Tag Archives: hoarder

help

While not able to fall asleep last night, my mind raced through details trying to calm itself. I wondered if my upcoming counseling appointment is perhaps weighing more heavily on me than I thought. There is a fairly large sense of guilt looming over me for not being able to manage things by myself. Objectively I see counseling as an intelligent activity: there are experts to help with that. But personally, it falls in the same sort of shameful indulgence as having a cleaner come do my house. I just can’t permit it though I do not judge those who do. In fact, I envy them. 

So I wondered why I feel such shame in asking for help. I should be able to manage my own house and my own emotions. But the reality is sometimes otherwise. It’s just hard to stay on top of it all.

And then I wondered if perhaps my parents shamed me for asking for help at some point. My mom and dad went to a counsellor named Sheldon, I think, when I was ten or twelve and they were beginning to separate. My brother and I saw him once. He asked us what we thought was wrong or what we thought might help them. My clear childlike answer was “Money.” They were financially wrecked and we bore the aftermath of that for years. I expect they set the example for me: they dug themselves out of that mess without declaring bankruptcy.

I will ask for help sometimes. I have been known to ask a bus driver for help finding my stop. I will occasionally ask for advice from someone I deeply trust or about something that seems inconsequential like, “what types of birthday presents are appropriate for 4 year olds?” At work I have no trouble asking questions about policy and formality. But if I am stuck in any situation I perceive I have put myself into and there is anything remotely shameful about it (i.e. I’m lost), I feel it is my own responsibility to bail myself out or suffer the consequences. Asking for help is hard. Very very hard. And when I do ask for help, if I sense I won’t get it, I quickly retract my request. “Fine, I’ll handle it.” I will whinge but I will get it straightened out eventually. That’s not very efficient, but it has required me to be resourceful.

Back to the situation at hand, though, I wonder if other COH (Children of Hoarders) have this same problem. How hard is it for you to ask for help? Did our parents, especially the narcissistic ones, teach us not to ask? I’d rather chew off my own arm than ask my father (HP) help me get out of any situation. He would probably be only too happy to help me — well maybe, he might also knock me over the head for it — but I would never hear the end of it. “Look what I did for you!” 

Advertisements

secondary issues

Tangential to the last post, when we go to our house in the U.S. I am supposed to pack up any remaining items that matter to me. I’ve made a careful list of what I remember leaving there. I know what items I want to have here with me in Australia. There are only a few things that matter, but some of it has me stuck.

One personally valuable item that I had to leave behind is my paternal grandmother’s china. She passed away when I was only eight years old and I loved the delicate flower pattern on the dishes. I now have her entire collection packed away in a rubbermade bin in the basement of our house. I don’t think I can justify shipping it to Australia, though I may want to have it here some day. It has occurred to me that my brother might like to have it, but he is flying to Florida to see us and won’t likely be able to fly home with a full set of dishes.

If I had a normal parent, I would leave the dishes at his house. Because he’s a hoarder, though, that is the surest way to lose them. The whole thing depresses me; and so, the china will likely remain in the basement of my house where I will continue to store it in my mind, catalogued away, hoarded.

it’s that bad

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.

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. 

nbd, it’s npd

Thank you Hoarder’s Son and Children of Hoarders for your recent discussions on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Thank you, but why must the rabbit hole go ever deeper? Probably to hide away more hoarded stuff. It seems only appropriate that our HPs have collected psychological disorders along with their junk.

Without having a proper degree to diagnose my father, I can recognize obvious displays of NPD in him. Long before the hoard, the characteristic marks of this behavior were present. He has big dreams (that happen to change rather often), believes he is someone very special (divine calling, anyone?), and treated his first and second wives and his children as extensions of himself who were meant to obey his commands and whims without resistance. Question his authority and expect a fine fit of rage.

Where things get complicated for me, or for him maybe, is that my father is a pastor of a very small church. Being a pastor and doing these things for the Lord justifies almost every behavior, every dream, every whim, everything he wants. This role began about the time when the hoarding took off and I was out of the house. And pastoring fulfilled his need to have constant admiration, attention, and control. At some point I began to wonder (shudder) if he even believed what he was preaching or if he simply enjoyed being in the position of total authority in the church body.  Whatever the inspiration, he has mellowed considerably through the years — from God or from age, I do not know.

My father can be completely charming and sweet, but any generosity or overly kind word gives me a grippingly sick feeling. His sweetness is always pointed at what he cannot control, but if you ask him, he is just winning people over to the Lord. I tense up when I hear that overly sweet tone in his voice. It happened too often in my childhood that he would be in a full-on rage about some horrible sin I’d committed (blue nail polish comes to mind) and the phone would ring. Suddenly he’d be the nicest man on earth on the phone, perhaps even brag about how great I was to his interlocutor, and the minute the conversation with the unknown person was over, the rage would continue. Turn it on, turn it off. Like a switch.

I could go on and on with this analysis of my father and the ways in which he matches this behavior profile, but things get difficult when I turn the scope on myself.

I, like many people who have posted on children of hoarders (thank you, all of you), was a mini-adult, put on display at church as the model child, had perfect grades from ninth grade to the end of my B.A. degree, and every success was attributed not only to my father, but to our heavenly father. Perfect grades? Praise the Lord. Scholarship? Praise the Lord. More than once I wanted to scream, “What about praise me?” Yet still, I endeavored to please.

I was the Golden Child, the wanted child (?), the successful child. I found my rebellion through reading subversive books in a foreign language and conducting my research in a way that is entirely incomprehensible to my father. I created my space in foreign cultures and he has not once asked or attempted to understand it. His only concern has ever been if my beliefs align with his: I am so going to Hell.

Until I met D. I had no idea what I wanted in life even though I was very clearly motivated. He’s the first person to ever ask me what I wanted. I had always had some God-plan to live by. When I stumbled off of that track, and D. asked me hard questions, I came up entirely empty. How could I answer where I was going since someone or some entity had always told me where to go and what to do?

I chose a path that brought down my father’s wrath. I was 31.

And now, seven years later and in a different countries, my father is trying to use his sweet charm on me.

NPD, maybe it’s a BFD.

 

moving to the country

Last night amid the bad television selections available, I paused on a British series “Escape to the Country” where an older couple were selling one partner’s London home and combining their possessions for the first time in a move to the country. I hadn’t read the episode description until just now, and the word hoarder was never mentioned during the program, but I recognized the hoarder in the mix from the start. Each time the couple saw a home that suited, the Hoarder began mentally taking over the spaces meant for his partner’s television room. It went a bit like this:

Agent: “And here is a perfect room for your television, Michael.”

Hoarder: “Wait, this would be great for my opera collection.”

Michael: “You already said the upstairs room would be fine for your opera collection.”

Hoarder: “But I like this space, too.”

Ugh. I think I just vomited a little. Every time the Hoarder admired the amount of counter space in the kitchen, I knew exactly what he was thinking.

In the end the couple settled for an old barn that had a wing for each partner and about five bedrooms that could be used for storage. I’m almost certain that the Hoarder will take over his partner’s wing and then some. 

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.

forgotten coffee

Image

I’m a spoiled girl. My husband packs a lunch for me in the morning. I just have to put it in my bag and go. Yesterday I realized I forgot to bring a fork: but never fear, the hoarder is here to save the day! I opened a desk drawer I haven’t looked in for months, and of course I had a plastic fork. I also found a mystery baggy with frightening grey turd-like crystals. Who knew freeze-dried coffee could become desiccated and moldy?

Inspired by Joanna’s blog, I Won’t be a hoarder too, I snapped a picture and threw it in the trash. This is not so much something I held on to, but a perfect example of me keeping things “just in case” and then forgetting about them until they are ruined. Classic COH.

burn barrel worthy

The place where my HP father lives is about four miles outside of a smallish town, and although they have neighbors around them, it can be classified as in the country. In the backyard near the deer pen there is a burn barrel, which is basically an old rusted oil barrel – the kind you see hobos warming their hands over in grimy movies about New York. (Gawd, I hope that wasn’t an offensive image – at least not any more offensive than the image I’m painting of my parents. A nicer image might be of a steel drum?)

My parents keep their compost, basically feeding vegetable scraps to the deer. They recycle plastic and aluminium, which means hoarding cool whip containers and cans in the garage. They burn, however, the majority of their trash.

One day during university I was visiting my family and sorting through things I had left at their house. I made a pile that I decided to burn. I no longer remember what I burned exactly, since I know I still have boxes of notes and even printed emails that have been condensed but stored over the years. I do remember that I took the opportunity to burn some of my father’s things.

Each time I visited, my step-mother would lament how much these collected things weighed on her. She sometimes joked about getting her own place to live just to have space; but now I know that she, too, contributes to the piles.

If you ask my father politely if you can dispose of his 1980 phonebook from a town in another state, he will shriek, “No. I need that. There are numbers in there that are now unlisted. I use it still.” Instead, I took the stealthy strategy of quickly grabbing a couple of phonebooks from his stack. Not too many that he would notice, and not the oldest one. And oops, out they went into the burn barrel along with my things. I couldn’t pray for the flame to burn any faster and kept looking over my shoulder in case he noticed the pages of his beloved phonebook flying up in the air with the smoke. I don’t think he ever found out. At least no one ever mentioned it to me.

I read so many messages from other COHs about the valuable things that are lost in the hoard. Recently there was a story about a purple heart that had gone missing in the mess. I can’t even afford to think about what’s worth keeping in my parents’ house at this point. There probably are some wonderful treasures, valuable ones, in the stacks. Mostly I think there would be nothing more redeeming than watching it all go up in smoke once my parents are gone.

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.