Monday, May 23, 2011

Living With the Old Stuff

The picture above is from a 1954 home decoration volume. The room is similar in size and layout to our Library in New Mexico, the desk and the desk lamp are very similar too, as is the upholstered armchair. The far wall has two doors in our Library, though, one of which gives access to the closet. And there are no book shelves on the far wall; they are on the long walls as well as the outside wall. There is, of course, no sofa. We have many more books in our Library than are shown in this picture. We also have many more pictures on the walls, mostly prints and posters.

During the last few weeks, I've been continuing with the long term project of clearing out the house in California for the eventual permanent move to New Mexico.

The most recent project in New Mexico was getting a horse fence put up, and I don't know even now if it was ever completed (though it has been paid for.) Our property in New Mexico has never been fenced, at least not near the house according to all the signs and the neighbors, so it was kind of exciting to them when I said we were going to put up a horse fence to enclose our little patch of ground. Not that we're getting a horse any time soon. Maybe a goat?

Of course, getting the fence done -- at all -- was the issue. It always is in New Mexico. I would refer readers to the Journal of a Mud House by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant for pointers on how... complicated... it can be to have something done in New Mexico.

At any rate, the last I heard, the fence was almost done, and it looked great from the pictures I saw, so I'm not about to fuss too much over the length of time it took and the difficulty it was to get it done.

Some have asked what kind of place we have in NM, since I've said it is adobe but I've been at some pains to explain that it does not partake of the wide spread "Santa Fe Style." After all, our place was built in about 1900, well before the flat-roofed and mud-plastered Pueblo Revival Style was officially adopted in Santa Fe. It's "style", such as it is, is late Victorian, actually almost neo-Colonial in some respects, but very, very simple.

It was one of the first houses in the area, and it is supposed to be the house where Toney Anaya grew up (though I don't believe it myself). When he was a boy, he said, the house where he grew up had dirt floors, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. I've combed over this house many times, and it's simply impossible that there was no plumbing and no electricity fifty or sixty years ago when Toney Anaya was a boy. There are remnants of old plumbing fixtures and piping in one of the closets -- in what I'm sure was formerly the kitchen -- and there is knob and tube wiring in much of the house that had to have been put in during the early part of the 20th Century. There were porcelain light fixtures in two of the bedrooms that looked to be from the '20's or maybe '30's, there was fancy patterned linoleum from the '30's at the latest on one of the floors, and much of the original woodwork clearly dates from the early 1900's. Old fashioned baseboards are at the current floor level, and the floors are wood, some of it fine, some of it kind of sketchy. It appears the wood floors, too, date from very early in the house's history. Toney Anaya was born in 1941, well after our house was built and the basics of plumbing and electricity and such were installed.

Nevertheless, it is quite possible -- indeed, likely -- that at first, there were no raised wooden floors, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity in this house. The current bathroom, for example, was clearly carved out of another room (now the South Bedroom), and the fixtures indicate it may have happened as late as the 1940's or 1950's. I've tried to get a sense of the sequence in which the house was built, but there have been a number of remodelings and expansions over the years, and it's hard now to be sure of what came first and what it looked like when time was. I've decided that what I call the West Wing was build first, though: essentially two 16' squares sections put together, with a flat roof, a mostly southern exposure, and a wide front porch or portal.

It was probably just two rooms, too: a kitchen/living room and a bedroom. Then -- and not long after, probably around 1910 or 1915, two more rooms were added in a wing on the east 16' wide and 40' long, fancier than the original house, and having a peaked roof. Quite a bit later, I'd say in the 1930's, the West Wing also got a peaked roof, the original kitchen was turned into two bedrooms, and part of the portal was enclosed to make a new kitchen. Then in the fifties, the whole portal was enclosed, new fixtures were put in the kitchen and bathroom, the house got a complete tin roof, and the whole was clad in white aluminum siding.

This picture is from the Google Street View. It was taken about 3 years ago, and there have been some changes since then...

The walls in most of the house are what they call "double adobe", which is to say they are about 24" thick. On the north side, they are actually thicker, about 30". Most of the windows are relatively small compared to the thickness of the walls, so you would think it might be dark inside much of the time, but not so. The light in the house is simply astonishing, takes my breath away. But then that's one of the benefits of living in the mountains (we're at about 6300 feet) and in New Mexico. "You're closer to the sun."

I made a little video last October of part of the interior, to get a feel for what it is like in there.

There are nominally 4 bedrooms and one bath, but we only use two of the bedrooms. The others -- in what was once the kitchen -- are used as a library and a storage/workroom which we call "The Jesus Room." The current entrance hall/ kitchen/dining area/laundry room were at one time outdoors. They were enclosed from the portal that went across the south side of the house. From the interior, it looks pretty good, but the construction was rough to say the least. The remodel was done in the Fifties some time, and it is pretty wonky now. Of course, that adds character!

There's a central living room and a couple of hallways, and that's pretty much it.

Even so, the house is close to twice the size of our place in California. Yet it is "too small."

Well, we have a lot of stuff, as you can see from the video, and that's only part of it. Though we are busily emptying out the house in California, it's still "full," and I haven't even started on the garage yet! We just don't like to throw things away (you never know when you might need them, as they say) and we are inveterate collectors of... things.

I think I did a post once on The Toasters. There are also The Waffle Irons. The Clothes Irons. Mixers. Record Players. Radios. Clocks. Jeebus the Clocks! The hundreds of Paintings. Books! Tens of thousands of them. Cameras. Quilts. Stuffed Animals. Globes. Vacuum cleaners (an extensive collection of Electrolux and Kirby vacs, want one?). Santos.

Most of what we have is old. We don't really buy much new, never have. What we do buy, we keep. And much of what we need and use (let alone collect) comes from thrift stores. I just got a dryer, for example, to replace the 30 year old model that died on us. Well, the one I got is probably close to that age, and it came from a used appliance store that's been a resource for us for a long time.

It seemed bizarre to me to pay $400 or $500 (or much more) for a new dryer when a perfectly good used one could be found for a fraction of the cost and with a guarantee and no-hassle delivery to boot.

The toaster we use in California every day is 75 years old (a 1934 two slice pop up toaster by Toastmaster, quite deluxe for its time) and it works wonderfully. It's beautiful, too. It looks like this one:

The one we use most in New Mexico is only about 60 years old, and it's not nearly as good looking. The Sunbeam Radiant, model T-35. It looks like this one:

The waffle iron we use on weekends in California is said to be the first automatic thermostatically controlled waffle iron introduced in 1931 by Hotpoint. It is identical to this one:

I had to repair it as the internal asbestos covered wiring had deteriorated, but it was a fairly easy task when I cannibalized wiring from a much newer model that was otherwise useless.

The waffle iron we use in New Mexico most often is an early model Universal dometop, just like this one:

Love that nickel plating. And it actually makes better waffles than the fancy chromium 1931 Hotpoint in California. And both of them make better waffles than the new model Belgian Waffle Makers.

Our coffee is brewed in several brands of percolators or in Silex vaccuum coffee makers like the ones in this ad:

We have lots of different mixers. This model is perhaps the earliest Sunbeam in the house (identical to the picture, except we don't have the jade green smaller bowl, but we do have other accessories including the meat chopper.)

We don't actually use it. A couple of other later model Sunbeam Mixmasters are set up to use, and a mid-sixties Hamilton Beach hand mixer gets the hardest work out because it is so convenient.

I could go on. We have several dial phones in New Mexico, one or two of which I think are hooked up (or were -- I may have undone them to set up the wireless internet. One forgets!) There are 6 chrome frame dining chairs, but no table yet, that are intended for the patio that we haven't had time to build in New Mexico.

You get the picture.

I've thought about all this Old Stuff we've got -- some of which I bought intending to sell during the Boom Times when all sorts of "collectibles" were salable in a twinkling for a good deal of money -- and recognized more than a simple pattern. Much of it, obviously, is evocative of my childhood, stuff we might not have actually had back then. We didn't have a stand mixer, for example. Instead, my mother used a hand-cranked egg beater -- much as her mother had used. There was no coffee maker until I was an adult (coffee didn't agree with my parental units), and I think the first ones I bought were the early "Mr. Coffee" drip models, so I had no idea how much better a percolator makes coffee, let alone the subtleties of vaccuum coffee, until I tried them for myself.

Some of the furniture in both the house in California and in New Mexico are antiques that I bought almost 40 years ago to furnish an apartment in Santa Maria that we were renting unfurnished for the summer. The pieces were late 19th/early 20th Century, imported from England or France, and they were at the time very cheap. We've hauled them from place to place ever since, and some of them are in desperate need of repair (one day, I keep saying, one day!)

In the interim, we've picked up some Mission Oak pieces, mostly tables, along with a few pieces of mahogany (a desk, bookshelves, dining furniture.) When I was a child, there were some Mission pieces in our home, a library table, a chest of drawers), and so I tend to be attracted to similar pieces when I see them. There was no mahogany (my mother preferred maple) but mahogany was very stylish among the Better Off when I was young whereas maple was considered "common." (Which, BTW, was no shame.)

I know I bought a 1942 Philco radio because it reminded me of the one in our house when I was little. Evoking childhood is a constant among collectors. I may or may not have said on this blog that the first car I had was a 1950 Packard Convertible like this one:

And the first car I bought was a 1951 Buick Roadmaster just like this:

(As an explanation, the first car I remember we had was a Packard, and my mother's best friend when I was little was the widow of the town's Buick dealer. Talk about evocations of childhood! Well!)

The question is, when does "collecting" become "hoarding?" You would think it's not a fine line, but I think it is. You "know" what hoarding is because there are shows on the teevee that demonstrate it and provides "treatment" for the victims (and plenty of judgmental blame, too) and we all know people like that. Extensive "collecting" such as we do becomes "hoarding" when it becomes overwhelming, chaotically taking over every square inch of living space. Well, maybe it's not that simple.

We have lots more collections than the ones I've described here; coins, music industry stuff from various eras (mostly the '60's), lamps, sewing machines...

While I can cheerfully dispose of things and do -- give them away, donate them, or sell them -- more stuff always seems to "show up" to take the place of what's been disposed of. So there's a constant level of stuff round about. And it is always more than is necessary, more than can be enjoyed or displayed simultaneously, too. We have no more wall space for all the paintings, for example, so more than half is in storage at any given time.

Of course while the stuff is being sorted or when we don't take the time to find places to put the various items, it can -- and does -- pile up. THAT can easily be interpreted as a "hoarding" scenario. The "pile" can grow, to the point where, at least temporarily, it is overwhelming.

And what do you do then? When the stuff is overwhelming, the answer is to leave it, at least for a while, and get on with something else. And that's where people who sit in judgement of "hoarders" may have no idea what's going on with them and don't bother to trouble themselves to find out. Judgement of them (and their possessions) is the far more important matter. A chaotic pile of unsorted stuff must be condemned simply because it's there and the owners of it aren't doing anything with it (except perhaps making the pile higher.)

I disagree, obviously.

You get to it when you can. And that may take quite a while given all the other matters one is expected to attend to right now.

Though we don't have cable teevee at either house, I have seen a couple of the "hoarding" shows online, and they tend to trouble me. The people who have been profiled in the shows I've seen seem to be buried in "stuff," and yet listening to them, it's clear enough that even if they recognize that the "stuff" has taken over their lives and sometimes burdens them so much they cannot even move from room to room in their houses, they are just trying to get by the best they can, burdened as they are. For whatever reason, their process of getting by is never recognized in the programs I've seen; instead, they are treated as if they were some kind of monsters. And they are not. In the shows I've seen, the people profiled are some of the kindest, sweetest people I think I've ever seen on teevee. They are harmless and are harming no one.

They are overwhelmed, to be sure. But oddly, the therapists sent in by the programs to "help" never think to help lighten the burden these people carry. Instead, they make it worse, deliberately and in some cases with malice. It's no wonder that "hoarders" wind up even more deeply depressed and suicidal when they are faced with such... "help."

Lightening the burden is not necessarily getting rid of the stuff, for that process can be horrifying and painful in the extreme for some of these people. Their "stuff" is symptomatic of the burden; it is not the literal burden itself. In many cases, the "stuff" is comforting.

Some of the therapists seem to understand that intellectually, but they cannot for the life of them act on their intellectual understanding to help these people emotionally. They don't even try. The only thing they are interested in is forcing the victims of hoarding disorder to get rid of the stuff that is overwhelming their homes.

Which can lead to panic, deeper depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, or simply rejection of assistance/treatment.

What is the point of that? Of course: entertainment for those who are convinced they are better than the people depicted on these shows.


We have come so far, it seems, but have so far yet to go...

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