Category Archives: weight of things

my valentine

Yesterday morning I checked into my office to find the most wonderful and coincidental Valentine’s gift from D.. Eight boxes of books arrived in my office from the U.S.     Love.

There are another seven that are MIA and probably fifteen more that need to be sent from home. Unpacking the boxes felt like Christmas, my birthday, the fourth of July… you get the idea. Among the loot were a few much needed texts, some French fiction I haven’t touched in ages but love to have on my shelves, and then the random: a pattern for a crocheted afghan that I’ve started three times and never finished.

D. has said if we move again, the books are not coming with me. I feel like whining, “But I neeeeeeed them for work!” Of course, there is that big building on campus called a …. library.

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.

to confront or not to confront

After my post the other day about possibly talking to my parents about their hoarding problem, I emailed my brother to see if he had thoughts. His response: there is nothing we can do.

Yeah…I don’t think we can say anything or do anything to change what is going on.  When I was living over there years ago, I tried to clean up, but, it didn’t really do much good.  I know K. is frustrated with it and has probably just given up.  My thinking is eventually something will happen so that I can go and straighten things out…not sure when or what will happen.  Not much I can do either…I might as well be 10000 miles away too.

There’s the long and short of it. We both feel defeated but understand it is their problem. I just don’t know if they are aware it is a problem.

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.

burn barrel worthy

The place where my HP father lives is about four miles outside of a smallish town, and although they have neighbors around them, it can be classified as in the country. In the backyard near the deer pen there is a burn barrel, which is basically an old rusted oil barrel – the kind you see hobos warming their hands over in grimy movies about New York. (Gawd, I hope that wasn’t an offensive image – at least not any more offensive than the image I’m painting of my parents. A nicer image might be of a steel drum?)

My parents keep their compost, basically feeding vegetable scraps to the deer. They recycle plastic and aluminium, which means hoarding cool whip containers and cans in the garage. They burn, however, the majority of their trash.

One day during university I was visiting my family and sorting through things I had left at their house. I made a pile that I decided to burn. I no longer remember what I burned exactly, since I know I still have boxes of notes and even printed emails that have been condensed but stored over the years. I do remember that I took the opportunity to burn some of my father’s things.

Each time I visited, my step-mother would lament how much these collected things weighed on her. She sometimes joked about getting her own place to live just to have space; but now I know that she, too, contributes to the piles.

If you ask my father politely if you can dispose of his 1980 phonebook from a town in another state, he will shriek, “No. I need that. There are numbers in there that are now unlisted. I use it still.” Instead, I took the stealthy strategy of quickly grabbing a couple of phonebooks from his stack. Not too many that he would notice, and not the oldest one. And oops, out they went into the burn barrel along with my things. I couldn’t pray for the flame to burn any faster and kept looking over my shoulder in case he noticed the pages of his beloved phonebook flying up in the air with the smoke. I don’t think he ever found out. At least no one ever mentioned it to me.

I read so many messages from other COHs about the valuable things that are lost in the hoard. Recently there was a story about a purple heart that had gone missing in the mess. I can’t even afford to think about what’s worth keeping in my parents’ house at this point. There probably are some wonderful treasures, valuable ones, in the stacks. Mostly I think there would be nothing more redeeming than watching it all go up in smoke once my parents are gone.

paper-free with a price

Oh Ikea, it’s always all about you. How could we survive without accumulating your gadgets to make our clutter go away? I have to admit, though, that I have a soft spot for organized hoarders. Maybe it’s because my father is on that path with his alphabetized and chronologically ordered crap. Maybe because it’s the kind of hoarder I would aspire to be.

sharing a home

a skink in the back yard - not the lizard I saw last night

Last night around 1 a.m. as I tiptoed down the stairs to return some milk to the fridge, I noticed a little grey blur on the floor. As soon as I began to wonder what it was, it quickly flitted away behind the curtains. I recognized it as some type of lizard, made sure I walked clear of its path,  left the stove light on for D. who gets up very early, and went back to bed. When he got up some thirty minutes later, I was still awake and told him about the lizard so he wouldn’t be startled.

When I saw the thing, I momentarily considered catching it and throwing it outside in the rain. But I am not terribly concerned about lizards who eat bugs and don’t bite humans. I no longer have a baby crawling on the floor, no cats or dogs who are going to catch it for me, no real concerns about the thing except it’s kind of creepy to have a lizard in the house when you don’t know what kind it is.

In North America we’ve had plenty of critters trying to invade our space. We had a bird make a perch on our balcony, we watched our cat bring a live mouse in the house and let it go, we’ve had rats eat through the wires of our car engine (twice), our dogs caught a baby raccoon in our yard, and the raccoons feasted regularly on our compost. Add to that wild turkeys, an occasional fox, deer and many rabbits, squirrels and snakes who had a habitat in our yard even though we lived near the center of the city.

I grew up mostly in the country. Animals and pests are just a part of home life. But what happens when your floor isn’t cleared enough to see the lizard scampering across it, or the pile of newspapers is so huge you can’t find the mouse building a nest in it? You just hear the random scurrying and scratching. Does it become a part of your home life? Common sounds you’re used to hearing, unconcerned that you’re sharing your home with critters?

My father (the HP) lives in a rural Mid-Western community and I recall being terrified my first summer, having moved there from Montana in high school, when I stepped outside to what sounded like a rain forest. Then one night (I should’ve known hoarding was an issue by then), I was even more frightened when I heard loud scratching and crawling noises in my ceiling. When I told my parents about it the next day, they flatly said there were squirrels making a nest in the rafters. No one cared. No one did anything about it. More recently, my brother declared he wanted my father’s stamp collection (which represented his only happy childhood memory), and my father nonchalantly declared that mice had probably eaten through the stamp books. Never mind that incompatibility with hoarding crap you collect and letting it get destroyed. I can’t understand how hoarders get to the point of not caring about the critters in their home that they cannot see or access – only hear or smell. Does it become another comforting part of the hoard, or does it ever terrify them that their home is taking on a life of its own?

no resolutions

I’ve been in Australia for six months now and it took until today to file away my documents in a reasonable system. The actual filing took about fifteen minutes. The time I spent thinking about it: six months, on and off.

This is just another reason that I do not bother making resolutions. It’s better for me if I just do the things I know I’m supposed to do when I am supposed to do them. If I were to build up ideals and save them up to start all at once, the pile would be unmanageable.

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.

 

an HP-free Christmas, almost

The holidays have been blissfully minimalist this year with our new home, tiny tree, and usable Christmas gifts. Still, a part of me feels guilty for not buying D. more stuff. He seriously only got a few packs of herb seeds and a couple of candy bars for Christmas, just the way he likes it. The 29th was his birthday and our fifth anniversary and I was so far-gone into vacation mode that I didn’t even realize it was the 29th until 2 p.m. Oops. Happy Birthday, lover. I got  you nothing, but I love you more than ever. The intangibles matter more, I know. But the culture of stuff is deeply intrenched in me.

As I catch up on my hoarding blogs, though, I realize the beauty in giving less. Last year at this time, my parents gave our daughter several large gifts that  we obviously could not bring with us to Australia. It was so frustrating that they insisted on buying stuff that I mostly turned around and sold or donated rather than giving her.

This year, they tried to send her a package for her birthday. When they realized that it would cost more to send than they had spent, they decided it was better just to hold off. Then on Christmas eve (here), I got a frantic email from my HP father with the subject, “I’m late!!!”

My Dad was desperate to get money sent to us somehow before Christmas – as though we are small children who will cry on Christmas morning without a gift of some type under the tree. I told him it was entirely unnecessary, but he could send a check to our home in the States and it would get deposited. He followed through and proudly reported he got it sent before Christmas. What he doesn’t realize is that his frantic email detailing all the dramatic events in his small church was more than enough present. Like many HPs (or so I hear), my dad is a fantastic story teller. I’ve been asking him for some time to just write down stories about his childhood as he thinks of them. I even offered to give my step-mother an .mp3 recorder so she could ask him questions in the car and record the stories. When he goes, the oral traditions of our family are going to be lost.

I admit in the end that I’m glad to be impossibly far away on Christmas. D’s 70-year-old parents figured out how to Skype in on Christmas morning to watch S. open her presents, and again today to send more well-wishes. Mine were only concerned about sending the check on time. What is Christmas if it isn’t about enjoying each other?