WHO’RE YOU CALLING A HOARDER?|
Story and photos by Trudy Frisk
My friend, Connie, didn’t believe what I said. “It’s true.”, I assured her. “ The City of Vancouver has formed an Anti-Hoarding Task Force. They’ll be fully operational within months.” Anyone who knows Vancouver might assume the City had more pressing matters: gangs, drugs, homelessness, the vacant Olympic Village; to work on.
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Nope. In this socially engineered world one more personal habit has been declared a pathological problem requiring treatment. People who saved, reduced and recycled used to be admired as thrifty and frugal. Now they peer fearfully over their shoulders if their cupboard contains two boxes of crackers.
Like me, Connie tends to save things. “What would you get rid of first?” I asked. She didn’t hesitate. ”I’ll throw out the cat! What use is he?”
She was joking, but it raises a crucial issue: who decides what to throw out? On what basis?
A standard rule is, “If you haven’t used it for six months, throw it out.”
Okay. There go the skiis, ski poles and wax, the Xmas ornaments, (only used for a short time, then hoarded for the rest of the year), the horses’ winter blankets, the branding irons, the seed drills, the apple press, the rototiller. Who invented that rule?
Probably someone with no interests, no hobbies, no recreational experience, and certainly
no connection to the natural world. Plowing, planting, harvesting, transporting and storing crops all require special seasonal equipment. So do picnicking, boating, snowmobiling. Should someone tell the Task Force?
“What use is it?”, is another question. John Van Leeuwen can answer that. A cross-cut saw and old lantern hang on his walls across from a hay knife and a rug beater although he doesn’t plan on using them. John has helped restore and run many historic farming machines. He bristles when asked why not just throw them away. “”It’s not hoarding, it’s preservation, saving our country’s history and culture.”
That explanation would puzzle the “”Throw it out.” brigade, whose homes so lack personal memorabilia they could be in the witness protection program.
Saving items one doesn’t plan to use immediately, if ever, might pass scrutiny if they were valuable. So Grandma’s crystal bowl could stay, but an Easter basket from the last Easter a child spent with Grandma would have to go.
All value is not necessarily monetary value. Our surroundings tend to reflect us, our lives, our experiences. Without them, who are we? Mementoes preserve our personal history and our connections to family and friends. That Easter basket, a wedding invitation, a lumpy statue made by a six year old, the photo of a cousin’s boat becalmed on the Bay of Quinte, are tangible reminders of events and people important to us.
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Few people these days live on or can go back to the family farm, ranch or home. I’m one of the lucky ones. Our B.C family home is now lived in by the third generation. My mother’s family farm in Manitoba is owned by descendants of another pioneer family, but it’s still there. My father’s family home in Ontario, in the family since the American Revolution, is owned and occupied by my cousins. I can go home. For those who can’t, photos, an old saddle, a crocheted table cloth are reminders of ancestors gone but still remembered.
The new anti-hoarding message contradicts the popular anti-consumerism message. Should we save or should we discard? To people who do their own mechanical or home repairs, the answer’s obvious. Keep it. Keep that piece of wire, length of twine, block of wood. It’ll come in handy. Of course, that’s a message from an era when a gardener didn’t drive to the garden store for plant stakes; he cut them from wood he already had.
How many of you have recycled all your cardboard boxes, only to need one the next day? I can’t be the only one forced to grovel to the neighbourhood store for a flat box which I could duct tape back into shape.
Those of us who keep things do so for several reasons. Growing up when there were no extras. Items were used and reused till they wore out. Tossing out something with wear or work left in it was unthinkable. The recycling movement played a part. A generation has spent decades sorting discarded material into recycling categories. Technology complicates recycling. Where do we take old computers?
‘Throwing things out’ just isn’t ethical.
The term ‘hoarding’ implies unreasonably large quantities of ‘stuff’. How much is too much? How many books should one person have? How many cars? Violins, horses, quilts, paintings, camp stoves? Is a committee, even a Vancouver committee, qualified to judge?
I’ve speculated that acquiring stuff may have a genetic component. My father’s family keep things. So do I and so does my son, although he tries to control the accumulation. The difficulty, he explains, is in the sorting. “There’s the ‘throw-it-out’’ pile, there’s the ‘keep- it’ pile. They’re easy. Then there’s the ‘think-it-over’ pile. And that’s the biggest one!” I know exactly how he feels.
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I decided to attack my piles of clutter after a rummage for scrap paper in the kitchen ‘junk’ drawer revealed, among other artifacts, a fossilized elastic band, contemporary with King Tut, and a pamphlet promoting Stephen Harper as Leader of the Canadian Alliance. The cleanup lasted till the tea canister. There were bags of tea from the last back-packing trip, whenever that was. Easy decision. “Out!”, I thought, my hand poised over the compost bin. Wait a minute. I stared at the small cardboard box containing linden tea. ‘Product of West Germany’ proclaimed the label. West Germany? The Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989. This might be a cultural artifact. Shouldn’t I consult e-bay? The tea’s still here.
Historian Mona Saemerow believes “We don’t collect things; things collect us.”
And they choose well.
Other articles by Trudy Frisk