Tag Archives: mold

my future hoard?

Last Tuesday, Sidney at Milbetweenus.com posted the story of Greg’s journey through his parents’ hoard. It’s a compelling and tragic read that helped me understand why some COHs have encouraged me to say something now to my parents instead of waiting until they’re found clinging to life (or worse) under the weight of their hoard.

the "office"

When I consider the mass of things my parents have accumulated in their lifetimes, I prefer to just never look back. What’s really sad about it in retrospect is that while I lived in that house for the 2 years or so while I finished high school, I had mostly happy moments. But when I think about the house in the state I last saw it, all my memories are dampened. All I see now is the filth, shut off rooms, broken gutters, cracked doorsteps, and disarray. This when I know that they had cleaned the house the best they could before we got there. As I’ve said before, my strategy has been to look away and go away while letting them live their lives.

I teared up, though, reading Greg’s story, because I know this is the position my brother shares. He has long been saying he will take a leave from work when the time comes and he will go through the house, with or without family help. He feels he needs to pay proper respect to what has been kept, and he shares Greg’s desire to see it all before it goes. Just thinking about it makes my chest tighten up, not just with anxiety, but thoughts of the dust mites and mold that trigger my allergies.

It makes me angry with my parents, but still I do nothing. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it (if you can) comes to mind. Maybe I can start by talking to my brother to see if he wants to intervene at any point. Even more appropriate would be to contact my step-brother and sister-in-law who live 45 minutes from the hoarded house and see my parents regularly. But my parents have cleverly cut us off from each other — similar to what they’ve done with their home. Every communication passes through them first and they’ve created a web of information that we either are or are not supposed to know so that when we talk we navigate goat trails. It’s no wonder I left the country when I think of the weight of things that could topple down at any moment.

Enough about me, though. Greg – you’ve done a great and noble thing that I do not have the balls to do for my folks although that would be my dad’s dying wish. Sidney, you’re amazing for being able to support Greg the way you have. It’s hard enough for a COH to understand what their parents have done; I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for our partners.

separation

I just read a (very old) post on Hoarder’s Son in which he encourages adult children of hoarders to take action on their parents’ hoard before it’s too late and they find their folks dead and buried under a pile.

This sounded like the oddest advice to me. I mean, can’t we just ignore what our parents are doing? It’s their problem, after all. We have no control over their collecting, piling, keeping and the ruining of their home. Am I calloused to say such a thing?

One of the most healing things I have learned over the past ten years through divorce, remarriage, and relative separation from my hoarding father, is that I cannot wrap my identity up in anyone else’s. I did that for a long time with my father and was mortified to be associated with him and devastated to never please him. Then I did the same with my first husband, desperately trying to get him to conform to my world view because I felt, through marriage, we were identified together. It caused me far too much disappointment and frustration. I do not know at what point I realized that he was not me and did not need to be me. Perhaps it came out in therapy or sometime before that. When I was living alone in Europe in 2001-2002, I realized I liked myself much better as an individual. All the anger from trying to impose myself and my identity or trying to blend my identity with someone who was nothing like me – it was suddenly gone.

And now when I think about things I don’t necessarily like in my family members, I don’t really worry about it. Their bad habits and compulsions are their own. I have my own hangups to deal with. No one can fix my problems for me and I certainly cannot control theirs.

So when I look at my parents’ hoard, I have that maybe cruel feeling of – let them die there if that’s what they want. I have no intention of clearing out their house. I’ve taken any of my own belongings that matter to me. I’ve told them clearly they can get rid of anything I’ve left there… but how could I possibly push them to let go of that mess? I have no control over it and I am not equipped to counsel or help them in any sort of lasting way.

As I’ve posted before, it’s a regular topic of conversation with my brother. Who is going to take care of the mess? They know that my step-brothers want to burn the house (à la Gilbert Grape), and although I think I could tolerate being there to sort and throw things out to prepare for an estate sale, I really don’t see a way that this could happen while they are alive. I have no desire to hear the justification for each artifact and why it matters. It just isn’t my problem right now.

I want my parents to be healthy (they are suffering from respiratory problems that I presume are related to the accumulated mold and dust in their home) and safe and happy. But they are not me, I am not them, and I’m about to move as far away as I can go. I will further extract myself from their tangled behavior of hoarding and I will not be available to help them if the clutter collapses one day on top of them.

story hoarding

I had a rare online chat with my step-mother on Saturday which led into questions about genealogy and then my great-grandfather and his mysterious life. While my step-mom unapologetically said she wishes she were interested in her ancestry, but she’s not, she very much wants my father to share his stories about our past. She dialed me up and gave the phone to my dad.

My dad and I spoke for about 45 minutes and he recounted stories about my grandfather’s childhood, growing up mostly with a single mom. I typed as quickly as I could while he chattered in a sort of non-linear fashion, thinking of additional points and background stories as he went. As he was telling me the most poignant stories that had been handed down, he remembered that while my grandfather was dying in the hospital, he had taken a tape recorder and recorded their dialogue. I don’t know what they talked about specifically but my dad confessed, “You know… I never listened to that tape.”

I urged him to find it and have it converted to digital format, something that baffles him completely. Instead he got sidetracked again and said, “You know … we want to start cleaning out the house and selling some of this stuff. But it’s probably going to take a long time.”

My father has been plagued with respiratory problems for the past five or more years. I’m fairly convinced it’s from the mold and dust that has accumulated in their stuff. He doesn’t seem able or motivated to have his health problems resolved. Instead he tells me he probably isn’t going to live that much longer – to which I nearly almost always reply, “but what if you do? What if you live to be 100?”

Closer to the point, however, are the stories that my father has been hoarding. He has family genealogy books and albums stored in the house, but his brain is the most cluttered space, crammed full of specific dates, names, places, and other details. I was able to take the information he gave me over the phone, from stories he had not lived himself but had heard from his parents, aunts and uncles, and I could corroborate most of the details using familysearch.org.

He’s unable to write down or record his thoughts in a usable way. I told my step-mom to put him in the car on the way to church, ask him a question, and hit record on a digital recorder. The man is haunted by so many stories that he relives readily, eagerly even, but he’s unable to save them for us. Why hold on to something valuable, only to watch it deteriorate from disuse? Why conjure it up in your mind repeatedly, obsessively, but be unable to materialize the object, to put it in its rightful spot, to store it away or relinquish it totally?

 

hoarding food

One of the most amazing and somewhat sickening elements to the hoarding lifestyle is the compulsion to hoard food. When D. first moved in with me, it took him months to go through all of the reserves of canned corn and tuna that I had somehow stocked up in a year’s time. I still have bags of rice, tea, and spices from before we met more than 5 years ago. At least most of these items are shelf-stable.

Today via barfblog.com’s “Food safety from farm to fridge to garbage can (compost pile)” based on a New York Times story, we learn that a quarter to half of all food produced in the country becomes garbage. Yet there are hoarders, like me, who have trouble throwing away the vanilla bean their friend brought back from the tropics because she may one day have a recipe that needs it. Even worse, there are people with moldy magot-filled food in their fridges because they’ve forgotten it’s there or they think they may still be able to use it.

When mentally conjuring this post this morning, I thought about my father’s refrigerator. It is always packed to the brim, and not really with rotten food. In my memory it remains full of huge tubs of margarine and cheese that were on sale and tupperware bins of leftovers, including my very least favorite, leftover gravy. (It was often my chore to flush the gravy-gone-moldy down the toilet … talk about barfblog material.) In addition to their large refrigerator/freezer (and pantry) that’s packed full, they have a storage freezer full of other sale items and butchered meat from whatever was successfully hunted or leftover from other people’s hunts. When you reduce it down to the needs of two people living in that house, it is an enormous quantity of food.

I may  need to go home for Thanksgiving this year and call it research. Are the tubs of food bulging out of the fridge only in my mind, or are they a real entity?

Collectors

“I’m a collector.”

A repeated mantra among hoarders. There is a line crossed between collecting and hoarding, as hoarding makes your home unlivable and interferes with your daily tasks. You can’t sit on your couch because of the pile of papers or eat dinner at your table because you’d have to move your tools, phonebooks, what-have-you somewhere else? Your stuff is interfering with your life. That characterizes a large part of my late childhood and adolescence.

stamp albumMy brother told me that during a recent visit to my father’s house, our dad asked him if there was anything he wanted to have. My brother said that stamp collecting with my dad was one of his only happy childhood memories. My dad apparently replied that he wasn’t sure if the stamp books were still intact because they were somewhere in the rubbermade bins in the back yard (covered by a tarp), and some of them had holes in the bottom from mice or rats chewing through them and were probably now moldy. Here the hoarding has ruined the one thing it set out to protect.

My dad is a collector, my brother is a collector, and I used to be (and likely still am) a collector. But what are we collecting if it turns our happy memories into rot?