National Commentary

Johnny’s World: Hoarder

weir-mugIf the average American’s life expectancy is somewhere between 75 and 80 years, that’s 75 to 80 years of collecting, nostalgia, memorabilia and inheritance.

While I was catching up on “Downton Abbey,” a scene struck a nerve. Two main characters were walking through a new home they’d purchased, and whilst the male fiancé gabbed about going shopping to decorate, the young lady character said that his set buys things while her set inherits them.

Of course, having never lived in England, I only vaguely understood the tone of “common” in the lady’s statement, but it did get me wondering about the things I’ve accumulated over the years (either through purchase or inheritance) and why I (or anyone else for that matter) collect.

Growing up with somewhat limited means, my closet didn’t start taking shape until I was old enough to make my own money and spend it on frivolous, sometimes ridiculous, designer goods. As a young boy, nothing seemed more glamorous, or like a greater statement of wealth, than a fur coat. I dreamed the mighty dream of one day owning one.

As I got older, my mother started to clue into my eclectic and expensive tastes. For a good performance or a special occasion, we would trek together to King of Prussia Mall, or even check eBay to find a designer piece from Gucci or Versace better suited to my parents’ bank account and my growing body.

With those first purchases I remembered everything about the outings, and saved everything from the outings. The trips became more than just shopping with mom; they became grand outings. Everything – down to the price tags and strings that attached them to their labels – was saved, categorized, and noted in a special notebook I kept for these sorts of things. I made a vow very early on never to forget how hard I or my parents worked to buy these things and to remember every detail about how my collection came to be. I can still quote the event to which I wore the piece, my age when I wore it, the price of the garment (before and after haggling), and its significance, or lack thereof, in the designer’s collection.

When I grew up and started shopping with my own finances, gone were the restrictions of shopping with mom and her reminders to be fiscally responsible. If something had an LV on it, regardless of what it was, I’d buy it. If I was in a boutique and buying a Prada shoe bag seemed like a good idea, it would happen. It seemed that my gentle need to just collect my favorite things was getting away from me. I was consuming at an inexhaustible rate, and for what? I would generally only wear the good stuff once in a while, so why collect so much? Did I really need undershirts by Armani instead of Gap? Probably not.

I was obsessed with my image there for a time, and what my peers thought of me. I’d buy Von Dutch trucker hats and Puma sneakers, and not because I wanted them.

If someone had one pair and they were thought to be cool, I would have 20 pairs of the same shoe, just to be the best. I was growing as a person in many ways around 19 and 20 years old, but I had suddenly become aware of what others thought of me as my career was taking off in a big way and everything I did was scrutinized.

I finally got to feel what the popular kids in high school felt. The need to impress while going through a strange life period where you are slightly unsure of yourself and constantly caring about how you’re perceived while trying to give the world and your peers what you think they want. I turned to hoarding clothes as my mask.

As time has gone by, I’ve calmed down and started shopping like I did with mom, for things I like. But the tradition of savoring every detail and moment of my excursions isn’t lost. For every dollar I’ve spent, I have a lifetime of memories, buried deep in my furs, cashmeres, and rhinestones.