The Selective Collective

Last month, I was invited on a ride-along with a girlfriend. She warned me that our destination would be hard for me to handle. Maybe a little too much for my delicate sensitivities.

A distant family member had died, and after three months of people sorting through the elderly lady’s home, she wanted to retrieve a few things she had picked out earlier.

Feeling curious and challenged, of course I went.

“She was a collector,” began my friend as we hitched up the trailer. “Of everything.”

Well, you can’t take it with you, as our ancestors clearly prove.

Although many a Tutankhamen has tried.

“If you feel overwhelmed, just sit in the car,” she offered as we drove down the interstate.

Let me begin by saying there is a distinct difference between a hoarder and a collector.

A hoarder keeps every last thing that comes into the house, including the wrapper from a twinkie, and compulsively drops it on the growing heap in the corner.

“Mine,” he says.

A collector is going out of his or her way to acquire a specific item that matches a row of items they already own. If it doesn’t match the category, then it’s not necessary to own it.

If you are collecting jewelry, you won’t be keeping the crutches unless they make into a stunning pair of earrings.

Neither of which should be confused with the behavior of my own and many other hubbys out there who feel the need to keep things “just in case”.

If you own at least three pairs of identical shoes, five fly-fishing rods (although you don’t fish), a set of stilts, or saved every random screw and part from every home improvement project over the last 20 years…you know who you are.

Hubby will save the crutches.

“Just in case,” he says.

I myself formed the habit of militantly cleaning out cluttered areas. This comes from raising kids who grow out of shoes, clothes, toys, hobbies and schools at lightning speed.

We would have drowned in Legos otherwise.

You wait for the family to go to work and school and then dash the fat bags of leftovers to the thrift store, where they will be waiting “just in case” you need them back later.

But this house we entered. It was impossible.

After three months, the contents of the dearly departed’s home were still stacked to the rafters.

I saw salt and pepper shakers, cast iron skillets, milk glass, clocks, oil lamps, dolls, jewelry, Avon perfume bottles, plates and spoons and tea towels from around the world. There were candy dishes and Christmas cards that read “1972”. And a hoop skirt.

She had a sewing machine from every decade and vat full of every scissor ever made.

The carpet was gold shag. The curtains were tasseled.

I stepped outside so I wouldn’t hyperventilate.

“See?” asked my girlfriend as she struggled with a curvy purple velvet armchair, “She simply collected everything, her whole life!”

On a side table was a large oval dish full of crotched Oreos. Hanging over a window was a macrame fishbowl holder. Minus the fish, thankfully. In her entirely pink bathroom were pink toilet paper on a spindle and a pink ruffled toilet cover.

This lady lived large.

“You should have seen her make-up collection,” said my pal as she passed by holding a tub of old paste jewelry, “She always said, ‘Even an old barn could use some fresh paint’.”

I was starting to feel itchy. This was like going to a neighborhood garage sale and everything was marked down to free.

“If you see something you want, just let me know!” sang out my friend as she loaded the last item into her full trailer. “We’ll have to send almost all of this to the Salvation Army.” that an ancient typewriter? The keys are in German!

I stopped myself mid-reach. I took a deep breath and a step back.

This is not how I intend to leave my own house when I step into my sarcophagus.

I too, am an avid collector.

Of stories.

And I certainly got a good one from here.

Thank you, ma’am. I’m much obliged.

Comment (1)

  • Kiki Dulaney| September 26, 2014

    It’s a teacher problem too. We save everything “just in case” we will need it for an art project or a science project. I’ve tried to get better the past few years, but still guilty.

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