sideways rabbit

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hoarding Between the Lines

A hoarder is only as hopeless as his or her lack of space.

My mother and her brother, aged 65 and 69 respectively, are both hoarders. It's one of their family traits, inherited along with paranoia and astoundingly youthful-looking skin. (Hey, life's a balance.) But whereas my uncle has only a 900-square-foot apartment in which to collect, pile, and furrow out paths to the kitchen and bathroom, my mom has a large home, a vacation condo, and a suite of warehouses spanning the length of a city block. (The latter hoarding venue is her husband's business, a marine-supply company, where she is in charge of accounting.) The woman has enough storage space to start her own cryonics factory. And thus no one knows she's a hoarder but the people who share her genes.

Uncle hoards antiques and vintage paper goods. Mother's more of a sentimental hoarder, saving everything from last millennium's Christmas bows to her own childhood bed. She has every book my sister and I ever read, yellowed paperback versions of the "Little House" series and the "Dancing Shoes" series and the "Wrinkle in Time" series. In a morbid mood, she likes to threaten that, someday, it will be our job to sort through this terrifying heap. When that time comes, I can only hope Mrs. Whatsit sweeps me up in a tesseract and sends me to Planet Uriel for some R&R.

I didn't get the hoarding gene, and happily, I don't think we will ever have a house big enough for me to even consider saving every greeting card ever sent to us by distant relative, erstwhile frenemy, or sinister insurance company. As the mother of an only child, though, it is tempting to hang on to a few things, milestones of bygone babyhood that will not be revisited via child number 2. In a single shoebox, I have saved a favorite receiving blanket, his first shoes, two fleece sleepers from the first six months, and his first toy.

I also kept his cradle, which he slept beautifully in for four months before worming his way into our bed. It's an antique cradle Mother had restored and fitted with a modern mattress and crib bumper. That cradle never leaves this house. It's in the basement, and it's in use, holding our camping equipment.

But that's about it. Other parents of only children -- have you held on to your child's baby things? I'd be very curious to know.

There's only one relic from my own childhood that I've consented to keep in the house, and that's a bookshelf Mother painted for my sister and me when we were four. (Irritatingly precocious in that single area, we were already by then reading books.) This was during Mother's crafty phase. She painted the bookshelf a sort of murky aquarium green, and she stenciled it in a vaguely Scandinavian motif.

My sister and I lugged that thing through college and long after. Cleaning it out today, I discovered a half-burnt stick of incense that wanted only a bottle of Rene Barbier and a soundtrack of Smashing Pumpkins to bring the 1990s back alive. I put it in Beau's room and stacked it with his books, which had seemed a lot until then. There was still space, so I filled the rest with toys and the breathing nebulizer he uses sometimes for asthma.

Almost four decades on, the bookshelf is a dingy thing, but the painted stencils are still quite clear. "You're never getting rid of me!" they seem to chirp. As long as they keep that to themselves.

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