Tag Archives: garage

storage

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.

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

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.

you might be a hoarder

I just hung up the phone with my brother who is mentally planning a visit to us and to my father. We talked about the unsafe conditions in my dad’s house for my newly walking niece. My brother proudly reminded me that he was the last person who had a car in my parents’ garage because he cleaned it out. He thinks he probably knows where things are better than anyone else. “You know what? I’m probably responsible for them hoarding more stuff because I just made more space for them.”

“Maybe,” I said.

Then he told me how I would be shocked if I saw his place because they have too much stuff with three people living in a one bedroom apartment. “But I can’t be a hoarder. I just live in a small space.”

“You might be a hoarder,” I told him.

And then … (it keeps getting better) he proceded to tell me about his three cars, his dining room set that is packed up in storage because there’s no space for it, and his baseball cards that are probably valuable but he doesn’t even know where they are. This was divulged in the context of me saying how much it pisses me off that I’ve inherited the inability to throw out junk.

My brother says when my dad dies he’ll take a month off of work. He estimates it will take every day, working eight hour days, and a giant dumpster to sort through the remains. “Some of it is probably valuable.”

“Maybe.”

But what was most interesting in our talk was the myth that my father has created. He has told us we can’t throw out his magazines or books because, “there might be money hidden in there.” As my brother just pointed out – that’s probably not even true. He’s likely told us that so that we won’t just throw out his things. On the other hand, the myth of my grandfather is that he had money buried in his front yard (à la Vegas Vacation). My father could very well have done something so stupid as to tuck one dollar bills or rare coins into other collections. My brother has told my step-mother she’s not allowed to burn the stuff. (That would be my preference.) No, my brother says he will be the one to sort through the stuff, “And you’ll be right there with me. You’ll be there with me.”

We ended the phone call at that.

the horror … the humor

game closet

We made a very quick visit to my parents’ home on Friday and Saturday and I’m still unable to process much of what we witnessed. It is only the third time in the last five years that we’ve been there, and the distance makes their home all the more startling. I can safely respond to my own questions that, no, my memory has not exaggerated the state of their hoarding. New to me, however, is the understanding that my step-mother participates in the hoarding as much as she claims she detests it. As D. put it, maybe she criticizes the clutter as a way of defending herself or removing herself from it. I could plainly see in the piles of things many items that my father did not collect.

In addition to what I saw, I remained mindful that we were visiting the house in its very best state. I know my step-mom had been cleaning at least all that day if not for days. Many of the piles in plain sight were very neatly stacked and dusted.

As soon as we arrived and my step-mother took our daughter for a few minutes, I ran around the house frantically snapping pictures before I could get caught. The garage and basement were barricaded, but I was at least able to open doors, if not walk into the spaces themselves. A new cat is now living in the garage, the guest bedroom is completely inaccessible (I had intended to photograph the inside of the massive closet that I presume to still be full of magazines), and the office has only a narrow diagonal path from the door to the desk. That room used to be a usable family area with a fold out couch. I was unable to photograph the numerous barbecue grills and trucks and and and …. in the yard. And as startling as all of it is, the houses around my parents’ are also filled to the gills with cluttered porches and yards and rundown facades. It almost seems to be a prerequisite to country living in “those parts.”

cat in the garage

How I got out of that place before the hoard set in, or if the hoard began because my brothers and I were no longer there, I do not know. I know my parents would be horrified to know that I’m posting this, and it would hurt them deeply to be exposed in such a way. I have found the photographs helpful in numerous ways. I did not have time to really “see” while snapping them. Now, in the comfort of our empty-ing home, I can see the individual items that compile the stacks of stuff. I recognize odd objects from my past, and I can plainly see where the inability to declutter can lead. Numerous times, unprompted, my parents said they were working on getting rid of things. There was apparently a “huge bonfire” last summer, with their stuff going up in smoke. There is some will on their part to part with what they have so they might have more freedom to move or travel. But for every little acknowledgment, there is also new stuff coming in all the time.

the "office"

We were exhausted by the time we came home yesterday afternoon, and the recovery from the memory may take a few days. I hope to be able to use more images as I process what we witnessed.

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.