Have you ever seen the A&E television series Hoarders? I’ve seen it only twice, but both times it was downright horrific to see how much stuff the subjects had. Some was sentimental stuff, and some was, to my eye, just stuff. But not to theirs.
Also called disposophobia, hoarding is characterized by the excessive acquisition of particular items and then not using them – or ever getting rid of them. It doesn’t matter if the things have no value or even if they’re dangerous – like, say, chicken carcasses – or have no explainable sentimentality.
Hoarding may be a variation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, though professional opinions are mixed. In the two episodes I witnessed, there was an undercurrent of something more like sadness, of trying to reclaim or keep something gone forever, an avoidance of inevitable change.
It’s serious business, and I don’t want to make light of it, but it occurred to me that, in a way, I’m a hoarder.
Not in most ways, or even expectable ways. I’m always trying to get rid of clutter – with varied success, granted, but I’m trying. Though I spin and knit, my “stash” is woeful and pathetic compared to other fiber artists, taking up one five-foot cabinet in the basement. Only a paltry dozen cookbooks march along the kitchen shelf, And as an avid gardener, I don’t subscribe to any gardening magazines, buy whippy new tools, and on trips to the nursery tend to buy only what I can plant the same day.
In short, I’m a failure as a hoarder – until it comes to writing.
I still have everything I’ve ever written. Everything. Crappy high school poetry, the beginnings of manuscripts, half-finished love letters, a teetering stack of handwritten notebooks from a decade of daily morning pages. Successive iterations of novels, essays for classes, workshop exercises, and classmate comments on workshop exercises.
There are snippets of dialog, funky names, particular phrases or ways of saying something that struck me as unique but currently unusable. These might come in handy some day. And, in fact, some have.
Then there are are the things I’ve only thought about: ideas scratched on the back of printed mapquest directions that crop up in the car, receipts and unopened junk mail. Scribbled pages of “thoughts,” “essay possibilities” and “what ifs."
Know why they never made it further than a first thought? They’re silly, vapid, unformed, or even worse, dull.
Except for the unformed – which may turn out to be silly, vapid or dull upon becoming fully formed – they should all go away. AWAY. They aren’t worth keeping.
But I do keep them. What if they have some unrealized value? Can I remember what sparked that thought? What if I could use a variation of this? So back it goes, into the file cabinet or box or notebook or computer backup. Yet I’d be mortified if a bus mowed me down, and someone wandered through my writing files and saw what I’d saved.
Do you hoard ideas? Old writing? Other things?