Tag Archives: HP

good lord, he burned the hoard

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.

be there

My guilty pleasure is watching Real Housewives of Anywhere, no matter how trashy or how silly the show is. I do not watch television to edify myself.

And so this morning I was thinking about ashy feet and how nice Kandi Burruss‘s skin is, and how she’s my favorite housewife of Atlanta. She’s short, smart, and ambitious. But I thought, “I can’t understand how she defends her mother.” She broke down in tears a week or so ago when confronted by her best friend and boyfriend. She defended her mother saying how she knew her mom would always be there for her. Obviously I can only speculate based on the show, but I thought, “But she’s not there for you, Kandi. She’s ripping you away from the people you love.” (Yes, I have really deep thoughts in the shower.)

Then it sort of struck me: I always have said that if I got into trouble, my father would be there for me. And yet, I have no evidence that he would be there for me. He has not been there for me. He even made up excuses not to attend my high school functions. He does not support me emotionally and has not supported me financially since I turned 18. Right before we moved to Australia, I asked him if he would be willing to send me things like over the counter medicine if I needed them, and I offered to pay him through PayPal. He blatantly said he thought that was not a good idea. Why would I think he would be there for me?

Do any of you have a Hoarding Parent who is truly there for you when you need something? I am thankful I have never honestly needed something from either of my parents, though it would be comforting to have emotional encouragement from either mom or dad without me asking or admitting I need it.


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!” 


When I was a child, my dad (HP) would run cleaning drills. They would often start in tears, probably as a punishment for something we had done wrong, continue in tears, and inevitably end in tears. He would bark orders at us, have us completely under his control, and follow us around the house inspecting and telling us where we had missed something. Basically we were made to feel useless, incapable of even cleaning the house to his expectations. I do not recall if my mother was there or if she helped. I know she was the one who bore the brunt of his anger and did most of the household chores throughout my early childhood though.

Fast forward to today. I’ve only recently realized that I start cleaning the house when I’m upset about something. I specifically tend to wash dishes or clean the floor. These are tasks I loathed in childhood. They were the ones that were most noticeably done wrong. Somehow all that crying while cleaning became normal. Now when I cry, I just start cleaning as if to console myself.

What a mess.

hoarding fake memories

My HP father has an uncanny memory. If you can get him talking about the past, he will tell you vivid stories with amazing detail about what it was like growing up. He hoards memory like he hoards newspapers and hunting magazines.

My career is based on studying what people say about their pasts (nostalgic and traumatic), but more particularly, I’m interested in how they say it. I have thought for at least a decade already that there is no way to validate memories – memories change, different ones emerge at different times, and maybe there is no true memory. For that matter, I have less faith in a concrete memory that reappears each time in the exact same form than I do in one that may reveal something different each time.

But variable as memories are, you cannot argue with someone about what they recall. How would it help me to prove to my father that his dad was not wearing plaid the day he did x, y or z. Or for that matter, what does it matter if my grandfather did not do x, y or z? What matters is my dad remembers it. He has held onto that scrap of information, however useless it may seem to me, and he has carried it around because it matters to him to retain it. He is telling me more about himself today than the reality of the past he may have lived.

Frost and Steketee have established a link between hoarders and memory (each item is indispensable because it has attached meaning, and the hoarder has a gift for seeing these connections). But how many of the links are false and corrupt? And does it matter? Because in the end, the hoard remains. 

How Many of Your Memories are Fake? from The Atlantic, 18 November 2013.

it wouldn’t be easter

We Skyped with my father/HP/Santa Claus/Pastor this morning. I suspected he had been absent from the interwebs because he was preparing for Easter at church. Oh no, not at all. Tax season is upon him. I couldn’t see clutter behind Santa-dad but he said they had tax papers spread throughout the house. This brings back unfond memories of childhood paper organising. Very frequently we had to spread piles of papers around the office or the house and my brother and I were tasked with alphabetising and chronologically ordering the papers. It was always for taxes or for the small insurance agency he used to run. From this I gained excellent secretarial skills that helped me pay my way through my undergraduate education. Thanks, Dad.

In addition to the tax-paper-mess he declared today, he’s also taken to raising ducks. Peking ducks. Why not, anyway. 

oh christmas crap

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?

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.

ocd much?

I went through a psychiatric evaluation during graduate school at my primary care physician’s request. He was certain I was depressed; I said I was not. Now that I’m in a much happier place, I wonder about my ability to assess. That aside, the psychiatrist spent a good amount of time trying to assess if I had OCD. I like my belongings to be kept a certain way, even when they’re messy. The psychiatrist concluded I had been through a lot but that I was not depressed or riddled with other psychiatric illnesses. She did say we could continue treatment if I would like to deal with my anxiety. I declined.

Last night I commented to D. that I’m really having trouble with my desire to have things in a certain place, but it’s all confined to our sleeping space. I have been getting up 2 to 3 times from bed each night to readjust the curtains. There’s a logic to the madness: I don’t want the sun to come in through the gaps. But still, I should be able to rest without worrying if there’s a wee little crack of light coming in at 4:30 a.m.

This has had me thinking about my HP and his odd but apparently cImageharacteristic fear of germs and contamination. At the worst point in my life with him, he would stand by the dish drainer and inspect each dish washed, handing me back each item with an invisible speck. More than once he demanded I rewash every dish because I had left them too long in the drying rack. He believed we would get dysentery if the dishes were not immediately dried. The house, when my brother and I lived with him, was immaculate. Any sight of lint on the carpet was cause for yelling. We spent endless hours cleaning the house during our summer vacations. Bathroom grout was scrubbed with a toothbrush until it glistened, floors were always perfectly vacuumed, preferably with the lines showing the path, drawers were neatly ordered. Our own rooms, as I previously blogged, were somewhat more liberally organized but still regularly inspected. I still make my daughter’s bed with “hospital corners” while my own is pleasantly rumply with a duvet that doesn’t require tucking.

My concern is that I’m starting to grip a little tightly to the patterns and now S. also wants things a certain way. She breaks down into tears when her socks won’t pull up just right from toe to heel. Am I passing on a neurotic behavior, or is it engrained in the genes?

fourteen days and

Still the silence hangs in the air. My father continues to play Scrabble with me but has not texted a syllable outside of the game. I can’t articulate why it bothers me. It shouldn’t. But it’s like a constant reminder of our entire relationship, “I’m here with you, but not here for you.” I stubbornly play on but have stopped the light banter about the words played. He chooses not to speak. I don’t want to ask him why. I don’t want to know. He waits for me to ask. 

The last time I remember him not talking to me, I was in University. I had emailed him requesting examples of women ministers in the Bible for a project I was working on. It took me two months to realize he wasn’t talking to me (if that doesn’t say something…. wow). I had to ask what was wrong before he would open the floodgates and unleash the feelings I really wish he had kept to himself. He was angry that I might be considering being a minister. This time, I’m not asking. I do not want to know.

That doesn’t stop me from paranoid thoughts, though. Have they discovered this blog? If so, they are probably angry. Are they stupidly upset about our holiday plans? Who knows; they haven’t said. Not angry enough to not play Scrabble. Just manipulative enough to stop talking. Talking. As if there has been talking actually happening up to this point. 

I’m frustrated that I can see I’m a fool and still feel upset about the lack of talk. Banter. Not real voices and not real topics. Just banter. That’s all that’s gone.

If you, dear reader, are a COH, I would love to hear about your HP’s manipulation tactics. Have you received the silent treatment? Did you notice?