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

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…

OLIVER: It’s been said that your motto was “collect everything.” Is that true?

ALEXANDER: For specific problems.

OLIVER: Right, but you do understand that “collect everything” is also the motto of a hoarder? That’s the fundamental principle which ends up with someone living alongside 1500 copies of newspapers from the 1950s and six mummified cats.

ALEXANDER: Umm, what I would tell you is let’s go to where that statement applied: Iraq. And the situation was 2006 and the issue was the number of casualties for us and our allies was rising.

Szymanski, Frost, Steketee Weigh In: "New Houston Ordinance Criminalizes Hoarders"

Anonymous asked: Dear Zoltana,

On the subject of hoarding newspapers: I would never describe your maternal grandmother as a hoarder but she did have trouble throwing some things away. After I was born, she didn't have time to read the New York Times but she didn't cancel the subscription. She stockpiled several years of back issues in the cellar and they moved with us to a new home when I was five years old. Mother said she was saving the papers for the theater reviews. This was an ongoing source of friction between my parents. Periodically, my father would try to throw some of the papers away, causing my mother to weep. After she died, you inherited her ballpoint pen spring collection. I keep meaning to find the stash and send you a picture since I probably never threw them away, either, and they are still in your old room along with your stickers and stuffed panda bears.

Love, Mom

[ From the Archive ]

Presentation: “Accumulated Wisdom: The Collector as Inventor”

With Melissa Catanese, Rutherford Chang, Carrie Cooperider, Tim Davis, Louise Harpman, Maira Kalman, Nina Katchadourian, Thomas Y. Levin, Harvey Tulcensky, and Penelope Umbrico

When is a discovery an invention? When is accumulation art? Is recombination transformation? In an evening of short performances and talks, artists and scholars will consider the relationship between collecting and creating through case studies of their own collections, which include coffee cup lids, signs prohibiting photography, Toscanini’s pants, shipwreck memoirs, snapshots, The Beatles’ White Album, photos of beds for sale on Craigslist, toilet paper from European hotels, photo postcards, and spoken letters recorded on vinyl.

Date: Tuesday, 15 April 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Location: The Morgan Library, 225 Madison Avenue, New York (map and directions here)
Admission: $15 ($10 for Cabinet subscribers and Morgan members; free for students with ID).

Co-organized by the Morgan Library and Cabinet in conjunction with “A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play,” on view at the Morgan through 18 May.