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The hell of hoarding

  • 20 January 2012

Many months ago, my parents set down the law: armed with boxes of my childhood memorabilia, they informed me that their shed would no longer serve as storage for their offspring.

This was amid one of their episodic spring cleans following the realisation that sometimes some people die under piles of their own things only to be found weeks later half eaten by cats, a la the Collyer brothers; that there's evidence to suggest hoarding is a genetic predisposition; and that members of our family indulge that predisposition.

In recent weeks, preparing for a long-term overseas trip, I've had to confront these realities myself. But back then, presented with that pile of boxes that only marginally increased my number of unnecessary possessions, I was none the wiser.

I opened the boxes and fingered through the old letters and postcards from friends from primary school, merit certificates, love letters and birthday cards, then positioned the boxes under my bed where I wouldn't have to acknowledge their existence again. Until I next moved house.

When I did move house, the inconvenience of all my things revealed itself. Among my possessions was 100% Hits '99 (a great compilation for its day), a dressing gown I had owned for over ten years whose fibre had eroded beyond practicality, and a stack of vintage National Geographics with fetishised pictures of nude and noble savages. I reluctantly sifted through the lot, filling bags for trash and charity.

I threw away loads of stuff during that move, none of which I actually missed — and still managed to completely fill my new bedroom and partial hallway with stuff that had no practical application in my day-to-day existence.

I found an old suitcase of art supplies I had lugged with me in and out of three houses and barely opened. (Just because I don't paint doesn't mean I won't one day — hoarder logic.) Inside the case, among the hundreds of pencils, paint tubes and brushes was a plastic bag with something like a limp rat in it.

I was shocked for the few seconds it took me to recollect that it was not actually a dead animal but a full head of my own hair from the time I shaved my head, around two years earlier.

I imagine that when I