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Holiday season can be hard on hoarders, as columnist who’s kept shoeshine stool knows all too well

Just because I’m sentimental and thrifty, my wife mistakes my tendency to hang onto stuff as some sort of sickness. Unfortunately, the holidays can expose such tendencies.

Mark Brown’s sentimental attachment to this shoeshine stool is most definitely not a sign that he’s a hoarder.
Mark Brown’s sentimental attachment to this shoeshine stool is most definitely not a sign that he’s a hoarder. Or so he says.
Mark Brown / Sun-Times

My wife accuses me of being a hoarder, which is terribly unfair.

Just because I’m both sentimental and thrifty, she mistakes my tendency to hang onto stuff as some sort of sickness.

Unfortunately, the holidays can expose such tendencies.

For instance, we’ve got family coming to visit, and I have just a couple jobs left to get ready.

First, I need to stow this one last plastic storage bin that held Christmas decorations. Then, I need to clear my stuff off the top of the dresser in the guest room.

Sounds simple enough. But what you don’t know is that all of the closets in the apartment are already full, as is the storage locker downstairs.

So are the drawers where I’d normally stash the stuff from the dresser because I’ve never really sorted through whatever I threw in there the last five times guests were coming.

A day of reckoning is at hand. I don’t want my sons looking in those drawers and deciding I’m a hoarder, too. They already tease me about saving the good ribbon from unwrapped Christmas presents to reuse next year.

For 11 months a year, we keep our unused Christmas wrap and decorations at an off-site storage unit. Usually, I can temporarily accommodate the boxes inside the apartment for that other month.

This year is different because I cleaned out my office at work and brought home five boxes of stuff, which is now taking up space.

What’s in those boxes? Good question. I’m not sure. Must be important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have dragged it all home, right?

Anyway, I promise to deal with sorting through that stuff right after the holidays, just not now.

In the past, I’d probably have been able to find room in the downstairs storage locker for the plastic bin, but that was before I brought home the shoeshine stool.

You might wonder what I’m doing with a shoeshine stool.

That’s a good question, too. Before I answer, I must swear you to secrecy because my wife doesn’t know about the shoeshine stool, and, if she finds out, she’ll accuse me of being — you got it — a hoarder. Terribly unfair.

The shoeshine stool also came from my office. Before that, it was in an anteroom behind the seventh-floor press room in the Daley Center.

When I first started as a reporter in Chicago in the early 1980s, there was a shoeshine man who operated from that back room, shining the shoes of lawyers and judges who would stop by to smoke cigars and kibitz.

Even at the time, this was a bit of an anachronism, and, as I recall, the shoeshine stand closed soon afterward.

But the shoeshine stool was left behind, where it remained for years until the county decided to take over the space and needed to clean out the junk.

Some reporters in the press room recalled that at some prior point I had remarked sentimentally about wanting the shoeshine stool if it was ever to be thrown away. So they liberated it for me.

Very nice of them actually, and I’d thank them by name except to save them any possible repercussions — from my wife.

The shoeshine stool remained in my office ever since, serving mostly as a footstool and conversation piece.

For many years, I had this notion of putting it to work as a column gimmick in which I would take the stool out on the street and offer a free shoeshine to anyone willing to tell me a story.

The concept was that people would tell me their stories while I shined their shoes, then I’d go back to the office and write it up.

One of the flaws with this plan was that it seemed like a good idea only on the afternoons I was desperate to come up with a column, by which point it made more sense to stay in the office and try harder.

Other days, the stool was a useful reminder I might need to shine shoes as a possible fallback occupation.

During this holiday season, I hope you hoard only good memories — and that you can find humor in the complications that inevitably arise.