Every now and then I stumble across an episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive,” and I’m glued—and terrified. Each episode features someone with “hoarding disorder” living in a garbage dump stored inside a house. The show is simultaneously revolting and fascinating, especially because you and I don’t live that way. But could we? After all, hoarders don’t want to be hoarders any more than you or I want to gain 25 pounds.
I mentioned several blogs ago that my Dad was a hoarder. So was my Mom. I know this because it took over two years of weekends and vacation time to clean out their house. Now, it was nowhere near the proportions you’ve seen on Hoarders; we were able to walk through rooms, mostly, and there were no floor to ceiling mounds of empty cans, used paper plates and take out containers. But there were lots of piles.
One day, I was working on a pile as tall, wide and long as the couch behind it. I had a bag for garbage, a bag for shredding, a crate for train magazines and a box for trains. Gloved and masked, I set to work, proceeding slowly and carefully, which paid off when I found the title to Dad’s car in between two Model Railroader magazines. Two hours later I could see the rust colored rug, circa 1977, peeking through the debris. And then, the surprise:
When I asked Dad about it, he said, “Oh yeah. Your Mother bought that book for me. I guess I buried it,” he joked. I suppose my Mom’s death 15 years earlier, combined with living alone in a 5 bedroom house were significant factors. Dad was a collector; he enjoyed the thrill of the bargain at least, if not more, than owning the item.
I’m not a collector, but I have saved and stored lots of things I no longer need. “I might need/read/wear/use that” is the slippery slope at the bottom of which is me on an episode of Hoarders, engaged in a tug of war over the rotting carcass of a dead chicken. Books that I’ve read that I may want to read again sit on shelves, untouched. Clothes that I never wear are hung in my closet or tossed in drawers, taking up the space I need to store the things I actually use. The basement shelf used to store paint cans is so packed that it might collapse under its own weight, falling on top of the lot of lamps I will never use. My Mom saved a dress she’d made for me to wear as a flower girl many years’ ago. Now I’m saving it. For what? Where is the line between “storing” and “hoarding”?
Dad was the way he was. He grew up during the Depression, when having and saving things meant security and frugality. His model train collection gave him a lifetime of joy, which is priceless, regardless of how much it’s now worth. For me, selling his trains while getting rid of my own stuff is a way of making room for my life and new adventures to come. The things we hold onto can trigger memories, but are useless when tucked away on a shelf or stored in the basement. We only have so much room in our homes and in our lives; we don’t need our hearts to be cluttered. I suppose the key is to let go of the things that no longer serve or delight us to create the space for renewal.
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Every year my father participated in his model railroad club’s “Open House,” an all-day event where anyone can stop in to see the club’s working layout. Occasionally, we went as a family. I hated it. There’s just only so much “don’t touch” train-watching a kid can take.
Beware the sentence, “I’ll never, ever….” A few weeks ago I found myself at a three-day regional conference of the National Model Railroader’s Association. A conference includes tours of local member layouts (you get a map, drive to somebody’s home and spend an hour in their basement) and operating sessions, where you do the same as above but participate in running someone’s home layout as if it were a real railroad. During “Ops Sessions” a dispatcher hands you instructions to “form” a train, car by car, and take it from “A” to “B” by a certain time. There are also scratch-built (hand-made) best-in-show modeling contests along with raffles and auctions—so you can take home more of the same stuff I’m trying to get rid of.
But oh, the clinics! These are hour-long seminars on topics of interest to modelers. For the rest of us, the clinic titles and descriptions are about as riveting as a three-page long physics equation. Here’s a sampling:
- Modeling Oversized Loads
- Tack Boards, Route Boards and Placards
- Concrete Viaducts of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (Note: Modelers argue about the color of concrete.)
- The Case for Car Float Staging
During one session I attended, the presenter asked, “What color is your ballast?” Ballast is the gravel layer that forms the track bed for the ties and rails. His point? Layout ballast shouldn’t all be the same color because it isn’t in real life. The next time you’re on a train, you’ll look on the ground and realize—he’s right. Like the presenter, some modelers are on an endless mission to create prototype layouts that are exactingly realistic.
I’m a dabbler; not a diver. I have many interests, to the point where I often find myself struggling to decide which ones to pursue. That’s why I know I won’t become a model railroader, although I have ample supplies on hand should I change my mind. But I get it. If you’ve got a passion for model railroading, it will be a source of endless fascination. The hobby is interesting, engaging and multi-faceted; it activates the creative mind, requires the continuous acquisition of new knowledge and skills and provides a social circle of comrades who love wearing striped railroad engineer caps adorned with buttons and patches. To those who love them: Be thankful they’re not into anything worse.