During the first few minutes of “Hoarding: Buried Alive” last night, a very articulate woman who left behind her clean ways for a lifestyle of accumulating when her husband of 25 years announced he was gay explained that this stuff was “emotional baggage.” It’s a physical representation of the clutter and disorganization that she felt was inside her. “You can only imagine if this is how I live what’s going on in my brain.”
Although I only watched a few minutes of this episode, her situation resonated with my family’s experience. All of my childhood memories are set in a very clean house. Not trusting what’s left in my brain, I emailed my mother to ask her what it was really like living with my father. The two went through a lengthy divorce from the time I was 12 until I was 14 and a bit. I recollect my early adolescence as the beginning of the stuff piling up.
I paste below my excerpted email exchange with my mother:
Me: This may seem like an odd question, but do you think Dad was a hoarder when you were married to him? I’m just wondering how long he’s had that kind of obsessive need to collect things or if it got bad later. In my mind the house was always clean and neat when we were children and probably until you moved out. Although I do remember his papers all over his office and all over the house for taxes or other sorting events. But that didn’t seem to be the norm. He’s still not as bad as what you can see on those TV shows, but I also think he has a few storage units of stuff somewhere.
Mom: When I was with him, he was obsessed with clean. He loved to sort his books – take them all off the shelf, put them in some order, replace them and put all the spines at the same level on the shelf. He didn’t hoard anything that I recall. I can’t even remember anything he liked to collect, except hunting stuff. You are right about all being in order. He wanted double-vacuumed rugs and washed floors – not that he wanted to clean it, but he wanted it clean. He used to use his mother as an example and how she used to shine the chrome legs on the kitchen table when he was young. Storage units of stuff sounds a bit troublesome.
She recommended I talk it over with my stepmother who’s been with him for more than 20 years already. The first time I noticed the clutter becoming bad was when we had to wade through a garage full of stuff before we could move to live with my step-mom. I wonder how she felt when she saw that mountain of things, mostly made out of paper and cardboard boxes. Emotional baggage made tangible, clinging to him and traveling thousands of miles to take root in her home.