I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who have either lived with or know a hoarder who may refer to him/herself as a "Collector." Here's another excerpt from Nice Children Stolen from Car about my father, who also likes to use that name to describe what he does.
copyright Barbara Allen 2009
Our father calls himself “a collector.” He makes this claim with considerable pride, as if our house were filled with prehistoric pottery and American Indian artifacts, instead of dented coffee cans and years-old newspapers.
While there is nothing museum-worthy about the contents of our house, it is nevertheless a sight to behold. Our father may call himself a collector, but he doesn’t really collect things: he hoards them. Precarious piles, many nearly shoulder-high, representing years of accumulation, crowd each room; to make our way through the house we must use narrow paths that are barely discernible between the stacks of stuff.
Our father does not throw anything away. No matter if it is a Sears catalog from which he will never order or a used pizza box: once it has entered our house, it can never leave.
No one else is allowed to throw anything away, either. Cindy and I try one day. We gather together a useless jumble of toys: headless dolls, trucks without wheels, broken pieces of plastic that once belonged to something, but no one remembers what, and bundle them into a cardboard box. We cart the box outside to leave for the garbage men; our father carts it back in.
“It’s all good stuff,” he says.
There is so much “good stuff” that some of the piles topple over, blocking the hallway, clogging the stairs, destroying the paths we use to get from room to room. Mounds of clutter press up against the baseboard heaters in our bedroom; Cindy shows me a tattered piece of newspaper, the edges charred and brown. She doesn’t sleep well anymore, she tells me. She’s afraid we will die in a fire that starts next to our bed.
There is so much “good stuff” that we can’t have friends visit. They might not understand the value of the rancid grease which lines the top of the stove in open baby food jars, or in the paper towers of unopened mail that arrived months ago. Our father fears visitors might blab our personal business to the neighborhood and beyond, and that, he tells us, is wrong.
No one should know anything about what goes on inside our house. What happens inside, he says, stays inside.
Along with the rest of the garbage.