Originally posted March 4, 2011...
I’m such a hypocrite and so are you (probably). When people start talking about tv, I’m the first one to decry reality shows. “Reality shows are exploitative!” I say, hitching up my pants in that superior way I do. “Reality shows are so fake!” I declare, then I scratch the back of my head a duck a little bit like Clooney used to do when he was on ER but it only looks charming when Clooney does it and when I do it flakes of my drying scalp land in your coffee. “Your mom’s a reality show!” I’ll snark, but that really only works if you’re arguing with one of the infants featured on Teen Mom (in that instance, their moms really are a reality show). But Intervention is a reality show and I used to watch that religiously. Police Women of Cincinnati is a reality show that Jon and I have not missed an episode of (in fact, we’ve seen all those police women shows. My favourite part is when the person in the back of the squad car starts banging their head against the window, as if that will result in them being free to go). But the mother of all these shows is Hoarders. I love Hoarders, but I hate hoarders. I adore the show, but dislike everything about the people featured on it. For the uninitiated, a hoarder is a person who is unwilling/unable to throw anything away, and as such, has a house full of crap, and Hoarders is a show which profiles these people who, as I said, I hate. But I kind of worry that, like the bully on the playground, I hate hoarders so much because I fear I might secretly be one.
Dream: Avoid become a hoarder.
Goal: Achievable, for the moment. Right now I lack the resources to be a hoarder. I don’t have the money to buy bicycle seats, old magazines, racist dolls from the fifties, and cat skeletons, and I just don’t have enough space. Even if our apartment was filled with stuff, it’s such a small space that it would be kind of forgivable. But if I were to ever own a house and have disposable income to buy useless stuff, then it’s watch out Charlie!
Plan: Used what I have learned from watching countless episodes of Hoarders to avoid becoming a hoarder.
I should mention now that if you’ve never seen the show, reading on may be a waste of your time. I can’t explain to you why this phenomenon is fascinating to me, nor can I justify why it’s impossible for me to watch it alone (my friend Lewis and I have a standing date–used to be our Mondate but now because of his classes it’s a Tuesdate—where we catch up on Hoarders and laugh until we cry). But if you have seen the show, what is up with these people? Still reading? Good.
I feel a good method of hoarder avoidance is to not binge, but always purge. The people on this show go to rummage sales every day. They raid dumpsters. They go to Costco and never have that weird feeling the rest of us get where we go, “I don’t own a restaurant or motel, what am I doing in Costco?” The best/most difficult purge I had was when we moved out to the Big City. Try as we might, we couldn’t find an affordable mover. We tried lots of places. One very kindly old man came in, accepted our offer of coffee, checked out our bedroom, noticed our couches, looked at the tv and said, “Four grand.” Fuck! Our stuff wasn’t worth that. And Jon left earlier than I did to drive out there and start his work, so he got to load up the car with his files, books, clothes, etc., but I could only bring would I could carry with me on a plane. I took and left behind the weirdest stuff when it came down to it. I got rid of all my Hello Friend shirts, which smarts as there were twenty-something of them, but I was having a fat summer and couldn’t move in them, so they were gone. I left behind so many plays, which kills me now. Why, as an amateur actor and maybe one day playwright, did I think I would never need to read a play again? I took John Mayer’s debut album and a pair of bellbottoms. What, James? I took season one of Mad About You but left behind the art history textbook I paid a bundle for. But, when all was said and done, I’m grateful I left so much behind. Beyond sentimentality, that stuff was just stuff, and all replaceable.
Also, best not be an asshole all the time. The common thread of these hoarder people is that they are awful. Despite the fact that “experts” spend time “diagnosing their problem” (who are these experts, by the way? What school did they go to? “Do you ever think there’s too much stuff in your house?” Bravo, professor) and that there’s a team of people from 1.800.GOT.JUNK whose only job is to literally dig through your crap, the hoarder him or herself is ungrateful and whiny. Inevitably, at some point in Day 2, when someone suggests throwing out a VHS tape of a Cardinals game from the 80′s or a stuffed animal with gravy on it, the hoarder becomes overwhelmed and says, “I’m done! You know what? I’m done!” And walks off. Done with what, exactly? Being helped by your fellow man? Recovering from your serious problem? Getting your house back?
Really and truly, I worry that a hoarder is a symptom, not the problem. We are incurable consumers. We are indoctrinated from an early age to fill any voids in our lives with stuff. Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy a lot of stuff that you’d be sad to live without. And boy do these hoarders get treated with kid gloves. If I were the “expert” dealing with this person, I’d put a match to the mess and go watch Heavy (the AMAZING new show in Hoarders‘ timeslot between seasons, about fatties who go to a compound and get yelled at by this gorgeous black guy). Reading this back over, I can’t justify my vitriol. Something about this compulsion to hoard makes me really angry and I haven’t done a good job of explaining it here. It’s something about consumerism and something about how this is such a rich white guy problem (“I have so much stuff! Waah!”) and something else too. Something about weakness, or vulnerability, or our proclivity to prize possessions over people. Something inexplicable. Something money can’t buy. Best to leave it for now and come back to it another day. I’ll get to it later. Because I’m done! You know what? I’m done!