Tag Archives: burn

good lord, he burned the hoard

My dad, the HP-Pastor-Santa Claus, had been out of touch until just before Thanksgiving. We tried to arrange to skype but it became too difficult for him. He finally just emailed me the story he so desperately wanted to share.

Oh yes, one more thing . . . I need to tell you that I almost burned down the house Tuesday morning. I went outside to fuel the furnace and in doing so, I dumped the ashes on the pile. About an hour later I looked outside and there was a huge fire under the patio. The hot coals had caught the leaves on fire and it expanded in two directions. One toward the patio and the other to the west side of the house. From there it caught the pile of junk I had stacked there (for maybe ten years or more) and caught it on fire. There were shotgun shells exploding and the fire was extremely threatening. I screamed “Fire” and the kids came a running to help at 5:50 am. Fortunately, a man stopped to help and called the fire department. By the time they got here we almost had it put out. Yeah! They watered down the pile of junk and then left. That’s one way to get rid of my hoarding crud! LOL!

It’s a fine example of his storytelling prowess: he saves the dramatic story for the end of an email as if he had almost forgotten, he recognizes he has hoarded junk… never mind that people could have been killed by shotgun shells blasting. But there is no account of what “junk” was lost that was so important to keep in a pile outside of the house in the first place. There is no acknowledgment of cleanup efforts or how he might avoid such trouble in the future. I can only expect that next time the local newspaper will be telling the story of his demise.

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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.

separation

I just read a (very old) post on Hoarder’s Son in which he encourages adult children of hoarders to take action on their parents’ hoard before it’s too late and they find their folks dead and buried under a pile.

This sounded like the oddest advice to me. I mean, can’t we just ignore what our parents are doing? It’s their problem, after all. We have no control over their collecting, piling, keeping and the ruining of their home. Am I calloused to say such a thing?

One of the most healing things I have learned over the past ten years through divorce, remarriage, and relative separation from my hoarding father, is that I cannot wrap my identity up in anyone else’s. I did that for a long time with my father and was mortified to be associated with him and devastated to never please him. Then I did the same with my first husband, desperately trying to get him to conform to my world view because I felt, through marriage, we were identified together. It caused me far too much disappointment and frustration. I do not know at what point I realized that he was not me and did not need to be me. Perhaps it came out in therapy or sometime before that. When I was living alone in Europe in 2001-2002, I realized I liked myself much better as an individual. All the anger from trying to impose myself and my identity or trying to blend my identity with someone who was nothing like me – it was suddenly gone.

And now when I think about things I don’t necessarily like in my family members, I don’t really worry about it. Their bad habits and compulsions are their own. I have my own hangups to deal with. No one can fix my problems for me and I certainly cannot control theirs.

So when I look at my parents’ hoard, I have that maybe cruel feeling of – let them die there if that’s what they want. I have no intention of clearing out their house. I’ve taken any of my own belongings that matter to me. I’ve told them clearly they can get rid of anything I’ve left there… but how could I possibly push them to let go of that mess? I have no control over it and I am not equipped to counsel or help them in any sort of lasting way.

As I’ve posted before, it’s a regular topic of conversation with my brother. Who is going to take care of the mess? They know that my step-brothers want to burn the house (à la Gilbert Grape), and although I think I could tolerate being there to sort and throw things out to prepare for an estate sale, I really don’t see a way that this could happen while they are alive. I have no desire to hear the justification for each artifact and why it matters. It just isn’t my problem right now.

I want my parents to be healthy (they are suffering from respiratory problems that I presume are related to the accumulated mold and dust in their home) and safe and happy. But they are not me, I am not them, and I’m about to move as far away as I can go. I will further extract myself from their tangled behavior of hoarding and I will not be available to help them if the clutter collapses one day on top of them.

you might be a hoarder

I just hung up the phone with my brother who is mentally planning a visit to us and to my father. We talked about the unsafe conditions in my dad’s house for my newly walking niece. My brother proudly reminded me that he was the last person who had a car in my parents’ garage because he cleaned it out. He thinks he probably knows where things are better than anyone else. “You know what? I’m probably responsible for them hoarding more stuff because I just made more space for them.”

“Maybe,” I said.

Then he told me how I would be shocked if I saw his place because they have too much stuff with three people living in a one bedroom apartment. “But I can’t be a hoarder. I just live in a small space.”

“You might be a hoarder,” I told him.

And then … (it keeps getting better) he proceded to tell me about his three cars, his dining room set that is packed up in storage because there’s no space for it, and his baseball cards that are probably valuable but he doesn’t even know where they are. This was divulged in the context of me saying how much it pisses me off that I’ve inherited the inability to throw out junk.

My brother says when my dad dies he’ll take a month off of work. He estimates it will take every day, working eight hour days, and a giant dumpster to sort through the remains. “Some of it is probably valuable.”

“Maybe.”

But what was most interesting in our talk was the myth that my father has created. He has told us we can’t throw out his magazines or books because, “there might be money hidden in there.” As my brother just pointed out – that’s probably not even true. He’s likely told us that so that we won’t just throw out his things. On the other hand, the myth of my grandfather is that he had money buried in his front yard (à la Vegas Vacation). My father could very well have done something so stupid as to tuck one dollar bills or rare coins into other collections. My brother has told my step-mother she’s not allowed to burn the stuff. (That would be my preference.) No, my brother says he will be the one to sort through the stuff, “And you’ll be right there with me. You’ll be there with me.”

We ended the phone call at that.