Taking Care: Hoarders and their habits

By Alice Outwater | Contributor   

I think of myself as a minimalist, with that elegant ring of being organized.

Maybe I’m afraid of ending up like Homer and Langley Collyer. These brothers lived in a brownstone in New York City and died in 1947. It all started slowly.

Homer took care of his blind younger brother and thoughtfully started saving newspapers for him to read after his sight returned. He heard vitamin C would enable this and fed him over 100 oranges a week. The newspapers gradually piled up as he arranged them in bundles until they reached the ceiling. Next he needed tunnels to get through them.
The collecting expanded into 25,000 books, phone books, large boxes, hundreds of yards of silk materials, the top of a carriage and pickled jars of embryos.

The house eventually became packed. One day as he returned with a sandwich for his sick brother, he tripped over a booby-trap set to protect them from robbers. After neighbors reported offensive smells coming from the house, the police broke in. They found both brothers dead, buried under stacks of newspapers a few feet from each other. They estimated the house contained 140 tons of junk.

This story about their steadfast devotion to each other always moved me—with a cautionary tone of not letting things get out of hand.
Still I have a tendency to hoard—New Yorker magazines and National Geographic’s with their wonderful photos and researched articles on every page. I can’t keep up with them but refuse to throw any out.

I open the mailbox and another one clunks to the ground. As a solution, I drop them off in the hospital waiting room every six months, hoping they’ll be a cheery addition for patients.

My clothes are important to me, and I’m reluctant to part with any. Amazingly they still fit. But my closets were getting jammed. After reading books on clutter, I knew I had to winnow them down. I started by categories—sweaters and tops, skirts, dresses, etc. It took me a full year to do anything.

Finally the day arrived when I said, “Now or never.” I picked out sweaters, went through items in my closet and placed them in piles on my bed. Soon I was in the swing of it, but after a couple of hours I became tired. “This is hard work with all the decisions pulling me in different directions. Do I keep this Norwegian sweater or cashmere or favorite blue mohair—but is it too worn?”

So I left the task for the next day.

Some time later I had accumulated a sizable pile and carefully placed it in my car. Still unsure about parting with them I delayed a full week before driving to SCHIP’s Treasure Resale Shop. I summoned a sales person to unload the pile quickly—and sped home before changing my mind.
The closet has a cleaner feel to it—roomier and fresher. I was thrilled with this breakthrough. A true act of courage, I decided. Next, to other categories: shoes, scarves, coats and winter hats. Why in the world did this take me so long to do? The feng shui feels lighter throughout the condo.
Okay, I’ve confessed to being a hoarder. I’m trying to improve. This is strictly between us. Please don’t let out a word about it.