Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Hoarding

In anticipation of our first child arriving next month, my wife and I have been busy accumulating baby-related possessions. We've also launched an initiative to try to get rid some of our existing material belongings in order to accommodate the incoming merchandise. We've succeeded in dispensing with some furniture, and I've taken tentative steps to divest my CD collection and even some back issues of comic books. Other sundry items are now available for purchase at the Kiel Goodwill.

The process has made me think about the A&E show Hoarders. Even though I haven't actually seen an episode, I have run across articles and reflections on the series in multiple places on-line (I guess it was what you would call a "trending topic" a few weeks back). And the show's website has some pictures and clips that give an indication of the home of a "typical" hoarder.

Upon reflection, it makes sense to me that many people would struggle with hoarding, if not to the clinical degree exhibited in the TV show, at least to some extent. Economically, to part with a tangible object, particularly if there is not a tangible exchange, seems to result in a net loss. Psychologically, one must also account for the fact that for many of us a cigar really isn't ever "just a cigar;" we inform every object with overdetermined meaning. So when we throw an object away, we recoil at the thought that this symbolizes a likewise purgation of all we associate with the object.

Two examples from my life come to mind. First, starting at about age 13, I became enamoured with the USA Today sports section. In the pre-Internet era (and being without cable television), the amount of information contained therein blew my mind. Perhaps having access to the boxscore of an Islanders-Devils hockey game and the Super 25 national high school basketball rankings gave me a sense of empowerment, even though I wasn't in any sense interested in the NHL or national high school basketball. Also, the fifty cents per day that my habit required was a not-insignificant sum to a 13-year-old. I suspect it was a combination of these factors which drove me to "hoarding" USA Today sports sections (and I only kept the sports section; the other sections went to the trash within hours of purchase, usually unread). I must have accumulated over a year's worth before I looked at my pile one day, realized the lack of utilitarian value it represented, and donated over a year's worth of box scores and power rankings to my uncle to use as swine bedding.

A little less than 10 years later I had amassed a ticket-stub collection. I went to a lot of games when I was in college (Brewer games were especially cheap back then), and I made sure to keep my ticket stubs, no matter how unremarkable the games were (and the Brewers played a lot of unremarkable games in that time span). Precisely because going to games became so routine for me, there really wasn't a lot of sentimental value attached to the stubs. I think my reason for keeping them was actually more related to economics-- they were the only tangible artifact that I had in return for the money I spent. And then one day, just as with the newspapers, I realized that my ticket stubs were only taking up space, and I jettisoned them in one fell swoop (alas, no pigs benefited from this decision).

Although these examples might be unique to me, once again, I'm sure the general principle is something that a lot of people can identify with. And thanks to A&E, we know that some people take these seeming irrationalities to the extreme. It's interesting to ponder what exactly goes into any given person's decision to either keep or part with any given object.

And I think it's also interesting to consider how technology has influenced these decisions. I'm willing to part with my CD collection because of my ipod. I'm willing to part with my comic books because I can read the same stories on my computer. I probably wouldn't have collected USA Today's if I had had access to the Internet (where important content is archived anyway). I feel no need to keep ticket stubs from the Bob Dylan concerts I attend because I can get the dates and setlists on

I suppose some "hoarders" who developed their habits in the pre-Internet age could be immune to the charms of digital substitutes. But for future generations, could the lure of hoarding physical objects become less enticing? Perhaps, but I also wonder if there is such a thing as "digital hoarding." I know now that as I look at my Internet bookmarks, I have literally dozens of links stashed away that I have visited precisely once (the day I first ran across the site). And as I consider my list of facebook friends, and I ponder why I have sent friend requests to people I barely knew 15 years ago, let alone now, I realize that the hoarding instinct will survive long into the digital era.


Anonymous Tim said...

No mention of hoarding Edgars? And does this Kiel Goodwill have decent t-shirts that would appeal to hipsters?

12:32 AM  
Blogger Azor said...

Remember Christmas? It wasn't that long ago. I gave you the best that Kiel Goodwill had to offer.

12:56 AM  
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