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.
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding roots
Tagged boxes, cardboard, disorder, disposal, disrupt, disturb, ebay, father, garage, meltdown, mountain, parents, pile, sell, sort, stuff, wall
What initially prompted me to think about hoarding and identity was not my realization of my own problems. Rather, I was playing games on Facebook and started seeing more and more virtual animal hoarders. My own zoos, farms or whathaveyous tend to be organized but cluttered (quelle surprise!), but recently I cut out the zoo completely and have started selling off the cattle in Farmville. I play for the social aspect of it, but there is a huge part of these games that has to be tied into the compulsion to collect. For every holiday there is a new goal of collecting as many somethings as you can in order to get something else that is virtually really cool. I don’t remember what I’m saving my virtual Valentines for … if it’s a pink cow or the Eiffel Tower. I don’t have room for either one, anyway.
a random Farmville hoarder
Digital hoarding is easily hidden. As I posted a few days ago, all of my paper articles are now going into digital format and getting catalogued into my iPad. I’m not as bad as Jenna Wortham’s account in “True Confessions of a Digital Hoarder,” but my inbox that ties together 4 email accounts does currently have 2418 messages with 80 of those marked unread. This does not include the long list of folders in which I have filed important messages. For Christmas I got an external hard drive … let the hoarding of files continue.
This type of hoarding is relatively unseen and physically shouldn’t interfere with relationships and living well. As far as my computer is concerned, my search functions combined with my filing system work well enough that I can quickly find what I need to do my work. At what point, though, could digital hoarding become a hindrance to a satisfying life? When I’m so compelled to snatch up those online animals that need to be adopted that I can’t do other daily tasks? When I can no longer find that important email inviting me to rule the world? What does digital hoarding mean to you?
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding in the profession
Tagged adopt, animal, delete, digital hoarding, digitize, Facebook, Farmville, hard drive, hoard, iPad, library, living well, sell
As you (or at least I) can see, pictured left, order is slowly being made out of the mountains of mess I’ve been sorting for the past three months. Sales on craigslist are dwindling, all of our unwanted clothes have been sold and donated, and today we took numerous boxes to a local charity thrift shop. One of my graduate students also helped by taking all kinds of unwanted CDs, books, and dishrags. What remains now are primarily things that either matter to me, and I would like to keep, or things for which I have a clear plan (craigslist, a family member, and so on). I am becoming more merciless when looking at what’s left and the struggle to toss, recycle, donate or sell, is waning.
I suppose this is the moment when I should feel proud, resolved, or accomplished; yet, I still feel a bit sick in the pit of my stomach. I feel spent and almost defeated. More remains to be tackled, but perhaps what’s weighing on me at this moment is something bigger than all of that.
the hoard lives here
For the past week I’ve been thinking I need to make a trip “home” to visit my dad and my step-mother. A sort of dread fills me when I think of it – all the piles, closed rooms, filled closets, overflowing storage spaces that are lurking there. Because I am not attached to their possessions, I feel an overwhelming urge to strip the walls and carpet in that house and to give them a (probably very unwanted) gift of remodeling. I feel I need to confront the hoards of my past if I’m ever going to understand where I came from. I also want to photograph the mass because at this point I don’t know if it’s become larger in my mind than it ever actually was, or if, in fact, that hoard is colossal. It fills me with dread, sadness, and nausea. I know bits of my own past are still lurking there – much sadness and relief, simple and complex memories are woven into that run down house.
Posted in from my hoard to yours, hoarding identity
Tagged accomplished, closet, clothes, craigslist, dread, hoard, home, lives, memory, nausea, recycle, sell, sick, storage, struggle, thrift shop, toss, waning, weighing
As I sift through the mass of objects behind me in this room, the objects become increasingly tangled and cumbersome. To go through it, I must bring it out, and leave it out, until I decide how to dispose of it. My office is quickly becoming a heap of things while the storage area becomes proportionately empty.
The recurring image as I sort out these things is the stereotypical hoarder. On Conan last night, Bruce Jenner and a hoarder were on stage with some Alaskan King Crabs to welcome him to cable. This hoarder, although a comedic image, had objects around her, to the ceiling. She was overweight, generally unattractive, and appeared frightened at her exposure. My repeated dangerous thought was and continues to be, “That’s not a hoarder; her room isn’t that bad.” What hypocrisy to deem someone not enough of a hoarder while I sit here in only a somewhat cluttered room writing about hoarding.
By all appearances, I am not a hoarder, but my mind latches on to these objects all the same. I went with D. to the recycling center this morning and felt internally upset to see architectural plans buried in one of the bins. His comment was that we haven’t looked at them more than once in all the years we’ve lived in this house. Truthfully, I would not have realized they disappeared if I had not been with him this morning. But still, it nagged at me that this potentially valuable set of blueprints was being tossed like garbage when someone had labored over it years ago.
Tomorrow “Deb” is meeting me to buy my turtle collection. It was so easy to find someone, a collector, to take it from me. And as I gathered up the set to estimate the value I attribute to it ($20 more or less), I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Would it be so bad if I kept one of them?” And then I chose my favorite one. It, like the others, rested completely forgotten in the bottom of a bin for the past 5 years. I do not know who gave it to me or where it came from, but I somehow want to keep it. I need to sell it to Deb as much as I feel I need to hang on.
Posted in from my hoard to yours, hoarding identity
Tagged Conan, Deb, heap, hoard, hoarder, hypocrisy, keep, sell, sort, stereotypical, stuff, things, turtle, value
Our almost 2-year-old has a new favorite activity: throwing things in the trashcan. She especially enjoys stripping the “clothes” off of her crayons and throwing the paper away.
The desire to whittle away at piles of stuff is new to me, but the compulsion to eliminate grows. On Monday when it was time to start writing, I was overcome for the first time with the deep urge to sell something on craigslist. I felt it had been too many days since I’d last let go of my past.
A man who owns a thriftstore in a nearby town contacted me about a jewelry box I had listed. He asked me to bring any other collectibles, especially jewelry, but he was also interested in a number of items I do not own such as guns and knives. I scurried around the house grabbing objects without reflecting on them. For $20 Mike bought a big chunk of jewelry, some of it possibly valuable jade, lapis, silver and gold pieces, as well as a small box given to me by a friend when we were about 12 years old. The box was the only item to which I attached any meaning (significant given my first wedding band was in the lot), even though that friend is only a vague connection on facebook today. While that piece stirred the most hesitation in me, I had not thought of it again until writing this today. I have it captured on film. Its memory is enough.
Posted in from my hoard to yours
Tagged box, collectible, compulsion, craigslist, eliminate, enough, jewelry, let go, memory, photo, sell, trashcan