Tag Archives: accumulate

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.

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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.

collectin’

When I was little girl and my family moved to Montana, my brother and I started spending hours collecting rocks on the  foothill behind our house. We had an old coffee can and our main ambition was to find quartz and smokey quartz crystals to put in it. This entailed scanning the ground while we walked with sharp attention to detail. Any glimmer required some dirt scratching to see what treasure we’d unearthed. My brother also got into panning for gold and tumbling rocks. He was much more committed than I.

Years later, I still find myself staring at the ground for treasures as I walk along. S., now three years old, has inherited the passion distraction. Yesterday we walked D. to the train station so he could catch a flight home to the U.S.. It was raining quite heavily, but S. and I plodded along, hand in hand, scanning the ground for treasures. She picked up little leaves and said, “It’s for my collection.” Or, “I’m collectin’ this for you, Mommy.” So far this week, in addition to numerous interesting leaves and flowers we would never see in Kansas, we’ve seen some possum poo, interesting skinks, and very speedy caterpillars scooting down the hill in the rain.

S. and I glued our collected leaves (but not the poo, bugs or skinks) to a piece of scrap cardboard. We showed it to D. and it went into the recycling bin a few days later. I love seeing beauty in the little things, but need I worry about S’s new fascination with collecting every pretty little flower or seed she finds on the ground? Each one she drops, she shrieks, “Oh! My flower!” and I try to brush it off so she won’t keep thinking about what was lost. In the meantime, yesterday, I told D. I really still wanted to find my umbrella that I last saw in Florida in 2010.

Collecting is a fun activity. I just need to keep working on the letting go part of it.

desktop update

Unexpectedly, I have a new desk and home office for the holidays. We found this beautiful table while furniture shopping, and fortunately for me it is too large for our dining area. It served yesterday as Christmas wrapping central and today became my desk. How long before I muck it up with clutter? Taking all bets.

oh christmas crap

The solution to the Christmas accumulation conundrum was to buy a small fake pine, about S.’s size, a package of mixed mini candy canes, some small santa koalas from the dollar store and about three other little trinkets. In total this decoration cost about $45, plus the $50 that flew out of my pocket somewhere in my neighborhood while I was walking home with the tree. (Happy Christmas, stranger who finds it!) The fact that I lost something bothers me more than the cost. Accumulator, I am.

Nonetheless, the little tree, not particularly well photographed here, was fun to decorate, only took a few minutes suiting S’s attention span, and part of it is edible. You can’t beat that. Or maybe you can. Tell me: do you other COH’s have a problem with Christmas decorations?

D. told me he couldn’t care less if there was a tree or not. I felt I needed one to get in the mood since it’s summer here. I put on some rocking Christmas tunes (including Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” and some more shameful hits), and genuinely enjoyed the time with our daughter. She was mostly interested in playing with the koalas, but she did dance a bit and asked for more Christmas songs. Frosty the Snowman was a big hit.

sharing the hurts

ImageWe moved into our new home yesterday and enjoyed the first silent night in about 5 1/2 months. Beautiful eerie silence. We also spent hours assembling furniture and putting things together so we could have the home just the way we like it. Odds and ends are still arriving, house begins to feel like home, and still I struggle not to over spend or over accumulate. Today’s debate in my head: how to decorate for Christmas with S. without buying crap I will store for the next 12 months.

In the midst of the moving, just moments ago I received the following message from a dear friend. I post here with authorization (merci et bisous à somewhereoverthepoutine):

i thought about you today. my mom just sold her house and forced me to get ALL of my shit out of it. I figured that i’d have a few boxes of girdles and whatnot, but holy shit i had like six boxes of books and two boxes full of school papers going all the way back to preschool.i spent all day whittling down my collection of school papers. i can’t describe how much it hurt to toss out drawings from when i was four!!!!! oh it hurt. anyway, you’re not alone in your hoarding struggle!! 

Happy Christmas, y’all. You’re not alone as the holidays bear down upon you, laden with gifts and crap galore.

permission to accumulate

Yesterday we finalized an application on a new place to live: this time it is unfurnished and unequipped. We’ve already struck a deal with the owner to purchase his refrigerator, washing machine, microwave oven and kettle. In our current rental everything has been provided except for linens. That means in the last six months I have only purchased some bedding, kiddy plates, measuring cups, spatulas, a meat thermometer and a cupcake tin. We are moving in three weeks and D. has given me the green light to shop.

After spending the last 16 months in declutter mode, this responsibility is daunting. We want to keep things minimal in case we move again in six months, but at the same time we finally get to make things the way we like them. Do we buy only cheap things, throw our mattresses on the floor, forego a kitchen table and wait to see if we will ship some furniture over from the States? Or do we have an opportunity to make things the way we like them?

As I shop online (we do not have a vehicle here), I had to study the latest Ikea catalogue for options. I’m highly impressionable, and my normal response to Ikea’s marketing is, “My life would be better if my house looked like that.” Only this time, I realized these houses look unusually cluttered, cramped, and dangerously close to something not so beautiful. If one tiny little element (say that gorgeous set of cheapy vases on the make-shift mantle) is out of place, the whole room looks off-kilter. Yet, Ikea has the magic to make me believe it’s possible to have all that stuff in one small space. Look at those rows of books up so high no one can reach them. If they’re that high, though, even I won’t read them. And if I won’t read them – I don’t need them in my home. *sigh*

Maybe this little hoarder is reforming after all, but I still feel like my heart could jump out of my chest as I think about all that empty space.

 

the importance of being home

one day D.'s pants flew off the porch and into a red bud tree

Yesterday as I walked “home” from the park, I had the first notion of feeling comfortable in my neighborhood. All the plants and sounds that have felt exotic are suddenly starting to look normal as I begin to forget about pine, oak, maple and elm trees and adapt to eucalyptus, jacaranda, and palms. Armadillo roadkill is replaced with squished water dragons, robins in trees for cockatoos, and squirrels for possums. I’m adapting.

As we begin our fifth month in this house, however, we only have one thing on our mind: find a house that feels comfortable. We spent years renovating and refining our home in the States to make it just the way we wanted it. By the time our daughter came along, it had almost entirely been redone, and after her birth we went ahead and renovated the only room that had been left untouched. D. and I both spend the majority of our working hours in our home, and the comfort of home is a value we both enjoy. Yet, here we are living in what D. affectionately calls “student housing” with noisy neighbors, a railway running practically through the back yard, and a thin layer of coal dust that accumulates every week. Besides college football, the only thing I truly miss about being back “home” is exactly that – our home.

Now that we have had time to acclimate somewhat here, however, we have the luxury of choosing another place to live. For me, last weekend was a sort of “rediscover your town extravaganza” which we used to explore different suburbs that were more peaceful, even if further away from my job. No matter – there were ocean views and breezes, not to mention the fresh air. There is a whole new world out there. But to get there, we have to pack up our suitcases again and re-acclimate to another neighborhood, child care facility, daily pattern and so on. And six months after that, we’ll get to do it all over again.

If nothing else, the search for a comfortable home is keeping the luggage light and the compulsion to accumulate at bay… for now.

abuse and hoarding

I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.

Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.

[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]

My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.

As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.

It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.

It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.

I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them.  I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.

moving as a COH

Moving can’t be good for hoarders. This is my firm conclusion after being in Australia for a week now, having arrived with my daughter, her nanny, four suitcases and a car seat. I spent the first five days in our temporary apartment just “churning.” Pick up a paper, put it in a different pile or a different folder, find another one, forget what I’m doing, start looking again, start something else. It was complete disorganized chaos. I don’t think I was even looking for anything specific. Nothing was in the right place and I was so afraid of losing an important receipt or my passport or proof of my work visa, that I couldn’t figure out where to place anything. I arrived in a new pristine office on campus with tons of empty shelves and it looked beautiful. Then I quickly set about keeping used padded envelopes and twist ties in a neat pile in case I need them for later. At the house we’re in (fully furnished, very fortunately), I’ve started saving yogurt containers, cardboard scraps, and empty bottles for future craft projects or simple storage until we get more permanent items around us. I’m mindful of this odd activity, but I can’t stop myself from wanting to accumulate odd scraps “just in case” I need them later. An unused napkin suddenly becomes a useful treasure since we haven’t yet bought a box of Kleenex.

Yesterday afternoon I met with my mentor who is a self-professed “major hoarder.” I entered his office which he called “unusually tidy” and it was filled with mountains of paper, walls covered with odd pictures and posters, piles of books on the desk. It was rather attractive all together although some of the images disturbed me. It was a well-cushioned nest, lived in, loved, worked in, accumulated over the years, full of meaningful treasure that I could easily relate to and understand. These were objects collected over the years – art postcards, newspaper clippings, a grading scale tacked up on the wall near his computer screen. I could see the compulsion there, which was in stark contrast to what I’ve seen of his home which has very carefully selected objets with a clear esthetic and very tidy lines woven warmly through the living area.

Our rental home is attractive to me – white, stainless steel, granite, and gorgeous “timber” floors and a sprawling deck with seating for six. It’s a much smaller space, much less comfortable and less me than our “real” home that we reconstructed and decorated ourselves, but this is a livable space, clean and sparse as it is. I long to fill it with comfort that isn’t needed … pillows and blankets, for example… rugs, splashes of color.

All of this need to have things, longing for objects, reminds me of the first time I was objectively confronted with the horror of my father’s hoarding. I have seen the image in my mind only very occasionally throughout the years, but today it keeps popping back in front of me. We were living in a very similar (but much less modern) rental home for a little more than a year after the bank foreclosed on my parents’ dream home in the country. I used the dungeon like cement cellar/basement of the home for my own “things” and my father filled the garage. By filled, I mean filled. When we moved to Missouri, I don’t think we were able to empty the whole thing. I have a vague memory of actually walking on top of stuff about 3 feet deep to get to some of my things. When my father and step-mother went back to Montana to get the rest of our “stuff” they asked me specifically if there was anything I wanted. For some reason I wanted this really dumb silk stuffed hot air balloon with a porcelain clown hanging below it on a swing. I suspect now that they went out and bought a new one for me, because somehow I ended up with two of them. I can’t imagine the horror that my step-mom felt when she saw that garage full of crap.

When my father and I made the move from Montana to Missouri, he had an old pickup truck and he built a wooden frame around the back, probably about 5 feet high. He piled in some furniture and other items, roped it all in, tied a tarp over it, and we wobbled slowly to our new home, getting lost in downtown Kansas City along the way. All that crap either made it into the house or into the garage. I believe there was a garage sale once, and then the rest just remained. It’s there still, somewhere, in their hoarding house. My two porcelain clowns and their stupid silk balloons are probably still hanging out somewhere in my teen-years bedroom. Garbage, all of it. And yet, here I am, an adult and mother, clinging to scrap paper and empty yogurt containers. Just in case.

*COH = child of hoarder