Tag Archives: parents


For the past two months, I’ve been thinking about Sid from My Mother-In-Law is Still Sitting Between Us…  and her ability to successfully urge and encourage people, even strangers, to get out from under the hoard. Sid, by the way, thank you.

I would like to say that I am not a meddler, but that is not entirely true. I speak my mind freely, have been known as judgmental and self-righteous, and I enjoy introducing people to each other. However, when it comes to emotional and health issues, my usual response is to ignore sad looks and bad behavior outside my inner-circle. If a person wants to share, I’m more than open, but I have tremendous difficulty asking people if they are OK on a deeper level.

Thinking about the impact Sid’s blog (and the Children of Hoarders listserv and other resources) has had for me, I have to wonder what my life might be like if I could throw myself out there a little more, be the brave one, and perhaps even help a few people out.

Maybe I’m not quite there yet. While several kind strangers encourage me to say something to my parents about their hoarding before it really gets out of hand, I still can’t make myself do it. It’s almost as though I want to see if they will self-destruct on their own. But I do want to learn to make myself more available, even if it means I have to call up my folks and ask  how their pile of crap is doing today.

cleaning doesn’t help

On one visit to my father about ten years ago, I was shocked to see half of the living room full of empty boxes. They were stacked to the ceiling in a sliding mountain and my father refused to part with them. This mountain clearly pained my step-mother who helplessly tiptoed around the cardboard wall so as not to disturb the disorder.

After some finagling, I convinced my father to let me sort the boxes, promising not to throw them out unless he approved disposal. He was keeping them, or so he said, to use for shipping sold items on Ebay. Nevermind that he hadn’t sold anything on Ebay and that all of the boxes came from items purchased.

I set to work carefully breaking down boxes and sending to the burn barrel (yes, they have a burn barrel) the boxes that were too damaged to reuse. I sorted boxes, big to small, put them inside each other as I could, condensed the pile, and moved part of it into their garage which has been unusable about as long as my father has lived in the house. To my knowledge, the pile of boxes never reappeared. But how would I know? I only visit once or twice a year and they spend hours getting the house ready for those visits.

D. sent me a link yesterday to a story on hoarding “Hoarding considered a complex mental illness,” from Topeka, Kansas. Straight to the point, I cite the last paragraph:

Fronsman-Cecil said the hardest time for a hoarder can be after his or her home is cleaned up. She remembers when her grown children did that for her for the first time a few years ago.

“After they left, I kind of had a meltdown,” she said. “There were definitely things that were gone that I would have kept.

To reiterate my post on “Separation,” how do we help our parents, then? It’s quite possible that all that work that I did with the boxes only made me feel better. My efforts could have caused an anxiety attack for my father and further disruption for my step-mother. The problem is not just laziness or unwillingness to clean and organize the home; and I am truly unequipped to make it better or to help my folks with the issue.

you can’t take it with you

A friend of mine commented on my recent post “Separation,” that I might be fooling myself in thinking that my parents’ hoard doesn’t bother me and that I might be able to escape it by moving so far away. Obviously she’s right. The problem affects me whether I’m near or far from the actual hoard – so much so that I have a blog about it. Add to that, I’m turning my research focus towards hoarding in exile autobiography. I know full well that this has not only deeply impacted me in the present; it will continue to haunt me in the future no matter my physical distance.

My organizational strategy over the past few months as we have prepared for the move that is perpetually delayed has been to ask myself if each object is worth the cost of shipping. Will I wear this particular garment enough to grant it a spot in my suitcase? Is this book so important to me that I should ship it? Yesterday I thought I’d send a nice crystal vodka set that I bought in Turkey to a friend in Switzerland – and the shipping ranged from $85 to $270, depending on insurance. I brought the set back home with me and decided to send her flowers. If you can’t take it with you, is it worth having in the present?

With that in mind, I think about the mess of a home my parents live in. They are radical right-wing Christians who believe in storing up treasures in Heaven. They are well aware that they cannot take any of the their earthly possessions with them; yet, they continue to hold on to the odd objects. Hundreds of cool-whip containers, travel mugs, empty cardboard boxes, used coffee cans … combined with collectibles like Fiesta-ware, miniature animals, and so on… the house is full, and they can’t take it with them.

But I will take it with me. The hoard has left an indelible mark on my mind and on my own relationship to stuff. No matter where I go, I will have this mountain of things in my memory that I need to sift through so that I can live in uncluttered freedom with my own family.

children of hoarders

Last week it was all the rage to talk about hoarding, and today it’s being a child of a hoarder. People have been speaking out at Hoarder’s Son, Children of Hoarders (which I just joined this week) and now in a (not terribly well-written but interesting) article in the New York Times, “Children of Hoarders on Leaving the Cluttered Nest” (Steven Kurutz, 11 May 2011).

The most resonating point of that piece explains how I feel today:

“WHATEVER balance children of hoarders manage to find in their own homes, there is still the ancestral homestead to contend with — and the knowledge that it is filling up with more junk by the day — so long as the parent with the hoarding problem is alive. After years of pleading and arguing, children of hoarders often abandon all hope that the parent will reform.”

My parents are just at the beginning of talking about their need to declutter, but until there is a real reason to change, I hold no hope that they ever will stop “collecting” stuff. I never have tried to plead or argue with them. I just don’t go there because, for this but for many other reasons, it makes me so sad to see what they’re doing to themselves and their home.