My friend Bob took me into his basement the other day to have a look at his hobby.  This was not a stamp or coin collection; there was no woodshop, pool table, recording studio, or S&M chamber, for that matter. Instead, the room was taken over from one end to the other by a model train village. Bob had worked on this village with his now-adult children since they were very young, and the hobby stretched back even further to his own childhood, when he acquired his first train set. What lay before me was thus a kind of embodied landscape for my friend’s development into the person he is today. There were the old trains and the newer ones, there was city hall (the city named after his daughter), the county seat (named after his son), his parents’ pizzeria, his wife’s dress shop. He could tell me when and… More…

What’s the line between collecting and hoarding?  If you’re a collector, you’ll be in the Sunday supplement:  a personal profile accompanied by a photograph of you, surrounded by your collection and smiling as you hold a prize specimen (teddy bears or baseball gloves, it doesn’t matter). But if you’re a hoarder, you and your home become a subject for reality TV.

I cast my eyes around my living room and count the small brass bells I’ve arranged on each flat surface. I stop at 11 not because I can’t bear to continue, but because that’s all I have. Still, the bells have become a definite decorating feature. They’re “dust collectors,” my mother’s favorite word to disparage a no-longer-beloved tchotchke — or any decorative item she advised me against buying. Although I still dust them, I stopped polishing the bells long ago. Even so they look like a collection, and they… More…