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.
Tag Archives: home
Yesterday I wrote to my step-brother who lives the closest to my HP and who sees my dad and step-mom the most often, just to let him know I’m aware of the problem and available even though far away. We have not been close, ever really, but I feel it’s unfair for him and his wife to bear the burden of what my father has brought to the table, so to speak. My brother, on the other hand, claims to be committed to cleaning up the hoard because he wants to see what’s inside. I think he underestimates what the time commitment would be. I think he also wants to find buried treasure. That desire runs deep in my genealogy.
For the moment, all is calm on the hoarding front. I think this is the right time to prepare. I tried to express to my step-brother, in a very neutral tone, that I feel comfort he is nearby but by no means expect him to deal with it. I also simply stated that I do not feel attached to anything in the home. I hope he can read between the lines and understand that if they are stuck disposing of the mess, they can dispose of the mess without my interference. Perhaps what I will best be able to offer is financial help if it comes to that.
The house is dilapidated. Carpet has never been changed. The house was constructed in the late 1970s and the only major renovations that have occurred were when my father and I moved in c. 1990. He finished the basement. That same basement is now 80% inaccessible because of the hoard.
It makes me sad for my step-brother(s). This was their childhood home. It has been the same home in the backdrop of almost every memory growing up. This is where they still celebrate most major holidays. I haven’t been there for over a year already and I don’t expect to go back until 2013. Expect it to get worse, I flatly expressed. Maybe much worse.
Next time you think you’re too cramped in the tiny place where you live, think of this clever guy. He’s been living in our outdoor lamp for at least a month now. Usually he can’t manage to get his tail tucked in all the way. Then he disappeared for a few days. Today I saw him, looking bigger than before. I wonder if he’s stuck in that little cove.
Last night around 1 a.m. as I tiptoed down the stairs to return some milk to the fridge, I noticed a little grey blur on the floor. As soon as I began to wonder what it was, it quickly flitted away behind the curtains. I recognized it as some type of lizard, made sure I walked clear of its path, left the stove light on for D. who gets up very early, and went back to bed. When he got up some thirty minutes later, I was still awake and told him about the lizard so he wouldn’t be startled.
When I saw the thing, I momentarily considered catching it and throwing it outside in the rain. But I am not terribly concerned about lizards who eat bugs and don’t bite humans. I no longer have a baby crawling on the floor, no cats or dogs who are going to catch it for me, no real concerns about the thing except it’s kind of creepy to have a lizard in the house when you don’t know what kind it is.
In North America we’ve had plenty of critters trying to invade our space. We had a bird make a perch on our balcony, we watched our cat bring a live mouse in the house and let it go, we’ve had rats eat through the wires of our car engine (twice), our dogs caught a baby raccoon in our yard, and the raccoons feasted regularly on our compost. Add to that wild turkeys, an occasional fox, deer and many rabbits, squirrels and snakes who had a habitat in our yard even though we lived near the center of the city.
I grew up mostly in the country. Animals and pests are just a part of home life. But what happens when your floor isn’t cleared enough to see the lizard scampering across it, or the pile of newspapers is so huge you can’t find the mouse building a nest in it? You just hear the random scurrying and scratching. Does it become a part of your home life? Common sounds you’re used to hearing, unconcerned that you’re sharing your home with critters?
My father (the HP) lives in a rural Mid-Western community and I recall being terrified my first summer, having moved there from Montana in high school, when I stepped outside to what sounded like a rain forest. Then one night (I should’ve known hoarding was an issue by then), I was even more frightened when I heard loud scratching and crawling noises in my ceiling. When I told my parents about it the next day, they flatly said there were squirrels making a nest in the rafters. No one cared. No one did anything about it. More recently, my brother declared he wanted my father’s stamp collection (which represented his only happy childhood memory), and my father nonchalantly declared that mice had probably eaten through the stamp books. Never mind that incompatibility with hoarding crap you collect and letting it get destroyed. I can’t understand how hoarders get to the point of not caring about the critters in their home that they cannot see or access – only hear or smell. Does it become another comforting part of the hoard, or does it ever terrify them that their home is taking on a life of its own?
Yesterday as I walked “home” from the park, I had the first notion of feeling comfortable in my neighborhood. All the plants and sounds that have felt exotic are suddenly starting to look normal as I begin to forget about pine, oak, maple and elm trees and adapt to eucalyptus, jacaranda, and palms. Armadillo roadkill is replaced with squished water dragons, robins in trees for cockatoos, and squirrels for possums. I’m adapting.
As we begin our fifth month in this house, however, we only have one thing on our mind: find a house that feels comfortable. We spent years renovating and refining our home in the States to make it just the way we wanted it. By the time our daughter came along, it had almost entirely been redone, and after her birth we went ahead and renovated the only room that had been left untouched. D. and I both spend the majority of our working hours in our home, and the comfort of home is a value we both enjoy. Yet, here we are living in what D. affectionately calls “student housing” with noisy neighbors, a railway running practically through the back yard, and a thin layer of coal dust that accumulates every week. Besides college football, the only thing I truly miss about being back “home” is exactly that – our home.
Now that we have had time to acclimate somewhat here, however, we have the luxury of choosing another place to live. For me, last weekend was a sort of “rediscover your town extravaganza” which we used to explore different suburbs that were more peaceful, even if further away from my job. No matter – there were ocean views and breezes, not to mention the fresh air. There is a whole new world out there. But to get there, we have to pack up our suitcases again and re-acclimate to another neighborhood, child care facility, daily pattern and so on. And six months after that, we’ll get to do it all over again.
If nothing else, the search for a comfortable home is keeping the luggage light and the compulsion to accumulate at bay… for now.
I wrote the following blogpost on March 10, 2009 for my research-related blog (which incidentally has seen less action over 5 years than this one saw in its first 6 months). Likely because of our recent move, this has been weighing on my mind, and I think the content much more appropriate to readers here. (Reposted with my own permission).
I received this message from a childhood friend yesterday on facebook, “My parents were just visiting and told me your old house has been razed….new home coming up. This follows a kitchen fire last year but I didn’t think they’d take the whole house down!”
I have known for years now that you can never really go home, but now that I know I can never revisit the place, I am pondering what that means. I can’t think of one reason I would want to return there. To remember the address, however, I typed in “Meadowview Ln” into Google Maps which suggested Meadow View Dr, and led me to click on a picture. When I turned just one click to the right, there before me was my house.
When I lived there the road wasn’t paved and cattle were kept in the field on “the hill” behind us. So now, I see the house for the first time in ages on the web, and it really no longer exists. I click up and down the street and remember Kory’s house and Kristen’s house and see a lot of houses that weren’t there before.
I told my mom the house was gone and she asked, “OK, so where’s the picture??? That is crazy and I think the kitchen is the only part we remodeled!!! Well, it has been a few years, hasn’t it.” It’s funny to think of asking for a picture of something no longer there. Proof that it’s gone? An empty lot? We can never go back. Not if we wanted, not if we had to.
Many Pieds-Noirs have been returning to Algeria in recent years. They bring back film that recaptures their homes and they play it for those who cannot physically return. When Jacques Derrida saw his homeland played back for him by Safaa Fathy, he found the past unrecognizable (see Tourner les mots), and Hélène Cixous traveled to Derrida’s Algeria with photos of his past, trying to make sense of what she was witnessing for the first time (Si près). But many Pieds-Noirs do not even see the present when they return. They only see what used to be.
In my case, this picture triggers memories of the dirt road and how big that hill to the right seemed when I rode my bike down it, and many of those houses now there were once just fields and empty lots. I see my past transposed onto the new siding and attempting to erase that ugly truck. But can I see an empty lot?
Last week the last three boxes of my books arrived to my new office. I felt immediate joy and reconnection: “at-homeness” with the contents. I lovingly placed the carefully chosen texts onto my barren shelves. They barely made a dent in the void, as I am surrounded by 32 of these beautiful new bookshelves.
Boxes emptied and books put away, melancholy almost immediately ensued. I’m surrounded by space now, here and at home. It feels scary and open but full of possibility and imagination.
The biggest void and absence of home will be over tomorrow morning, though, when D. finally arrives.
I’ve been considering selling my postcard collection on Craigslist for some time now, but the thought that some personal information might get misused has always interrupted my plan. I then offered the collection to a friend who has an affinity for postcards (and probably hoarding) and she smartly declined.
I finally tackled the box a few days ago, sorting the cards into four categories: received from someone, free cards, art cards, and cards from places I’ve been. I started collecting when I was about 15 years old and stopped not too long ago. I still have a habit of visiting art exhibits and picking one or two cards of the pieces that most affected me. As I was sorting, I fairly easily tossed the “free-card” pile with the exception of two or three cards I have often displayed in my office over the past 15 years. What surprised me most about the “places I’ve been pile,” though, was the careful chronicling of my travels. Places I have long since forgotten were documented there in pictures. Some of the most generic images (i.e. “Arizona Coyote”), I tossed willingly into the recycle bin, but I ended up keeping the majority. I stumbled across a few duplicates from Paris, and yet I couldn’t let go of the second copies. I feel compelled to find them a home.
Finally, I went through some of the “received” cards and was a bit dumbfounded. Some were cards that I had written home, but many were from people I no longer remember. I had a card, for example, from someone named Anastassia, and I have no recollection of ever meeting this person. Nonetheless, the card looked vaguely familiar. It somehow remains in the “keep” pile.
In the end, because I took the time to confront the memories in the card pile, I wasn’t able to let go of the bulk. I took too much pleasure in seeing my travels plainly documented in such a compact space. I do not have all the other souvenirs, because those did go onto Craigslist. Instead, I keep a condensed box of postcards without knowing if I’ll ever look inside it again.
As I work my way through material on hoarding, family members trying to convince the hoarder to change his or her ways is a recurrent theme. I’m starting to wonder if I should feel guilty for not saying something to my dad. My relationship to my parents has long been one of, “you’re grown ups, it’s your life, you will do what you want.” As long as it doesn’t affect my living situation, I’m not very concerned about it.
What scares me more, though, is my uncertainty of their own awareness. I don’t think they know they have a hoarding problem or to what extent it affects them. Frost and Steketee in Stuff have written that the hoarder will go to great lengths to hide their overrun homes from others, which demonstrates a certain level of awareness, but when they are challenged on discarding individual items, they are not able to see that they have a problem. (Ironically, it is exactly this confrontation with individual items that made me realize how susceptible I am to hoarding.)
The two researchers rightfully point out that their work is based on individuals who have volunteered for study. On some level, these people already know they have an issue that needs to be dealt with. On the other hand, public health and social workers encounter hoarders regularly – people who have been reported to them and who are unwilling to change what they do not see. They have a certain blindness to their clutter or squalor.
My dad and step-mom make small remarks about wanting to get rid of things so they can sell their home, or that they need to clean up the house before anyone can visit, or even saying once, “I think you know we aren’t very good about getting rid of things,” when I mentioned they could donate all of my things left in the house. But I’m not sure they realize that they have two bedrooms that are unusable, a garage that hasn’t seen a car inside it since the 1990s when my brother cleaned it out, at least four non-functioning grills around the outside of the home, I do not know how many storage units full of collectibles, and so on. They still have livable space. So far.
It terrifies me to think, however, what my father will become if my step-mother dies before him. My only solution up to this point has been to move far away. But that doesn’t help these adults who are old enough to take care of themselves and not too old yet not to.
Yesterday a dear friend/former student and her husband came to say goodbye to us for the n’th time. I gladly took the opportunity to unload more books, but especially the TV that has been sitting to the right of my desk for the past several years. Now that it is gone, I moved the printer to that spot and the sunshine is suddenly flowing unobstructed through the window. It just feels good to give items away to a good home. In fact, it’s my biggest problem with holding on to stuff. I’m generous by nature and I hold on to things people have given me and things I think someone else can use. Throwing something out, just into the trash, is painful for me. Recycling is OK … trash is painful.
So thank you, M., for taking a bunch of our stuff off our hands again yesterday. She also offered to take my family portrait from when I was four years old. I first said yes and then retracted the offer. I’ve never known what to do with that relic of my family before it was entirely fractured (or before I was cognizant of the fissures), but maybe my daughter will want to look at our goofy clothes and my toothy smile someday.
Stuff out the door and I’m feeling lighter already, even if there’s a lot more to sift through here in our home.