Marty and Sally bought a charming 120-year-old house in the country last spring. I went to look at it a few weeks after they bought it. They were almost finished filling a large dumpster sitting in the driveway with refuse from the house.
"Wow, there was enough junk in there to fill this thing?" I said. Martin and Sally just looked at me with dead eyes. Finally Martin said, "This is the seventh dumpster." They had already filled six.
Soon after, I saw my first episode of a show called "Hoarders" (A&E, 10 p.m. Mondays). I hadn't realized this kind of hoarding was a syndrome, probably because all of us have a little hoarder within. Very rare would be the person who doesn't collect something matchbooks from places they've been, snow globes, angel statues, Beanie Babies, Hummel figurines, Playbills, scorecards, autographs and maybe we wonder if we are hoarders or collectors. I have a friend who collects Easy-Bake Ovens. They have to be perfect and in their original boxes.
Another collects Barbie Dolls, another Depression glass. Even if you're not a collector, your friends collect for you; if you're a football fan each birthday and Christmas will get you closer to hoarder heaven. Thanks, Bob, for the football-shaped telephone. How did I live so long without one? There is no hobby or interest so small that it doesn't have its own baseball caps, pennants, beach towels, coolers and pens that people will buy you over the years.
But we all must have a little of the hoarding gene in us, or our houses wouldn't need walk-in closets and three-car garages. We would have no pictures on the walls, only two pairs of shoes in the closet, and you'd hear lots of people say, "We could use less cabinet space." You wouldn't see any ads for "professional organizers." Is collecting Roseville Pottery or teaspoons the same as having a house full of old newspapers? What is the difference between hoarding and collecting?
Experts on the show say that hoarders collect things that have almost no value: hubcaps, old newspapers, beer cans, cats.
One show featured a woman who collected garbage. She would not throw out rotting food, which was all over the house.
The experts also say that hoarding is an obsessive-compulsive disorder, because real hoarders get upset if you try to tidy up or remove any of their stuff. The woman that hoarded garbage became very upset when people tried to clean it up for her. The hoarders all say they're perfectly happy living in the midst of it all.
But I'm not sure the experts are right: What if hoarding things of great value is a disorder, too? Do the CEO's of giant banks need more money? Why is being obsessed with collecting cash better than being obsessed with collecting newspapers? How can you explain why a guy who made $125 million last year is upset that he only made $80 million this year? Does that sound rational to you? If you made $80 million last year wouldn't you just quit your job and go live on an island somewhere? What if the extremely wealthy are as emotionally disturbed as the guy who collected 50,000 beer cans? And I'm quite sure that if I tried to take away some of the CEO's $80 million, he'd become upset. Ever notice that no one gets more upset about taxes than the rich?
At least the guy with all the beer cans isn't hurting anyone but himself. Can you say that about the executives who run (or ran) Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, AIG, Chrysler and GM? Their hoarding has hurt millions of people and no one thinks they have a problem? Where is that TV series?