My Secret Life as a Hoarder

by Marc Mayer

Okay, I admit it…I’m a hoarder. No, I don’t mean one of those nutjobs you see on the TV news being led out of their hopelessly cluttered—with boxes of shit from the 1950s—home along with their thirty-two cats and eighteen dogs. I’m just your average “I never throw anything out I could possibly use later” kind of hoarder. And I’ve never owned a single cat or more than one dog at a time.

You’d never know I’m a hoarder by walking into my home. If the only part of our home you visited was the main floor living room, kitchen and den, you might even think I was obsessively neat. I hate stuff sitting out on counters or tables and I even, sort of obsessively, empty the little garbage cans in the bathrooms on a daily basis. But walk down to the basement and you’ll discover my well-kept and semi-hidden secrets. And if you happen to stumble into the “storage” room—at your own risk, by the way—you’ll notice that I’ve never thrown out a plate, bowl or glass in my life—unless it was broken or cracked, I have shelves full of wires, electrical cords and other connection devices that neither I nor any other person on the planet could figure out what they were meant to connect to or will ever use, and I have four sets of rusty, dusty golf clubs sitting in the corner. The four sets of clubs are in addition to the set I actually use that I keep upstairs in the garage.

You never can tell when you’ll need those chairs from the dining room set we threw out in 1989, right? Or that other dining room table we didn’t throw out from the 1970s? Or you just don’t know if you’ll suddenly find a use for that light fixture you took down from the dining room fifteen years ago. I couldn’t just throw that stuff out now, could I? I guess I could, but since I haven’t thrown anything out that I put in that room in the last twenty years, why start now?

Then there’s the running track thingy we’ve probably used three times—ever, the punching bag from our “kickboxing” days that’s not going anywhere soon because of the hundred pounds of sand it contains, the ping-pong table that was used two or three times and the real pinball machine that used to work but doesn’t anymore. But I guess you could say that of John Cusack, too. The ping-pong table and pinball machine are both sitting next to the bicycles we bought in 1985—and haven’t used since Y2K.

Does anyone need some Christmas decorations that are covered in about three inches of dust? Come on down! You can take those and the boxes of outdoor Christmas lights we haven’t used since 1990 with you. How about the waffle maker that we used once; the rice machine that we used twice; the pasta maker that I don’t think we ever used; or the stereo from a car I owned in the 1980s?  It was a fine-sounding stereo so I have never been able to throw it out. I’m sure someone, somewhere can make some use out of this shit. Although I haven’t seen it in a while, I’m sure underneath something or other that laser disc player that was popular back in the 1980s is hiding out.

I am also the proud owner of a pile of wicker baskets that once held holiday food, baskets that we never returned and now are so moldy I’m afraid to go near them. And speaking about old stuff—how about the table centerpiece from my older daughter’s bat mitzvah in 1999 or the life-size figurine from the younger one’s bat mitzvah in 2003? Yep, they’re down there, too.

Doesn’t everyone have a drawer—or two—where they keep all forty-seven outdated and obsolete iPhones, iPods, digital cameras, computer hookups, and all the connection cords they came with? Really? You mean I’m the only one? And does anyone need a laptop or seven, even though they burned out more than a decade ago? I’ve got ’em.

How about the forty or so cans of dried-up paint tucked away in the corner? Not only do I have no idea what rooms those colors were used in, but the paint is so caked in those cans that it could never be used. But there they sit. And then there’s the masterpiece sitting in the storage room—my workbench. That’s where I keep my tools. You know those things that help me with all my master carpentry projects in the house. I am sure I am one of the best closet-rod hangers, light-bulb changers and picture hangers in the world. But that’s about the totality of my carpentry skills. So you might wonder why I have boxes of nails, screws, hangers, drills, drill bits, about a hundred screwdrivers and other miscellaneous tools, some of which I have no idea what they do, hanging on the walls—right next to the old coffee cans of random nuts, bolts, and other stuff I will never, ever use. Sometimes I wonder myself but, since the symptom of my hoarding disease is that “you never know when you might need this stuff,” I can’t make myself throw any of it out.

Then there are the photographs. I don’t mean the good ones—those that made it to the photo albums that sit on the shelves that we actually take out and occasionally moon over. No, I mean the rejects from back in the days when you shot rolls of film, got them developed, and hopefully had one or two shots out of twenty-four that were half decent. Those photos are the ones that are dumped, in no particular order, into plastic bins on the floor. At least I think there’s a floor down there somewhere.

Continuing in the storage room tour, we find several other large plastic bins full of clothes that are at least twenty years old. The bins contain sweaters that haven’t fit in years; long underwear and other ski clothes that could probably stand up and shush down the mountain by themselves by this time; and dozens of old, ratty T-shirts. Speaking of clothes, we have a separate clothes closet in the basement that contains coats both my wife and I wore in the 1980s and haven’t worn since.

Over there in another corner is the “telescope holding area,” where the three or four telescopes I’ve probably used a combined one time in my life sit. I think I saw Saturn’s rings once—or it might have only been dirt on the lens.

And doesn’t everyone still have the report cards they got in first grade and kindergarten? I mean, how could you possibly throw that stuff out? I have my father’s dog tags from World War II and photos of my mother taken in the 1940s. And that’s in the drawer in my bedroom where I keep my underwear. I still have my grandfather’s Musician’s Union Card that has to be from the 1920s or 30s, the business card from Bea’s Liquors, my father’s business in the 1960s, and the card from my appropriately named high school band, The Frantics. And those of you who know me, know if I have something from high school, it was more than a year or two ago. Speaking of high school, a year or so ago I found, under a bed, a folder containing artwork I did as a teenager—a teenager! That’s more than fifty years ago! Since I could be considered one of the world’s worst artists, what the hell I was thinking when I saved that stuff is beyond even my comprehension. And even weirder, after discovering it there under the bed, I just put it back—and it’s still there.

And that’s the stuff I know about. Every month or two I stumble into more shit I’ve hidden away and forgotten about. Just the other day when I was looking for a receipt, I came across a pile of Silver Certificate one-, two- and five-dollar bills I kept—for what reason I do not know, but there they were.

Want a book—or a hundred of them? We have an entire room on the second floor filled from floor to ceiling with books we’ve read. They’re not in any particular order unless order means the books I most recently read are on top of the piles. That room is also the holding area for clothes we no longer use—aka, no longer fit in. Those pants, shirts, and sweaters sit in that room for a year or two until one day even I can’t stand it and move them down to the basement to go along with all those other clothes that have been down there for years. What, you thought I was going to say I threw them out? Nah!

Then there’s the music stuff. Besides my fourteen guitars, eight amplifiers, two flutes, saxophone, box of harmonicas, drawers full of microphones, and clarinet, I also own—in addition to the real recording equipment I often use—a room full of used, obsolete recording equipment.

Despite my moving around the country for about five years in the 1970s—mostly in an old hot rod van I named Ludwig—I somehow managed to lug around and hold onto my Fender Pro Reverb Amplifier from the 1970s. It’s a wonderful old relic and—because it was built before they invented grounding circuitry—whenever I used it on stage I would take my life in my hands when I tested a microphone while holding my electric guitar. If the circuits weren’t coordinated there would be an actual—and painful—blue spark that would flash between the mic and my lips. That amp is also sitting in my basement. Anytime anyone wants to try it out and see—and feel—that beautiful blue spark emanate from their own lips they’re welcome to try. Just let me get a few steps away when you do.

Besides that old amp, I also have music sheets and the chord charts from when I used to teach guitar back in 1967 stuffed into a cabinet. What, you thought I was exaggerating about keeping stuff I might use someday? Those chord charts are intermingled with song lists, newspaper articles about my bands, and copies of letters I used to write to try to get gigs for my many bands.

Need some cassette tapes? I’ve got ’em. I’ve got hundreds of them sitting in piles in a corner from back in the day when I used to record my own mix tapes. Want to go skiing on boards that were popular in the 80s? I still have several of those long, straight skis hanging from the ceiling—the kind that people used before they invented the new parabolic skis—and will never use again.

But perhaps the weirdest of my “collectibles” is the journal book in which I used to write out new, original songs back in the 1970s. And the weirdest part of the weird book is the cover. The cover is the actual cut out front of a “Mexican Wedding” shirt I used to wear almost every day back in the day. There are several photos of me wearing that shirt in the book that has that shirt as its cover. Like I said, pretty weird.

One of these days we’re going to have to move out of this house. I wonder if the basement will actually rise a few inches when the weight of all the stuff in the basement is removed. Or will I make it to TV, where I’m the nutjob du jour as they show me being led out of the house by people wearing those surgical masks amid the piles by the door? I hope not.

Category: Memoir, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing