Many of you who know me as an acquaintance are often shocked to hear one of my deepest, darkest secrets: I am a hoarder. Although not as bad as the hoarding cases featured on reality TV, I am definitely on the fringes of that world. I have always been this way, from my earliest memories. No one can explain why, not even me.
Although I like neat environments, I don’t feel particularly compelled to keep one. As with neat freaks, my hoarding behavior seems to stem from underlying anxiety. I have come to view my stuff as a weird comfort and I tend to see the redundancy of things like putting the laundry away as a waste of energy. When there is stuff lying around, an intruder will bang into something should he or she manage to get into my home. This will create noise and maybe give me an extra second or two to wake or reach the phone or get out through a window. In a neat environment, such a person could sneak up on me and overtake me. Weapons of opportunity are not as visible if they are covered by magazines or towels or if books are sitting on top of them.
My car is identical to my living space. I keep a blanket, shovel, my bike rack (in winter), extra antifreeze and fluids, a broom, a stool, my speaker stands, foldaway table, an old camera tripod, and large plastic bags in the back seat. These things all have a purpose for when I am driving, lest I get stuck somewhere or come upon an accident. Many of the other items are things I carry in and out of coffeehouses for my shows, and it’s just easier to leave them there. It’s also harder for a criminal to hide out in my backseat, lying in wait for me to return to the car in the dark. When I am in “fitness mode”, I tend to leave extra sneakers on the passenger side floor, along with my yoga mat. I have some extra gloves and a pair of boots for winter. At any given time, you might find four or five pairs of sunglasses floating around in there, or paperwork from an oil change back in 2005.
Maybe I shouldn’t be okay with this, but I usually am. That is, until something goes wrong with the car and I have to take it to be serviced, or someone wants a ride. I have managed to come up with every excuse in the book to explain my stuff to mechanics or to convince someone I really want to give them a ride but cannot. I’ve taken to being honest lately, and even so people do not believe how my car is until they see it. Then they politely defer the ride and I am left embarrassed. When the question of a ride comes up, it’s like when someone unexpectedly rings my doorbell: I panic.
I panic because I know people will judge me for this behavior. I panic because I fear people will look at me in disgust. I panic because of what the landlord might say, even though my place is not “food and waste” dirty (it’s just full of books and magazines and gym equipment and clothes and pet toys). I panic because I fear people will think of less of me if they know the truth.
I am facing the “ride” situation with regard to a trip to Philadelphia next Monday to see the band Arcade Fire. I bought two tickets several months back, with the hope of finding someone who could come along. I rarely get to see a concert with another person, and I thought it would be fun. I also thought that once this “concert mate” decided to come along, I could somehow convince him or her that we should take the train or that they should drive and I pay for everything else.
That’s not going to happen this time, however. My friend is giving me the well-meant “I don’t care, my car is a mess too” promise, leaving me in a sudden rush to at least straighten up my front seat. In the coming days, I will have to dedicate another hour or so just to make it tolerable for her. My fear is that it won’t be clean enough, especially if she is a neat freak. I have horrific ideas about the things she might say about me and my car to our other friends, or to her friends I’ve never met. This person has never spent a good chunk of time with me either, and my quirky personality might make things worse. I am as nervous as I would be if Arcade Fire themselves wanted me to drive them to the show, maybe more so since they are not people I interact with every weekend and who know the same people I know. They are a quirky band, so maybe they would “get” me. But most regular people do not think as I do, and I am acutely aware of this in these situations.
The same thing happened when a friend insisted we take my car to a U2 concert in Pittsburgh a few years ago. I was all set to take the train and tried explaining how relaxing the train is and how much time we will get to chat and whatnot, to no avail. She said if I didn’t want to drive, she would drive my car (gas prices were the issue. I have a Honda sedan and she has a Hummer). I think I spent the better part of an entire day moving things into the apartment and dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming, things that happen once or twice a year, maybe. I am sure my neighbors were looking on, as they will be tomorrow, as I burrow and dig and rearrange things. They’ve all seen the inside of my car, for sure, as they walk past it en route to the front door.
I have, over the course of my life, made promise after promise to myself and to others that I will change my behavior. I meant it each time. But I am now middle-aged, and I know this behavior is part and parcel with my personality. I am not sure how to make myself want to change. Any short-lived efforts I’ve made in the past have been centered on what other people want. Like losing weight or quitting smoking to impress others, it doesn’t last because I need to want it badly enough. That, and I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with it.