After picking up garbage during Hopewell’s most recent roadside clean-up extravaganza, I was rewarded with a particularly fine looking T-shirt. Since I’ve been participating in this event for about 20 years, I have collected a great many T-shirts which, added to my overall collection, invites me to ask myself, do I have too many?
I now possess about 23,000 shirts, almost all of which I got for free. Consequently, I am having trouble closing my dresser drawers. My T-shirts celebrate charities, towns, parks and nations. I have T-shirts emblazoned with schools that I never attended, banks I never patronized, concerts I never heard, athletic teams I never joined, art shows I never saw, plumbing contractors I never worked for, camps where I was neither counselor nor camper, and political campaigns long passed.
I have disposed of some T-shirts, very few, that were too covered with paint or had actually started to decompose, although I have retained a few favorites with frayed collars and small holes. At what point does having so many T-shirts become pathology? At what point has one entered the realm of the Collyer Brothers, the 1940’s icons of hoarding who died trapped by the trash they had amassed, or the psychotics on the reality TV shows that I have never watched?
In my defense, at least I am not collecting plastic bags, wire hangers, shoe boxes, rubber bands, coffee cans, bottle caps or old Christmas cards, I bear no resemblance to the maniacs with a yard full of junk cars, hubcaps or broken washing machines. I have not erected a shed in my backyard nor have I rented a storage facility to accommodate (or hide) an overage of embarrassing detritus. I have thrown out class notes from high school and given away outdated college textbooks. I will confess to having a dwindling supply of hotel soaps, but I actually use them in the gym.
Some items I cannot get rid of because they may well be essential for some unexpected emergency. That includes pieces of rope, scraps of lumber, bits of sheet rock and stray roofing shingles.
Also preserved are the potentially valuable items like the three enormous garbage bags of Beanie Babies that my daughter has abandoned in our attic or the boxes of stamps, still on envelopes, that I may want to add to my philatelic collection in the unlikely event that I return to a favorite pastime of my childhood.
But back to the 23,000 T-shirts: How can I dispose of those that are just the right color or carry the correct logo for the right, unique occasion? Each T-shirt, no matter how raggedy, is exactly perfect for making yet one more fashion-unconscious statement as part of my impeccable clothing ensemble.
Some T-shirts are exquisitely appropriate for celebrity-style coolness when worn with a blazer or tuxedo. Other T-shirts might perfectly match my singular orange-checkered pants. Blindingly iridescent T-shirts are essential while bike riding (or running) on dangerous roads. Putting on a light green T-shirt is the perfect way to confuse one’s tennis opponent as the ball blends with the shirt and disguises the ball’s whereabouts. T-shirts with political messages function effectively and insidiously by distracting the competition in everything from board games like chess and three-card Monte to vigorous sports like one-on-one basketball and hog-calling.
Ultimately, T-shirts do reach the point of disintegration where even I will be embarrassed to wear them, in which case they take on a new life as excellent rags or, in an act of saintly philanthropy, they get donated to a favorite charity and dropped into those omnipresent collection bins with hopes they will be resurrected somewhere else in the universe bringing joy to some grateful soul aspiring to ascend in the world of haute couture.
Then, again, the fate of clothing dumped into those bins may not necessarily evolve into acts of total altruism. While the donation might be ecologically sound by keeping the shirts out of landfills, they might re-emerge as industrial rags, insulation, or carpet padding allowing for-profit textile recyclers to turn one’s selfless giving into huge profits for some corporate behemoth.
A final serious consideration regarding T-shirts lies in their potential value as collectibles. Rock concert T-shirts can appreciate in the same way as vintage baseball cards and be worth thousands. What if my Obama or Hillary T-shirts should burgeon in value in the political memorabilia market? I did once sell a JFK campaign button for $115, a button that I had picked up so innocently when I was 15.
But valuable or not, I absolutely will not get rid of my T-shirt inscribed “Impeach Now! Indict Later!” Or is it vice-versa?
Robin Schore lives in Titusville.