Healthy Hoarding

Picture this: a low-ceiling cellar and 4 walls lined with storage shelving. The shelves are stuffed with: kidney-shaped hospital bed pans, vases from FTD floral arrangements huge pickle jars of duck and soy sauce packets.  Add gallon Ziplocs of medicine dispensing cups, travel-size shampoos and mouth wash.  Throw in, say, 19  gunky-eyed kitties snaking the legs of a de Kooning abstraction of beat up lawn furniture in the center of the floor.

No, this is not my cellar.

Now picture this: a low-ceiling cellar, a clear expanse of indoor/outdoor carpet, and one shelving unit. A bag of unopened cat litter sits under the slop sink, purchased in the hopes of soon adopting one clear-eyed kitty. The shelves are crowded with: chinese take out containers (the “bad” plastic,) styrofoam containers, leaning towers of pizza boxes. Also: aluminum lasagna pans, cardboard cake boxes, lightly used Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts cups, and a rabble of unmatched Tupperware and lids.  Oh and gift bags: Happy Birthday, Happy Purim, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year,  folded and stored, holiday-ready.

This is my cellar.  Is there a difference?  I think so.

One riotous storage unit in an otherwise manageable basement. Not bad.

My clutter represents short-term, healthy hoarding. Healthy hoarding is saving stuff with the concrete intention of repurposing it. It’s the middle “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recyle.  I mostly hoard packaging, packaging that has several more lives to live--like me.  I can’t get myself to toss a styrofoam clamshell that only housed undressed iceberg lettuce. Alas there’s not room enough for clamshells in the kitchen storage bench (already home to a family of paper bags) so down the stairs the styro goes, to be wedged between baby food jars and balled up Shoprite plastic bags.  But the clamshell will come back up soon, be filled with meatloaf and mash and depart with a dinner guest.  

Unhealthy hoarding, by contrast, is collecting stuff you’ll never use, for no good reason. Unhealthy hoarding fills subconscious needs; provides the salve to unspoken wounds of childhood. But hey, I’m only guessing.  I’m not going there. Google it yourself

Two other robust hoarding habits I proudly practice: composting and old clothing collection.

I amass food scraps, and, because I cook, that amounts to pounds of peelings, parings, egg shells, and coffee grounds, lots of coffee grounds. Every week.  Luckily, I’ve got Compost 4 Brooklyn nearby, a community composting project.

Darning died alongside his evil twin, ironing. I don’t do either anymore.  Holey socks and T-shirts wth split seams go straight into a tattered pillowcase, bound for the clothing recycling bin at any Sunday farmers’ market. Plastic produce bags of potato peels and a laundry bag of long underwear with spent elastic, I co-habitate comfortably with these, along with my passion for packaging.

Why do I do it? Hoarding down to a single square of paper toweling?  (BTW, did you know a Bounty that shines a mirror, will then beautifully mop up the piddle of an incontinent 15-year-old poodle?) I do it because of the black and white film, still looping in the prefrontal cortex, of bulldozers pushing pyramids of garbage: trash = landfill. And setting the right example for my kids. There’s that too.  My boys are Pavlov’s pups when it comes to peeling tangerines. They frisk straight to the ceramic crock next to the sink to off their rinds. Kids follow their mommies leads, good and bad, don’t they? Mine will likely grow up cursing like former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn,  but golly, they won’t ever throw an apple core in a garbage can!