Tag Archives: paper

digitizing memories

1993 for hoarding memory

A couple of months ago, I thought it would be smart to buy a very cheap printer/scanner to be able to print out a few pictures here and there for S. who is having an increasing number of school projects. The machine is total crap, but it is allowing me at least start on one project I’ve put off for many years.

I began journalling at the age of 10 with very insightful entries like “Dear Diary, Today I went to school.” I still have that journal. In the back of my mind, I always thought one day it might help my child to have my journals so they could know whatever they are going through is not so unknown. That was pretty presumptive on my part. S. would probably read my journals and say, “OMG TMI!”

In any case, I moved all of these notebooks here to Australia and I’ve decided that I might be able to digitize them. I’m glancing at pages here and there and sort of cracking up at my 1993 version of myself: very religious, very dramatic, very in love with my first serious boyfriend at university. I should dump the journals completely, but for some reason I can’t let go. Those notebooks were sometimes a lifeline to me. Writing has always helped me untangle very complicated and painful knots and has offered solace when there was none from the humans in my life. Sometimes I think I should publish them as a journey, but no one would want to read the thousands of pages of crap about my daily life – not even me, really. So here the pages go, into the computer, one by one, to maybe never come out again. At least another shelf will be clear.

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. 


D. is in the U.S. for the week and I am holding down the fort with S. here at home. Suddenly my head-space feels very noisy. It echoes, and not only due to the sinusy cold we’ve passed to each other (with love, of course). I’m aware that my lists are getting louder.

In my head it goes like this, “Shave legs, laundry, dishes, make lunch” or “bread, cheese, containers” (that’s my shopping list), over and over and over until I get the tasks done. I have no idea for how long I’ve been making these lists in my head but somehow they keep me on task. Otherwise I trapse up and down the stairs 20 times forgetting why I had to go into my bedroom or what I was supposed to bring up from the kitchen. My work lists tend to be written on paper, paper I never have to look at, but I need the act of writing to keep me focused.

My head is noisy today, but I wonder if other Children of Hoarders do the same to keep out of the rut of churning.

paper-free with a price

Oh Ikea, it’s always all about you. How could we survive without accumulating your gadgets to make our clutter go away? I have to admit, though, that I have a soft spot for organized hoarders. Maybe it’s because my father is on that path with his alphabetized and chronologically ordered crap. Maybe because it’s the kind of hoarder I would aspire to be.

sharing a home

a skink in the back yard - not the lizard I saw last night

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?

moving as a COH

Moving can’t be good for hoarders. This is my firm conclusion after being in Australia for a week now, having arrived with my daughter, her nanny, four suitcases and a car seat. I spent the first five days in our temporary apartment just “churning.” Pick up a paper, put it in a different pile or a different folder, find another one, forget what I’m doing, start looking again, start something else. It was complete disorganized chaos. I don’t think I was even looking for anything specific. Nothing was in the right place and I was so afraid of losing an important receipt or my passport or proof of my work visa, that I couldn’t figure out where to place anything. I arrived in a new pristine office on campus with tons of empty shelves and it looked beautiful. Then I quickly set about keeping used padded envelopes and twist ties in a neat pile in case I need them for later. At the house we’re in (fully furnished, very fortunately), I’ve started saving yogurt containers, cardboard scraps, and empty bottles for future craft projects or simple storage until we get more permanent items around us. I’m mindful of this odd activity, but I can’t stop myself from wanting to accumulate odd scraps “just in case” I need them later. An unused napkin suddenly becomes a useful treasure since we haven’t yet bought a box of Kleenex.

Yesterday afternoon I met with my mentor who is a self-professed “major hoarder.” I entered his office which he called “unusually tidy” and it was filled with mountains of paper, walls covered with odd pictures and posters, piles of books on the desk. It was rather attractive all together although some of the images disturbed me. It was a well-cushioned nest, lived in, loved, worked in, accumulated over the years, full of meaningful treasure that I could easily relate to and understand. These were objects collected over the years – art postcards, newspaper clippings, a grading scale tacked up on the wall near his computer screen. I could see the compulsion there, which was in stark contrast to what I’ve seen of his home which has very carefully selected objets with a clear esthetic and very tidy lines woven warmly through the living area.

Our rental home is attractive to me – white, stainless steel, granite, and gorgeous “timber” floors and a sprawling deck with seating for six. It’s a much smaller space, much less comfortable and less me than our “real” home that we reconstructed and decorated ourselves, but this is a livable space, clean and sparse as it is. I long to fill it with comfort that isn’t needed … pillows and blankets, for example… rugs, splashes of color.

All of this need to have things, longing for objects, reminds me of the first time I was objectively confronted with the horror of my father’s hoarding. I have seen the image in my mind only very occasionally throughout the years, but today it keeps popping back in front of me. We were living in a very similar (but much less modern) rental home for a little more than a year after the bank foreclosed on my parents’ dream home in the country. I used the dungeon like cement cellar/basement of the home for my own “things” and my father filled the garage. By filled, I mean filled. When we moved to Missouri, I don’t think we were able to empty the whole thing. I have a vague memory of actually walking on top of stuff about 3 feet deep to get to some of my things. When my father and step-mother went back to Montana to get the rest of our “stuff” they asked me specifically if there was anything I wanted. For some reason I wanted this really dumb silk stuffed hot air balloon with a porcelain clown hanging below it on a swing. I suspect now that they went out and bought a new one for me, because somehow I ended up with two of them. I can’t imagine the horror that my step-mom felt when she saw that garage full of crap.

When my father and I made the move from Montana to Missouri, he had an old pickup truck and he built a wooden frame around the back, probably about 5 feet high. He piled in some furniture and other items, roped it all in, tied a tarp over it, and we wobbled slowly to our new home, getting lost in downtown Kansas City along the way. All that crap either made it into the house or into the garage. I believe there was a garage sale once, and then the rest just remained. It’s there still, somewhere, in their hoarding house. My two porcelain clowns and their stupid silk balloons are probably still hanging out somewhere in my teen-years bedroom. Garbage, all of it. And yet, here I am, an adult and mother, clinging to scrap paper and empty yogurt containers. Just in case.

*COH = child of hoarder

part of my problem with stuff

I’m reading the Q&A on Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s recent book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (see amazon.com), and the following explains perfectly my own struggle with stuff.

Q: What factors contribute to the development of hoarding?

A: People who hoard often have deficits in the way they process information. For example, they are often highly distractible and show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These symptoms make is [sic] difficult for them to concentrate on a task without being diverted by other things.

Most of us live our lives categorically. We put our possessions into categories and use those organizing systems to store and retrieve them easily. But categorization is difficult for people who hoard. Their lives seem to be organized visually and spatially. The electricity bill might go on the five-foot-high pile of papers in the living room, to keep it in sight as a reminder to pay the bill. Hoarders try to keep life organized by remembering where that bill is located. When they need to find it, they search their memory for the place it was last seen. Instead of relying on a system of categories, where one only has to remember where the entire group of objects is located, each object seems to have its own category. This makes finding things very difficult once a critical mass of possessions has been accumulated.

How many times have I started to sort only to get distracted by the first object I found? And then I spatially move around to the next object, and the next, rearranging without really decluttering. Fortunately for me and my loved ones, I’ve been able to learn a more efficient system over the years. Above all, I value efficiency. But I also wonder if part of the help has come in the form of electronic storage. All of those papers are now somewhere stored and shuffled about on my hard drive.

desktop update

It may not look any better than before, but it is. The neighboring shelves are emptying out as I continue to box up unused books and put them in storage. The drawer has lost a lot of paperweight in the past few months, and the books that remain, well, they’re going with me one way or another. Guess what else? It isn’t just my stuff on those shelves anymore.

hoarding dreams, again

In a very convoluted dream last night, I was returning home to our house in Montana with a pet turtle. I kept getting confused about where the house was as we drove down Meadowview Ln. Someone jumped off the bus too early in the snow, thinking they would get there faster on foot. In my dream I was aware that the house no longer exists and that something else would be in its place. Someone was housesitting and our early return would surprise their three-some. Yes, it was a bit messed up.

One striking image from the dream remains, though. My brother was in the diningroom and the floor was littered with papers, bags, useless objects of trash like cassette tapes and receipts. In my mind I justified his choice to not throw the stuff away. It might come in handy later, at least for someone, but it was disappointing to see the house in such a bad state.

That part of the dream gave way to visiting a pregnant student and passing a homeless man who was catching a pigeon to eat. It was a grungy dream, all around.

emotional baggage

During the first few minutes of “Hoarding: Buried Alive” last night, a very articulate woman who left behind her clean ways for a lifestyle of accumulating when her husband of 25 years announced he was gay explained that this stuff was “emotional baggage.” It’s a physical representation of the clutter and disorganization that she felt was inside her. “You can only imagine if this is how I live what’s going on in my brain.”

Although I only watched a few minutes of this episode, her situation resonated with my family’s experience. All of my childhood memories are set in a very clean house. Not trusting what’s left in my brain, I emailed my mother to ask her what it was really like living with my father. The two went through a lengthy divorce from the time I was 12 until I was 14 and a bit. I recollect my early adolescence as the beginning of the stuff piling up.

I paste below my excerpted email exchange with my mother:

Me: This may seem like an odd question, but do you think Dad was a hoarder when you were married to him? I’m just wondering how long he’s had that kind of obsessive need to collect things or if it got bad later. In my mind the house was always clean and neat when we were children and probably until you moved out. Although I do remember his papers all over his office and all over the house for taxes or other sorting events. But that didn’t seem to be the norm. He’s still not as bad as what you can see on those TV shows, but I also think he has a few storage units of stuff somewhere.

Mom:  When I was with him, he was obsessed with clean.  He loved to sort his books – take them all off the shelf, put them in some order, replace them and put all the spines at the same level on the shelf.  He didn’t hoard anything that I recall.  I can’t even remember anything he liked to collect, except hunting stuff.  You are right about all being in order.  He wanted double-vacuumed rugs and washed floors – not that he wanted to clean it, but he wanted it clean.  He used to use his mother as an example and how she used to shine the chrome legs on the kitchen table when he was young.  Storage units of stuff sounds a bit troublesome.

Not our garage, but one just like it

She recommended I talk it over with my stepmother who’s been with him for more than 20 years already. The first time I noticed the clutter becoming bad was when we had to wade through a garage full of stuff before we could move to live with my step-mom. I wonder how she felt when she saw that mountain of things, mostly made out of paper and cardboard boxes. Emotional baggage made tangible, clinging to him and traveling thousands of miles to take root in her home.