Tag Archives: compulsion

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.

a gamble

My family is riddled with compulsive behaviors from obsessive religious practices to compulsive gambling. With that frame of reference, I tuned into TLC’s Extreme Couponing last night.

The show was described with a hoarding bend on the cable menu – something about shopaholics. Each of the people participating in the program were extremely organized and had stockpiles of staples, or something to show for their “resourcefulness” or their ability to save. I do not know if they are able to use all they buy before it expires or if they end up purchasing things they will never use in order to save or even earn money on these shopping trips. The show raised more questions for me than providing answers.

One woman’s entire home was stocked full of supplies with toiletpaper rolls under her toddler’s bed and a huge pantry shelf in her own bedroom. She said the first thing she looked at every morning was that shelf and that she wasn’t too thrilled the day she installed it, but nonetheless thought it was worth it for the amount of money she saved.

I agree that saving 98% on a grocery bill is pretty good if you’re really going to eat those 400 hotdogs or 20 bottles of Maalox that you just purchased. You have to have a system in place, though, to not end up drowning in your so-called “savings.”

What struck me was that this behavior is no less compulsive than gambling. Each woman at the cash register said they were having heart palpitations and getting really nervous. They were never really certain if they would save as much as they expected. That one moment at check out is really no different than trying to hit the jackpot (a calculated jackpot, for sure) at the casino, or winning at the final table in a poker tournament when you know you cannot lose more money than your initial buy-in. The only difference is the compulsive gambler doesn’t have all that stuff to show for their playtime, or work, or whatever you want to call it.

What’s better, in the end — being buried under your stock of free things or having nothing to show for your gamble, having just broken even? Neither sounds like a true win to me.

long lineage

During our trip to visit my extended family over the past few days, many stories about the hoarders in our family were recounted. It almost made me feel proud that my tendencies are so restrained in comparison. As I posted yesterday, my grandmother is not at all ashamed of her tendency to keep things and to get things for free. She lived through the Great Depression and it was engrained in her, “waste not, want not.” (On a side note– in a difficult moment, she offered me more handmade dish towels that I had to decline.)

In addition to my grandmother, though, I heard stories about her sister Bea and her closets full of collectibles. She had a family free-for-all when she moved into a smaller condo. Everyone was invited to come through the farm-house and take whatever antiques they desired, especially enamel dishes, wooden ironing boards, and old utensils.

My aunt was looking for a moment of solitude over the weekend when she could sneak piles of my  uncle’s things out of the house. Their house, in my view, is quite clean and under control. She said her method is to put unused things in a box. Then if six months have passed and she hasn’t looked in the box, she gets rid of the box. Even she has created coping mechanisms to deal with the clutter.

not my clutter

I think, as I digest all of this, that keeping things is sort of a normal human compulsion. We all accumulate things whether we like to or not. The problem arises for some of us when the anxiety of letting go becomes too great. I tried to explain to D. the other night what a big deal this really is to me. I never realized I had any type of problem with “stuff” until I started writing about it. Now that I’ve had several little breakdowns when asked to throw things out, I know there is a compulsion to hoard at work within me. If I were left alone (and indeed, when I did live alone), I would live in piles of clutter that would get cleaned up only when company was expected. I feel virtuous now for what I’ve been able to shed, and anguished when told it isn’t enough. I know I can live well and fine without my things, but confronting their absence is a constant and difficult battle for me.

cataloging

Part of the downfall of craigslist for me is that the weeding out simultaneously creates a new type of collection. To properly list and successfully sell items, I photograph them. And now my hard drive is filling with images of the items that no longer clutter the house. A few of the images were deleted with ease, but I have duplicates. A new compulsion to catalogue what leaves the house tugs at me gently, rationalizing itself as beautiful.

compulsion to sell

Our almost 2-year-old has a new favorite activity: throwing things in the trashcan. She especially enjoys stripping the “clothes” off of her crayons and throwing the paper away.

The desire to whittle away at piles of stuff is new to me, but the compulsion to eliminate grows. On Monday when it was time to start writing, I was overcome for the first time with the deep urge to sell something on craigslist. I felt it had been too many days since I’d last let go of my past.

A man who owns a thriftstore in a nearby town contacted me about a jewelry box I had listed. He asked me to bring any other collectibles, especially jewelry, but he was also interested in a number of items I do not own such as guns and knives. I scurried around the house grabbing objects without reflecting on them. For $20 Mike bought a big chunk of jewelry, some of it possibly valuable jade, lapis, silver and gold pieces, as well as a small box given to me by a friend when we were about 12 years old. The box was the only item to which I attached any meaning (significant given my first wedding band was in the lot), even though that friend is only a vague connection on facebook today. While that piece stirred the most hesitation in me, I had not thought of it again until writing this today. I have it captured on film. Its memory is enough.