The Hoarding Urge

On a good day – I sell more than I buy. That’s how I make my living and support my family. I buy stuff and then I sell it. Hopefully, I can read the market good enough that I am able to buy for a lower price than I sell things. Sadly (for me, but I suppose good for the sellers I buy from) – sometimes I buy things that are not worth even as much as I pay for them. I like to think that doesn’t happen very often – but the truth is – it happens a lot. Usually the stuff I can’t sell goes in a box to Goodwill or the Hospice Thrift Shop- last week I donated two truck loads to the Elks thrift shop – I’m a frequent donator of stuff that doesn’t fit in my shop or stuff that I’m tired of looking at. And then, I also have a very full shop – and despite the fact that I’ve recently limited my buying – the shop seems to be getting more full. It’s not magic – I know why this is happening – in fact it is a good thing. (Drumroll because here is my confession)

I was a closet hoarder.

Right now, all you will find in my closet are clothes and shoes – at the beginning of the year – my closets were filled with tubs and crates. The drawers of my desk and dresser are now empty – but at the beginning of the year they were filled with parts of my hoard. My curio cabinet has a few things in it – but at the start of the year it was crammed full of ‘treasures’. My covered utility trailer has a couple of bicycles in it right now, but at the start of the year – it was filled with full tubs of more of my hoard. The storeroom and 2nd bathroom and the office in my shop were all filled to the brim with stuff – but finally I have managed to get them back to a manageable level. You can walk in them now and get to everything, but there is still work to do.

What was all this stuff? If you had asked me a few months ago – I would have told you it was treasure – stuff that was worth huge amounts of money – but now, I can tell you that while there were some valuables mixed in – the majority of that stuff was just mid range and low end antique store stuff – piles and piles and piles of it. Old marbles, boxes of antique post cards, vintage mechanical pencils, viewmaster reels, jazz records, boxes full of one hundred year old letters, four kids stamp collections from the 1950s and 1960s, binders full of $1-$10 baseball cards from the 1980s and 1990s, foreign coin collections, boxes of Bronze age comics worth anywhere from $1-$5, old cameras, about twenty-five pairs of vintage women’s gloves, more than a dozen sliderules, hundred year old eyeglasses, books I liked or wanted to read or thought were interesting, five separate rock collections, three rusty bikes from the 1960s, a Nintendo Wii and forty games, a bunch of older Nintendo stuff, and more…but that was the good stuff, under that was the stuff I was saving for a garage sale, the stuff not good enough to sell but that I was strangely attached to, pairs of shoes I wore long enough to put holes in them, old t-shirts I planned to use for rags, a car seat cover, golf clubs (I don’t golf), gold pans, car taillights, tools I don’t know the use of – it goes on and on. That’s the stuff I’ve been taking to the thrift shops – there is much more of that – things I might need but have had long enough it is not likely I will need them, cleaning products, seasonal flags, oh, my god, so much stuff – bags full of pens and pencils, dozens of staplers, sets of chipped dishes –

Why was I hoarding all this stuff? I can recognize a couple of reasons – first, it’s my job to get as much value out of every item I come across as I can. 2nd – while I was unable to find value at the moment – I saw potential value and hoped that the value would increase. 3rd – there was a sort of security and comfort in having those piles of stuff – knowing it was there just in case I needed it or needed to sell it – but, at some point, that changed – the stuff started to feel very heavy (rocks and coins and metal tools and car parts and other heavy stuff, but the light stuff too). I began to feel owned by the stuff and it just kept piling up in my closet, in my trailer, in my storage units (when I had them which I’m happy to say that I do not any longer). The stuff was crushing me.

So I started unloading it, putting it on the shelves to see if it would sell, listing it on ebay, and taking it to the thrift shops if I didn’t sell it elsewhere. And a funny thing happened…

As a dealer and a guy who runs the occasional estate sale, I’ve been in hoarders hoards. I’ve crawled through places that would make the American Pickers turn and run – and the funny thing I’ve found is that the hoarders generally have a mixture of the good, the mediocre, and the crappy – and there is usually really good stuff that has been allowed to fall into irretrievable ruin. Paintings allowed to mold, metal allowed to rust away, dishes that were valuable but now chipped and broken. Garbage mixed in with family treasures. As I began emptying my hoard and putting price tags on it and putting it on the shelves – I discovered the answer to how that happened.
When I got to the very back of my covered utility trailer, I found that it had developed a leak and three boxes were sitting in a puddle of water. In the back of my closet – mold had started to grow on the walls and then had jumped to the back of a painting, my tools in the toolbox had started to rust. Mice had chewed into a box of papers and made a nest. Mold, oh the awfulness of mold. Given time, Oregon will turn a hoard of the most valuable antiques and collectibles into a big pile of rust, mold, dirt, and trash. And yes, I found that somehow – there was even trash mixed in my treasure. If that process had been allowed to continue, my treasure would have mixed with my piles of ‘take to the thrift shop stuff’ and my throw away stuff and my ‘this might be useful sometime stuff’ and eventually – it would have become a big trashy hoard.

I still buy – but my closets and drawers and trailer are empty. My storerooms are getting emptier by the day and my shop is getting more full. It feels good to have all that treasure out where it can become someone elses. And here is something I learned long ago which is hard to put into practice. If you have something you think is valuable but you don’t know the value – you are probably going to overestimate it or not try to sell it and just sock it away until you know more. But when you try to sell it and no one buys it and then you lower the price and no one buys it and you lower the price even lower and no one buys it and maybe you even try to give it away for next to nothing and no one wants it – then the urge to put that away disappears and it is very easy to give it away or throw it away. The hoarder, in many cases, doesn’t want to know that there is no value in most of the hoard because if they knew, they wouldn’t want it any longer.

The stuff you aren’t selling isn’t doing you any good.