All of this is possible, at Swap-O-Rama Flea Market in Back of the Yards.
All of this is possible, at Swap-O-Rama Flea Market in Back of the Yards. Credit: Salem Collo-Julin

“Wow, you have a lot of stuff” is such a common refrain from first-timers visiting my apartment that I might get it tattooed. It’s always dripping with hesitation and concern. “Am I about to walk into a hoarder house?” is what I hear in the spaces between the words. But I take that wry observation as the highest of compliments.

Yes, I do have a lot of stuff. Thank you for noticing!

Nearly everyone I know spent the first parts of pandemic lockdown Kondo-ing the hell out of their apartment. I did the opposite. I told myself that if I was going to stare at my apartment’s heather-gray walls for the rest of eternity, I better make sure I like staring at them. (Side note: Heather Gray is an incredible drag name).

With walls bedazzled with shelves and artwork I’d part with not even in death, my maximalism has cocooned me during the pandemic. To distract myself from the very real fear of friends and family dying, I splurged on silly shit that brought some joy into my home, albeit briefly—like a little elf figurine that smiles a little too coyly or a pair of penis-shaped candles.

But my tchotchke trove began far before COVID-19. When I lived in New York City, I worked in Chelsea near a Danish store called Flying Tiger Copenhagen, which can only be described as a store that sells both the most and least useful household items possible. I bought my dad a $5 mini drone for Christmas there and picked up a ceramic cactus tray for myself that now holds the backs of my enamel pins. The kitchen section is the most useful part of the store, however. That’s where I found a set of chopsticks, a teapot, and flower vases that all eventually found their way into my home.

My dragon’s hoard has grown the most since I moved to Chicago. Stores like the Andersonville Galleria and its neighbors Foursided and Woolly Mammoth, and Logan Square’s Sideshow Gallery are mainstays on my foraging path. And after asking readers and friends for suggestions of similar treasure troves, I have a list of favorites that I’m eager to visit: Rosebud’s Reflections Jewelry and Accessories in Chatham, Bookie’s in Beverly, the Silver Room in Hyde Park, and the Swap-O-Rama flea market in Back of the Yards.

What I love the most about buying silly, sometimes truthfully stupid trinkets is not the acquisition itself. It’s the hunt. It’s the journey and not the destination, friends.

There’s something so addicting about meandering around a store when something catches your eye. It stops you in your tracks, arrests your breath. Time slows down around me. It might have something to do with my propensity to shop stoned, but I digress—it’s a great time. A good find will make my day, put a pep in my step, and convince me that this world is worth living for another day.

Minimalism, living with less, Kondo-ing. Our culture values simplicity in a home, where walls are decorated with only a few works of art, where tables are free of clutter, and countertops are bare. That may be what wary visitors to my house are thinking: by defying the cultural norms of neatness, order, and peace, is my friend Adam chaotic, messy, and unclean?

Fear not! There is organized chaos in my clutter. Any collector worth their salt would say the same. The candles, mini cauldron, and collections of skulls of various materials and sizes are arranged on the altar above my TV purposefully. The preserved death’s-head hawkmoth and Tom of Finland print are next to each other on my wall for a reason. The papel picado garland above my bed is intentional. Maximalism, cluttercore, whatever you want to call it, I’m a collector.

I feel at home among the clutter, with mere inches between picture frames, prints, shelves, and knicknacks. Each item, each print, each doodad and whatsit has a story, a memory, and a place. Some, like the penis candles, are just there to create intrigue and a good laugh. Other items, like the small lucky cat figurine I bought on my first trip to San Francisco, or the Salvador Dali prayer candle that was my first desk decoration at my first job out of college, remind me of where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and the places I have yet to go.

I love all my treasures because they honor my journey, despite the space they may take up on my walls and countertops. And I can’t wait to keep going and collect more.  v