After months of looking at all kinds of houses and being very picky and demanding about the area but open to fixer-uppers, we are about to close on a house in our neighbourhood. Once that decision was finally determined, we immediately put our townhouse on the market and have since been playing the game of “hide every shred of human existence and make your house look like a hotel and do it quick.”
The market in Australia usually runs by open houses rather than private showings, though D and I never hesitate to ask for private showings of listings when it suits us. The result of the open house is a frenzy of people winding their way through the house in a thirty-minute span, dripping with sweat, and by the end of the day they are totally dizzy with what they have seen. My one neighbour went to six open houses today in her search for the perfect investment property, and another neighbour was doing the same in search of the ideal home for her growing family. Our house was opened up around the same time as two others on our street today, so people filter down the street like a parade.
While keeping our home as pristine as one can with a school-aged child and three pets, not to mention two full-grown adults who like to live and eat and work at home, I have slowly begun the business of packing up. I am ever amazed at the quantity of things we moved to Australia on airplane trips. We have all of our photo albums from birth to now, little treasures like our Christmas ornaments, my grandmother’s silver, and then all the clothes (considering we dumped what felt like the majority of the wardrobes before we moved here and have constantly donated since we moved here, this, too, is impressive). I have fifty-three boxes that can be filled (the suggested quantity from our removalists). I wonder how many will be full on moving day.
As I pack, however, I see D and S really struggling with this move. This one is somehow different and harder and scarier even though we are moving only three streets over and about 5 houses up the hill. This townhouse has been an anchor for us. Our daughter has lived here for the majority of her little life. We have loved it and hated it and we are about to move from a new modern sleek place to an old funky one that needs a lot of love and attention.
In all of this, I have realised, for reasons I cannot explain, I just keep pushing forward. I push even when it is not the most sensible thing to do. And as I push myself, those who love me and want to live with me get pushed and pulled along my path. I was speaking with S’s therapist a couple of weeks ago about this and she pointed out that sometimes when we are pushing forward, we just drag more and more and more stuff behind us. I’m clomping on through the snow that’s up to my knees and I’m on the verge of collapsing. At some point, I’m going to need to stop and sit still and work on what’s here in front of me without the distraction of moving again.
Now that we are more or less completely moved from the U.S. to Australia and consider that anything left behind is disposable, it’s easier to take an account of what we have. Remarkably, we shifted continents using only suitcases and small boxes over the past two years. We are settled and not encumbered with stuff. The war still wages within me to not use precious valuables that have become even more special due to the vast oceans they’ve crossed. I still have to fight daily to toss out recyclable crafts brought home from S.’s kindergarten. I have to consciously attack the clutter around me to keep my desk cleared. But progress has been made.
My Turkish rug made the journey to Australia along with its missing piece still detached. But for the first time since I purchased it in 2003, the rug is now on the floor being used daily by both people and cats. I look at the gnawed-off edge and say, So What! Rather than protecting the very happy memory associated with its purchase, I get to make new ones while playing with S. and her legos on the floor.
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.
Because we are walking everywhere we go now, I keep on the lookout for hoarding houses. Yesterday taking a new path, I came across this heap. It’s hard to see the details, but the whole yard was filled up with a mountain of things including bicycles, some obvious boxes, and other scraps. I was a bit worried the owner would come out and yell at me.
the hoarding house is to the left of the barrier
Outdoor hoarding in Australia scares me. I can only imagine the number of spiders and snakes making a home in these heaps.
On one visit to my father about ten years ago, I was shocked to see half of the living room full of empty boxes. They were stacked to the ceiling in a sliding mountain and my father refused to part with them. This mountain clearly pained my step-mother who helplessly tiptoed around the cardboard wall so as not to disturb the disorder.
After some finagling, I convinced my father to let me sort the boxes, promising not to throw them out unless he approved disposal. He was keeping them, or so he said, to use for shipping sold items on Ebay. Nevermind that he hadn’t sold anything on Ebay and that all of the boxes came from items purchased.
I set to work carefully breaking down boxes and sending to the burn barrel (yes, they have a burn barrel) the boxes that were too damaged to reuse. I sorted boxes, big to small, put them inside each other as I could, condensed the pile, and moved part of it into their garage which has been unusable about as long as my father has lived in the house. To my knowledge, the pile of boxes never reappeared. But how would I know? I only visit once or twice a year and they spend hours getting the house ready for those visits.
D. sent me a link yesterday to a story on hoarding “Hoarding considered a complex mental illness,” from Topeka, Kansas. Straight to the point, I cite the last paragraph:
Fronsman-Cecil said the hardest time for a hoarder can be after his or her home is cleaned up. She remembers when her grown children did that for her for the first time a few years ago.
“After they left, I kind of had a meltdown,” she said. “There were definitely things that were gone that I would have kept.”
To reiterate my post on “Separation,” how do we help our parents, then? It’s quite possible that all that work that I did with the boxes only made me feel better. My efforts could have caused an anxiety attack for my father and further disruption for my step-mother. The problem is not just laziness or unwillingness to clean and organize the home; and I am truly unequipped to make it better or to help my folks with the issue.
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding roots
Tagged boxes, cardboard, disorder, disposal, disrupt, disturb, ebay, father, garage, meltdown, mountain, parents, pile, sell, sort, stuff, wall
A friend of mine commented on my recent post “Separation,” that I might be fooling myself in thinking that my parents’ hoard doesn’t bother me and that I might be able to escape it by moving so far away. Obviously she’s right. The problem affects me whether I’m near or far from the actual hoard – so much so that I have a blog about it. Add to that, I’m turning my research focus towards hoarding in exile autobiography. I know full well that this has not only deeply impacted me in the present; it will continue to haunt me in the future no matter my physical distance.
My organizational strategy over the past few months as we have prepared for the move that is perpetually delayed has been to ask myself if each object is worth the cost of shipping. Will I wear this particular garment enough to grant it a spot in my suitcase? Is this book so important to me that I should ship it? Yesterday I thought I’d send a nice crystal vodka set that I bought in Turkey to a friend in Switzerland – and the shipping ranged from $85 to $270, depending on insurance. I brought the set back home with me and decided to send her flowers. If you can’t take it with you, is it worth having in the present?
With that in mind, I think about the mess of a home my parents live in. They are radical right-wing Christians who believe in storing up treasures in Heaven. They are well aware that they cannot take any of the their earthly possessions with them; yet, they continue to hold on to the odd objects. Hundreds of cool-whip containers, travel mugs, empty cardboard boxes, used coffee cans … combined with collectibles like Fiesta-ware, miniature animals, and so on… the house is full, and they can’t take it with them.
But I will take it with me. The hoard has left an indelible mark on my mind and on my own relationship to stuff. No matter where I go, I will have this mountain of things in my memory that I need to sift through so that I can live in uncluttered freedom with my own family.
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding in literature, hoarding roots, memory hoarding, weight of things
Tagged boxes, clutter, coffee, collectible, cool-whip, cost, crystal, Fiesta, freedom, haunt, hoard, home, memory, mess, miniature, mountain, parents, separation, ship, shipping, Switzerland, take, travel, travel mug, Turkey, vodka
Remember how hoarding is all the rage? I forgot to tell another Housewives story to further convince you of my very bad taste in TV.
About two weeks ago on the Real Housewives of Orange County, Tamra received a truckload of stuff from the movers into her new home. Her boyfriend was there to help her unload. He kept opening up the boxes that happened to have her wedding glasses, wedding dress, and old photos in them. Eddie asked her, “Why do you keep all this stuff?”
Tamra defended herself saying it just went straight from the old house into the truck, but she also said you can’t just get rid of all the memories. Eddie aptly responded, “You couldn’t get rid of them if you tried.”
Eddie left to let her deal with her crap on her own, and Tamra wiped a few tears away as she gently placed the wedding glasses into the dumpster.
Posted in celebrity hoarding, memory hoarding, weight of things
Tagged boxes, dumpster, Eddie, memories, memory, moving, Real Housewives of Orange County, storage, stuff, Tamra, tears, wedding
A colleague from New Zealand emailed a listserv today looking for the source of a poem by Nicole Brossard. I eagerly lept to work, digging through a box of packed up books and pulled out my 12 volumes of her writing. These works are almost sacred to me – one of them is personally autographed for me by the author. I have combed used bookshops in Montreal and Quebec City looking for pieces of Brossard, and yet, I realized today I’ve read precious little of her writing. That is saying a lot if you consider that Brossard only writes on about 1/3 to 1/2 of each page of her usually short works and that her poetry and novels look strikingly similar. It’s not as though the number of words are getting in my way of reading them. True, she’s difficult to digest, but also true that I think she’s brilliant and love her writing.
What’s standing in the way of my reading of Brossard? Me, of course. I put off reading what I love, I put off watching the movies that I adore, I put off doing tasks that I truly enjoy because I’m saving them for later. Reading feels so indulgent to me that I’ve become quite bad at it … and this is not at all a good relationship for a literature professor to have with books.
Brossard is not the only one languishing for years in boxes waiting to be read. She is joined by Cixous, Derrida, and Sebbar who have written beautifully bound words that accumulate dust on my shelves, waiting for me to reward myself with time to read.
Posted in hoarding in the profession
Tagged accumulate, books, bookshop, boxes, Brossard, Cixous, Derrida, dust, languish, literature, professor, read, shelves, thrift shops
Apparently hoarding memory, or “memory hoarding,” according to the OCD Center of Los Angeles blog, is a shared trait of hoarders whether they have OCD or not.
“Memory hoarding is a mental compulsion to over-attend to the details of an event, person, or object in an attempt to mentally store it for safekeeping. This is generally done under the belief that the event, person, or object carries a special significance and will be important to recall exactly as-is at a later date. The memory serves the same function for the mental hoarder that the old newspaper serves for the physical hoarder.”
remains to be sifted
I understand why I’ve held on to so many weird objects, but this doesn’t express why I’ve forgotten them. Items are buried, memories are covered up, and when I’m forced to sift through the rubble in the bottom of a crate, I’m confronted with intermittent moments of joy. In there is a smattering of painful tugs, dread at the photos of a past life that I anxiously tried to share with someone else, and relatively little nostalgia for past countries and experience.
Yet, as I clean out the boxes in preparation for another shift, I cannot help but feel I am hoarding memories. There is the constant feeling of “this might be the last time I see…” and I have caught myself snapping photos of bizarre moments in a vain effort to capture the present for later meaning.
If writing the self can be considered a transgressive act, what of showing the inside of your home in non-camera ready state? How often do we see the inside of a lived-in bedroom that is not our own? (How many years did I know my very open French host family before they showed me their master bedroom?) And rarer still, the inside of a stranger’s refrigerator, garage, or storage space.
I’ve had a recurring dream of exploring a haunted house, and the farther I climb into the attic, the ghosts become less frightening and more elusive. They recede from me as I seek to bring them to light.
What’s in those boxes in the far back of our mind, stored away for when we need them, but largely forgotten? Are the memories going to retreat further into the recesses when we seek to pull them to the fore? Is it fear itself that recedes when we seek to confront it?
I’m emptying the storage, gathering momentum, and longing to minimize the surrounding stuff that protects me; yet, I feel far from vulnerable by the exposure. Coming out, transgressing, normalizing what was hidden sometimes leaves me raw, sullen, and nostalgic, but on the whole I feel lightness as I untether myself from stuff.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged attic, box, boxes, fear, ghost, house, lightness, memory, recede, refrigerator, storage, stuff, untether