Tag Archives: cardboard

cleaning doesn’t help

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.

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emotional baggage

During the first few minutes of “Hoarding: Buried Alive” last night, a very articulate woman who left behind her clean ways for a lifestyle of accumulating when her husband of 25 years announced he was gay explained that this stuff was “emotional baggage.” It’s a physical representation of the clutter and disorganization that she felt was inside her. “You can only imagine if this is how I live what’s going on in my brain.”

Although I only watched a few minutes of this episode, her situation resonated with my family’s experience. All of my childhood memories are set in a very clean house. Not trusting what’s left in my brain, I emailed my mother to ask her what it was really like living with my father. The two went through a lengthy divorce from the time I was 12 until I was 14 and a bit. I recollect my early adolescence as the beginning of the stuff piling up.

I paste below my excerpted email exchange with my mother:

Me: This may seem like an odd question, but do you think Dad was a hoarder when you were married to him? I’m just wondering how long he’s had that kind of obsessive need to collect things or if it got bad later. In my mind the house was always clean and neat when we were children and probably until you moved out. Although I do remember his papers all over his office and all over the house for taxes or other sorting events. But that didn’t seem to be the norm. He’s still not as bad as what you can see on those TV shows, but I also think he has a few storage units of stuff somewhere.

Mom:  When I was with him, he was obsessed with clean.  He loved to sort his books – take them all off the shelf, put them in some order, replace them and put all the spines at the same level on the shelf.  He didn’t hoard anything that I recall.  I can’t even remember anything he liked to collect, except hunting stuff.  You are right about all being in order.  He wanted double-vacuumed rugs and washed floors – not that he wanted to clean it, but he wanted it clean.  He used to use his mother as an example and how she used to shine the chrome legs on the kitchen table when he was young.  Storage units of stuff sounds a bit troublesome.

Not our garage, but one just like it

She recommended I talk it over with my stepmother who’s been with him for more than 20 years already. The first time I noticed the clutter becoming bad was when we had to wade through a garage full of stuff before we could move to live with my step-mom. I wonder how she felt when she saw that mountain of things, mostly made out of paper and cardboard boxes. Emotional baggage made tangible, clinging to him and traveling thousands of miles to take root in her home.