back to article The hoarder's dilemma, or 'Why can't I throw anything away?'

I like my house zen. Unfortunately, I am a hoarder, so it’s not. My half-life wife has been trying to educate me by making me watch TV programmes with titles like Extreme Hoarders, I Can’t Stop Hoarding and Smelly Old Fat Bastards Who Don’t Wash And Won’t Throw Anything Away. To some extent, this does the trick. After each …


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  1. nichobe

    Re: And another one here...

    I have a box specifically for orphaned power bricks!

    It's like a bank, some people deposit others pay out.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: And another one here...

    Doesn't everyone possess one of these?!?

  3. A J Stiles

    I've always maintained .....

    ..... that hoarding is natural, and it's the pathological throwers-out who have the problem.

    Although "Help! I can't hang onto anything!" doesn't work so well as reality TV.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I've always maintained .....

    Exactly, a tidy workspace indicates a psychotic works there. It's what I tell my manager

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I let my last ISA card go recently as I haven't had a motherboard with ISA slots for some years.

    OTOH pre-bluetooth wireless mice and keyboards are something I'm happy to chuck as they never worked when they worked if you get me.

    Anyone want half a dozen perfectly fine CRT monitors I can't bring myself to chuck in the skip? Or several dozen IDE cables, pre-IDE CD-ROM drives or all the multitude of propritary higher capacity removable cartridge drives (IOMEGA stuff). I still have a 5.25 floppy drive and disks if you need them for your museum

    Anyone got a use for low-res usb cameras?

    I tell myself it's all waiting for the right project, and who knows, that could be true.

    Last time I threw something away it was 7 days then I needed one

  6. Soruk

    Re: horders

    > Last time I threw something away it was 7 days then I needed one


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: horders

    my low-res (i.e. 3MP) camera takes, every now and then, better pictures than my 10.2 MP classy panasonic lx5. And beats hands down an 8 MP pentax. AND it takes real batteries, i.e. AA. instead of those mightily overpriced, anti-fake-chipped, branded shite they insist on these days (for your own good, understand).

    Now, cable boxes are a different story. Actually, I prefer disposable bags. Very un-elegant and temporary-looking, but they give me a sense of doing a re-cycling bit, i.e. making them useful again :)

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: horders

    Likewise, I had a Sony Mavica which took 3.5" floppy disks... very nice pictures, but only at VGA resolution.

  9. Mike Brown

    Re: horders

    by christ i forgot about those. my dad had one. it was, at the time, awesome.

  10. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    Re: 5.25 floppy drive and disks

    > I still have a 5.25 floppy drive and disks if you need them for your museum

    I still have 8" floppy drives and disks. I still have my first 'home' computer which had 2x8" 1Mb drives and I added another 2 drives by using a Polymorphic 8088 drive cabinet. (I still have the Polymorphic too from 1977 though it was 2nd hand).

  11. Lyle Dietz

    I've been planning on throwing my crap out...

    ... and I could use the services of your wife. If you want a little break, send her over to the Land Down Under, and I'll put her to good use.

    This is just for computer stuff mind, the car stays.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I could use the services of your wife...

    me too

  13. Alistair Dabbs

    Re: I've been planning on throwing my crap out...

    I'm pleased my wife is so popular. I hope you have your anti-rad decontamination suits ready.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same boat

    Same boat here.

    Cupboard full of IT stuff, either collected or someone has given me.

    Box full of wires like yours, another box full of CDROMs, another full of floppy disks.

    Couple of old laptops. Another couple of laptops in bits. Couple of old desktops that I kept meaning to combine to make a server for something or other.

    Did ebay some stuff, the Mac Plus that I fixed got good money. The BBC Micro wasn't working but still sold. No-one wanted the BT router. Sold a keyboard and mouse up the car boot sale.

    My dad got given a Pentium4 laptop the other day. It ended up with me, if I get a chance I'll dig out an old 2.5" IDE drive and find a universal charger for it.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Same boat

    ... and my Tungsten T3 ended up on ebay a couple of years ago.

    Most obscure piece of kit currently is a brand new HP Barcode Wand HED-3050, brand new in box, wand itself is wrapped, datestamped 1981. I know I'll never use it, but it is too good to throw out, I keep it as a kind of curiosity.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Same boat

    "Couple of old laptops. "

    My count is eight ATX ivory cases - mostly gutted as the godchildren desired black ones on the last tech refresh. Various CD/DVD drives obsolescent because they are ivory or PATA. Numerous PSUs that are AT or too weedy for game spec machines. Two AT PCs - just in case the old ISA prototype board with FPGAs is ever demonstrated again. About ten laptops - mostly for spare screens for friends who are fond of their old laptops. A stack of ethernet connected standalone wifi units that were replaced by homeplug connections. A stack of Netgear DG834G units as spares for everyone whose broadband was set up.

    Eight large cardboard boxes hold all the "reserve/install" bits for PCs built for the godchidren, FOAF etc. It was previously found that when the PCs came back for repair/upgrade - that they had thrown away all the supporting material given to them "for safe keeping".

    A bookcase holds all the IT books - most of which are probably obsolete unless a museum wants them.

    eBay is no solution for cheap, heavy, bulky items. Freecycle might clear some space.

    Now - about those 2000+ general books that resist well intentioned purges.....

  17. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: Same boat

    I never knew 'ivory' was the proper term for beige...

    if your cases are still 'ivory', I can only assume they've been kept out of direct sunlight. UV yellowing is IT kit's answer to carbon dating.

  18. David Haig

    Re: Same boat

    And somewhere I've got the HP calculator thingy that it plugs into.

    I think it's with the HP 100 hand held which had a stylus and keyboard, ran graffiti and came out at the same time as the Newton. And all the nokia communicators are still boxed (9000 - 9500)

    No garage anymoreso it's all in the back of the car ....

  19. Paul E

    1 in 10

    I work on the 1 in 10 assumption. For every 10 items hoarded one will be needed at some point but that as you can't tell which one you have to keep all 10. Thus though I know the majority of the items hoarded will not be used I accept this as without them I would not have the few items I need when I need them.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: 1 in 10

    there is a perfect way to find out which one of the 10 you keep is useful. This will be the one you have decided, with broken heart, to dispose of. Last week, so no chance to retrieve it from the bin.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: 1 in 10

    "Last week, so no chance to retrieve it from the bin."

    One day I finally dumped the source listings from a product I had supported many, many years earlier. That afternoon a phone caller asked me if I could tell them how a particular function worked. Luckily the cleaners hadn't emptied the bin. That binder stayed on my shelf for many more years after that - but was never needed again.

  22. bobbles31

    Not a hoarder so much

    I do regularly clear out old kit so my collection these days only runs to a couple of boxes.

    Although in my defence I do seem to cling to exotic items:

    1 x Fujitsu Siemens stylistic st5031 tablet pc

    1 x mpeg4 daughter board for long obsolete graphics cards.

    1 x Commodore 64 with 1541 disk drive and 1501 printer

    And my personal favourite

    1 x Action Replay Cartridge mkiv for said Commodore 64

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same problem..

    I had the same problem as you a few years ago of a wife constantly nagging me to get rid of old stuff. I did the opposite though, I got rid of the wife instead. (And no, not via a new patio, it was a legal divorce.)

  24. Britt

    That signiture, wouldnt happen to be a Mr Savile would it?

  25. AdamT

    based on a quick google image search, I think you could be correct:

  26. Alistair Dabbs

    Yes, it's Jimmy Savile. I can't even begin to tell you what I had to go through to get it.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    My first thought when I saw that was...

    oh dear, someone's tried to draw a cock and balls in your autograph book!

  28. paulc

    So the caption didn't give it away then?

    "How's about that then?"...

  29. mccp
    Thumb Up


    Don't forget to keep the magnets from a hard disk drive that you've dismantled - they're awesome.

  30. Scott Pedigo

    Benefit of Saving Old Crap

    I'm still using a 20 year old keyboard I received from Dell. The Dell computer it accompanied has long since been sent to the recycling centre. The cool thing: I got a phone call from someone in an Indian call-centre, flogging (I assume) some product or service from a scare-ware monger. I played along, but we never got to the actual scam. The guy obviously had some sheet of instructions he was reading from. The next step after falsely identifying himself as Microsoft Tech Support, verifying I actually had a computer, and telling me that Microsoft had detected that I had a virus which was slowing down my computer, was to get me to press the Windows key on the keyboard. Which I told him, truthfully, that I didn't have. He didn't believe me. He probably wanted me to bring up the task manager or something, but all my attempts to help him just to the next step failed. He just HAD to first get through that one step. He could not believe I didn't have such a key. Probably he was too young to know that there was a time when they didn't exist. After 15 minutes of detailed descriptions of which key was where, down there by the Shift and Ctrl keys, he gave up in frustration and just hung up.

    I've also got an old IBM PC1, circa 1981, which last time I checked still boots up MS-DOS from its 20MB hard disk, which I added to the original 320 KB 5-1/4" floppy. I can't bear to throw out a lot of old stuff, like boards and serial mice and keyboards with the big pre-PS/2 connector, because if something on my 'museum piece' fails, where would I ever get a replacement? Oh yeah, YOUR garage :-)

  31. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    Re: Benefit of Saving Old Crap

    > I've also got an old IBM PC1, circa 1981, which last time I checked still boots up MS-DOS from its 20MB hard disk,

    If it has a hard disk then surely it's a IBM PC XT which would be a couple of years later. I have a 5150 IBM PC here that is a 'model B' so it is not the initial model which is a model A. (there should be a blue ink stamp on the back panel with A or B in a circle). The PC (pre XT) has a cassette tape port as its most easily identifiable feature.

  32. College Tech

    I run an hardware lab in a vocational Collge.

    You should see the stuff we keep.

    EDO ram, ESDI drives, laplink cables.

    The mobo's dating back to the year dot hung around the room are useful though to show legacy interfaces.

    Some of this years intake have never seen a PS/2 mouse until we introduced them to the joys. "it doesn't work Sir" "Yes it does, you need to plug it in before booting" "What's booting?"

  33. Christopher Rogers

    Yup me too.

    I now have collections of parts and cables over my and my parents houses. But! I am getting better. I am starting to catch on to myself. Things are heading binward. It is however a very long very slow process.

  34. Chris Miller

    Just last week, the missus had to do a presentation at a remote site using a portable projector on loan from work. Testing it at home, we found the scroat who used it last hadn't put the VGA cable back in the bag. My 'useless' drawer full of tangled computer cables finally earned its keep.

  35. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I needed a VGA cable the other month. As I was up the tip (sorry, Recycling Centre) I poked my nose into a large skip full of CRT TVs and monitors. I didn't find a cable in the skip, but was surprised to spot a Pentax Super A with a Sigma lens, and rescued it.

    Part of this hoarding I think is a dislike of seeing working high-tolerance mechanical devices going to waste, even if I no use for them. There is something slightly soulless about fully solid-state devices. I like the mechanisms that eject tape cassettes from old camcorders and the like...

    I do like the logic of the person disposed of it in that skip: "If it's made of glass, plastic and circuit board, it may as well be a TV"

  36. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    I used to have a cable box like that...

    ... which turned to a single block of tangled cable if it was left for a few weeks. Then I discovered Nylon releasable cable tie,250x7.6mm (RS). Buy loads, then you always have one handy. You can now bundle up the cables, power adaptors and such into neat parcels.

    They're also great for taming the cable hydra that lives in the foot zone of any geek desk.

  37. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    There is a certain technique for coiling cables, known as the 'BBC method'. It involves a quarter-turn of the cable between thumb and fore-fingers of the hand that is gathering in the loose end, which makes the coil behave itself.

    It some circumstances, people use different coloured insulation tape to indicate that a, the cable has been tested, and b, its length.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    We used to teach our students this technique on a TV Studio course and used to wrap their knuckles if they didn't. We drummed it into to them to respect the cables.

  39. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    Hayden Clark,

    Oi! No! Don't you dare torture those poor cables! Tying people up is wrong!

    You don't need cable ties. Just leave a bunch of cables in one place, and they'll soon tie themselves into one convenient rugby ball shaped knot. They're happier that way...

    My experience is that cable ties just make things worse. If you bundle the cables up, they get permanently bent. If you tie coils, you can never undo the buggers. Coiling them properly, with the aforementioned quarter-turn and carefully piling them, is the least bad way to go.

    I wasn't aware there was a name for it though. I was taught the rudiments of sound engineering by BBC trained guys, so I guess I picked up a few of their habits. Although BBC mixing desks are backwards, for reasons that made sense to the BBC in dim and distant past.

  40. Nigel 11

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    An easier solution is a freezer-bag tie.

    At work I cut short lengths of scrap Cat-5E cable and push out the copper innards. Voila, four wire tidies. (Eight if you're the sort that enjoys untwisting twisted pairs).

    Never use cable ties. Quite apart from the un-green-ness of it, you'll look a right Charlie when you deliver a patch or VGA cable to someone and forgot to bring wire-cutters.

  41. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    That's why you use the re-usable cable ties. I got some free on a magazine years back and have always wanted to get some more.

  42. Stoneshop Silver badge

    forgot to bring wire-cutters?


    - Leatherman. Some even have a hook-like cutting implement that you slide the offending ziptie into, then pull. Also works on cable bundles that someone else, ignorant on the matters of not using zipties, created.

    - Velcro strips, the hermafrodite type with hooks one side, loops the other. At work I have a D-jub-sized ball of them; it grows with every comuter-room reshuffle.

    - As noted, reusable zipties.

  43. Andy Taylor

    BBC Mixing desks

    The BBC mixing desk faders were backwards so you had to pull them on. Apparently it was so that if the presenter fell asleep across the desk it wouldn't fade stuff up, but switch off what was live (i.e. the presenter).

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: forgot to bring wire-cutters?

    "Some even have a hook-like cutting implement that you slide the offending ziptie into, then pull"

    Thats called a can/bottle opener.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I used to have a cable box like that...

    I've found that I write the length of network cables on both ends of the cable, that way I can find one the right size without uncoiling it. It also helps with identifying cables which are plugged in. ("It's a green 5m cable, go to the switch and hope there's only one green 5m cable plugged in).

    Dymo ticker tape style labels don't seem to last too long when doubled back upon themselves around the end of a wall wart cable. I've found a staple will usually do the trick though, just make sure you miss the cable :(

  46. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: BBC Mixing desks

    @Andy Taylor - close, but I think only half a banana...

    I was taught to sound mix by the BBC on type-D desks - the first with 'slidey' faders which replaced the earlier rotary faders. They weren't linear pots, though; they were a thing called a quadrant fader - loads of precision resistors, and a slider moving on a central pivot past lots of low-impedance studs. ( has a grainy image of such a desk; has a discussion and images).

    The point was that you never intentionally opened a fader all the way on a live show; there was generally expected to be 10dB or so headroom - if the presenter was quiet, or too far from the mic, you had to crank in the extra level, so that last bit of the fader got used then.

    Because the fader - about four inches long - was part of a circle, it had a hump in the middle about an inch high. Trying accurately to control the position of the fader when the knob was away from you is difficult; when it's moving towards you, it's a doddle. And in most cases you could put your thumb on the desk and open the fader till it met your thumb without looking, and get it pretty much right.

    When the BBC moved to flat faders, they stuck with their premise even though you do tend to lose the location feedback, and for many many years all the major manufacturers made desks with BBC-style faders. Though they seem to have lost their clout recently (er, in the last ten or fifteen years) and started buying upside down desks...

  47. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Re: BBC Mixing desks


    Thanks for that. I hadn't heard of the old style quadrant faders. They sound quite an interesting idea. Nice tactile feedback on what level you're at as well.

    Back on topic: The only cable ties I've ever found to be any good are the velcro ones. But even they seem to be more trouble than they're worth in a lot of cases.

  48. Miffo

    Memory cards for PC's

    Anyone got a collection of expansion memory card thingies from old PC's that you now have no idea what the spec is so can't even flog them on ebay. Not that I've bothered to flog the ones I do know the specs for!

  49. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    Re: Memory cards for PC's

    No. But I do have an 8MB SD card. Yes. You read that right. Megabyte.

    Somewhere I might still have the 1Mb "SIP" chips that our cheap 386 needed to boot Windows 3.1 - the only other thing I've ever known to use them are some ANCIENT HP Laserjets.

  50. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    Hoarding is a bit of an IT disease, mainly because when you go round someone's house (after months of them begging and also realising that you probably do owe them a favour), they will need to have a Windows reinstall from an XP disk with some obscure driver which has to be put on using a floppy drive, and then their printer install will have freaked out because you're not using a parallel cable but are trying to be clever pushing it through some networked-printer-server thing that you also found (but which could've saved you a lot of time), and then being asked if you've got a mouse because they can't find PS/2 ones any more.

    The fact is, my hoard, by percentage is mostly worthless and will be unused. But in there is that one obscure cable, weird card you never thought you'd use, adapter for something that doesn't exist any more, etc. and sometimes - just once maybe - it will absolutely save your life that you've got it still.

    That said, in terms of boxes, manuals, etc. I ditch after a year. If I haven't sent it back after a year, it's probably okay, and there's no law that says it has to be in the original packaging even if I do (really, honestly, truly!). Cables, I limit myself to a maximum of five of anything that's immortal (e.g. power leads and 19v adaptors), two of everything else and one of most things. You only need so many 36-pin floppy IDE cables, or ZIP drive power supplies.

    If you really want a hoard, I guarantee you that I still own:

    - 2 Video Backers (backup data to VHS tape from an ISA card! - no idea what I'll ever use them for, but there you go)

    - APC UPS serial cables (which you HAVE to label because they have a different pin configuration to everything else)

    - "Real" fax modems (surprisingly useful if not winmodems for setting up automated fax to email systems with Hylafax)

    - Fans and fan-adaptor cables (unbelievable how many people just let their fans clog to the point of dying and then buy a £20 Maplin fan that's worth about 50p).

    - A Syquest Sparq drive (parallel port version - like a ZIP but 1Gb disks, and a HUGE data store for anything that only does DOS / Parallel without having to worry about drivers and moving old IDE disks around).

    - IDE -> SATA and SATA -> IDE convertors (usually tiny ones that cost next-to-nothing)

    - Drive rails (e.g. 3.5" -> 5.25" bay rails - invaluable even on modern machines when you use a lot of disks).

    - 25m serial cable made up of every combination of 25-pin, 9-pin, male, female, etc.. Seriously. Used to play IPX- and TCP- games over this using an old DOS packet driver pre-home-networks.

    - PCI analog TV cards (excellent for CCTV systems running on old machines and as spares for such now that digital is king).

    - Every possible combination of USB A, B, mini, micro, male, female, etc. that you can imagine in one huge long daisy-chain of adaptors that takes up nearly a meter of solid plastic (I call it the USB lightsaber).

    - Power adaptors for weird things - old Dell laptops mainly and anything that has a weird voltage / connector like some of the old ISDN modems, routers, etc.

    - PS/2 extensions and USB adaptors. Vital for fixing old machines and/or keeping your old keyboard.

    Plus so much other junk I couldn't name it all.

    But I tell you what, when someone says "I know it's a long shot, but I don't suppose you have..." I just *KNOW* that if I haven't got what they need, I can cobble it together from the "bits box" quite easily. Some of the improvised cables/adaptors that have come out of that box were like something from Apollo 13's fix for the air-scrubbers, but they worked and against all odds we got things back and working even if they WERE immediately scheduled for removal because of the difficulty of maintaining them after that.


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