Tag Archives: basement

a family burden

Yesterday I wrote to my step-brother who lives the closest to my HP and who sees my dad and step-mom the most often, just to let him know I’m aware of the problem and available even though far away. We have not been close, ever really, but I feel it’s unfair for him and his wife to bear the burden of what my father has brought to the table, so to speak. My brother, on the other hand, claims to be committed to cleaning up the hoard because he wants to see what’s inside. I think he underestimates what the time commitment would be. I think he also wants to find buried treasure. That desire runs deep in my genealogy.

For the moment, all is calm on the hoarding front. I think this is the right time to prepare. I tried to express to my step-brother, in a very neutral tone, that I feel comfort he is nearby but by no means expect him to deal with it. I also simply stated that I do not feel attached to anything in the home. I hope he can read between the lines and understand that if they are stuck disposing of the mess, they can dispose of the mess without my interference. Perhaps what I will best be able to offer is financial help if it comes to that.

The house is dilapidated. Carpet has never been changed. The house was constructed in the late 1970s and the only major renovations that have occurred were when my father and I moved in c. 1990. He finished the basement. That same basement is now 80% inaccessible because of the hoard.

It makes me sad for my step-brother(s). This was their childhood home. It has been the same home in the backdrop of almost every memory growing up. This is where they still celebrate most major holidays. I haven’t been there for over a year already and I don’t expect to go back until 2013. Expect it to get worse, I flatly expressed. Maybe much worse.

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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

the horror … the humor

game closet

We made a very quick visit to my parents’ home on Friday and Saturday and I’m still unable to process much of what we witnessed. It is only the third time in the last five years that we’ve been there, and the distance makes their home all the more startling. I can safely respond to my own questions that, no, my memory has not exaggerated the state of their hoarding. New to me, however, is the understanding that my step-mother participates in the hoarding as much as she claims she detests it. As D. put it, maybe she criticizes the clutter as a way of defending herself or removing herself from it. I could plainly see in the piles of things many items that my father did not collect.

In addition to what I saw, I remained mindful that we were visiting the house in its very best state. I know my step-mom had been cleaning at least all that day if not for days. Many of the piles in plain sight were very neatly stacked and dusted.

As soon as we arrived and my step-mother took our daughter for a few minutes, I ran around the house frantically snapping pictures before I could get caught. The garage and basement were barricaded, but I was at least able to open doors, if not walk into the spaces themselves. A new cat is now living in the garage, the guest bedroom is completely inaccessible (I had intended to photograph the inside of the massive closet that I presume to still be full of magazines), and the office has only a narrow diagonal path from the door to the desk. That room used to be a usable family area with a fold out couch. I was unable to photograph the numerous barbecue grills and trucks and and and …. in the yard. And as startling as all of it is, the houses around my parents’ are also filled to the gills with cluttered porches and yards and rundown facades. It almost seems to be a prerequisite to country living in “those parts.”

cat in the garage

How I got out of that place before the hoard set in, or if the hoard began because my brothers and I were no longer there, I do not know. I know my parents would be horrified to know that I’m posting this, and it would hurt them deeply to be exposed in such a way. I have found the photographs helpful in numerous ways. I did not have time to really “see” while snapping them. Now, in the comfort of our empty-ing home, I can see the individual items that compile the stacks of stuff. I recognize odd objects from my past, and I can plainly see where the inability to declutter can lead. Numerous times, unprompted, my parents said they were working on getting rid of things. There was apparently a “huge bonfire” last summer, with their stuff going up in smoke. There is some will on their part to part with what they have so they might have more freedom to move or travel. But for every little acknowledgment, there is also new stuff coming in all the time.

the "office"

We were exhausted by the time we came home yesterday afternoon, and the recovery from the memory may take a few days. I hope to be able to use more images as I process what we witnessed.

desktop update

desktop on December 16

Time for another snapshot of my desk. I really can’t tell anymore if it’s getting better or worse. Yesterday I took four boxes of things to a needy graduate student but the feeling of elation while I left it all with him was quickly absorbed by the piles of stuff that are still here with me in my workroom. The problem with cleaning it out is that I’m leaving it out until it’s gone. While everything was once tucked away in its proper place, hidden in the basement storage area or in the back of the closet, now all of the unused things are sitting with me, in plain sight, on a daily basis. It’s inescapable until it’s all gone. I suppose I do have the option of working in my empty-ish closet instead.