Talk About Moving House…

Compulsive hoarding in a private apartment
Image via Wikipedia

You think you’ve got a lot of junk in your home. (Jammed into storage lockers, shoved in the attic, garage, basement and closets.) I’m completely guilty of hanging on to too much stuff — although forgetting to keep track of a storage facility bill a few years back meant the loss of a whole room-full of it. Bit of a surgical strike that, losing all those memories of…of what? If you haven’t opened a box in years, can you really mourn whatever was in it? I’m still hanging onto a document I needed when I lived in Paris in 1982, the guitar I haven’t played in more than 20 years, books that taunt me, years unread, filling up my shelves, leftover sheets of copper from a project.

Song Dong,, a 43-year-old Chinese artist, decided to explore our obsession with hoarding, especially his Mom’s habit. Zhao Xiang Yuan lost her husband in 2002 and, devastated, began hoarding material goods in her small house to make up for his loss. But as the stuff piled up, Song wondered what it really meant. Would his mom be willing to part with every last bit of it — pots, cushions, belts, socks, handbags, baskets and four television sets — for an art exhibit? She would, and she did. The result was first shown in 2005, and is now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City until late September:

Even more poignant, I think, is that she died last year, her belongings now in permanent transit around the world, scheduled for museum stops in Vancouver and California. Now her stuff, and her house, is everyone’s house, a place for us to wander through and contemplate what we buy, what we keep and what we just can’t let go of. If you’ve ever had to sort through the detritus belonging to a dead friend or relative, this will hit…home. It’s the ultimate exposure, letting total strangers see, and judge, your stuff.

If you had to put everything you owned into a room at MOMA, what would we find? What’s the one thing you’d find most difficult to let go?

2 thoughts on “Talk About Moving House…

  1. Hoarding has probably been going on since we first crossed the Serengeti (and E.B. White wrote a nice ditty about it, “Goodbye to Forty-Eight Street” in 1957), but it certainly has come up a lot lately, on T/S and elsewhere. And now, a traveling exhibit. Could it be because after a lot of fat years we’re feeling the need, in a perilous economy, to be a bit lighter on our feet?

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    Good question. When times are lousy, I think it feels safer to hang onto what you have if you fear losing it for good — or not being financially able to replace it any time soon if you dump it. But it’s hard to move anywhere (cheaper) if you’re burdened by tons o’ stuff.

    I found the notion of hanging onto her things, in this case as a way to keep her dead husband close, painful and not that surprising.

    Look at all the storage lockers we (Americans anwyay) keep filling up, reluctant to part with our own…memories?

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