Saving things

My studio wall in 2006.

D and I recently began watching the show Hoarders on Netflix and it’s given me much to think about. We’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning around here- getting rid of things we just don’t need or ever use. Having only seen the first two episodes of the first season, certain things are really hitting me. I have a tendency to save stuff (for lack of a better word), usually things that would be used in my art practice. A few weeks ago when we did the bulk of the clean out, I got rid of almost half of what was in my studio. It was time to acknowledge that certain projects were not going to get done anytime soon, and future art making may not involve the same materials I had been using. It was not easy to let go.

On the the television show, the hoarders seem at first relatively normal in that I understand their rationale (throwing away things is wasteful). And then they do or explain something and you realize that there is a big underlying issue and they need help. Their behavior is emotional distress manifesting in a very real and physical way. This is not just someone overly attached to their belongings, there is clearly much more going on, as the show reveals. Although troubling in a number of ways, one stands out to me in particular watching those episodes. One of the reasons the objects were kept and not thrown away was because the object represented a task the hoarder never completed. Getting rid of the object reminded them of that lack of completion. For example, someone buys apples to make a pie and then never does it. The apples rot, and somehow owning up to this is so difficult they put blinders on so that they don’t notice the smell of the rotting fruit. Yes, spoiling garbage is an extreme and be in such denial as to ignore it is deeply pathological. But it does hit home in a way, we have several incomplete projects in the apartment that, as time goes on, we learn to just live with.

I read somewhere that clutter represents an unmade decision. I wonder what my home would look like, even my life, if I walked through each room and actually made some of the tough calls.

4 thoughts on “Saving things

  1. I’m inspired to run to my closet and fish out the basket of unfinished projects that I pretend doesn’t exist there. It’s so silly to feel shame or defeat! The materials can be put to such better uses than to burden my shoulders.

  2. Absolutely! I try to keep in mind the feeling of a new, empty apartment. When you just move in and there seem to be endless possibilities. Clutter is the antithesis of this feeling.

  3. Your conclusions about hoarders are very insightful but not complete. Hoarding is REMARKABLY complex. It is about control even tho to most of us it looks like the antithesis of control. (I do not mean this in a judgmental way as I am a charter, gold card carrying member of “Perfectionists and Control-o-manic’s Anonymous”. In other words I am a nurse.) Control freaks aren’t born, they’re bred via MANY different avenues. In the hoarder’s case (often despite endless reality-based proof to the contrary) they have arrived at the conclusion that they are not only unloved but inherently unlovable, inadequate, invisible, and many other similar adjectives. They recognize nothing in their lives as valuable or good enough whether it is them “doing” or “being done to”. Their mantra (consciously or unconsciously)centers around, “if only”. Ultimately, they feel as if all control over their lives has slipped or been pulled through their fingers. So they set about trying to control everyone (intellectually they know this is NOT their strong suit and at best it’s a fool’s errand)and EVERYTHING subconsciously believing that if they can control ALL around them, then their own lives will magically be in control and further, their lives will be everything wonderful like they’ve always believed it should be. They can CONTROL” whether or not the empty pizza boxes, old news papers, cans and boxes and bags of waste AND STUFF leaves them. And whether they have the money/credit or not, THEY CAN CONTROL how many dolls, electronic items, fishing reels, collector plates, or “anything elses” available on home shopping channels and the internet are in their homes. If a family member tries to intervene, the control freak/hoarder/alcoholic/drug addict/thelistisendless will tell him or her, “If only you had loved me enough/recognized my accomplishments/realized how smart I am/let me have anything and everything I ever wanted, needed, had to have to keep up with “the Joneses”, found me desirable/loveable/visible enough, then I wouldn’t have gained 100 pounds/run my or our credit into the ground/snorted most of Columbia up my nose/let the house get this way/etc. and I’m keeping everything just the way it is until YOU GET CONTROL OF YOURSELF! You have a wonderfully creative mind and “dwell in possibility” which is a gift, not a curse like the one the hoarder refuses to be responsible for living through. It can’t hurt to re-group every now and then unless you purge, “half of what is in [your] studio” because you fear some as yet unrecognized mental illness waits in the recesses of your mind for a moment when you are vulnerable and that then you’ll wake up one morning”certifiable” and go around asking everyone for, “more medication please”. Your supplies and your work are both quite real. (Not to be confused with REALity as in shows. The hoarder can’t, won’t DO real. You see the wolf at the door. The hoarder piles so many pizza boxes against the door and down the hall that they don’t recognize that the door is there. And while they need compassion, empathy and objectivity, sympathy is the last thing you should offer them or any of the others like them. They already feel way too sorry for themselves. Now, two questions, what did you make the black garland with and what are the black forms on the wall above either end of it? Fabulous work! Regards, Pat

    • Hi Pat,

      Thank you for the additional perspective and the kind words about my work. I look at the show as an extreme example, I don’t believe it is in me to *ever* get to that point. However, I find that there comes a time when I can’t move forward until I let go of the ‘stuff’ holding me back. For example, when my studio is no longer an efficient place to work because of clutter or I can’t find what I need (archival glue? rotary cutter? seam ripper?) for the project at hand because of disorganization. The process of letting things go requires a good deal of questioning my motivation, especially when it comes to unfinished projects.

      As for the garland- I made it from ribbon, crepe paper and honeycombed tissue paper that I cut into the fan shapes. On either end are rabbit heads made from black velvet mounted to wooden plaques. The piece was eventually part of an art show in San Francisco that year.

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