Tag Archives: chaos

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

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desktop update – goings and comings

desktop before

A friend came to see me while I was packing up and asked if I was going to post a picture of my desktop.  It is visibly empty, and all cared-about belongings have been removed from drawers. Last week was a frenzy of sorting, tossing, shoving into suitcases, trying to be clear-headed, vomiting, washing, and leaving behind my most cared about “stuff” in the world – my best friend, D. He has been left with the chaotic mess of empty envelopes, half-filled plastic bags, coat hangers, shampoo bottles, and the like. While absurdly we continue to wait for his paperwork, he has to sift through the rubble. In the meantime, S. and I are on the other side of the planet, shuffling about dazed, waking up at 3 a.m. not knowing what day it is, and feeling empty without him.

the more things change...

The best I can do to describe my present state of disorganization is “spinning.” I grab a very very important new piece of paper — like my bank account information — put it in a logical place, and promptly forget where I put it. Then I grab my passport and join it to the pile where I think I’m going to need it next — like with rental applications — and then I need it for banking and can’t seem to find it. I’m a whirlwind of mess, chronically sleep deprived, untethered, cry at the littlest, “maybe that’s daddy?” when S. hears a noise… and so on. And my “stuff” is not here to hold me down, make me feel embedded, push roots into the earth, or any other metaphorical fodder that it is supposed to do. My landmarks are missing, the biggest one being my partner, and it feels like my legs have been chopped off in a sense.

None of this is to complain, because I’ve fallen into a weird community of genuinely happy, smiling, friendly, eager to serve and please people. Strangers stop and talk, everyone looks relaxed, the sun is so brilliantly white that everything outside seems to sparkle until 4 p.m. when it starts to get dark. Then the lights sparkle some more on the water. I feel guarded and suspicious of all this openness. In fact, I thought I had been living in a very friendly town until yesterday. Now I don’t know what to expect. Unanchored, weightless, temporary, and very sad.

desks again

desk on Feb. 13, 2011

I actually forgot I left my desk in this state yesterday. I was searching for the missing piece to my Turkish rug … because I had “repaired” a rip in our leather sofa and suddenly had a bright idea about fixing the rug, too. And so I searched in the first logical place, did not find the missing piece, and, as usual, got distracted by bits of saved paper. I sorted some and exiled others to the recycling box, including numerous baby announcements. Then I forgot what I was doing and went upstairs, abandoning my work space.

This runs counter to the feelings I was having this morning while working in glorious sunlight on our balcony. I was thinking about my colleague C, who has the  most orderly life I know. She is in her office or teaching from 9 to 5 every day, except for Fridays when she leaves a bit early to go to happy hour at our favorite bar. Her office is tidy, her desk is clean, and the atmosphere there exudes efficiency and work. I used to think if I could have her office space, I would write a lot more. But then I got to know myself a little better over the last few years.

Every time I get that nostalgic longing for tidiness and organization, it is swiftly changed into distracted clutter. It is simply how I work – from piles of stuff sitting in front of me to remind me of what I was previously thinking or doing. The same is true for my laptop desktop. I’m writing in Chrome right now with 16 tabs open. I shut at least 5 or 6 of them earlier today, but each one is open to a page that I want to revisit. Each book in this mountain of papers on my desk has pages I want to revisit. I stop, pause, contemplate the pile, and remember something for my research. That happens more often than me actually picking up the book and flipping to a certain page. Just having the text there is enough to jog my thoughts. Again, I need my stuff in front of me to remind me of what I’m doing and to simultaneously distract me from what I’m doing and to lead me into something else I’m not supposed to be doing. It’s a crooked path, but it has gotten me into a reasonably productive academic life.

That said, I now am confronted with the desire to procrastinate my academic writing to continue sorting the crap on my desk. A few items I couldn’t bear to toss out yesterday today were immediately jettisoned into the recycling box.

Order in my chaos, chaos in my order, clutter in my mind leads to order in my writing, tangled in my head but neatly laid out on the page.

exemplifying clutter

While searching for images of cluttered homes and coming up rather empty-handed, I stumbled into Nikdaum.com‘s exploration of “chaos” in Thailand. While he finds chaos in his surroundings, I find the way he framed them to be structured studies of clutter. This particular image typifies the beauty in clutter.