Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Hoarding and Spending

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Total Black: $1,160.18
Total Red: $229,702.52

Another night with bubbles and boys.  I worked two shifts at the theatre tonight.  And between shifts, while I ate, I relaxed a bit and read more of Mind Over Money by Brad and Ted Klontz.  In Chapter 7 they discuss what they refer to as money-worshiping disorders, “disorders that place  disproportionate amount of importance on money: earning it, saving it, spending it.”  They go to note that all three disorders  “share a common thread in that they all arise from scripts that equate money with safety, self-worth, and/or happiness.”  The section on hoarding really struck a cord.

My father was a pack-rat.  Like many families we had a junk drawer—that multipurpose location where everything went.  It was located in what my parents referred to as the bodhka (boo-dka): a small storage area between the screen door to the outside and the main door into the house.  I don’t really know the English word for it: sort of like an external pantry or an closed-off vestibule area.  Larder is a word I found that seems to be closer in function to what we had, but not exactly on point.  The potatoes and onions were kept there.  At any rate, this inner porch area was a dumping ground for everything that didn’t clearly fit someplace else.  Canning lids, tools, gardening tools, seed packets, shoelaces, plastic bags, clothes pins—you name it and it probably had at least a cameo role at one point in that space.  My sister and I were uneasy growing up but we couldn’t have ever pinpointed why.  It wasn’t until years later, after we had moved away and experienced how other families set-up their homes, that we could begin to voice our frustrations.   My family kept underwear and socks in drawers under the bathroom sink.  Towels weren’t kept in the bathroom, well not any we could use; we had a bath towel bar and a hand towel ring—but those weren’t used to dry our bath towels or hand towels.  Instead they kept nice towels on display for guests—just in case one ever dropped by unannounced.  Our bath towels were kept in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator, with random odds and ends in the same drawer underneath: blank labels used for freezer items, krazy glue, loose keys never to find their counterparts.  Growing up we brought clothes from our bedrooms and towels from the kitchen to the bathroom to take a shower.  Now my sister and I poke fun at our family’s wacky systems but I suspect part of it stemmed from a simple lack of space—everyplace else was filled.

This all came painfully back to me one summer during law school when I was back at my parent’s home in the Scranton area.  My parents decided to sell the house I grew up in and move into my grandmother’s house just nearby.  I had to clear out the cellar in the old house.  The junk I pulled out of that cellar filled a 20-foot long dumpster.  The old vanity, after the bathroom was remodeled, got reassigned to the cellar.  Bicycles from when I was a child—rusted beyond repair.  Warped, rotting, moldy planks of wood.  A toy chest, porch shades, vinyl records, old sleighs, and on and on.  Let’s just say that my father kept anything he thought might have some future use or sentimental value.  And it’s not a surprise given his upbringing.  As the Klontzes note, “The Great Depression and the wartime shortages that followed created many compulsive hoarders: people who washed and saved used aluminum foil, stashed hundred-dollar bills in coffee cans hidden all over the house, and mistrusted and avoided financial institutions for decades.”  That was my neighborhood.  A few years robbers stole thousands of dollars from an elderly couple’s home.

How does any of this relate to me?  I’m the exact opposite of my father.  I don’t hold on to any sort of junk.  If it’s not a photograph or a letter or something personalized and irreplaceable, it gets trashed or recycled.  My mother still has an odd array of mismatched silverware—even though I bought her a new set one Christmas.  Instead she opted to use that as the formal ware and continued using her old set(s).  There’s only one exception to my antipackratism: when it involves knowledge or information.  And that’s what hit me while reading this chapter.  The newspapers I referenced back in my first post, In Medias Res—they’re still in my apartment, currently piled on the couch, waiting to be read.  Visitors to my apartment are often awestruck, and sometimes intimidated, by the number of books I have—the vast majority of which I never read.  For quite a long time, books were a salve to any emotional ache.  If I had the book in my possession, it meant I was that much closer to having the knowledge.  I was that much smarter.  And—there was a chance I wouldn’t remember the title again and thus lose that knowledge forever.  Friends who visited recently throw their hands up in confusion at the pile of newspapers.  “They’re all online,” they’d exclaim.  Yes.  But going on-line implies you know what you’re looking for.  Flipping through the physical copy means you may come across an article on pyramids in Bhutan, for example, that you’d never search for, but would read because it’s there in black and white in front of you.  So, I’m an information pack-rat, a knowledge troll.  And it’s probably only due to the number of moves I’ve made in the past ten years that I’m not drowning in paperwork like the mother and daughter in the film “Grey Gardens.”  Yes, I’m exaggerating for emphasis, but the point still holds.

I’ve been aware of my book weakness for some time now.  And really I haven’t bought a book probably since my trip to Orlando when I purchased Mind Over Money.  But the clutter in the apartment is another factor.  And one point that comes through loud and clear in Mind Over Money is that disorganization is often a symptom of some other financial “disorder.”

So . . . it’s time for some spring cleaning: mental and apartmental.

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