Adventures in hoarding

In order to make our transition to the hoarding lifestyle more efficient, it was decided[1] that we would take our basement playroom and turn it into a storage unit.

Part of that impetus was having to clear out my mother-in-law’s room at her retirement facility after her move to a rehab center; we had to have a place to store that furniture, some of which are “family pieces.” But it was also decided[1] that we would shut down the storage unit and bring all that stuff home as well. [To be sure, this was the correct decision.]

We did at least hire the sturdy men of A Better Way Moving to do the heavy lifting, i.e., all of it.

So here are some thoughts.

The storage unit contained not only furniture (“family pieces”) but also boxes of papers and files and certificates from our two careers. (Obviously we were paying to store a bunch of stuff that only our biographers in the multiverse would ever want to go through.) I decided that I would load all my boxes into my car and deal with them myself.

The first box I pulled off the shelf was full of drawings and stuff from the 2007 William Blake’s Inn workshop. (Also, since I haven’t really announced it on this blog, look!)

So we’re going to regard that as a positive omen. And then, in a box of empty notebooks, the first one I opened had this:

The script of the “Epilogue” from that 2007 performance. It’s enough to make you believe in fate.

What else did I schlep home?

I had this box of empty notebooks as well as a larger plastic tub of them. Why?

And the plaques/awards… Many are framed certificates — STAR Teacher awards from the school, system, and regional levels, that kind of thing — and can be removed and filed. (Hold that thought.) There were one or two awards I don’t remember winning. Innovative teacher of the year? I suppose I was, but I don’t remember achieving that.

The plaques themselves… What do you do with them? You can’t burn them. More work is required, but I can’t see any use for them other than maybe take a photo for the historical record and then dump them. (Full disclosure: I currently have in our bedroom awards acknowledging my contributions to the State STAR Student program; the Governor’s Honors Program; and the general well-being of our community in the form of the Richard Brooks Visionary Award of Distinction, a tale full of giggles if you only knew. Somewhere in the house is a plaque from the Newnan Theatre Company.)

I also brought home some antique technology:

l to r: My father’s 8mm film projector, my SE/30 Macintosh, and my PowerBook 190 (my first laptop). Whatever am I supposed to do with these?

There is also a tub of music, which surprised me since I thought I retrieved all my old scores months ago. I’ll report back when I’ve had time to go through those. Otherwise, there’s a box of 8mm home movies from last century, and a tub of GHP material which I will have to go through.

Then, in a stack of larger framed items, there was this.

This unprepossessing piece of art was actually an award from some art show when I was a youth. My art teacher, the unforgettable Tom Powers, was always over-the-top in his descriptions of pieces that he would bring in for us to see, and his description of this was in that vein:

Transcription: “PEARS” / Original ink painting by…. / LILI RENE’ / Famous French artist whose work has been exhibited all over the world and sold for some of the finest collections….Known for the boldness and originality of her work… / Market Value….. $25.00

More than 50 years ago, children, a $25.00 painting was kind of a big deal.

Still, I never really liked it, and I’ve never had it framed or displayed. I mean, “bold and original”? Even at 14 (or whenever) I thought it was mediocre. It was consigned to the storage unit.

But my curiosity was piqued: Who was this Lili René? If she was in fact a famous French artist whose work was exhibited all over the world and included in some of the finest collections, we ought to be able to track her down on the intertubes, oui? Mais non, mon cher, the googles failed us. If you search “lili rené” without the quotation marks — fun fact, if you put your search term in quotation marks, search engines search for exactly and only that term — you find Lily Reneé (Phillips), an Austrian-born American artist who was a famous comic book artist.

As tempting as it is to try to make that work, I don’t think this painting is by a world-famous artist. For one thing, I don’t think Tom Powers would be confused about Lili’s nationality, and Lily was in no way French. For another, Lily would have been substantially well-known at the time I was awarded this painting, and I think Tom would have spelled her name correctly if not outright acknowledged her actual claim to fame.

So Lili René remains a mystery.

Let’s have a quick look at the rest of our hoarding, and then I have a point to make.

In the hall:

These will actually go back into the guest bedrooms, but one of those is cluttered at the moment from stuff we had to move out of our bathroom to have the tub converted into a walk-in shower. Hi ho, the hoarding life!

In the playroom storage unit:

You can’t see them, but there is a second row of shelves behind the visible ones. Very tidily done, I must say. Plans are to make the family pieces available to family, and then to our neighbors, and then…

There’s some emotional baggage as well, of course. First and foremost, you cannot help but consider the reduction of a life as you move your mother-in-law’s much-reduced possessions out of her retirement facility apartment — itself a reduction from her suite here in our house, which was another reduction from my in-laws’ comfortable house in Abingdon, VA, and yet still more expansive than her current bed in the rehab center.

Then it dawns on you that you’ve started the same process. We jokingly call it “death-shedding,” our version of Swedish death cleaning, and that’s what it comes down to. I have all these memories stuck in boxes: files, scores, lesson plans, thank you notes, encomia, official documents, photographs… Where do they go? It’s not as if any university or think tank is waiting to receive and preserve them. At some point they must go to the landfill, right? Why not now? …

Ah, the musings of the agéd — how does one choose to reduce one’s own life? In The Lion in Winter, Henry II’s sons are in prison awaiting what they are sure is going to be a death sentence. Richard is fretting about his final image, and the cynical Geoffrey sneers, “As if the manner of one’s going matters!” To which Richard replies, “When the going is all there is, it matters.”

That was meant to be deep. Your mileage may vary. At any rate, I’ll keep you posted on our adventures in hoarding.


[1] Passive voice used deliberately.

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