“Living with a Collector” Club

My husband is a collector, which he is quick to point out, is very different from a hoarder. I, on the contrary, have spent my life abiding by the motto, “clutter in your house is clutter in your life.” According to my husband, clutter is not a black and white issue, there are gradients of clutter, just like there are variations of shades of gray.

The first day I stepped in my husband’s bachelor pad/photo studio, I was overcome with a variety of emotions, with “HOT MESS” rising to the top. He guided me around his self-curated  apartment as it was a streamlined art-lined museum. I was thinking, “Is this how you clean up to impress a woman?” I quickly learned my husband was not interested in impressing anyone and more interested in showing off his impressive collections.

As an artist, he likes to “see everything” rather than the way I like to keep things, “hidden away.” I prefer things be neat and tidy, folded away in a box. He likes open shelving, everything visible; a whole apartment as one big grandmother’s breakfront meets folk museum someone in the midwest creates in their house where they show off 2,000 pieces of famous hair and charge for entry. My husband cannot bear to part with any art he has created and amassed in his quarter century in New York City – and we keep it all; in our apartment and in a separate storage space a mile away (which we pay for monthly).

“Do you really suggest I throw away a piece of art I created?” he demands and I will shake my head and relent with a barely audible, “Of course not.”

My husband is also a loyal friend and because of this, if any friend has ever given him a note, letter or card, he will keep it forever. He also has copies of letters he has written to friends from when he wrote them with carbon paper, saving himself a copy. He diligently keeps ticket stubs and playbills, whereas I tossed my entire collection because I realized it was incomplete.

He collects signed books, stickers (which he peels off graffitied signs all over NYC and promptly sticks onto the notebook always in his back pocket), and cameras. Only he will say he does not collect the cameras, but rather uses them, which he does; at least some of them. The rest are there “just in case” the other ones break. He has every photo he’s ever taken and every notebook he’s ever written in, most filled, spaces ignored and on both sides. He also collects records – new and old; he doesn’t discriminate when it comes to value.

It was four years before we moved in together, after spending three years paying double rent but sleeping almost every night in only one apartment. One of the main hindrances for me was that I didn’t want to change him – or his idiosyncrasies – but mostly I hated the idea of living in all that mess, surrounded by abundant clutter. I wanted to live in a modern, empty-ish apartment which was easy to keep clean.

Getting a second opportunity at love, like I did, I’ve learned to pick my battles. If I focus on the socks and underwear he drops on his side of the bed every night, then I’m shallow and need bigger problems. It’s just not important “in the grand scheme of life.” I’m not sure which are the grander scheme things, but I’m guessing they involve nuclear war, cancer, and some form of identity theft which lands you on the “no-fly list.”

I’ve lived with my collector for seven years now, our life filling with souvenirs daily (including a daughter who now collects). I’ve grown a bit more lax about looking around and seeing SO MUCH EVERYWHERE and he has grown better with me tucking some of it away into boxes or admitting we have to throw nonessential keepsakes out (take a picture and purge). Of course, he will say he still navigates better in clutter than in an organized abode where all things have a home. I’ve always attested, home is not a place, it is a feeling. Somehow we have blended our different perspectives on organization to create a warm mostly clutter free environment. I just have to train myself not to look too closely at his desk.

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