After months of looking at all kinds of houses and being very picky and demanding about the area but open to fixer-uppers, we are about to close on a house in our neighbourhood. Once that decision was finally determined, we immediately put our townhouse on the market and have since been playing the game of “hide every shred of human existence and make your house look like a hotel and do it quick.”
The market in Australia usually runs by open houses rather than private showings, though D and I never hesitate to ask for private showings of listings when it suits us. The result of the open house is a frenzy of people winding their way through the house in a thirty-minute span, dripping with sweat, and by the end of the day they are totally dizzy with what they have seen. My one neighbour went to six open houses today in her search for the perfect investment property, and another neighbour was doing the same in search of the ideal home for her growing family. Our house was opened up around the same time as two others on our street today, so people filter down the street like a parade.
While keeping our home as pristine as one can with a school-aged child and three pets, not to mention two full-grown adults who like to live and eat and work at home, I have slowly begun the business of packing up. I am ever amazed at the quantity of things we moved to Australia on airplane trips. We have all of our photo albums from birth to now, little treasures like our Christmas ornaments, my grandmother’s silver, and then all the clothes (considering we dumped what felt like the majority of the wardrobes before we moved here and have constantly donated since we moved here, this, too, is impressive). I have fifty-three boxes that can be filled (the suggested quantity from our removalists). I wonder how many will be full on moving day.
As I pack, however, I see D and S really struggling with this move. This one is somehow different and harder and scarier even though we are moving only three streets over and about 5 houses up the hill. This townhouse has been an anchor for us. Our daughter has lived here for the majority of her little life. We have loved it and hated it and we are about to move from a new modern sleek place to an old funky one that needs a lot of love and attention.
In all of this, I have realised, for reasons I cannot explain, I just keep pushing forward. I push even when it is not the most sensible thing to do. And as I push myself, those who love me and want to live with me get pushed and pulled along my path. I was speaking with S’s therapist a couple of weeks ago about this and she pointed out that sometimes when we are pushing forward, we just drag more and more and more stuff behind us. I’m clomping on through the snow that’s up to my knees and I’m on the verge of collapsing. At some point, I’m going to need to stop and sit still and work on what’s here in front of me without the distraction of moving again.
Nothing will cure a hoard better than selling your home, though natural disasters might have a similar effect. We put our home in Kansas on the market in March and it went under contract within three days. A week later we were at our house to clean out what remained after five years of absence. Our tenant and good friend A. called me a tornado, because I whipped through the piles of stuff without mercy sending the bulk towards the trash heap. It is easy to sort unaffected when you have absolutely forgotten the things in the hall closet even existed. We took two car-fulls of useful things to the emergency shelter to donate (some of it belonged to A.) and were grateful for the tax receipts. In spite of this culling, there was still some furniture and exercise equipment lingering. The tenants posted items on craigslist, had a yard sale, sold a few more items of theirs and ours, took a commission, and donated the rest. Today the real estate agent told me that he removed 12 bags of trash from the house (what??!!) after the tenants moved out, and the house is now cleaned and empty. I wish I could see the empty house today, but that would be a long way to fly just to have the satisfaction of knowing our former home is ready for a new owner to love it.
Posted in from my hoard to yours, hoarding identity, Uncategorized, weight of things
Tagged empty, garage sale, garbage, hoard, home, house, piles, stuff
My dad, the HP-Pastor-Santa Claus, had been out of touch until just before Thanksgiving. We tried to arrange to skype but it became too difficult for him. He finally just emailed me the story he so desperately wanted to share.
Oh yes, one more thing . . . I need to tell you that I almost burned down the house Tuesday morning. I went outside to fuel the furnace and in doing so, I dumped the ashes on the pile. About an hour later I looked outside and there was a huge fire under the patio. The hot coals had caught the leaves on fire and it expanded in two directions. One toward the patio and the other to the west side of the house. From there it caught the pile of junk I had stacked there (for maybe ten years or more) and caught it on fire. There were shotgun shells exploding and the fire was extremely threatening. I screamed “Fire” and the kids came a running to help at 5:50 am. Fortunately, a man stopped to help and called the fire department. By the time they got here we almost had it put out. Yeah! They watered down the pile of junk and then left. That’s one way to get rid of my hoarding crud! LOL!
It’s a fine example of his storytelling prowess: he saves the dramatic story for the end of an email as if he had almost forgotten, he recognizes he has hoarded junk… never mind that people could have been killed by shotgun shells blasting. But there is no account of what “junk” was lost that was so important to keep in a pile outside of the house in the first place. There is no acknowledgment of cleanup efforts or how he might avoid such trouble in the future. I can only expect that next time the local newspaper will be telling the story of his demise.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged burn, change, crap, crud, demise, father, fire, hoard, hoarding, HP, junk, pile, stuff
Chained to my computer today while I revise an article under a tight deadline and desperate for distractions, I just had an epiphany about my research. I have been working on the concept of hoarded memory of the Algerian War for a few years already and I’ve been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testimonial and pictorial debris I have to sift through. Often it is one author who produces an excessive number of volumes about his or her past.
Why does it only occur to me now that I have been trained for this my whole life? I am trying to make sense out of that layered, piled up story of a traumatic past, just like I have always been sifting through my dad’s stuff to reorder it, to pare it down, to make it accessible to those who live with him. There is some good stuff in his metaphorical curio cabinet, but it is getting destroyed and obscured as more is layered upon it.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged curio, destroy, hoard, layer, memory, memory hoarding, organize, past, reorder, sift, sort
It’s fall trash pickup time here in Brisbane and we have been sorting items we want to discard. We put a bicycle and a stroller out to the curb and both were snatched up almost immediately by one of the many roving trucks that make daily trips through the neighborhood looking for treasures. Some houses have massive piles of junk out front that have been well picked over and look like a junk yard.
Yesterday I cycled into work and past the hoarding house I keep my eye on. Sadly I recognized all sorts of new junk piled in the front of the yard and onto the back of two trucks. I have watched this house for the past two years and I know that these items are not going away to good use any time soon. Children’s toys and plastic garden chairs topped off the mounds.
At least in our house some purging is happening. We scrapped an old barbecue, we’re giving away the bike trailer S. used to ride in, and I’ve been putting our old t-shirts to good use. I’m making D. his own rug. So far it contains seven tees, with number eight balled up on top.
Seen from our Sydney hotel room two days ago.
We returned back to our home in Australia on Friday morning with all 9 checked bags, 2 carry-ons, 3 backpacks, and 1 pillow pet more or less in tact. Although that sounds like a lot, the only things I left in the U.S. are a winter coat, gloves and pair of boots and some things that should be sold on craigslist. Oh wait … well, no there are some other things that did get left such as my grandmother’s china which was not shipped to my brother. Frankly, I forgot to send it and did not realize it until just now. I spent my last full day in our home with the vomiting-diarrhea-fall-asleep-on-the-bathroom-floor kind of illness. Fortunately the suitcases were almost packed before the illness struck.
The checked bags were not excessive: 2 bicycles, 1 box of artwork, 1 carseat, 1 bag of hockey equipment, 1 bag of odd junk like tools, my flute, and S’s new tennis racket, and 1 personal suitcase for each of us. One of the personal suitcases was filled with breakables. I did my best to protect them but sadly many things that once seemed important to us have now come to rest in our Australian rubbish bin. I packed my childhood tea set in that bag. I still have the original box (!), but 2 pieces did not survive the crossing. We broke some corning wear, handmade canisters, and jars. My favorite antique Christmas ornament that belonged to my great-grandmother suffered some splintering. And some things we really don’t care about at all came out just fine.
The rest of our things were shipped in boxes via USPS at $60 per large flat rate box. I had to go through photo albums and notebooks and decide if I really needed prom photos or if I could just resnap them quickly with my iPhone and let the distorted image be good enough. I have handwritten journals I’ve kept from age 5 to 35, which I always thought would be an awesome gift to my child (wow, what was I thinking?) or useful as notes for a mémoire. I almost tossed them, but couldn’t bear to let go of all of it. Somehow it makes me feel sane when I go back and read snippets of what I went through to get where I am today. Instead I broke down bindings and tore out pages to condense them. I’m curious to see if the pages can be scanned through a top-feeding machine.
This is the minutiae, the overwrought details of the stuff, but ultimately, that’s all the stuff there is now. We got home and our house was delightfully clean and empty. No clutter in sight anywhere. It felt good to look around and see no mess. Just a stack of mail to sort through.
The unpacking went swiftly, the shards of glass were swept up, and our life is officially here now. It’s good to be home.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Australia, breakable, china, hoard, keepsake, packing, photo album, photos, scan, shipping, stuff, tea set, things, travel
S. is quietly playing with the many toys she got for Christmas. Fortunately our luggage space is limited, because with the cost of toys being about 25% less here than in Australia, I was tempted to buy a whole lot more. I think I did go a little overboard, but at least the grandmas respected our wish to keep things small, flat, light and easily packable.
Our trip to my HP’s house was brief. D. was carsick and spent a good portion of the time overcoming nausea. There was a brief debate whether he should rest in my step-mother’s bed or in my step-brother’s room. This surprised me. My dad said, “but there’s too much stuff on your bed,” to which my step-mom replied she would just move it to the floor. I asked my dad why he was calling it her bed and he said that he now only sleeps in his chair. Equally surprising, my step-brother’s room was not overcrowded with things and completely usable. So why were we not allowed to stay?
D. was able to peek in at my former bedroom and declared it was full. I was only allowed to look at the newly renovated master bathroom (only the shower was redone and expanded), and to admire the new (badly needed) carpeting and linoleum in the house. Both parents admitted the renovations had been exhausting and they had only just got the furniture back into place for our visit. Moving a hoard to re-carpet is a lot of work.
More disturbing than the house, however, was their blatant disregard for our boundaries. They had offered to take our daughter over night while sending us to the hotel. (Wait, there’s room for her but not for us?) I told them she would likely be scared as she does not know them well and that, while I appreciated the offer, she would be staying with us. While she was busy playing with toys they had out, they started in on her, “S. wouldn’t you like to spend the night with grandma and grampa so you can keep playing with the toys?” “Yes,” she said. I looked at her and said, “but Mommy can’t stay here with you and you will be alone with grandma and grampa all night.” That was enough for her to almost cry. She was not staying there without us.
We went to dinner, spent the night in a comfortable hotel, and went back to see them for two hours in the morning. It was S’s fourth birthday and they were kind to ask me ahead of time if the chosen gifts were appropriate. I totally appreciate their thoughtful gifts since she was destined to spend the entire day in the car. It was also nice to see them. But they were clear: they don’t have time to see us. My father said in almost the same breath, “I just don’t like to travel any more,” and “We’re going to Arizona to visit your brother in March.” It would be nice to know my father if he could be honest with himself and say, “I don’t feel like visiting you” instead of whatever nonsense he comes up with.
And the most disturbing news… The reason my HP is too busy to see us? He’s become Santa Claus. Anyone need a hoarding Santa for your holiday event next year?
I’ve recently started to realize that I block out things that really bother me. Specifically, I ignore things that others do that I cannot change. I likely learned that at home growing up with a compulsive father. Look away and it doesn’t exist.
So sometimes I wonder if I’ve exaggerated this whole hoarding thing and, who knows, maybe they fixed the problem from the last time I saw it. And then when I see it again it just makes me upset.
We’re organizing our trip to the States over the holidays. My HP has decided that we can only see them for one day out of the two months that we will be in the U.S. because they are so busy and they figure we are too busy, too. He emailed me last week to confirm the date of our visit and this was tucked into the sickly sweet message:
I need to get busy and clean up the house. We are still in a mess from the remodeling project and we have your bedroom stacked with clothes from one corner to the other. If you will stay overnight, we would be more than willing to pay for a nice motel room for you.
I knew nothing of a renovation which is badly needed since my step-mother’s house had not been updated since we moved into it in 1991. I read this message with some surprise and disappointment, and then I tried not to think about it. When explaining the situation to a colleague, however, I started to get angry. My father is retired and my step-mother has recently gone back to work after retirement. I know she is exhausted with this full-time position. The last time we visited in January 2011, the two downstairs bedrooms were full but the three upstairs rooms were just cluttered. They are two people living in a five bedroom home. There is nowhere for us to sleep in the house.
The visit will be short and we don’t know when we will be in the States again after this trip. And yet, I’m a bit relieved that they do not expect us to sleep in the hoard with them. I’ll try to snatch some photos while I’m there, as obscene as that sounds to me now.
My father and I are exchanging messages again. Apparently the silence was nothing: I’m just paranoid. So we continue to play Scrabble. I couldn’t resist the following word. I wonder if he’ll respond.