Tag Archives: closet

clean your room

From “When Parents Text” 

April 11, 2012

Mom: I’m leaving for the weekend so I hid $100 in your room for food, clean your room and you will find it.


When I was about 9 or 10 years old on some random summer day, my brother and I were at home by ourselves as usual while our parents were at work. Their strategy for keeping us out of trouble was usually a painful list of chores that had to be completed by the time dad got home. For some strange reason, my mother decided one day to try positive reinforcement. She left us a note on the kitchen counter that said, “clean your room for a big surprise” or something to that effect.

Being the brilliant 9-13 year olds that we were, we flung crap around our rooms until we unearthed the surprise, completely trashing whatever had once been in order. She had bought us little toy motorcycles. In my memory, mine was buried under a mountain of junk in my closet. My brother and I spent the rest of the day playing with our new toys. Mom was furious when she got home and we had to go clean our rooms in tears. Ok, maybe I’m inventing the tears, but I always felt bad when I had done something wrong and I knew I had done something wrong in this case. Poor mom.

When I read this post on When Parents Text, I first thought, “Would that work to motivate a hoarder?” Umm, no, probably not. My dad claims there are hundreds of dollars hidden throughout his hoard. He thinks that’s just safekeeping.


We finally have regular internet set up at home after about two weeks and trying 3 different companies before this one. And yes, I said “we,” because D. is here and we’re also finally all together again. Comforting on “sick days” like today.

As I was putting S. to sleep tonight I was catching up on some 20 posts by Sid on My Mother-In-Law is Still Sitting Between Us… and she shared a video of the condensed stuff in the garage of their inherited hoarding house. I could only think of my poor step-brother facing the garage at my Dad and step-mom’s house. And then with dread, equally remembered mention of storage units that they rented for their “antiques” they intended to sell some day. Someday… For the first time, and now that I’m at a very safe physical distance, I thought maybe I should say something while they are both alive. It’s not an easy conversation to think about.

Strangely, this plunged me into a memory from 2.5 weeks ago when I was signing the lease for this place. The house is fully furnished, complete with dishes, and I looked up from the papers at the real estate agent and asked very seriously, “Michael, is there storage with the unit?”

M: “Do you have a lot of stuff, A.?”

Me: “No, just our suitcases.”

M: “Are you going to use the third bedroom?”

Me: “No, just for guests.”

M: “Might I suggest you use that closet for storage?”

And while I’m laughing about it now, and then, too, it is still so telling that I was worried about having storage. It’s the deep-rooted hoarder mentality in me, the “just in case” we need the space.

everybody’s doing it

Did I not just say that hoarding is all the rage? Now Carrie Underwood’s hockey playing husband Mark Fisher has moved in with her in Nashville and she is calling him an almost-hoarder. As she said to People, “If you bring stuff in, stuff needs to go out. Do we need this shirt? It has a giant stain on the sleeve. Are we going to wear this again? No? Then do something with it. It’s still hanging up there.”

She also said her heart just sank when he asked for more room in the closet. He apparently brought a lot of crap with him to her place that wasn’t so obvious when it was stored away in his. Welcome to space sharing and the co-mingling of different perspectives on stuff.


Among the numerous bad television shows I watch at night in search of the perfect somniferous effect is an occasional episode of Bravo’s Bethenny Ever After. As much as I realize it’s a dumb reality show, I like Bethenny. She’s honest, says what she thinks, is a bit quirky and tough but vulnerable. She also has the occasional snippet of insight that sticks with me. A couple of weeks ago she was telling her husband she doesn’t want to be the “crazy one” in the relationship. Just because he had a so-called “normal” family life doesn’t mean that he is normal or that her detachment from (his) family is abnormal.

In the episode that was on late last night, Bethenny said her OCD was kicking into high gear and she was feeling stressed about all the food her nanny haphazardly left in the refrigerator. At the same time, she declared her love of her ten or more bottles of juice on the top shelf of the fridge. While I’m skeptical of Bethenny’s understanding of OCD, she had a few insights that have stuck with me. She recognized that she was the one allowing her home to become this way and was careful not to blame anyone else’s carelessness for the clutter and stress. Then when she began her lingerie purge in her closet, she said (slightly paraphrased from memory), “I don’t understand hoarders. For me it’s about control.”

Bethenny was purging her closet to have control over her life – exerting control over her stuff, yet I have always understood that hoarders feel the same way. It’s true that the stuff can take over life and relationships, but stuff is the thing that can be (or is perceived to be) controlled. Those objects invited into the home, however piled up they become, are objects of possession that we have chosen to keep or save. Unlike people, the stuff can’t just get up and walk out on you (unless, of course, the cockroaches take over).

This is really a think-piece… but in the end, perhaps, one purges for the same reason another hoards. It’s all about having control of one’s environment even when it is dangerously out of control. Hoarding or purging are both ways of protecting self. One erases and removes to create space or distance, the other collects and crams and piles to tightly tuck themselves in.


haunted by this object

This blog post has been nagging at me for more than a week, building in the back of my mind, much like the object inspiring it. It has bothered me so much that I wonder if the key to my memory hoarding lies within it.

I went to Iraq and Turkey in 2003 on a memorable, emotionally draining, terrifying and exhilarating journey. After our three days in Kurdistan with little time to do more than work and acknowledge the fragility of our lives, we returned to Istanbul to relax for a couple of days. My very favorite memory was a visit to a Turkish rug shop. After visiting the workshops, watching hunched-over women at their looms, seeing the silkworms, the dyed thread, and the extensive labor that went into each woven piece, our group was led into a grand room. We were seated on benches along the walls, served tea, and a spectacular display of color began. Several men came out with rugs in various sizes, and as they rolled them out across the floor, the fireworks began. It was like a splash of magnificent colors filled the room as each rug was dramatically unfurled before us.

I was still a newly employed academic at the time, struggling with student debt and a recent move across the U.S. I carefully weighed my options and I purchased a cotton on cotton rug, approximately 4′ x 2 1/2′, for a negotiated price of about $300. It was a sacrifice and a reward for me.

This rug, like most of my prized objects, has been rolled up and stored away for most of the time I’ve had it. I intended to hang it from the wall, but never managed to figure out how to display it. I had it out in my room a few times, and each time the cats scratched at it and broke threads. Then we remodeled our home a few years ago, and although it was rolled up, the rug was in our family room. The house sitter at the time had a puppy, and when we returned, I found a piece of the chewed rug, detached.

This is where I might have realized I had a problem. I was devastated. It made me sick to my stomach to see my beautiful tapestry “destroyed.” D. could not understand why I was so upset. After all, I had left the rug out and the house sitter was doing us a favor by being here. How could I be upset with him about a rug that only sat in a closet all this time?

I rolled up the rug and put it away. It has been in our daughter’s room until this morning when I finally dragged it out, afraid to unroll it and confront the damaged piece.

Two things occurred when I finally looked at the rug. I felt a warm moment of joy when seeing the beautiful and delicate pattern that drew me initially to this piece of art, and the chewed edge seemed far less onerous than I remembered it. I kept that separated chewed edge somewhere, but now I cannot find it … just another missing object that looms in my memory larger than life. The remaining rug, though, survives mostly intact.

I felt anxious every time I considered writing about the rug, and now that I’ve put it out there, I only feel I’ve honored both the object and the warm memory it represents – a beautiful fragment of nostalgia. Even the missing piece and the frayed edge seem to suddenly have a sense, a value, that adds to the meaning of the tapestry. Why would I cling to the ruined shard instead of the mostly intact object, and how did I recuperate it from ruins here in my writing?

the big dump

As you (or at least I) can see, pictured left, order is slowly being made out of the mountains of mess I’ve been sorting for the past three months. Sales on craigslist are dwindling, all of our unwanted clothes have been sold and donated, and today we took numerous boxes to a local charity thrift shop. One of my graduate students also helped by taking all kinds of unwanted CDs, books, and dishrags. What remains now are primarily things that either matter to me, and I would like to keep, or things for which I have a clear plan (craigslist, a family member, and so on). I am becoming more merciless when looking at what’s left and the struggle to toss, recycle, donate or sell, is waning.

I suppose this is the moment when I should feel proud, resolved, or accomplished; yet, I still feel a bit sick in the pit of my stomach. I feel spent and almost defeated. More remains to be tackled, but perhaps what’s weighing on me at this moment is something bigger than all of that.

the hoard lives here

For the past week I’ve been thinking I need to make a trip “home” to visit my dad and my step-mother. A sort of dread fills me when I think of it – all the piles, closed rooms, filled closets, overflowing storage spaces that are lurking there. Because I am not attached to their possessions, I feel an overwhelming urge to strip the walls and carpet in that house and to give them a (probably very unwanted) gift of remodeling. I feel I need to confront the hoards of my past if I’m ever going to understand where I came from. I also want to photograph the mass because at this point I don’t know if it’s become larger in my mind than it ever actually was, or if, in fact, that hoard is colossal. It fills me with dread, sadness, and nausea. I know bits of my own past are still lurking there – much sadness and relief, simple and complex memories are woven into that run down house.

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.