If I Were a Hoarder

A compendium of all the intriguing detritus, all the irresistible bargains and all the wondrous objects that might clutter my studio today if I were a hoarder

"Thing Theory: How Objects Speak" Peter Miller for the Chronicle of Higher Education

"There seems to be a latent feeling in our time—an emotion that needs to be recognized and attended to—that objects are somehow the past they narrate, and thus bring both the object and the narrative of the past much closer to the beholder’s eye."


It’s tempting to attribute the turn in our relationship to things to their imminent demise: The digital, far from killing the material world, seems only to have intensified our attachment to it. But the human interplay with stuff is very, very old. We have not only tools but specially crafted ones, from more than a million years ago. Would those who had seen a hominid patiently knap a stone to make a hand ax, while carefully positioning a fossil in its exact center, not have associated him with the making of this extraordinary creation long after his death? Were not those who stood before the walls of Troy stripping armor from the dead seeking a souvenir, a materialized means of remembering? In a way, the more intimate the attachment to the person, the more the person remains in the object. Anyone who has ever cleared out a dead parent’s closet can remember the vivid sharpness of memory that some ordinary thing, entirely unexpectedly, elicits.”

"Objects speak to us through the memories that belong to them—the more we know of the lives they have lived, the more loudly they speak. That is the "how." But why do objects speak?

Soltanto il cervello pleistocenico della borghesuccia pensa la casa come un oggetto (pacco postale) avulso della coesistenza infinita.

—Carlo Emilio Gadda, Meditazione milanese

All Power to the Pack Rats | Jacobin

Notwithstanding its gross simplifications and misguided paranoia, Ian Svenonius’ Jacobin blog post “All Power to the Pack Rats” merits a quick read by those interested in the invention of the hoarder because it understands contemporary hoarding discourse in relation to digital technologies.

[This relation has long been a refrain on If I Were a Hoarder: I am convinced that the outpouring of hoarding discourse since around 2008, which includes novels, memoirs, network television series, documentaries, installation art, and the inclusion of “Hoarding Disorder” in the DSM-Vhas has everything to do with digital technologies. I believe that the interest in people who accumulate material possessions is symptomatic of larger anxieties about the immateriality of much of what we experience and consume in the age of digital technologies….]  

Anyway, Svenonius doesn’t put it quite like that: he offers up a paranoid fantasy that equates modern minimalism with Apple, and Apple with authoritarianism. Attributing intentionality to cultural phenomena, he makes the contemporary invention of the hoarder the work of a terrifying power controlled by Apple and the ‘cyber lords,’ ‘anti-stuff crowd,’ ‘cyber-elite,’ ‘computer lords,’ ‘computer overlords,’ ‘internet lords,’ and ‘digital super-despots’ who would have us send our books, magazines and records to the landfill along with, eventually, our severed limbs. He asks: “How long before we’re convinced that hands, arms, legs, and appendages are just bothersome?” 

Watch out! 

For more reasoned defense of hoarding, I’d recommend William Davies King’s “In Defense of Hoarding" published on PopMatters four years ago.

Of course, I’d also recommend my own writing here, both about my father’s hoarding and about Jill, the Pumpkin Lady from Hoarders. 

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Obliquely related to the sleek minimalism with which Svenonius takes issue is a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times about people who live in staged homes, meticulously effacing all traces of their presence: “Human Props Live in Luxury Homes but Live like Ghosts.” Recall Walter Benjamin’s note in The Arcades Project: “To dwell means to leave traces.” 

Such spectral inhabitants may also be the “type and genius of deep crime”: like Poe’s man of the crowd, “[sie lassen] sich nicht lesen.” Perhaps these two forms of illegibility, of eluding individuation, (that of never being never alone, and that of leaving no material traces), are not anomalous iterations but rather indications of a larger cultural shift between Poe’s 1840 and the Tampa Bay Times’ 2014? Perhaps. And though such a question may involve a gross simplification not unlike those that litter “All Power to the Pack Rats,” it is nonetheless interesting to think about. 

From the Archives: Hoarder or Someone with a Lot of Cool Stuff?

Caffettiere My father doesn’t hoard newspapers, empty containers, bottle caps or other ephemera of consumer culture, and he doesn’t live in filth, exactly. The diagnosis of “hoarder” would even seem like an exaggeration were it not for the fact that his house is now completely full, and in some rooms the clutter rises above shoulder level.


He has a lot of cool things: caffettiere (percolating coffee makers) of all sizes, shapes, and colors, espresso machines, tambourines, a piano, an electric organ or two, sheet music, upwards of a hundred stringed instruments in all states of repair, motorcycle helmets, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, MBTA tokens (which occasionally can be had for free by scooping the coin return slot—once you know which turnstiles are broken this work becomes easier), furniture, all kinds of cameras, enlargers, a drill press, other machinery and tools, books, compact discs and shoes.


Some pretty interesting stuff, and it’s good to know that if I ever need a caffettiera of any size or shape, or if a friend needs a mandolin or a banjo or a tambourine, my dad can dig up the perfect thing. The problem is that the stuff now fills four bedrooms, the attic, the basement, the garage, the porch, the foyer, the front hall, living room, dining room, music room, a storage room, the kitchen, and a pantry…