When I turned eight my grandfather gave me, as a present, hundreds of used train tickets. I watched, astonished, how he tenderly rummaged the collection, recalling the purpose of various journeys. The tickets were clearly of great value to him.
My grandfather was a hoarder: he collected and was unable to discard stuff even if it were worthless things other people would throw away. His five sons have the same tendency. I remember visiting one uncle’s house: small lanes meandered between mountains of stuff. My mother prevented clutter in our house by throwing stuff out when my father wasn’t around. Only one uncle, who went into therapy, managed to rid himself of the disorder.
It’s hard to pinpoint the difference between compulsive hoarding and owning a lot of stuff. My father couldn’t pass an open trash container without taking a peek inside, and would often take out things that he thought he could use. He would also pick up things from the street like rubber bands and lost gloves. My father had great excuses for keeping stuff, like a broken pencil that was a bit like the one of his late mother. He sometimes tried to organize, but would get lost in his boxes and suitcases filled with paper. Processing information seemed to be a challenge. Maybe that’s why my father wrote down everything – names, book titles, phone numbers, ideas, summaries of conversations. He had tens of thousands of these notes: too many to be of use, but he couldn’t part with them.
My father’s passion for collecting stuff frightened and embarrassed me when I was young. Only later I realized that the disorder was much stronger than him. To understand the way he gave meaning to things, I used the 74 gloves he had collected in a project for art school. Since his death I sometimes pick up things from the street in his remembrance, like a nice chestnut or a button. But once I get home, I throw them away. Just to make sure they won’t turn into weird birthday presents.