Tag Archives: house

revenge of the hoard

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.

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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.

unseen hoards

ImageWhen I told an Australian colleague I was running short of interesting TV shows to watch, he suggested the Australian Series “Offspring.” It’s described as Bridget Jones meets Sex and the City which mildly appealed to me.

In Season 1 Episode 2, which is as far as I’ve gotten on the viewing list, the real estate agent sister is sent to deal with a difficult tenant. She is unable to get past the front door, recoiling horrified by the presumed odor and sight. I kept vigilantly watching ready to snap a picture of the hoarded house the moment it appeared: it was never shown. In an American series, there is no doubt the unimaginable mess would have been exposed. Australians apparently are able to use their imaginations, or else they prefer not to overwhelm the viewer with vile filth in a show that’s meant to be cute, quirky and sexy.

cramped for space

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.

my future hoard?

Last Tuesday, Sidney at Milbetweenus.com posted the story of Greg’s journey through his parents’ hoard. It’s a compelling and tragic read that helped me understand why some COHs have encouraged me to say something now to my parents instead of waiting until they’re found clinging to life (or worse) under the weight of their hoard.

the "office"

When I consider the mass of things my parents have accumulated in their lifetimes, I prefer to just never look back. What’s really sad about it in retrospect is that while I lived in that house for the 2 years or so while I finished high school, I had mostly happy moments. But when I think about the house in the state I last saw it, all my memories are dampened. All I see now is the filth, shut off rooms, broken gutters, cracked doorsteps, and disarray. This when I know that they had cleaned the house the best they could before we got there. As I’ve said before, my strategy has been to look away and go away while letting them live their lives.

I teared up, though, reading Greg’s story, because I know this is the position my brother shares. He has long been saying he will take a leave from work when the time comes and he will go through the house, with or without family help. He feels he needs to pay proper respect to what has been kept, and he shares Greg’s desire to see it all before it goes. Just thinking about it makes my chest tighten up, not just with anxiety, but thoughts of the dust mites and mold that trigger my allergies.

It makes me angry with my parents, but still I do nothing. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it (if you can) comes to mind. Maybe I can start by talking to my brother to see if he wants to intervene at any point. Even more appropriate would be to contact my step-brother and sister-in-law who live 45 minutes from the hoarded house and see my parents regularly. But my parents have cleverly cut us off from each other — similar to what they’ve done with their home. Every communication passes through them first and they’ve created a web of information that we either are or are not supposed to know so that when we talk we navigate goat trails. It’s no wonder I left the country when I think of the weight of things that could topple down at any moment.

Enough about me, though. Greg – you’ve done a great and noble thing that I do not have the balls to do for my folks although that would be my dad’s dying wish. Sidney, you’re amazing for being able to support Greg the way you have. It’s hard enough for a COH to understand what their parents have done; I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for our partners.

the importance of being home

one day D.'s pants flew off the porch and into a red bud tree

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.

comforting things

Although I cannot classify my neighbors as hoarders, they accumulate things in the backyard. The former political refugees, who came to Australia some 30 years ago, own both their house and the one we are renting. They have smartly rearranged the back of the two houses so that they get full access to both “yards” while we and our downstairs neighbors have patio space only. This extra free space has allowed them to move in a train car and various other storage units, dog houses, water tanks, sheds and planting areas in the back.

Last weekend a new bird cage suddenly appeared in the back. I felt vaguely happy for their caged cockatoos — who make me sad, amused, and annoyed — even though they’re apparently well-adapted to their environment. The new cage sat in the back and I wondered if it had been a deal too good to pass up and how long it would sit there before being put to use.

Not long at all, it turns out. By Sunday there was a Galah parrot living in the cage. More sad feelings – Galah’s are my current favorite wild parrot in the area. Now my neighbors’ menagerie includes 2 rotweilers, 3 bichon frisés, 2 sulphur-crested cockatoos and 1 galah (not to mention the son, daughter-in-law, and three grand-daughters who live with them).

This whole experience of watching things accumulate in the backyard is all too familiar. There are about 12 ladders of only three different sizes piled up in the back yard, and this makes sense to me. But I’m probably projecting from my own experience of watching my father find deal after deal too good to pass up  because the neighbors do use the various things for projects. Everything is relatively neatly stacked and stored, even if it looks a bit like a trash heap. Nonetheless, there’s a strange kind of comfort in watching someone store away quality pieces they’ve accumulated just in case they might need them later.

abuse and hoarding

I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.

Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.

[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]

My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.

As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.

It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.

It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.

I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them.  I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.

exposure

If writing the self can be considered a transgressive act, what of showing the inside of your home in non-camera ready state? How often do we see the inside of a lived-in bedroom that is not our own? (How many years did I know my very open French host family before they showed me their master bedroom?) And rarer still, the inside of a stranger’s refrigerator, garage, or storage space.

I’ve had a recurring dream of exploring a haunted house, and the farther I climb into the attic, the ghosts become less frightening and more elusive. They recede from me as I seek to bring them to light.

What’s in those boxes in the far back of our mind, stored away for when we need them, but largely forgotten? Are the memories going to retreat further into the recesses when we seek to pull them to the fore? Is it fear itself that recedes when we seek to confront it?

I’m emptying the storage, gathering momentum, and longing to minimize the surrounding stuff that protects me; yet, I feel far from vulnerable by the exposure. Coming out, transgressing, normalizing what was hidden sometimes leaves me raw, sullen, and nostalgic, but on the whole I feel lightness as I untether myself from stuff.