Chained to my computer today while I revise an article under a tight deadline and desperate for distractions, I just had an epiphany about my research. I have been working on the concept of hoarded memory of the Algerian War for a few years already and I’ve been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testimonial and pictorial debris I have to sift through. Often it is one author who produces an excessive number of volumes about his or her past.
Why does it only occur to me now that I have been trained for this my whole life? I am trying to make sense out of that layered, piled up story of a traumatic past, just like I have always been sifting through my dad’s stuff to reorder it, to pare it down, to make it accessible to those who live with him. There is some good stuff in his metaphorical curio cabinet, but it is getting destroyed and obscured as more is layered upon it.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged curio, destroy, hoard, layer, memory, memory hoarding, organize, past, reorder, sift, sort
My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 8. I inherited her sewing kit which I have faithfully moved around with me and constantly used and added to over the years. It’s here now in Australia and I opened it yesterday to add my newer sewing resources. It was in disarray. How did this knot get there? It’s like the little ends of thread from all the bobbins and spools worked their way together when no one was looking. The only way out of it was to break off several strands of this now very antique and newly hip thread on real wooden spools. A metaphor of my attachment to things: collected to preserve and rendered useless.
I set about organising the box yesterday as I realised I was not honouring my grandmother’s memory very well by holding on to the debris she left inside. I emptied the box, entirely, for the first time ever. I laid out the pieces. S. watched, asking questions, as she rummaged through my other inherited items looking for treasures she could play with. I dusted the box, discarded some items, but could not part with some of the most hilariously useless things. Captioned photography of the excavation below.
the clutter below, never properly sorted
how i roll: keep the opened box for the stitch ripper for 20+ years
La Mode – maybe c. 1970, it was
this unidentifiable green machine nearly sliced my daughter’s finger. i had no idea what it was but i had 2, made in Italy. oh, an automatic needle threader. of course.
ideal for swimwear. complete with 1950s-style metal clasp.
death trap debris. needles, snaps, screws, dust, everywhere.
not so shabby chic. i presume i sewed this rotten elastic around age 8. trashed.
red owl. a minnesota supermarket i nostalgically recall.
wtf? a red owl sewing kit?
fashion patches, there were many
a 1966 Singer instruction manual, perhaps valuable on ebay. my sewing box matches the beautiful blue color.
grandma would approve
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, clean, death, debris, disarray, dust, excavation, fashion, hoarding, organize, sewing, sort, stuff, things
A friend came to see me while I was packing up and asked if I was going to post a picture of my desktop. It is visibly empty, and all cared-about belongings have been removed from drawers. Last week was a frenzy of sorting, tossing, shoving into suitcases, trying to be clear-headed, vomiting, washing, and leaving behind my most cared about “stuff” in the world – my best friend, D. He has been left with the chaotic mess of empty envelopes, half-filled plastic bags, coat hangers, shampoo bottles, and the like. While absurdly we continue to wait for his paperwork, he has to sift through the rubble. In the meantime, S. and I are on the other side of the planet, shuffling about dazed, waking up at 3 a.m. not knowing what day it is, and feeling empty without him.
the more things change...
The best I can do to describe my present state of disorganization is “spinning.” I grab a very very important new piece of paper — like my bank account information — put it in a logical place, and promptly forget where I put it. Then I grab my passport and join it to the pile where I think I’m going to need it next — like with rental applications — and then I need it for banking and can’t seem to find it. I’m a whirlwind of mess, chronically sleep deprived, untethered, cry at the littlest, “maybe that’s daddy?” when S. hears a noise… and so on. And my “stuff” is not here to hold me down, make me feel embedded, push roots into the earth, or any other metaphorical fodder that it is supposed to do. My landmarks are missing, the biggest one being my partner, and it feels like my legs have been chopped off in a sense.
None of this is to complain, because I’ve fallen into a weird community of genuinely happy, smiling, friendly, eager to serve and please people. Strangers stop and talk, everyone looks relaxed, the sun is so brilliantly white that everything outside seems to sparkle until 4 p.m. when it starts to get dark. Then the lights sparkle some more on the water. I feel guarded and suspicious of all this openness. In fact, I thought I had been living in a very friendly town until yesterday. Now I don’t know what to expect. Unanchored, weightless, temporary, and very sad.
Posted in weight of things
Tagged bag, best friend, chaos, desk, desktop, empty, float, light, mess, packing, roots, rubble, sort, spinning, stuff, untethered, weight
I’ve been considering selling my postcard collection on Craigslist for some time now, but the thought that some personal information might get misused has always interrupted my plan. I then offered the collection to a friend who has an affinity for postcards (and probably hoarding) and she smartly declined.
I finally tackled the box a few days ago, sorting the cards into four categories: received from someone, free cards, art cards, and cards from places I’ve been. I started collecting when I was about 15 years old and stopped not too long ago. I still have a habit of visiting art exhibits and picking one or two cards of the pieces that most affected me. As I was sorting, I fairly easily tossed the “free-card” pile with the exception of two or three cards I have often displayed in my office over the past 15 years. What surprised me most about the “places I’ve been pile,” though, was the careful chronicling of my travels. Places I have long since forgotten were documented there in pictures. Some of the most generic images (i.e. “Arizona Coyote”), I tossed willingly into the recycle bin, but I ended up keeping the majority. I stumbled across a few duplicates from Paris, and yet I couldn’t let go of the second copies. I feel compelled to find them a home.
Finally, I went through some of the “received” cards and was a bit dumbfounded. Some were cards that I had written home, but many were from people I no longer remember. I had a card, for example, from someone named Anastassia, and I have no recollection of ever meeting this person. Nonetheless, the card looked vaguely familiar. It somehow remains in the “keep” pile.
In the end, because I took the time to confront the memories in the card pile, I wasn’t able to let go of the bulk. I took too much pleasure in seeing my travels plainly documented in such a compact space. I do not have all the other souvenirs, because those did go onto Craigslist. Instead, I keep a condensed box of postcards without knowing if I’ll ever look inside it again.
Posted in from my hoard to yours, hoarding identity, memory hoarding, weight of things
Tagged box, condensed, craigslist, forgotten, free, give, hoarding, home, memory, pile, places, postcard, recycle, remember, sort, space
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
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.
For the past month my daughter and I have been searching for her Fisher Price pig that goes with her farm set. It nagged at me that I couldn’t place it, although I could identify the last time I’d seen it and the possible last places it could be lingering. Then, over the weekend, I was sorting through her pajama drawer when suddenly the pig emerged. I almost screamed out of joy, “Look who I found!” There was much celebrating with the pig that night as he drank and drank from his favorite bottle.
Lost objects weigh on me. They plague me. I cannot let them go. I lost my iPad stylus overnight on Saturday and on Sunday I emptied out my backpack and diaper bag looking everywhere for it. D. said jokingly, “It’s probably on your desk.” I took him seriously and checked. There it was. I probably spent an hour looking for something that was in the most obvious place.
And so it goes in this house as I seek to match PollyPocket shoes and accessories, identifying what’s gone missing. The moment this began in my life is as clear as the many objects I geographically map in my mind. I was about seven years old, standing in the hallway in my childhood home, asking my dad where a certain toy was. “Ask your mother,” he said. “She knows where everything is.”
I asked her and she knew the exact spot where the random item had been abandoned. I was amazed and took note, “This is behavior to emulate.” And since that time it’s always been important to me to know exactly where all of my stuff is. Now that there is a child in my life (and to be clear, she’s fairly tidy for a two year old), there’s only that much more stuff to catalog in my brain. I’m sure I’ve wasted more salary hours by tracking than the objects would cost to replace, but I still have not lost little items from my own childhood, at least until now as I choose to part with them.
Posted in hoarding identity, weight of things
Tagged catalog, childhood, cost, iPad, item, lost, map, objects, pig, place, PollyPocket, remember, replace, sort, stylus, tracking, weigh, where
I had coffee yesterday with two friends who were both frustrated by the lack of accomplishments during spring break. This is a daily emotion for me, but I have learned that creativity also takes down time and I try not to scold myself very often.
One of the two friends texted me last night to say she’s apparently a t-shirt hoarder. I asked how bad it is, she said she had about 60 t-shirts, I requested a picture, and here you have it. She says the pillow cases and socks are also getting out of control, but our talk had inspired her to do something productive with her break. It’s amazing how little space we need to store so much stuff, until we bring it out to the light and see what’s really there.
I’m somewhat comforted that I’m not alone in the challenges of dealing with stuff. I, too, have a particular weakness for textiles, but I went through the sock drawer about six months ago and it is still more or less under control. There will be more items to toss before we leave, but I have already mentally sorted almost everything for the big purge.
Posted in beauty in hoarding, weight of things
Tagged hoard, hoarder, pile, purge, socks, sort, stuff, t-shirts, textiles, toss
desk on Feb. 13, 2011
I actually forgot I left my desk in this state yesterday. I was searching for the missing piece to my Turkish rug … because I had “repaired” a rip in our leather sofa and suddenly had a bright idea about fixing the rug, too. And so I searched in the first logical place, did not find the missing piece, and, as usual, got distracted by bits of saved paper. I sorted some and exiled others to the recycling box, including numerous baby announcements. Then I forgot what I was doing and went upstairs, abandoning my work space.
This runs counter to the feelings I was having this morning while working in glorious sunlight on our balcony. I was thinking about my colleague C, who has the most orderly life I know. She is in her office or teaching from 9 to 5 every day, except for Fridays when she leaves a bit early to go to happy hour at our favorite bar. Her office is tidy, her desk is clean, and the atmosphere there exudes efficiency and work. I used to think if I could have her office space, I would write a lot more. But then I got to know myself a little better over the last few years.
Every time I get that nostalgic longing for tidiness and organization, it is swiftly changed into distracted clutter. It is simply how I work – from piles of stuff sitting in front of me to remind me of what I was previously thinking or doing. The same is true for my laptop desktop. I’m writing in Chrome right now with 16 tabs open. I shut at least 5 or 6 of them earlier today, but each one is open to a page that I want to revisit. Each book in this mountain of papers on my desk has pages I want to revisit. I stop, pause, contemplate the pile, and remember something for my research. That happens more often than me actually picking up the book and flipping to a certain page. Just having the text there is enough to jog my thoughts. Again, I need my stuff in front of me to remind me of what I’m doing and to simultaneously distract me from what I’m doing and to lead me into something else I’m not supposed to be doing. It’s a crooked path, but it has gotten me into a reasonably productive academic life.
That said, I now am confronted with the desire to procrastinate my academic writing to continue sorting the crap on my desk. A few items I couldn’t bear to toss out yesterday today were immediately jettisoned into the recycling box.
Order in my chaos, chaos in my order, clutter in my mind leads to order in my writing, tangled in my head but neatly laid out on the page.
Posted in hoarding identity
Tagged chaos, clutter, crap, desk, memory, mess, order, pile, procrastinate, productive, sort, writing
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