Tag Archives: debris

excavation

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the knot

My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 8. I inherited her sewing kit which I have faithfully moved around with me and constantly used and added to over the years. It’s here now in Australia and I opened it yesterday to add my newer sewing resources. It was in disarray. How did this knot get there? It’s like the little ends of thread from all the bobbins and spools worked their way together when no one was looking. The only way out of it was to break off several strands of this now very antique and newly hip thread on real wooden spools. A metaphor of my attachment to things: collected to preserve and rendered useless.

I set about organising the box yesterday as I realised I was not honouring my grandmother’s memory very well by holding on to the debris she left inside. I emptied the box, entirely, for the first time ever. I laid out the pieces. S. watched, asking questions, as she rummaged through my other inherited items looking for treasures she could play with. I dusted the box, discarded some items, but could not part with some of the most hilariously useless things. Captioned photography of the excavation below.

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the clutter below, never properly sorted

how i roll: keep the box for the stitch ripper for 20+ years

how i roll: keep the opened box for the stitch ripper for 20+ years

La Mode - maybe c. 1970, it was

La Mode – maybe c. 1970, it was

this unidentifiable green machine nearly sliced my daughter's finger. I had no idea what it was but I had 2, made in Italy. Oh, automatic needle threader. Of course.

this unidentifiable green machine nearly sliced my daughter’s finger. i had no idea what it was but i had 2, made in Italy. oh, an automatic needle threader. of course.

ideal for swimwear. complete with 1950s style metal clasp

ideal for swimwear. complete with 1950s-style metal clasp.

death trap debris. needles, snaps, screws, dust, everywhere.

death trap debris. needles, snaps, screws, dust, everywhere.

not so shabby chic. i presume i sewed this rotten elastic around age 8. trashed.

red owl. a minnesota supermarket i nostalgically recall.

red owl. a minnesota supermarket i nostalgically recall.

wtf? i red owl sewing kit?

wtf? a red owl sewing kit?

fashion patches, there were many

fashion patches, there were many

a 1966 Singer instruction manual, perhaps valuable on ebay. my sewing box matches the beautiful blue color.

a 1966 Singer instruction manual, perhaps valuable on ebay. my sewing box matches the beautiful blue color.

grandma would approve.

grandma would approve

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oh hoarder

Every day I bicycle past a hoarding house. It has a run-down camper parked in front and two other cars that seem not to work. The front yard is littered with large machinery type objects and at least three rusting wheelchairs. I can see in the front windows: there is stuff piled up 3/4 to the top. It’s a nice neighborhood with homes worth near the one million dollar mark on the same little street. This one looks like a leftover.

Yesterday as I was bicycling along, I noticed a trailer on the back of one of the cars. On that trailer, a newish looking treadmill. I smirked uncomfortably. No space in the house for a treadmill and likely no one will use it. I’m sure they got a fantastic deal somewhere. Today, the treadmill remains rusting in place.

Once upon a time, I also got a great deal on a treadmill. I bought it third-hand, and D. helped me bring it home. I used it maybe three times. I always had an excuse for not using it: primarily, if I was going to run I should be running outside with the dogs. I didn’t run with the dogs. It went into the garage to make room for our baby. I sold it very easily but 4 years later and for half what I paid for it. A wonderful machine for the right person. For the hoarder in me: junk. Space filling stuff. Accumulation. Debris. A reminder of what I should be doing but wasn’t. 

Oh dear hoarder, I know you will not stop. So I watch daily as the pile grows. I imagine you picking through your neighbor’s continually growing trash heap. I wonder if it feels good to not have space, to feel the weight of those things anchoring you in your spot, if hoarding is essentially an anxiety disorder – a need to be physically hemmed in. 

identity

I’ve been wondering lately if everything I’ve believed about myself up until recently is false. I always prided myself on my sense of focus and my ability to organize. I’m writing this, weeks after the thought first crossed my mind, and now with a  sense of humor. Desktop update? Here’s a corner of the debris in front of me right now.

If I’m organized, it isn’t very obvious. Although I have no trouble focussing on an activity, my focus is probably not apparent. When I’m engrossed in a task and another item arises needing attention, I’m either unable to consider the new issue (I can even manage to block it out completely) or I get so involved in it, I cannot remember what I was doing before. I then go from one item to the next to the next. I appear very distracted, yet I’m fully attentive to each thing. It concerns me that I see my daughter exhibiting the same behavior. Getting her dressed in the morning is sometimes a drama because she gets fixated on other things and can’t easily complete the task at hand. In her defense, she’s three. What’s my excuse?

When I was younger and busily affirming my sense of self, I had a near obsessive rein on myself. I had my mornings rigidly organized into 15 minute increments. This helped me accomplish what I need to do: 15 minutes breakfast, 15 minutes shower, 15 minutes makeup and hair, 15 minutes meditation, until I was out the door. At some point it became unrealistic to get up two hours before I needed to leave. I slowly abandoned the schedule. Now, and for the last twenty years, I’ve been living on a university schedule. I shift my habits every 15 weeks and each day has a different dynamic. Today is “research day” (reminds me of “steak night”) and I get to sit at home and think about the world and scold myself up for not writing faster about it.

I think the reality I’m coming to is that organization does not really come naturally to me. It’s something I’ve learned to impose on myself when necessary because it keeps me afloat. Sometimes it becomes a tricky web to navigate, but without it I might just be endlessly engrossed in the shiny objects dangling before me and never find time to articulate what’s so fascinating about them.

churning

As I was catching up on my pile of unread blog posts from others affected by hoarding, a word popped out of one of Sidney’s posts at www.milbetweenus.com that set a sharp pang through my heart. She said Greg had been churning.

Churning – I’m not sure how those who don’t experience it personally or see it first-hand understand it. For me, it’s painful. For the majority of my life, it was just a normal unconscious activity. Now when I see it happening, it sends me into a sinking sense of despair. Churning feels like sitting in a boat that’s quickly filling with water and you only have a bucket to try to bail out. Churning is like a dog chasing its tail: so funny to watch, so frustrating for the dog.

I sat at my desk yesterday working in a flurry. I jumped from one task to the next, to the next, accidentally got lost in a Google search for something completely unrelated, started browsing Pinterest, jerked myself back to a grant application, stumbled upon papers to mark, marked two, remembered an assignment I hadn’t posted, went to post it but instead changed the layout to my course website. In the tangled mess of activity, perhaps in spite of it, I managed to finish the grant application, the marking, the lesson planning… I found my way out the other side. I don’t know how.

Why is churning painful? I recognize it now as a response to extreme stress. I get totally lost in the activity and I have to sit back and think about what is causing this before I can get out of it. I know it’s an inherited behavior that indelibly links me to my dysfunctional father. I cannot stop the activity from starting: I can only disentangle myself by realizing it is occurring.

What stimulates churning for me is not always clear. The first time I fully realized I was doing it was only in July when we first arrived in Australia and didn’t yet have a home. I felt I was sinking and grasping onto illogical pieces of debris to pull myself up from the drowning waters. I wanted to keep disposable containers, tin foil, used tape, even though I knew I didn’t need those things. I was uprooted and lost: I wanted to create stability. I churned.

Yesterday I churned for numerous reasons combined: we’re buying a house, I’m resigning permanently from my former position to remain in this one, D. is going to be away for a week, I have numerous looming deadlines at work… Not to mention the normal stressors of sleep deprivation and a child’s temper tantrums. Oh, and PMS. I’m a downright mess. Except I’m fine. Even better than fine, I’m really good. I just churn as a coping mechanism. Familiar repetitive behaviors anyone?

Churning.

why we collect stuff

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a collection of pieces in Room for Debate on 30 December 2011, “Why We Collect Stuff.” Randy O. Frost defines the moment when collecting becomes hoarding, and Philipp Blom has a well-written piece, “Objects of Desire and Dreams.” Blom explains:

Collected objects are like holy relics: conduits to another world. They have shed their original function and become totems, fetishes. Collecting by its very nature is animist and transcendental.

The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.

This gets to the crux of my interest in memory and hoarding. The objects we cling to attempt to say something about ourselves and tie us to a broader spectrum of people, eternalizing both the objects and the sentiments behind them. The object becomes symbol of both self and community.

This works for collecting, but what about hoarding? The desire to preserve begins the same but the attachment to the object seems to be as linked to decay and destruction as it is to safeguarding. Amassing the sheer volume of things surpasses the ability to control and the collection implodes. Items are lost in the debris even if they remain in the hoarder’s memory.