I Am Not a Hoarder; I Am a Hoarder

My wife spread her arms as if to point out something egregious, something obvious and no-duh-ish. Her arms seemed to be indicating our living room. I scanned it. Nothing was amiss. I squinted. This was my way of letting her continue.

“Your books,” she said. “Don’t you think this is hoarding? How many have you read?”

The fact that I didn’t want to answer that question (the answer: half) indicated that I was guilty. But certainly, I was no hoarder. Right?

I always thought my health book collecting habits was my way of rebelling against the book-lessness of my childhood. Or the arduous “Spring Cleaning” routines my mother enacted on all of my possessions every year. Books were sacred, their numbers an improvement to any household.

When I first started collecting books, none of them were new books. In college and just out of college, working my first job, new books were astronomically expensive to me. So, I went to used bookstores and library sales. Who could pass up a pristine-looking book for $1? Not me.

But in the last five years, I made my way into the new book economy and have amassed new books with a sort of reckless abandon. Now, my “to read” pile is no longer a pile: it’s an entire bookcase or maybe two if I’m being super honest.

Japan has a name for such a thing: tsundoku. The definition: the act of amassing reading material without reading all of it and continuing to do so until there are piles of books that remain unread. Yeah. That’s me. When I first heard of the term, I wore it like a badge of honor mostly because I didn’t feel alone anymore. And I still kind of do feel pretty good about being included in that term’s definition. Books mean a lot to me. Heck, it’s a huge part of my profession.

“Collecting books isn’t hoarding,” I said, thinking once again about how I loved to just sit in my recliner and look around at the intentions, at the books awaiting me. Some day.

“Alright then,” she said. And I didn’t argue. Perhaps deep down I knew that the argument was not over. There was more. And that more came in the form of a genetics test.

The genetics test bug occurred after three family members we knew had them done. The results were interesting, and the tests themselves were getting cheaper and cheaper. A sale popped up on one of our feeds, so we took the plunge.

Let’s take a break and say how it is to spit profusely into a kind of plastic-y test tube, taking breaks so that saliva can regain its standard levels before going back to more spitting. And all of this to find this fanciful thing called “ancestry.” As if the kings and queens that we are all supposedly related to now reside in our spit. Perhaps such is fitting.

I knew I was going to have some Neanderthal genes. My uncle on my mother’s side had some on his genetic test results. Same with my uncle on my father’s side. But I didn’t realize that I would have 70% more Neanderthal genes then others who took this genetics test.

Sure, it’s sort of a novelty thing to have a miniscule amount of a species of humans that the larger majority of my genetic code, Home Sapiens, probably destroyed. It’s not serious. But I flipped through the traits I could have inherited with some curiosity. I’m less likely to have a fear of heights (untrue); more likely to have a bad sense of direction (true); more likely to have detached earlobes (true); and more likely to prefer sweet foods over salty foods (untrue).

We were in the basement, watching TV, when the results pinged us on our smartphones. We paused the show we were watching and started scrolling, amazed at all the information spitting in a tube could give you nowadays.

It wasn’t long before I started scrolling through my Neanderthal data.

“So here is what Neanderthals have bestowed upon me: I get bad reactions to mosquitos.”

“Dude, that one sucks,” said my wife.

“Mortal enemies, I guess.”

“How come there are no cave paintings with the dreaded mosquito?”

“Maybe mosquitos looked like bison and bovines back in those days.”

“Everything was big back then.”

“Okay. Next. Wait. No!”


And that’s when I told her the next trait: “Having difficulty discarding rarely-used possessions.”

She laughed. I laughed too, but it was the kind of laugh where your face wants to scrunch up because you are pondering this new way of looking at yourself that you had previously found distasteful.

I have this memory of helping my sister move twice when she was in college. Each move carried more furniture with it, and the moving vans were filled and filled. And many of those boxes my sister carted onto those trucks were filled with an unseemly amount of shoes. My sister was a scavenger, finding furniture waiting to go to the dump or finding clothes at thrift stores.

So, I did what siblings do: I poked fun at her. The first time I helped her move and did some brotherly ridiculing, her collection grew. After the second, she called me in triumph, “I got rid of a ton of shoes. You should have seen the Goodwill delivery.”

In that basement, scrolling through some weird opening of who I was, I started putting it all together: the college shirts I still had, the box full of middle school and high school notes my friends and I wrote, the chest in the basement full of my high school athletic uniforms, all the books I had purchased and never read, the electronics I had stopped using but kept because how do you throw away electronics?

And then the Goodwill trips that occur bi-monthly. I always drag my feet, scrounging around in my closet, trying to figure out what future event will occur where I will wear something in my closet that I haven’t worn ever or haven’t worn in ages.

I didn’t think I was this crazy hoarder you see on reality shows who hoards used toothpicks and unread magazines. I was a hoarder in plain sight to those around me but just not enough that it wasn’t apparent to me.

Does that mean I need to change my ways? Eh. I like my books. I am tsundoku, alright? But all that other stuff I have, yeah, I probably should at least own up to the fact that I have a problem getting rid of stuff. It would make things easier.

It’s funny how we are mysteries unto ourselves, and yet we seem to be always in denial of that fact. I mean, today more so than ever: the internet might know more about us than we do sometimes.

As a teacher–especially as a teacher–I usually go through life operating under the plain fact that I won’t ever know everything. The one authority I should be is the authority of being open-minded and curious. Funny how the one thing we think we know, ourselves, is something we need to be mindful of too. Hard to let our guard down with that, but, really, can we really know ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that we don’t know ourselves?Man. That’s a head-hurter.