. One of the important early things he said to me, after listening to God knows how much 20-something-Sarah drivel was, "You have a great ability to make connections between things." He described that as a sign of intelligence - a type of intelligence. I was beginning to realize there were different types, and dimensions of types. There are many categories of smart I will NEVER consider myself but even I agree that I am a supreme Connector-Of.

Back to my spending...often it's about connections. These earrings will match this pendant! Yes, I already have 25 pairs of orange or pink earrings and numerous orange and pink pendants, but I still want to make new pairings.

Last year I bought Blue & Green Vases by Carol Nelson, in large part because I already had a blue-green vase I love. Then last week I bought Antique Bottles by Rivkah Singh because it resonates with Carol's painting and my vase. When will these connections end, or at least my need to make them? Here is an uncropped version of the photo at the top of this post. Does the uncropped or the cropped look better? Last weekend I had the framed painting lower than the windowsill - on top of a bookcase, maybe that looked better? I could play with this stuff endlessly...I almost do.

Our neighborhood grocery store had sock monkeys for sale before Easter, and I almost bought one, thinking whinily, "I never had a sock monkey growing up..." (I probably never wanted one, but a whine is a whine.) The next week I actually had “sock monkey” on my grocery list, but to my horror the store had no more of them. Probably they were shipped back to the Easter warehouse. I thought I might find one on Etsy, and I found a great one - a Munkybun, by a lady who has made the creation of Munkys her life's mission. $20 for a basic Munky, plus shipping from Canada. I got a red & pink one. And then the next month I decided I needed an orange one - because I love orange, and the Munky lady had found some orange striped socks, and I didn't have any orange-striped socks - or an orange Munky, so now for another $20 plus shipping from Canada I have two Munkybuns. Does all this sound sane?

Never mind about that sanity question.

Another dimension of my hoarding has to do with my glass half empty mindset. The rare times I make myself wait to purchase something, if someone else buys it in the meantime or it otherwise disappears, I go slightly crazy. That situation is so upsetting to me that in self-protection I assume anything I don't buy immediately will disappear. So, OK - is this something else in myself that needs medication - or an element of motherless daughterhood (not trusting the future) - or just a Sarah Quirk?

Another way Craig differs from me is his confidence that things he wants to buy will be there when he gets around to buying them. And more amazingly, when and if he's ready to buy, if the thing is gone, he's fine with it.

How does he do does he be that... I'm not entirely joking when I say to Craig, "In my next life I want to be you." Able to let go of things, compartmentalize memories and feelings, wow. That would be a refreshing change from the Sarah existence.


Carol Nelson said...

One collector of mine who was very active with Daily Painters artists bought as much art as she could afford from several different artists.

Her life was filled with pain from an auto accident years earlier. I'm referring to her in the past tense because she died several months ago.

Many artists on Daily Painters mourned her passing not just because of her financial support, but because she truly loved art.

She told me that the thrill of buying all that art was going to the mailbox to find a new painting had just arrived.

She would spend hours rearranging her extensive collection. She loved interacting via email with all the different artists.

She, like you, loved having a collection of beautiful paintings. Many, many people have collections. Yours just happens to be art, jewelry and shoes.

My daughter collects books. She reads all the top sellers in hardcover first editions. I asked her if she wanted a Kindle, and she said no because she liked the look, feel, smell of a new book.

I think collecting only becomes pathological if you are fiscally irresponsible in other areas of your life.

BrandyeBelle said...

I can understand your story. Hoarder or Connector is a spot on question. My Dad's Mother...I'll say suffered...with being a hoarder. However, it never seemed to bother her. Not once did she think there was ever a problem and would answer your question with "you my dear are a connector!" She was a brillant woman as the article you mentioned suggests. I now notice my Dad doing it, but differently. He has no connection to his things and they don't engage him or excite him in anyway. He just doesn't want to throw it away. He too is very smart and for this I get very...disappointed I'll say honestly.

All this to say I would call what you are discribing a connection. An engaging, exciting, beautiful connection. If it makes you truly happy and the finacial connection does not outweigh the overall...then collect! and connect! Being a "sensitive" (myself) I like to call it... cost me a lot of time and money until I realized what was really going on and just accepted it. I think that's why Craig doesn't put a lot of stock in the unknown of buying and does it on his terms because he accepts the's there or not there when I am ready. Bottom line it was on his terms. Your connection is on your matter how crazy or munky free that may be (or not anymore)....

As I have grown to learn, see, love and live with "hoarders" I have realized it all has a connection. It's when you compromise the health and welfare of yourself and home that it becomes a disconnect.

Library Lady said...

I am Tim's widow about which Sarah has written in her post. It was not until after Tim died and I started going through the Tim Room (well over 4 years after his death) that I saw the actual contents of the room. The more I looked at it, sorted it out, cleaned it out, and tossed it out (with absolutely no guilt because I am a Tosser), the more I realized this went beyond "packratting" and was more serious, as in "hoarding".

At least I can say the 27 packs of new underwear, the 11 packs of new socks, the 4 pair of brand new shoes, the 100+ never-worn t-shirts with all kinds of funny sayings on them went to good use -- Goodwill, in fact. It didn't seem right, however, to give GW all the sales receipts from practically EVERYTHING he bought, so I unceremoniously tossed those out!

I think BrandyeBelle has articulated it clearly:
"As I have grown to learn, see, love and live with 'hoarders', I have realized it all has a connection. It's when you compromise the health and welfare of yourself and home that it becomes a disconnect."

The Tim Room was not often a source of contention between us, but had he lived, it well could have been.

Sarah, collect and enjoy your art. And keep up the posting. I have to say that when I check your blog for new material, I first see how long it is -- hoping for something really lengthy because I know it's gonna be a great read!

Courtenay said...

Hmmm....I knew Sarah's mom and dad when we were young. I never considered either of them hoarders. Now Ben, her father, was an electrician. He had a huge "inventory." And that is how I saw it. In fact, I considered her mom austere. I considered myself poor. Neither of us had much as after paying rent and groceries, there was little left over.
I cannot imagine two of the Scholl children as hoarders. I CAN imagine them being people who cherish items which give them great pleasure or items which remind them of great pleasure. They come from a long line of creative people and their minds work differently. Collecting and connecting are interesting hobbies. I believe if Sarah thinks those munkees will fill some void from her perceived childhood, what the harm? I was relieved to see she stopped at two.
Courtenay Crane LaFayette Cross