I’m a terrible digital hoarder. I had something ridiculous like 6000 unread messages in my inbox until last month. This was mostly spam or things I had read that I wanted to go back to, or things I had just forgotten to look at. I have known for quite some time that the organisational system I adopted when I started working in Australia was not working at all. I could not trick myself into going back to the so-called new messages because I knew I had already read them. So they accumulated. Before school started this semester, I spent a few hours and deleted all but 3. Now I’m back up to about 8, but I know what is in there. On the other hand, I have more than 16,000 messages in my inbox.
Somehow digital hoarding is not something I can overcome. My computer has so many files on it, even from my student years, that I feel I may someday need with urgency. They have come in handy when giving talks about now defunct websites that deal with memory or in dredging up old teaching materials, but honestly, most just lie there dormant cluttering up my hard drive. They are innocuous because I do not see them, they do not hinder me from moving about, and my computer behaves as if unfettered by their weight. But I think the burden of that endless archive may catch up with me and entrap me like a snowball gaining momentum on its downhill journey.
Last night amid the bad television selections available, I paused on a British series “Escape to the Country” where an older couple were selling one partner’s London home and combining their possessions for the first time in a move to the country. I hadn’t read the episode description until just now, and the word hoarder was never mentioned during the program, but I recognized the hoarder in the mix from the start. Each time the couple saw a home that suited, the Hoarder began mentally taking over the spaces meant for his partner’s television room. It went a bit like this:
Agent: “And here is a perfect room for your television, Michael.”
Hoarder: “Wait, this would be great for my opera collection.”
Michael: “You already said the upstairs room would be fine for your opera collection.”
Hoarder: “But I like this space, too.”
Ugh. I think I just vomited a little. Every time the Hoarder admired the amount of counter space in the kitchen, I knew exactly what he was thinking.
In the end the couple settled for an old barn that had a wing for each partner and about five bedrooms that could be used for storage. I’m almost certain that the Hoarder will take over his partner’s wing and then some.
We finally have regular internet set up at home after about two weeks and trying 3 different companies before this one. And yes, I said “we,” because D. is here and we’re also finally all together again. Comforting on “sick days” like today.
As I was putting S. to sleep tonight I was catching up on some 20 posts by Sid on My Mother-In-Law is Still Sitting Between Us… and she shared a video of the condensed stuff in the garage of their inherited hoarding house. I could only think of my poor step-brother facing the garage at my Dad and step-mom’s house. And then with dread, equally remembered mention of storage units that they rented for their “antiques” they intended to sell some day. Someday… For the first time, and now that I’m at a very safe physical distance, I thought maybe I should say something while they are both alive. It’s not an easy conversation to think about.
Strangely, this plunged me into a memory from 2.5 weeks ago when I was signing the lease for this place. The house is fully furnished, complete with dishes, and I looked up from the papers at the real estate agent and asked very seriously, “Michael, is there storage with the unit?”
M: “Do you have a lot of stuff, A.?”
Me: “No, just our suitcases.”
M: “Are you going to use the third bedroom?”
Me: “No, just for guests.”
M: “Might I suggest you use that closet for storage?”
And while I’m laughing about it now, and then, too, it is still so telling that I was worried about having storage. It’s the deep-rooted hoarder mentality in me, the “just in case” we need the space.
While packing over the weekend (yes, we’re really going after all this waiting), my daughter was playing with my “treasure box.” That is, the tiny box of rings, necklaces, and bracelets that I’ve kept over the years. When I started picking up the scattered jewelry, I spotted a second “tiniest penny in the world” that had somehow slipped out of the cardboard case my grandfather had fashioned. Suddenly I have two, but still no magic coin.
Then a few minutes ago, I emptied my desk organizer and out fell the missing piece of my Turkish tapestry. I quickly slipped it into the bag in which I had carefully enveloped my rug for storage.
Today I’m amazed at how few important possessions I’m keeping, but I also suddenly feel richer for finding the missing pieces.
Posted in beauty in hoarding, hoarding identity, weight of things
Tagged grandfather, hoard, jewelry, missing piece, penny, rich, rug, storage, treasure
As I work my way through material on hoarding, family members trying to convince the hoarder to change his or her ways is a recurrent theme. I’m starting to wonder if I should feel guilty for not saying something to my dad. My relationship to my parents has long been one of, “you’re grown ups, it’s your life, you will do what you want.” As long as it doesn’t affect my living situation, I’m not very concerned about it.
What scares me more, though, is my uncertainty of their own awareness. I don’t think they know they have a hoarding problem or to what extent it affects them. Frost and Steketee in Stuff have written that the hoarder will go to great lengths to hide their overrun homes from others, which demonstrates a certain level of awareness, but when they are challenged on discarding individual items, they are not able to see that they have a problem. (Ironically, it is exactly this confrontation with individual items that made me realize how susceptible I am to hoarding.)
The two researchers rightfully point out that their work is based on individuals who have volunteered for study. On some level, these people already know they have an issue that needs to be dealt with. On the other hand, public health and social workers encounter hoarders regularly – people who have been reported to them and who are unwilling to change what they do not see. They have a certain blindness to their clutter or squalor.
My dad and step-mom make small remarks about wanting to get rid of things so they can sell their home, or that they need to clean up the house before anyone can visit, or even saying once, “I think you know we aren’t very good about getting rid of things,” when I mentioned they could donate all of my things left in the house. But I’m not sure they realize that they have two bedrooms that are unusable, a garage that hasn’t seen a car inside it since the 1990s when my brother cleaned it out, at least four non-functioning grills around the outside of the home, I do not know how many storage units full of collectibles, and so on. They still have livable space. So far.
It terrifies me to think, however, what my father will become if my step-mother dies before him. My only solution up to this point has been to move far away. But that doesn’t help these adults who are old enough to take care of themselves and not too old yet not to.
Posted in hoarding identity, hoarding roots, weight of things
Tagged aware, awareness, blind, clutter, dad, family, Frost and Steketee, hoard, hoarders, home, see, solution, squalor, step-mother, storage, stuff
Remember how hoarding is all the rage? I forgot to tell another Housewives story to further convince you of my very bad taste in TV.
About two weeks ago on the Real Housewives of Orange County, Tamra received a truckload of stuff from the movers into her new home. Her boyfriend was there to help her unload. He kept opening up the boxes that happened to have her wedding glasses, wedding dress, and old photos in them. Eddie asked her, “Why do you keep all this stuff?”
Tamra defended herself saying it just went straight from the old house into the truck, but she also said you can’t just get rid of all the memories. Eddie aptly responded, “You couldn’t get rid of them if you tried.”
Eddie left to let her deal with her crap on her own, and Tamra wiped a few tears away as she gently placed the wedding glasses into the dumpster.
Posted in celebrity hoarding, memory hoarding, weight of things
Tagged boxes, dumpster, Eddie, memories, memory, moving, Real Housewives of Orange County, storage, stuff, Tamra, tears, wedding
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.
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
Sifting through yet another box of “junk” from storage today, I stumbled upon a lost treasure. A number of years ago, I visited Iraq and presented teaching strategies in a workshop for Kurdish university professors. Our trip was so short that the only shopping I did was for camera batteries. My counterpart from the English department at the University of Dohuk, however, exchanged a 1 dirham coin for a U.S. silver dollar that I had with me. While I’ve held on to a 250 Dinar bill with Saddam’s picture on it for all these years, I haven’t seen the coin since 2004. I was convinced it was lost during a move.
Today I found a pen that was given to me as a token of appreciation at the workshop. My coin was nestled in the bottom of the giftbox. A moment of real joy swept over me when the coin dropped into my hand. It almost gives me hope that my grandfather’s trick coin is not truly lost. Incidentally, I discovered another “tiniest penny” in a jewelry box last week. Two of those (when in my memory only one existed), but still no trick penny. How is it my moments of joy at finding are so quickly shadowed by loss and absence?
If writing the self can be considered a transgressive act, what of showing the inside of your home in non-camera ready state? How often do we see the inside of a lived-in bedroom that is not our own? (How many years did I know my very open French host family before they showed me their master bedroom?) And rarer still, the inside of a stranger’s refrigerator, garage, or storage space.
I’ve had a recurring dream of exploring a haunted house, and the farther I climb into the attic, the ghosts become less frightening and more elusive. They recede from me as I seek to bring them to light.
What’s in those boxes in the far back of our mind, stored away for when we need them, but largely forgotten? Are the memories going to retreat further into the recesses when we seek to pull them to the fore? Is it fear itself that recedes when we seek to confront it?
I’m emptying the storage, gathering momentum, and longing to minimize the surrounding stuff that protects me; yet, I feel far from vulnerable by the exposure. Coming out, transgressing, normalizing what was hidden sometimes leaves me raw, sullen, and nostalgic, but on the whole I feel lightness as I untether myself from stuff.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged attic, box, boxes, fear, ghost, house, lightness, memory, recede, refrigerator, storage, stuff, untether