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Listener Essay - A Secret Hoarder

Barbara Redfield is a retired teacher and writer in Big Indian, New York.

A Secret Hoarder

Last Wednesday a Hudson Valley auctioneer, came to pick up my beloved antiques and family memorabilia. My secret confession is that I am a borderline "hoarder". I have been careful to hide the "stuff" in boxes and closets out of sight of friends, relatives and particularly from my own everyday world.

Unfortunately my addiction to saving, rescuing and just plain acquiring has had many hidden-from-sight storage areas... an attic, two large walk in closets, a basement and a separate large storage room. Needless to say all of them were packed to the rafters! This is all in addition to a house that was decorated in what some might call "cluttered Victoriana". I, however, prefer to remember my goddaughter walking in one day at age 6 and saying, "Aunt Barb, I didn't know you lived in a museum!"

I imagine that most hoarders have an irrational rationalization for their hoarding habit. Mine, of course, is very rational. First, the value of these most precious things would always go up and would provide a wonderful nest egg for my retirement. I, after all, had a great "eye" for things that were fabulous finds. I had watched as the crocks and jugs with fanciful designs of cobalt blue flowers and birds increased from $25. at yard sales to one hundred plus dollars, if you were lucky enough to find one. The baskets were another example of huge inflation. Some of the collection hanging in my kitchen were purchased for ten and fifteen dollars and the last time I saw similar ones, they were priced at fifty and a hundred dollars. I have forced myself to stay away from yard sales, antique shops and fairs, knowing that there was no room in my closets and the temptation would be too great to break my promise to myself never to buy another antique.

The second rationalization to protect and store this stuff has been to pass on these cherished family heirlooms to my daughters. Notice it is no longer "stuff" but now "cherished heirlooms" and "protect" as if there was a plot a foot to destroy the stuff. Now the reality is that neither daughter has much desire and less space to accommodate Victorian armoires or portraits of long lost relatives that are 3'X5' in ornate gold frames.

I have been talking about selling these antiques for the last ten years. Only now that the financial and practical reality has made the decision for me, have I been able to bring myself to actually do it. As the truck from the auction house drove off, I felt the tears trickling down my face. It felt like a death in the family.

My family and friends have been saying "you will feel so much lighter" "now you will be able to start fresh without being bogged down". "It will be great to clear out the clutter". None of this makes me feel better it only reminds me of what I have lost, of my failure in passing it on to the next generation. The mental pictures of some of the things are screaming out to me ...


Your great grandfather saved those files from Tammany Hall and hid them for Boss Tweed they have been in the Rodie Coal Company office in Kingston all these years and now you have sold them!


Your grandmother got this china as a wedding present at Eden Hill in Poughkeepsie and now you have sold it!


Your great grandmother arranged flowers in this vase on West Chestnut Street in Kingston and now you have sold it!


Your ancestor brought this back from Japan on Admiral Perry's ship when trading with Japan first began and now you have sold it.


This etching was done by Timothy Cole who contributed to "The Daily Graphic" which was the first illustrated daily newspaper in the world owned by James William Hinkley your great grandfather and now you have sold it.

All of these antiques come alive in my mind like animated characters in a Disney movie marching in a line, each individual thing is shouting at me. The loss of each family heirloom is a mini death. I am embarrassed to admit that cumulatively it feels like a full blown death. I know they are only "things" but each one has a story and they are gone forever!

Now, I believe that every death creates space for something new to emerge and that all death is followed by a rebirth of some kind. To honor this belief, even though today I feel that death has me firmly in its grip, I bought a ticket to Bangkok Thailand yesterday leaving on January third and returning on May first. I am going to test the theory that there will be a rebirth. I plan to take only one carry-on suitcase.

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