Space Invasion

It’s hard to take pity on those that seem determined to do themselves harm. As a society and as individuals we only allow ourselves a modicutm of charity to the alcoholic or the addict. Perhaps on some level we wish that others would show a little more self control before arriving at a place of desperation and in need of help. However, many of us personally know firsthand people with a personal obsession that we tolerate or maybe to a certain degree even admire. Like functioning alcoholics we enjoy and sometimes even celebrate their asphyxiating appetites. These poor bastards are the collectors, and when their habit allows it, they walk among us.

Don’t get me wrong, collecting is fun! We are a culture of obsessive hoarders. Books, dolls, albums, CDs, beer bottles, sharks, aprons, oven mitts, guns, 45s, fetish wear, shoes, DVDs, instruments, skin-head gear, comic-books, horror kitsch, cassettes, licensed memorabilia, posters, scooters, action figures, and fashion magazines. I’ve seen collections for all of these things at the homes of various friends and acquaintances. From floor to ceiling and across ceilings you can see the signs of a person’s crap-addiction. It’s at times both sad and fascinating to behold. Some are Ikea worshipers that want a uniform aesthetic despite their predilections. There are others that are the more hardcore crap-addicts. These lost souls often opt for sheer functionality in controlling the magnificent debris of their mad purchasing and impulsive acquisitions. I’ve seen people forced by their collecting to rent out costly storage spaces for toys and books and music. Some of them make do in a state of self-imposed malnutrition simply to feed their habits. They will eat less today, because they sacrificed too much of their food budget to “the cause” last week. Urban vinyl and the world’s cutest boots sometimes mean no milk to mix with the instant mac-and-cheese.

Crap-addicts are everywhere, and they’re always looking for a place to keep their stuff. It piles up in the corners and strangles the life out of budding love affairs. Sometimes crap-addicts band together to form co-dependent relationships with other addicts that “share mutual tastes.” The houses, apartments, and rental spaces always seem to be getting bigger and bigger in a crap-addict’s life, while the room for actual living suspiciously shrinks everyday.

I recently sat down with a notorious crap-addict. His modest two-bedroom apartment is a testament to conspicuous consumerism. A DJ by trade, and a fan-boy by choice, I’ll simply refer to him as “Collector X.” Collector X started out with old G.I. Joe comic books, and eventually became a lifelong vinyl junkie. Original art, toys, movies, and posters form the labyrinth of pop-culture and plastic that he calls home. Middle-eastern themed trinkets compete for space with sci-fi kitsch and urban aesthetics. Collector X stacks paperbacks two deep in many places, and advocates making custom shelving for others like him with hundreds of kilos of vinyl to store. If asked, he’ll tell you he is currently reining his habit in, but his idiosyncrasies are as ironic and apparent as his collection of Buddha statuary. That’s right, he collects figures that he claims represent a detachment from material possessions.

Collector X told me that “It’s kind of like mastering 3D Tetris. It’s all about how you stack it.” Of the four closets he showed me, I only saw clothes in one. He says that he doesn’t want to simply “warehouse” his collection. “If you’re warehousing then you’re not really appreciating it or using it,” he says. It sounds like a perfectly rational viewpoint for anyone who owns one tenth of the posters, records and toys that Collector X does. He goes on to tell me, “I’m really ashamed that I have so many rolled prints and posters. I really wish that I had the space to hang up everything.” Hearing this, I can’t help thinking that there are more than a few galleries I’ve been to that wouldn’t have the space to display even a portion of his private collection. The collection that is so much a part of him that one can’t tell if his collection surrounds his life, or if his life surrounds his collection.

Even though I’ve known Collector X for years, and I’ve seen his collection before, it still can be mind boggling. Then he lets it drop that his girlfriend recently moved in with him. As tight as it must be for one, I can’t imagine two full-sized adults living among the toy-shop, library, and record depository. Funnier yet, she’s somewhat of a collector too.

As far as rationalization goes, Collector X says of his collecting: “It’s like I’m saving it for posterity. It’s not so much important that I possess it, but the fact that it’s somewhere out there for someone to appreciate it.” He and others I’ve spoken with see themselves almost as curators of the world’s cool. Hardcore collectors are like materialist zealots that sacrifice their living spaces, and rent out storage areas in a self-sacrificing dedication to the fetish of “must-have-it.”

Many of the collectors I’ve talked to see their collections as more than likely to outlive the collectors themselves. In their love of their stuff, they cram themselves into the tiny spaces left in between their collectibles with barely any room to live. It must be a sobering thought for them to walk through a second hand shop and see the skeletons of kindred spirits’ hard won collections. I imagine the sensation must be like stumbling over the bleached bones of your twin.

In some ways, it could be seen as an anti-Zen parable or a disease that manifests from a healthy impulse that is taken to an unhealthy extreme. People can make their living spaces morbidly obese, and impossible to function in, one small item at a time. For some reason this train of thought makes me think of those intervention talk shows on TV. It couldn’t be hard for anyone to craft all the touchy feely psycho-babble into a one-size-fits-all collector’s intervention. Maybe if I’m lucky I can pitch it to one of the writer-desperate networks for next Fall (As long as I can get DVD and internet royalties). They can give me some no talent Dr. Phil-esque loser to run the proper dialogue through. I think my ideal character/actor could even be more of a douche-bag by having wardrobe give him a lab coat and pipe ensemble to wear.

GENERIC CRAP ADDICT INTERVENTION

Listen, I’m not here to judge you. I’m not saying that you’re a bad person. I’m not even here to warn you that you’re going to end up dead in a roadside ditch somewhere unloved and unmourned if you don’t change your ways. I’m just here to propose the possibility that you might...um...possibly...have an eensie weensie problem with your love of stuff.

Hey, hold-on now. Don’t go getting all defensive already. I know that you can “stop anytime you want.” And yes there are people that have it way worse than you, but we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about YOU, and that little collection of yours.

It was cute at first. A little personality quirk. It gave voice to your passion and your individuality. It let people know that you had a certain level of commitment and dedication. It showed that you knew what you wanted, and would go to great lengths to attain it, but don’t you think that now it’s gotten a little out of hand. I mean let’s face it, you’re collection is taking life.

Now, don’t look at me like that. I’ve seen you’re place. It’s out of con-trol. You have stuff EVERYWHERE! The shelves upon shelves upon shelves are all full. You’re closets are bursting, and even the specialty storage you purchased is buckling under the weight. That shit was industrial grade! I want you to perform a little exercise with me. Close your eyes, and think about all of your stuff. It’s on top of the TV, all over your desk (and your other work area), clogging your display cases and making it damn near impossible for you to dust. I know that you go weeks without seeing your floor and/or most of your bed. That should be your wake-up call right there. You can barely see your bed!

So now, what we need is for you to take the next step. We’ve seen the evidence, now we need for you to admit to yourself that you have a problem. It’s okay, we’re all friends here, and many of us have been exactly where you are today. You don’t need to say it aloud even, just accept the fact that “I have a problem.” Then you can start down the road to recovery, and getting your life back together. You can make ready to fight your inner pack-rat and win.

Think of your life as a sinking ship scenario. One of the first things that should be done is deciding to not make the problem any worse. I want you to make a promise to yourself that, from the time you wake up tomorrow until the time you go to sleep tomorrow night, you will not buy one more thing for your collection. You won’t order anything by phone or online, you won’t stand in the purchase line at your favorite shop. You are going to go one full day without making your place anymore crowded, or your wallet anymore empty. This will be harder than it sounds, but you can do it. Reclaiming your life is a process not a destination, but it will be worth it in the end.

Imagine, there could be on the horizon for you a day where you have counter space. A new and shining life of surface area and freedom could be yours!

At this point I’d want the crap-addict to skip past the acting out phase and right into the weepy acceptance. There would be hugs and tissues for everyone as the credits rolled and the commercials were cued up. The main sponsors of course would be Ikea and Home Depot, with an occasional PSA about how stealing milk crates is a crime worse than illegal downloading and bestial pedophilia.