Janet didn’t have a problem. She’d been collecting things her entire life—books, stamps, porcelain dolls, rocks, empty bottles, slightly broken chairs. She didn’t even hesitate anymore when people stared at her with gaping mouths as she dug through the bins of garbage outside the Hillridge Apartment Complex two and a half miles from her house. So what if they watched her with disgust? That was their problem, not hers.
It all started when she was about twelve, a few months after her family moved to New York. Her father was an avid drinker, and he was known back home for being a bit loose with his wallet when he’d had a few too many drinks. That wasn’t his biggest problem, though. His biggest problem was his pride. Afraid to admit just how much of a screw up he really was, Janet’s father would often bet what little money his wife had earned doing laundry that week—the money that was meant to buy their family bread, milk, and butter.
But he didn’t care, as long as he didn’t have to admit his own failure, as long as he could blame luck. So what if it meant they would go to bed hungry? It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
One day Janet walked in to find her father passed out on the couch in just his underwear, her mother crouching on the floor over his pants. In about three seconds her mother had successfully taken the few coins remaining in his pockets, put two down the front of her dress and slipped the third back in his pants to avoid suspicion. When she saw Janet watching her, she simply whispered, “A penny saved is a penny earned” and walked away.
Janet started collecting, too. If a penny saved is a penny earned, think of what I can earn by saving stuff worth more than a stupid penny, she thought. And so it began.
She might have come from humble beginnings, but look at her now! Janet had an entire house all to herself. And the things—God, she had so many possessions! Her house was crammed to the top with them, every free space housing a stack of newspapers or a bag of old cans she was planning on exchanging for cash. Under the piles of partner-less shoes she had chairs and tables that were only missing one leg, which she knew could be easily fixed and then resold to make a quick buck. She just hadn’t had the chance to sit down and physically fix the legs—not yet. But she would. Just you wait and see, she thought to herself whenever someone brought this fact to her attention.
The smell didn’t bother her too much either—it was just something that came with the glory of owning things she supposed. Other people might complain, but screw them. They could make their houses smell like whatever they wanted, but this was her house and she happened to like the smell of success… Well, it was closer to the smell of a corpse rotting in a garbage dump on a hot August day, but who cares?
She didn’t have friends, but it was better that way. Less people askin’ me for money, she told herself whenever she noticed how quiet a house without people could get.
But none of that mattered because Janet was going to be filthy rich one of these days—as soon as she had a chance to fix the broken chairs and repaint the faded dolls’ cheeks. All she had to do, for now, was keep collecting and saving things. Whenever she started to doubt her approach to life, she just thought of what her mother said all those years ago and she’d feel better. A penny saved is a penny earned, and just look at all the stuff I’ve saved! I’m gonna be richer than a king someday, Janet would think to herself time and again.
If she thought it enough, repeated it over and over, one of these days she might just believe it. One of these days it might become true.