Honk if you’re Hoardy (h2so4 17)

Liz Dunn explores the ramifications of her attachment to magazines.

When people first see the stacks of magazines in my apartment, piling up three feet high, all around the perimeter of my living room, they always ask the same question, in the same astonished tone: “Why?”

Instead of answering, I dazzle/horrify them with descriptions of the six huge plastic containers full of hundreds of magazines that I am storing at my parent’s house. Of course, my parents are also baffled by my dedication to keeping years and years of various fashion, pop culture, music, and design magazines archived neatly. But they kindly accommodate me, since, as I point out, they have a four bedroom house and a two car garage and all I have is a studio apartment.

And since, as I’ve noted, I don’t really answer the question “why?” when asked, the word that lots of people seem to use when describing my compulsion to save magazines is “crazy.” They don’t see the intrinsic value in these volumes that I do. They don’t recognize that each one is filled with well-written coverage of all kinds of key cultural items and issues, plus beautiful photographs of pretty ladies, fancy houses, landscapes and vistas. Each one has given me pleasure, and so I honor it, with a permanent home.

It’s like they are little books, packed full of promise. And no one thinks it odd when someone has bookshelves busting full with books in their homes. In fact, when you go to someone’s house and notice that they don’t have any books, it always seems to point to a void of intelligence or curiosity in that person. I used to save all the books I bought in college, thinking that in my old age I’d fancy a bit of Kierkegaard or Hegel. But when push came to shove in the battle for storage on my shelves, old Soren had to go, to make way for my precious collection of old issues of Interview, dating back to when Andy Warhol was still alive and going to parties. What Kierkegaard can teach me about philosophy has ceased to interest me; what Andy Warhol can teach me about his mysterious urban celebrity continues to excite me.

I do, however, have my criteria. I don’t save every single magazine that comes my way. For instance, a throwaway magazine like People only makes it into the permanent collection if the cover story is a milestone event of interest to me, like Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts’ surprise marriage, Drew Barrymore’s first (short-lived) marriage, or the death of Andy Gibb.

The bulk of my collection is as follows: the design magazine ID, dating back to 1991; Paper magazine, a sort of hipster/scene magazine for New York City that was notable for interviewing up-and-coming superstars before anyone west of NY had heard of them; Colors, the Benetton magazine creatively directed by Tibor Kalman; select issues of Vanity Fair (the infamous Kurt Cobain–Courtney Love drug issue, Madonna’s new baby issue); and issues of well-loved magazines that have gone under, like Sassy, a British women’s magazine called Frank, and the old Details. Some magazines I am so enchanted with that I save every issue no matter what the topic or cover story. British Vogue is one of those. When I first read its witty stories and discovered its complete fashion coverage, I was hooked and subscribed immediately. With a foreign magazine, the hoarding becomes also somewhat of a money issue: since the issues cost so much, their intrinsic value in my head goes up.

But this isn’t just a monetary form of value. I envision my collection taking up space in a future house, one with a big library lined with bookshelves and walnut paneling. I’ll be writing something about an earlier time—1989, say—and all I’ll have to do in order to pick up some period detail is go to my beloved magazine archives, where I’ll be able to find exactly what music, what clothing, what restaurants were hot hot hot. Maybe my magazine archives will even be visited by other magazinophiles who will admire the dedication and perseverance of my hoarding in the face of widespread criticism.

Recently I read a story about a lady who hoarded cats. Poking a bit further into the matter, I found an article in Psychiatric Times magazine with all sorts of interesting facts about the psychological disorder of hoarding possessions. Fundamentally, hoarding possessions is defined as “the acquisition of, and failure to discard, possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value.” For hoarding to be considered significant, the hoarder’s living spaces have to be “sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed,” and the hoarding must create significant distress or impairment. The article tells us:

So you see, I really don’t think I qualify as a true psychiatric-diagnosis hoarder. I throw things away, sometimes without even being prompted to! Lately, after years of my father’s grumblings about the “ridiculous” magazines, I’ve taken to going through a bin or two when I’m down for a visit, and weeding out the non-essential issues. Sometimes I have a quandary-moment when I discover something like: a few old issues of Computer Telephony magazine with address labels affixed for an old boyfriend, now a successful CEO of a hot new company. Perhaps these will be worth something on eBay one day? According to the experts, a key aspect of hoarding is distorted beliefs about the value of the possessions. But if the possession does have a dollar value that can be verified by online auctions, then who’s really crazy here? Are you saying it’s me? I can’t hear you!

Back to my magazines. Hoarders often identify their collections of stuff as a primary component of their identity, so a removal of or throwing away of possessions can create mourning and sense of loss of self. Some hoarders also express the need to maintain control over possessions. This results in increasing isolation and suspiciousness of others. Like the suspicion that I have towards my family that they are secretly going to throw away all my precious magazines behind my back! That is why I issue repeated warnings and threats about that treasonous crime.

However, in other areas of my life I weed out the outdated and unwanted. When I write little post-it notes to myself, I rush to complete the tasks on the post-it so that I can sooner throw it away. I love using up beauty products and grocery items so that I can throw the used containers away, even if I’m just going to have to replace them again. I do not have any cats.

Plus, after the first three or four years of hoarding all email correspondence, I realized that I would never go back and reread all those emails, and I became a ruthless deleter. A job change forced my hand; faced with backing up three years worth of Eudora correspondence that was chiefly the written equivalent of chatting on the phone, I tossed it all in the “recycle” bin. So I’m not a “crazy” hoarder, no matter what you might think of the magazines lining my living room. OK?

In fact, this weeding-out process has even bled over into my magazine collecting. Over the years I’ve gotten more selective about the magazines I keep, and I’ve gone back into the stacks and looked through and discarded certain volumes that had lost their luster (though these purges are usually motivated by constraints of storage space...).

But, looking at the magazines I’ve chosen to keep, I see something other than the psychiatric definition of a hoarder. These magazines don’t form part of my personality. In fact, I think that I am attached to design and fashion magazines because they represent a world beyond me, to which I have no other access; they continue to thrill me and enchant me because they are all I have to connect me to such a world. My emails, my college books, and my post-it notes have given me their messages, I’ve absorbed them, and either given them permanent residence in my brain or tossed them away. But the magazines are a magical gateway to a sparkling world of designers, celebrities, writers, and artists that remains unknown to me. They are aspirational, my bridge to a foreign land. And so I “hoard”… I keep myself surrounded by magazines filled with dreams of everything my life might hold, if only I could assimilate—or store—all the information. END