I had an interesting week off. About ten days ago, purely because I'd recently heard the show's name in a routine by a stand-up comedian and discovered it was available on Netflix, I clicked on an episode of the A&E show "Hoarders," which some of you are probably familiar with. I ended up watching the entire first season one episode after another. Within 48 hours, I had done a lot of internet research, familiarized myself with some of the clinical literature, and read many case histories. As of yesterday I've read three books on the subject (including Gail Steketee and Randy Frost's Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, which is excellent, and which I recommend if you're curious about the topic).
And, last Tuesday, I got a housecall from Brendan McDaniel of Action Organizing Services. Brendan was featured in two of the episodes of "Hoarders" Season 1 (and one in Season 2, although I've not seen that). That was educational for me. He had a lot of ideas, and set me to work.
So why the sudden focus of attention? It's just that I recognized some of the telltales of the pathology in myself. I've always ascribed my "messiness" to laziness and a mild aversion to housework, but as I learned more about hoarding pathology I discerned some parallels to the way I think. While I never anthropomorphize objects, I am sentimental about them—I attach them in my mind to the people they belonged to, or who gave them to me, or that they remind me of—or to old experiences (in other words, ordinary objects become "souvenirs"). Hoarders tend to be visual—they don't organize categorically, like most people do; they remember where things are because they remember where they've seen them. I've long been aware that I have a very visual memory—when I want to remember a person, for instance, I can instantly call up the face and a variety of visual features of the circumstances of my encounters with them, but I struggle—sometimes to an almost absurd degree—to come up with the name (I refer to this, jokingly, as my "proper noun aphasia," and it's one reason why I tend to not give lectures—I stumble when trying to recall names). It's very rare that I see a photograph without knowing whether I've seen it before or not—and, if I have, I can usually remember where. I can remember photography and art exhibits I saw a quarter of a century ago—often, I'll remember individual pictures from exhibits in great detail, without being able to name the year I saw the show or what city I was in at the time. When I was a student, I could find quotations in books by remembering a passage, picturing where it was on the page where I read it, and then "reading" the page number from my memory of what the page looked like. Conversely, I was always poorly organized—if I wrote the same quote on an index card along with the same page number, I'd be very likely to lose the card. I've long realized that when I'm looking for something in the house, I'll "find it in my mind": I just keep thinking about it until I "see," in my memory, where it is. Then I can go right to it.
I also have trouble making decisions, another characteristic of hoarding pathology. Strangely, my mind is usually better organized than the "aids to memory" most other people find useful, like categorizing, filing, and taking notes. I had an aversion to taking notes as a student because I couldn't discriminate between things I'd likely need later and things I wouldn't—anything that was interesting, I'd write down. And putting something in a filing cabinet, for me, is tantamount to throwing it away—it essentially turns permanently invisible to me the instant it goes into the drawer.
And this is kind of funny, but true. I once washed all my shirts in a fit of tidying fervor and hung them in a closet I don't often use. For months afterwards, I wore and washed the same two shirts over and over again, occasionally wondering absentmindedly where the heck all the rest of my shirts had gone.
I have long thought of my photography not just as a method of making "art"—in fact it is hardly that—but as a sort of visual diary: I take pictures to remember experiences, people, places, and things. And then (curiously) I don't actually need to go back and look at them—I remember the pictures. I'm quite certain I remember many thousands of the pictures I've made in my life, going back to 7th grade when I got my first Kodak Instamatic.
Often, when I look at a print I've made, my mind flashes back to the contact sheet, and I recall not just that one picture I'm looking at, but also the other pictures I made before and after it.
My visual memory leads to problems sometimes, too. There was a series of classical CDs I wanted to collect on which the cover photographs were all different shots of the conductor from the same shoot, and I had to give up—at the store, I could never remember which ones I already had at home—they all looked too much alike, and visual differences were what I needed to key in on. And, in the grocery store, if the label of a product changes, I can't "find" the product any more—I know what I'm looking for, but just by visual appearance, not by name or brand.
Goodwill and Ebay
In any event, I'm not a hoarder—something Brendan confirmed for me immediately. Interestingly, Professors Steketee and Frost found that hoarders were very bad at verbally characterizing the level of disorder in their homes, so they (the researchers, I mean) use as a clinical measure a series of photographs of a progressively messier room; they ask their patients to identify the picture that most looks like their own living quarters. If you go again to the book link and scroll down the page a little, you'll find a set of photographs of a living room in which the professors and their graduate students simulated various levels of hoarding disorder. Much of my house is a 2 on that scale; the worst room is a 3, and the kitchen is a 1. Still, when I watch "Hoarders" (the show) I recognize a kinship in kind to some of the sufferers—just not a kinship in degree...
...yet. That scared me, I have to say.
To make a long story short, I took the week off to begin organizing my house—thinking to nip any nascent problem in the bud. I've now made many trips to Goodwill (a charitable resale organization that accepts donations of used items), built a big pile of things to sell on Ebay or Craigslist, and given away many boxes of books. My goal is to reduce the the number of books in the house by roughly a third—at which point I will still have many more books than most of the population! (I think I had about 4,000 as of last week, including roughly 1,200 that are photography-related, directly or indirectly.)
At any rate: the camera cabinet is one of the big challenges I'm facing. It's chock-full of what looks to be junk but as we all know, isn't. Some of the many things I'll be getting rid of are too nice to give away, though, and I thought that, before listing them on Ebay, I'd give my friendly loyal TOP readers a crack at some of them first. At the risk, of course, of worsening your own clutter problem! (I'll leave that to you to deal with.) I'm afraid I will have to end up throwing away a good deal of photo equipment, but I just don't have the time or the patience to list hundreds of small, old, and hurt items on Ebay. These few things are (mostly) the cream off the top.
If you want any of these things, please just email me (use the "Email Me" link in the right-hand sidebar. I'll slap "sold" on them if and when they sell. If they don't sell, no worries—next stop, the 'Bay.
Unfortunately I can only sell to N. America as it's too much hassle to ship overseas. The last package went missing for a month before showing up in Switzerland, causing all manner of concern and wastage of time. And I need to stay focused.
A near collector-quality Olympus OM-4Ti, with only three or four very tiny nicks here and there (you can see the worst one above the strap ring on the left), with the much-sought-after and justly famous OM Zuiko 40mm ƒ/2 pancake lens which normally sells for $500 to as much as much as $800 on Ebay. Both in full working order and gloriously good condition, with boxes. $895 + shipping. Note nickel under lens to keep camera from tipping forward as it poses for the photograph. SOLD
Complete medium-format rangefinder Bronica RF645 kit with 65mm ƒ/4 lens and hood, in like-new condition with a somewhat shopworn box. It's an odd but wonderful camera: the native format is vertical and you turn it sideways to make a horizontal shot, and if you've never heard it, you'll think it's broken the first time you fire it: the shutter makes the strangest sound of any I've heard, described variously as "an expiring mouse" or "a cat wheeze." A sensible and eminently controllable camera that yields lovely results. $495 + shipping. That's cheap, but that's what I bought it for so I'm just passing it along. SOLD
Basically new, current AF-Nikkor 28mm ƒ/2.8. Bought for some tests and used only a couple of times. With box, papers, and caps. Clear and clean. $195 + shipping. SOLD
The Pentax Odd Couple: An SMC-Pentax "K" (8-element) 28mm ƒ/3.5, long renowned as one of the sharpest wide-angle lenses, and an SMC-P Pentax-M 85mm ƒ/2 portrait lens. Both are K-mount. The 85mm has one speck inside the elements. It's a lovely portrait lens. Back caps only, as shown. $295 for both, + shipping. SOLD
A small collection of nautical books mostly from the 1950s. All hardcover, all sound except as noted. In front, Wolfgang Frank's The Sea Wolves: The Story of German U-Boats at War (Rinehart & Company, 1955). Left to right: Masterman Ready by Captain Marryat (Bell and Daldy, 1869) with lots of cool engravings, light foxing on a few pages and my book label; C. S. Forester, The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Navel War of 1812 (Doubleday, 1956), with presentation bookplate and my book label; Robert Carse, The Seafarers: A History of Maritime America 1620–1820 (Harper and Row, 1964, First Edition); David Howarth, The Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story (Viking, 1981); Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea (Houghton Mifflin, 1955, Second Printing, printed by Riverside Press); Ludovic Kennedy, Nelson's Band of Brothers (Odhams Press Limited, 1951), slightly cocked; Sir Vivian Fuchs, Antarctic Adventures (E.P. Dutton, 1961), H.L. Tredree, Blackwater: A True Epic of the Sea (George Ronald, 1958); Felix Count Von Luckner, Out of an Old Sea Chest (Methuen, 1958); and Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Little, Brown, 1942, 20th printing) with my book label. All with dj's and mylar dj covers except Masterman Ready. $99 for all plus Book Rate postage. (USA only on the books.) [No longer available—(donated)]
A Pentax ESII in working order but fair condition. No dings, but lots of bright marks, especially on the bottom plate. With ESII's, the chrome versions are rarer and thus more sought-after than the standard black ones. Meter works, but note that in manual mode these don't go below 1/60th. Takes screwmount lenses. A pioneer, but a bit of an oddity despite its popularity back when. $59 + shipping. SOLD
An extremely nice Rollei Rolleicord Va with case in Ex++ condition. Some very slight "brassing" on the very edges of the back is the only wear showing. Case is in great shape with very slight wear to only a little of the stitching. Comes with all the accessories pictured below (which usually each sell for $30–$100 separately)—hood with matching leather case, lenscap, booklets, and four filters, UV, soft focus, yellow, and red, all in matching leather cases in essentially perfect condition. (Yellow filter is shown on the taking lens in the picture above.) The step-up rings are included but are non-manufacturer. $595 for all + shipping. SOLD
Very fine Nikon Nikkormat FT3 in "collector" condition cosmetically. I had this CLA'd and the meter was supposed to be working but I can't get it to respond—wrong battery, maybe? Might have gone south. Lenses are the 28mm ƒ/2.8 AI—allegedly not as legendarily sharp as the AIS, but I like the bokeh better. The other lens is the AIS 85mm ƒ/2. Both lenses are flawless as far as I can see except the 85mm has no prongs. The 85mm has the metal hood. I will include a metal Nikon HN-3 hood for the 28mm, although it isn't shown in the picture. $550 for all + shipping.
And now for something completely different...a Bryston 2B SST stereo power amplifier in near-new condition, with original box etc. $2995 new. No flaws, works perfectly. 100 watts per channel and years left on the 20-year guarantee. $1295 + shipping. SOLD
The best 4x5 lens...I mean the best. In my oh-so-very-far-from-humble opinion. The awesome, sharp-as-sh*t glorioski überlens, the Rodenstock Hosanna Hosanna Apo-Sironar-S 135mm ƒ/5.6. $1,400 new. You could live the rest of your life on this lens, food, one woman, any 4x5, and a lean-to made of saplings. Oooh-kay. It's late and I'd better be getting some rest now. Like new, in box, with papers and caps. $795 + shipping. SOLD
Minolta Maxxum 35mm ƒ/2 "RS," last Maxxum version. Fits Minolta AF and 7D cameras and all Sony Alpha-mount digital SLRs. Ex+++. $695 + shipping. On the A900 or A850: to die for. NOTE: Not shown in the picture, but I have and will include the matching lens hood. SOLD
Black Pentax Spotmatic SPII with most desirable version of the famous 50mm, the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar. Lens was hand-picked from several. Camera received a complete $150 take-apart overhaul two years ago. The only problem is the battery cover, which is worn and would need replacing, but, as everyone knows, you never use the meter in a Spottie anyway, so you'll never need to put a battery in it. With a Hoya yellow filter, for Tri-X or Plus-X, please (see my article "The Glow" on L-L). $175 + shipping. SOLD
I was going to sell my Canonet too but a man can only take so much. :-)
• • •
I have to admit I'm killing two birds with one stone here...have to raise some money after facing down the big tax bill last week. Remember how I said I'm disorganized? Seems I, er, neglected to pay three of my four quarterlies last year. Oops. And while it's nice to be your own boss, my self-employment tax was almost as big a hit as my Federal and State income tax combined. Ouch and ouch and did I mention ouch.
At least I get to complain!
Oh, and by the way: TOP's back. Cheers on yer. More mañana.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Koen: "Whoa, in my book #1 is a mess!...which may indeed be a separate affliction all by itself of course."
Featured Comment by Paul Ewins: "It's funny you should talk about 'proper noun aphasia'—I usually refer to aphasia as 'that word that I can't remember that means inability to recall a word that you know.'"
Mike replies: Funny. In the same vein, I used to stumble over the word "articulate."
Featured Comment by Ken James: "Hi Mike, Are we the same person? :-) Black jeans, political views—interests; photography, cameras, stereos, jazz, stuff and more stuff. I am constantly amazed, it goes on and on. Do you have a long lost brother, maybe, me? I have followed you since the magazine days, I recognize a kindred spirit."
Mike replies: Ken, you sound like a very sane and sensible guy. (Plus, I went to your website—and we both like dogs, too. Although you're better at photographing them than I am.)
Featured Comment by Jeff: "Apparently you don't move nearly enough. House changes have forced me to de-clutter and re-prioritize many times over the years. The last move also had profound impact on my photography, influencing a switch to digital due to an unwillingness to build yet another darkroom. That freed up a lot of house space to fill up with other things."
Mike replies: It's true, moving really helps. True hoarders should probably move every two or three years—and do all the packing and moving themselves.
Featured Comment by Barb Smith: "I too watched the hoarder shows and freaked myself out. I cleared out a lot of stuff in my current apartment (huge job); closed my house in another city and sold it (3 dumpsters of junk). I limit myself to three magazines (BW, Color, and Lenswork)—I threw out piles and piles of wonderful past issues of various other titles—and I bought a Kindle. I still have 1600 books on the shelf, but all are cataloged in a software program I bought online that has a smaller program for my iPhone. I am free of duplicate buying and now avoid hoarder shows."