Category Archives: memory hoarding

digitizing memories

1993 for hoarding memory

A couple of months ago, I thought it would be smart to buy a very cheap printer/scanner to be able to print out a few pictures here and there for S. who is having an increasing number of school projects. The machine is total crap, but it is allowing me at least start on one project I’ve put off for many years.

I began journalling at the age of 10 with very insightful entries like “Dear Diary, Today I went to school.” I still have that journal. In the back of my mind, I always thought one day it might help my child to have my journals so they could know whatever they are going through is not so unknown. That was pretty presumptive on my part. S. would probably read my journals and say, “OMG TMI!”

In any case, I moved all of these notebooks here to Australia and I’ve decided that I might be able to digitize them. I’m glancing at pages here and there and sort of cracking up at my 1993 version of myself: very religious, very dramatic, very in love with my first serious boyfriend at university. I should dump the journals completely, but for some reason I can’t let go. Those notebooks were sometimes a lifeline to me. Writing has always helped me untangle very complicated and painful knots and has offered solace when there was none from the humans in my life. Sometimes I think I should publish them as a journey, but no one would want to read the thousands of pages of crap about my daily life – not even me, really. So here the pages go, into the computer, one by one, to maybe never come out again. At least another shelf will be clear.

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be there

My guilty pleasure is watching Real Housewives of Anywhere, no matter how trashy or how silly the show is. I do not watch television to edify myself.

And so this morning I was thinking about ashy feet and how nice Kandi Burruss‘s skin is, and how she’s my favorite housewife of Atlanta. She’s short, smart, and ambitious. But I thought, “I can’t understand how she defends her mother.” She broke down in tears a week or so ago when confronted by her best friend and boyfriend. She defended her mother saying how she knew her mom would always be there for her. Obviously I can only speculate based on the show, but I thought, “But she’s not there for you, Kandi. She’s ripping you away from the people you love.” (Yes, I have really deep thoughts in the shower.)

Then it sort of struck me: I always have said that if I got into trouble, my father would be there for me. And yet, I have no evidence that he would be there for me. He has not been there for me. He even made up excuses not to attend my high school functions. He does not support me emotionally and has not supported me financially since I turned 18. Right before we moved to Australia, I asked him if he would be willing to send me things like over the counter medicine if I needed them, and I offered to pay him through PayPal. He blatantly said he thought that was not a good idea. Why would I think he would be there for me?

Do any of you have a Hoarding Parent who is truly there for you when you need something? I am thankful I have never honestly needed something from either of my parents, though it would be comforting to have emotional encouragement from either mom or dad without me asking or admitting I need it.

secondary issues

Tangential to the last post, when we go to our house in the U.S. I am supposed to pack up any remaining items that matter to me. I’ve made a careful list of what I remember leaving there. I know what items I want to have here with me in Australia. There are only a few things that matter, but some of it has me stuck.

One personally valuable item that I had to leave behind is my paternal grandmother’s china. She passed away when I was only eight years old and I loved the delicate flower pattern on the dishes. I now have her entire collection packed away in a rubbermade bin in the basement of our house. I don’t think I can justify shipping it to Australia, though I may want to have it here some day. It has occurred to me that my brother might like to have it, but he is flying to Florida to see us and won’t likely be able to fly home with a full set of dishes.

If I had a normal parent, I would leave the dishes at his house. Because he’s a hoarder, though, that is the surest way to lose them. The whole thing depresses me; and so, the china will likely remain in the basement of my house where I will continue to store it in my mind, catalogued away, hoarded.

thank you, Sidney

It is with much sadness that I write this thank you note to Sidney Patrick (of milbetweenus.com) who passed away unexpectedly last week. She was an amazing supporter of this blog (with many snarky and hilarious comments), and as far as I can tell, of so many people in the COH community who need support. She was amazing on the HuffPo Live show on hoarding, bringing the emphasis to the victims while the show itself seemed to have been programmed to haul the hoarder back into the light. I posted then on her blog that I was proud: I’m proud to have even minimally interacted with such a bright, strong person. Sidney, you’re inspiring. And I thank you.

nbd, it’s npd

Thank you Hoarder’s Son and Children of Hoarders for your recent discussions on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Thank you, but why must the rabbit hole go ever deeper? Probably to hide away more hoarded stuff. It seems only appropriate that our HPs have collected psychological disorders along with their junk.

Without having a proper degree to diagnose my father, I can recognize obvious displays of NPD in him. Long before the hoard, the characteristic marks of this behavior were present. He has big dreams (that happen to change rather often), believes he is someone very special (divine calling, anyone?), and treated his first and second wives and his children as extensions of himself who were meant to obey his commands and whims without resistance. Question his authority and expect a fine fit of rage.

Where things get complicated for me, or for him maybe, is that my father is a pastor of a very small church. Being a pastor and doing these things for the Lord justifies almost every behavior, every dream, every whim, everything he wants. This role began about the time when the hoarding took off and I was out of the house. And pastoring fulfilled his need to have constant admiration, attention, and control. At some point I began to wonder (shudder) if he even believed what he was preaching or if he simply enjoyed being in the position of total authority in the church body.  Whatever the inspiration, he has mellowed considerably through the years — from God or from age, I do not know.

My father can be completely charming and sweet, but any generosity or overly kind word gives me a grippingly sick feeling. His sweetness is always pointed at what he cannot control, but if you ask him, he is just winning people over to the Lord. I tense up when I hear that overly sweet tone in his voice. It happened too often in my childhood that he would be in a full-on rage about some horrible sin I’d committed (blue nail polish comes to mind) and the phone would ring. Suddenly he’d be the nicest man on earth on the phone, perhaps even brag about how great I was to his interlocutor, and the minute the conversation with the unknown person was over, the rage would continue. Turn it on, turn it off. Like a switch.

I could go on and on with this analysis of my father and the ways in which he matches this behavior profile, but things get difficult when I turn the scope on myself.

I, like many people who have posted on children of hoarders (thank you, all of you), was a mini-adult, put on display at church as the model child, had perfect grades from ninth grade to the end of my B.A. degree, and every success was attributed not only to my father, but to our heavenly father. Perfect grades? Praise the Lord. Scholarship? Praise the Lord. More than once I wanted to scream, “What about praise me?” Yet still, I endeavored to please.

I was the Golden Child, the wanted child (?), the successful child. I found my rebellion through reading subversive books in a foreign language and conducting my research in a way that is entirely incomprehensible to my father. I created my space in foreign cultures and he has not once asked or attempted to understand it. His only concern has ever been if my beliefs align with his: I am so going to Hell.

Until I met D. I had no idea what I wanted in life even though I was very clearly motivated. He’s the first person to ever ask me what I wanted. I had always had some God-plan to live by. When I stumbled off of that track, and D. asked me hard questions, I came up entirely empty. How could I answer where I was going since someone or some entity had always told me where to go and what to do?

I chose a path that brought down my father’s wrath. I was 31.

And now, seven years later and in a different countries, my father is trying to use his sweet charm on me.

NPD, maybe it’s a BFD.

 

clean your room

From “When Parents Text” 

April 11, 2012

Mom: I’m leaving for the weekend so I hid $100 in your room for food, clean your room and you will find it.

***

When I was about 9 or 10 years old on some random summer day, my brother and I were at home by ourselves as usual while our parents were at work. Their strategy for keeping us out of trouble was usually a painful list of chores that had to be completed by the time dad got home. For some strange reason, my mother decided one day to try positive reinforcement. She left us a note on the kitchen counter that said, “clean your room for a big surprise” or something to that effect.

Being the brilliant 9-13 year olds that we were, we flung crap around our rooms until we unearthed the surprise, completely trashing whatever had once been in order. She had bought us little toy motorcycles. In my memory, mine was buried under a mountain of junk in my closet. My brother and I spent the rest of the day playing with our new toys. Mom was furious when she got home and we had to go clean our rooms in tears. Ok, maybe I’m inventing the tears, but I always felt bad when I had done something wrong and I knew I had done something wrong in this case. Poor mom.

When I read this post on When Parents Text, I first thought, “Would that work to motivate a hoarder?” Umm, no, probably not. My dad claims there are hundreds of dollars hidden throughout his hoard. He thinks that’s just safekeeping.

hoarding is a mental activity

My head is stuffed up, or maybe just stuffed. It’s full of gunk, if not information. And because it’s completely clogged, I decided it wise to take the bus instead of my bicycle to work on Wednesday.

Suspected bus-sprawling hoarding woman was sitting in her same spot, this time with only her purse on the seat next to her. I realized I’m too quick to judge. But more to the point, I realized I create stories in my mind attached to all kinds of random people I see throughout the day. Somehow when I process information, it never rests simply in my mind. I attach all sorts of meta-data (or in this case a meta-fiction) to it. How I’m able to draw out any meaningful conclusions or produce much from the accumulated mental mess, is quite miraculous. Yes, I did just say I impress myself given my “cognitive difficulties” (said to me by my PhD committee during my preliminary exams a decade ago).

Akiko Ikeuchi Knotted Thread - Red 2009

Akiko Ikeuchi Knotted Thread - Red 2009

The point is (this is some fine writing), hoarding has been defined as an activity that detrimentally impacts your ability to live in a space. In that view, hoarding is only defined by its physical manifestation. However, Frost and Steketee have also looked at “information processing deficits (e.g., attention, organization, memory, decision-making).” I believe hoarding is a mental activity and one that plagues me even though I have mostly slain the over-accumulated-object aspect of it. At the root of it, our brains are overwhelmed with a knot of information that we can’t always properly untangle because we get distracted by the various threads within it. Sometimes those knots can be quite beautiful and productive; sometimes the knot is just a messy obstacle to what lies beneath.

the goodness of stuff

D. just got back from the States with five suitcases: a veritable treasure trove of stuff. I am amazed at the things he picked up and brought back – everything from a bike repair kit to some wooden hangers, full tool sets and so on. Most of it is linens and cooking supplies; all of it is wonderful. This stack of worthless looking tins almost made me well up (granted I’m hormonal at the moment and got misty eyed at Madonna’s Super Bowl performance). The bottom cake pan has been in my life as long as I remember. It may have come from a grandparent, but I specifically remember my mother baking with it when I was little. It made my heart happy to see it here in Australia even though it had completely slipped my memory until today.

reunion and recollection

While I classify the bulk of my research as part of Memory Studies, I am the first to admit I have memory trouble. Sometimes I have crystal clear precision of words or events, especially of places, but I can forget something you told me five minutes ago, I forget what I’m doing while I’m doing it, and I sometimes jumble things together.

My high school class(es) are getting ready for our (gasp) 20th year reunions this year, and in preparation, one of the classes is compiling images and video to show at the party. Someone just posted our Senior Class Video,  I’m three minutes in, and I have only recognized four or five people. These were our teachers and staff that we saw every day for years. Of all those who impacted me, I can give you the names of my French teacher, my psychology teacher, my calculus teacher, my American Literature teacher and my very favorite Physics teacher. Four of the five were my teachers for at least two years.

I’m dumbfounded. I feel like a stranger looking at someone else’s documented past. Is it because I only lived in that town for two and a half years? Or have I really erased so much of those mostly happy years in my life?

why we collect stuff

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a collection of pieces in Room for Debate on 30 December 2011, “Why We Collect Stuff.” Randy O. Frost defines the moment when collecting becomes hoarding, and Philipp Blom has a well-written piece, “Objects of Desire and Dreams.” Blom explains:

Collected objects are like holy relics: conduits to another world. They have shed their original function and become totems, fetishes. Collecting by its very nature is animist and transcendental.

The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.

This gets to the crux of my interest in memory and hoarding. The objects we cling to attempt to say something about ourselves and tie us to a broader spectrum of people, eternalizing both the objects and the sentiments behind them. The object becomes symbol of both self and community.

This works for collecting, but what about hoarding? The desire to preserve begins the same but the attachment to the object seems to be as linked to decay and destruction as it is to safeguarding. Amassing the sheer volume of things surpasses the ability to control and the collection implodes. Items are lost in the debris even if they remain in the hoarder’s memory.