A Horde of Under-caffeinated Hoarders

On July 24, 1777 Boston merchant Thomas Boylston got what was coming to him. Or at least that’s probably how it was understood by the one hundred or more women who attacked him on King Street. Boston, like most cities around this time in the burgeoning nation, was experiencing a series of food shortages. Both the British and Continental armies frequently requisitioned food and livestock and a lot of women had been left scrambling on their own to manage families, homes, farms, and businesses while their husbands were off fighting a war.

This is a horde.
tangi bertin from Rennes, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Like there are in most good crises, there were those who saw advantage in the struggle. Boylston, who was a cousin to John Adams, was generally thought to be a patriot, and who seriously underestimated the wrath of a whole horde of caffeine-deficient women, decided to hoard coffee in order to drive up the price.

Now, I am not a coffee drinker, but I know a lot of coffee drinkers. Some I might even call obsessive, a category that might even include you. I know it includes the people who make it difficult every single day for me to drive down the access road behind the main Starbucks in my town. I say “main” because we do have more than one. They’re both busy. Always.

This is a hoard. It’s just as scary. Image by Nature-Pix from Pixabay

I mean like winding drive-through line that spills ten cars deep out of the Starbucks parking lot and into the road that I innocently attempt to drive down in order to make my way from one place where I don’t buy coffee to another place where I don’t buy coffee kind of busy. This line, I assume, is filled with people who might have joined in with the women of Boston that marched to Boylston’s business, demanded his keys, and when he refused, seized him by the neck, forced him into a cart and, according to some accounts, spanked him until he complied. He eventually did. The mob then carried off all the coffee and left Boylston contemplating the fact that he’d been beaten up by a bunch of girls. One farmer justified the mob actions by saying, “This is the very same oppression that we complain of Great Britain!”

And this is just coffee. I don’t really get it. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

While that may be a slight oversimplification of the causes of the Revolutionary War, short supplies can make people do crazy things, like hoard twelve years-worth of toilet paper next to the Christmas decorations and model train sets in their basements. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a desperate shortage of coffee right now. Or at least there wasn’t before National Coffee Day yesterday.

To celebrate the day, Starbucks offered a free cup of coffee to any customer who came by with their favorite mug. No need even to spank the barista. The offer was limited to one cup per customer per store, but since there are approximately forty-seven Starbucks stores within an hour of my house, and probably yours, too, coffee drinkers could have kept busy picking up free coffee all day long. Judging by the line spilling out of the parking lot, most of you did.

Going Tiny in a Very Small Way

In a few weeks I will celebrate the third anniversary of moving into my current home. This most recent move, from Salem, Oregon, was the fifth in my fifteen years of marriage, and I’m sincerely hoping it is the last for a while. I’d like to let my sons go through school with a consistent group of friends. I’d like to think that when someone asks them where they are from originally, they might know how to answer. And despite all the bad press of the last few years, St. Louis is a wonderful place and we are very happy to be living so near our favorite city.

But lately I’ve also been thinking about the one big disadvantage of staying put. Because I’ve become obsessed with the television shows that highlight the tiny house movement. There are several different ones, but each focuses in on a person, or couple, or sometimes even pretty good size family that is looking to either build or buy a home that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 square feet or less.

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Tiny house. Big bludgeoning risk. photo credit: IMG_6224 via photopin (license)

I’ve tried for a long time to figure out what appeals to me about these shows. I know for certain that I do NOT wish to live in such a home. As much as I love my family, if I had to live on top of them every minute of every day, someone would get accidentally bludgeoned to death.

I think the reason these shows appeal to me so much is because of the stories of the people. Almost all of them say the reason they want to “go tiny” is, in part, because they want to rid themselves of the extra stuff in their lives and live more freely with less.

Doesn’t that sound amazing? So I’m a little scared to not be looking ahead to a move now that it’s been a few years, because every time we pack up to move, we pare down. And it’s amazing.

Without a move looming, the drawers are getting a little cluttered, the closets a little crowded, and the tower of boxes in the basement of outgrown clothes and toys and books that should be donated is beginning to teeter dangerously.

I’m afraid if this goes much longer, we risk becoming like Homer and Langley Collyer, a well-to-do pair of brothers that lived together in their family’s 5th Avenue Harlem mansion, along with all the leftover equipment from their deceased father’s medical practice, the possessions from their deceased mother’s separate house, stacks and stacks of newspapers, and fourteen pianos.

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So my closets don’t look like this. Yet. photo credit: bric-a-brac via photopin (license)

On March 21, 1947 the police received a call about a smell of decay emanating from the house. They dug their way in and discovered Homer Collyer dead. Nearly a month later, workers uncovered the body of Langley Collyer, crushed under the junk. Around 120 tons of debris was eventually removed from the house. The few salvageable things fetched $2000 at auction and the dangerous house was razed, making way for the small Collyer Brother’s Park at the corner of 128th and 5th Avenue.

There’ve been attempts to have the park renamed, in order to honor someone or something perhaps more noble than the famous hoarders, but as then NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe pointed out, “Not all history is pretty — and many New York children were admonished by their parents to clean their room ‘or else you’ll end up like the Collyer brothers.’”

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A teetering tower of donations. But no pianos, so that’s something.

I think it’s safe to assume there were some underlying pathological issues that led to the lifestyle and tragic demise of the Collyers, but I’m going to try to learn a lesson from them anyway. I’m not facing an impending move, and because I love my family and would hate to have to bludgeon them, I am not going to attempt to live in 400 square feet.

But what I am going to do is make a concerted effort to pare down as if we were planning a big change. Call it my 2016 resolution if you will. I will sort out the junk drawers, reorganize the closets, and haul off that teetering tower of donation boxes.  I will rid myself of the extra stuff and live more freely with less.

And it will feel amazing.