Before "hoarders," there were pack rats.
It's a more benign, cuddly term, suggestive of a mild eccentricity rather than a full-blown pathology.
Move over, Biggest Loser. With the advent of Hoarders on A&E and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC, pack rats have become the latest pariah class paraded before the public stockade of reality television.
I happily admit to being a pack rat. Who else still owns their original Beatles trading cards?
Hoarder? Not so much.
We are, to put it mildly, getting mixed messages about the relative dangers and merits of hanging onto our stuff. The chasm between the hoards and the hoardings has never been greater.
Shows such as Antiques Roadshow on PBS spotlight the shrewd descendants who hung onto their family treasures when everyone else was upgrading. This Old House celebrates those who chose restoration over renovation. Old stuff can be good stuff — and those who recognized that truth, before it was fashionable, are sometimes handsomely rewarded.
In a famous case in Ohio, an anonymous couple discovered the identity of a painting that had been in the family for generations. It turned out to be a long-lost painting by early American master Frederic Edwin Church — authenticated by the Dayton Art Institute, valued at $1.5 million to $2 million, and ultimately sold to a private buyer at a Sotheby's auction.
What if the owners had unloaded it at a garage sale? Score one for the pack rats, er, hoarders.
On the other hand, remember when folks "invested" in Beanie Babies in the hopes of financing their kids' college education? They'd be lucky to unload their collections at a garage sale.
This is not to make light of true clinical cases of hoarding, which, as evidenced by Hoarders, can be a true disability and even a public health menace. It's not just a made-for-TV malady, either. I knew a woman who needed 16 city Dumpsters to remove all the junk from her mansion.
There does come a point when you don't own your stuff, but your stuff owns you. It's no way to live.
But I see a certain poverty in not having any tangible treasures that connect your present to your past. I feel grateful to my mother, that matriarchal pack rat, for saving my childish art work, scrapbooks and scribblings.
I cherish my mother's childhood copy of Little Women and my grandmother's engagement locket. I find it hard to throw away a letter from a friend.
To hoard or not to hoard? A lot of it just comes down to personality. I have a beloved aunt and uncle who unloaded most of their possessions and have been happily RV-ing ever since.
I'm happy for them; I really am.
Especially since they gave me their childhood copies of Winnie the Pooh.