My second book is in a bit of a mess right now as I cobble together the chapters. I was looking through my introduction notes today and kept seeing reference to Huyssen. I realized I needed his book to pull together a point I was trying to make, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, I must have read this book or at least looked at it. Being a visual person, I googled it to see the book cover. Definitely familiar. In my mind, I could see the book in my university office, on a high shelf, but knew I had not seen it recently. I read a few reviews online to see if that could help me get what I needed.No, I needed the book. I looked through the titles pushed against the wall on my desk. Not there. I looked on my bookshelf to my right. Not there. Should I buy it online? Then out of the corner of my eye, I could see behind my laptop, just in front of me and within easy reach, a pile of theory books. There it was. Second book down. I have no recollection of bringing it home or putting it there. I think I have (a) disorder. At least for now it’s made its way to the top where I can see it.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged burn, change, crap, crud, demise, father, fire, hoard, hoarding, HP, junk, pile, stuff
Every day I bicycle past a hoarding house. It has a run-down camper parked in front and two other cars that seem not to work. The front yard is littered with large machinery type objects and at least three rusting wheelchairs. I can see in the front windows: there is stuff piled up 3/4 to the top. It’s a nice neighborhood with homes worth near the one million dollar mark on the same little street. This one looks like a leftover.
Yesterday as I was bicycling along, I noticed a trailer on the back of one of the cars. On that trailer, a newish looking treadmill. I smirked uncomfortably. No space in the house for a treadmill and likely no one will use it. I’m sure they got a fantastic deal somewhere. Today, the treadmill remains rusting in place.
Once upon a time, I also got a great deal on a treadmill. I bought it third-hand, and D. helped me bring it home. I used it maybe three times. I always had an excuse for not using it: primarily, if I was going to run I should be running outside with the dogs. I didn’t run with the dogs. It went into the garage to make room for our baby. I sold it very easily but 4 years later and for half what I paid for it. A wonderful machine for the right person. For the hoarder in me: junk. Space filling stuff. Accumulation. Debris. A reminder of what I should be doing but wasn’t.
Oh dear hoarder, I know you will not stop. So I watch daily as the pile grows. I imagine you picking through your neighbor’s continually growing trash heap. I wonder if it feels good to not have space, to feel the weight of those things anchoring you in your spot, if hoarding is essentially an anxiety disorder – a need to be physically hemmed in.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged accumulation, anchor, anxiety disorder, debris, heap, hoarder, junk, need, picking, pile, stuff, trash, treadmill, weight
D. spent the last ten days or so in the U.S. from whence I received a few messages such as, “And the bathrobes in the guest room closet… do you want those?”
While he was busy going through crap trying to find the few items that I said I really wanted, I was busy not remembering what I had left where. I haven’t been to our house in the States for over a year, and honestly I’ve forgotten almost everything that might be there except for the requested ice skates, photo albums and art work. Mostly I want things that can’t be easily packed into suitcases and will cost a fortune to ship. I’m a practical gal.
D. finally arrived in Australia early Saturday morning and the contents of his nine suitcases vomited all over our new home. Many of the items had been special ordered (clothes for our daughter and me), some were thoughtful gestures (my ceramic beer mugs from our favorite brewery), a few odd items I’d forgotten about (a sign that says Bordeaux 1996), a few broken pieces (glass containers and photo frames that I bought at an auction for $1), and one item I thought I had lost forever that has plagued me for two years as I have repeatedly wracked my brain to think of where I put it (a compact travel umbrella that I thought I lost in Florida in 2010 when we packed up at the end of vacation).
photo purchased for one dollar in Michigan, recycled in Australia
The stuff has followed me to Australia. It pains me to see some of it though I fail to express why. I just know I’m having trouble knowing what to do with these things I’ve forgotten about. I also know that if I don’t start getting rid of items at the same pace that they arrive here, I’m going to have a relapse. That familiar weight of things is no longer a comfort here.
Posted in hoarding identity, weight of things
Tagged crap, forget, hoard, items, pack, pile, relapse, stuff, suitcase, things, weight
As I was catching up on my pile of unread blog posts from others affected by hoarding, a word popped out of one of Sidney’s posts at www.milbetweenus.com that set a sharp pang through my heart. She said Greg had been churning.
Churning – I’m not sure how those who don’t experience it personally or see it first-hand understand it. For me, it’s painful. For the majority of my life, it was just a normal unconscious activity. Now when I see it happening, it sends me into a sinking sense of despair. Churning feels like sitting in a boat that’s quickly filling with water and you only have a bucket to try to bail out. Churning is like a dog chasing its tail: so funny to watch, so frustrating for the dog.
I sat at my desk yesterday working in a flurry. I jumped from one task to the next, to the next, accidentally got lost in a Google search for something completely unrelated, started browsing Pinterest, jerked myself back to a grant application, stumbled upon papers to mark, marked two, remembered an assignment I hadn’t posted, went to post it but instead changed the layout to my course website. In the tangled mess of activity, perhaps in spite of it, I managed to finish the grant application, the marking, the lesson planning… I found my way out the other side. I don’t know how.
Why is churning painful? I recognize it now as a response to extreme stress. I get totally lost in the activity and I have to sit back and think about what is causing this before I can get out of it. I know it’s an inherited behavior that indelibly links me to my dysfunctional father. I cannot stop the activity from starting: I can only disentangle myself by realizing it is occurring.
What stimulates churning for me is not always clear. The first time I fully realized I was doing it was only in July when we first arrived in Australia and didn’t yet have a home. I felt I was sinking and grasping onto illogical pieces of debris to pull myself up from the drowning waters. I wanted to keep disposable containers, tin foil, used tape, even though I knew I didn’t need those things. I was uprooted and lost: I wanted to create stability. I churned.
Yesterday I churned for numerous reasons combined: we’re buying a house, I’m resigning permanently from my former position to remain in this one, D. is going to be away for a week, I have numerous looming deadlines at work… Not to mention the normal stressors of sleep deprivation and a child’s temper tantrums. Oh, and PMS. I’m a downright mess. Except I’m fine. Even better than fine, I’m really good. I just churn as a coping mechanism. Familiar repetitive behaviors anyone?
Posted in hoarding identity
Tagged Australia, churning, COH, debris, drowning, dysfunctional, father, grasping, hoarding, organization, pile, stuff
From “When Parents Text”
April 11, 2012
Mom: I’m leaving for the weekend so I hid $100 in your room for food, clean your room and you will find it.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old on some random summer day, my brother and I were at home by ourselves as usual while our parents were at work. Their strategy for keeping us out of trouble was usually a painful list of chores that had to be completed by the time dad got home. For some strange reason, my mother decided one day to try positive reinforcement. She left us a note on the kitchen counter that said, “clean your room for a big surprise” or something to that effect.
Being the brilliant 9-13 year olds that we were, we flung crap around our rooms until we unearthed the surprise, completely trashing whatever had once been in order. She had bought us little toy motorcycles. In my memory, mine was buried under a mountain of junk in my closet. My brother and I spent the rest of the day playing with our new toys. Mom was furious when she got home and we had to go clean our rooms in tears. Ok, maybe I’m inventing the tears, but I always felt bad when I had done something wrong and I knew I had done something wrong in this case. Poor mom.
When I read this post on When Parents Text, I first thought, “Would that work to motivate a hoarder?” Umm, no, probably not. My dad claims there are hundreds of dollars hidden throughout his hoard. He thinks that’s just safekeeping.
Posted in hoarding identity, memory hoarding, Uncategorized
Tagged clean, closet, crap, dad, hoarder, hoarding, junk, mom, order, pile, room, toy
Yesterday morning I checked into my office to find the most wonderful and coincidental Valentine’s gift from D.. Eight boxes of books arrived in my office from the U.S. Love.
There are another seven that are MIA and probably fifteen more that need to be sent from home. Unpacking the boxes felt like Christmas, my birthday, the fourth of July… you get the idea. Among the loot were a few much needed texts, some French fiction I haven’t touched in ages but love to have on my shelves, and then the random: a pattern for a crocheted afghan that I’ve started three times and never finished.
D. has said if we move again, the books are not coming with me. I feel like whining, “But I neeeeeeed them for work!” Of course, there is that big building on campus called a …. library.
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.
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.
Posted in hoarding identity, weight of things
Tagged accumulate, allergies, COH, dust mite, hoard, house, mold, pile, things, weight
The place where my HP father lives is about four miles outside of a smallish town, and although they have neighbors around them, it can be classified as in the country. In the backyard near the deer pen there is a burn barrel, which is basically an old rusted oil barrel – the kind you see hobos warming their hands over in grimy movies about New York. (Gawd, I hope that wasn’t an offensive image – at least not any more offensive than the image I’m painting of my parents. A nicer image might be of a steel drum?)
My parents keep their compost, basically feeding vegetable scraps to the deer. They recycle plastic and aluminium, which means hoarding cool whip containers and cans in the garage. They burn, however, the majority of their trash.
One day during university I was visiting my family and sorting through things I had left at their house. I made a pile that I decided to burn. I no longer remember what I burned exactly, since I know I still have boxes of notes and even printed emails that have been condensed but stored over the years. I do remember that I took the opportunity to burn some of my father’s things.
Each time I visited, my step-mother would lament how much these collected things weighed on her. She sometimes joked about getting her own place to live just to have space; but now I know that she, too, contributes to the piles.
If you ask my father politely if you can dispose of his 1980 phonebook from a town in another state, he will shriek, “No. I need that. There are numbers in there that are now unlisted. I use it still.” Instead, I took the stealthy strategy of quickly grabbing a couple of phonebooks from his stack. Not too many that he would notice, and not the oldest one. And oops, out they went into the burn barrel along with my things. I couldn’t pray for the flame to burn any faster and kept looking over my shoulder in case he noticed the pages of his beloved phonebook flying up in the air with the smoke. I don’t think he ever found out. At least no one ever mentioned it to me.
I read so many messages from other COHs about the valuable things that are lost in the hoard. Recently there was a story about a purple heart that had gone missing in the mess. I can’t even afford to think about what’s worth keeping in my parents’ house at this point. There probably are some wonderful treasures, valuable ones, in the stacks. Mostly I think there would be nothing more redeeming than watching it all go up in smoke once my parents are gone.
Posted in hoarding roots, Uncategorized, weight of things
Tagged burn, burn barrel, COH, compost, garbage, hoarder, HP, phonebook, pile, treasure, treasures
Yesterday over lunch a colleague was lamenting the impending visit of a relative from overseas. She said she was trying desperately to clean the house but it only got dirtier which made her realize she hadn’t properly cleaned in ages. And then she ultimately knew that no matter how clean she got the house, her visitor would not be satisfied.
Today we are cleaning our own house in expectation of dinner guests. Unlike my colleague, I have no trouble cleaning and often invite people just to inspire us to do a thorough clean. It’s a great feeling to me, the day after the party has been cleaned up, to see how shiny the house still is. I wouldn’t say I love to clean and I don’t do a deep clean more than once a month, but it does bring a sense of satisfaction.
On the COH listserv there are often questions about how to clean, how to know when you need to clean, and how to approach it. For those who grew up in serious hoarding conditions, cleaning was not even possible. Even if our parents let us touch their things, it’s too difficult to get at surfaces when you’re busy moving piles from point to point.
In my childhood, however, I only remember an excessively clean house. I know it was clean because my brother and I had extensive chore lists that included scrubbing out the bathtub at least once a week. My dad, or maybe my mother, told a story about a relative who used the white glove test when they came to visit. My father also prided himself on his military background and carried out the same sort of inspections to which he was once subjected.
When my mom left, and then my brother, my dad’s sense of reality started to waiver. It seemed he was constantly yelling at me that we were going to get dysentery from the dishes left on the dish rack after washing. I had to dry them meticulously and immediately or they were sent back into the sink. To this day, I rarely dry the dishes unless I’m in a hurry to put them away.
My father’s hoarding always seemed asynchronous to his germophobia until I read Frost and Steketee’s Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2011) which gives various examples of hoarders with contamination issues. In all the years of living in a clean house, I do not ever remember my father being the one who cleaned. Perhaps he already had contamination issues that prevented him from cleaning. I wonder if he would explain it if I asked.
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding roots
Tagged clean, cleaning, COH, contamination, dysentery, fear, germ, germophobia, hoarding, inspection, obsessive, OCD, pile, satisfaction, stuff, test