After months of looking at all kinds of houses and being very picky and demanding about the area but open to fixer-uppers, we are about to close on a house in our neighbourhood. Once that decision was finally determined, we immediately put our townhouse on the market and have since been playing the game of “hide every shred of human existence and make your house look like a hotel and do it quick.”
The market in Australia usually runs by open houses rather than private showings, though D and I never hesitate to ask for private showings of listings when it suits us. The result of the open house is a frenzy of people winding their way through the house in a thirty-minute span, dripping with sweat, and by the end of the day they are totally dizzy with what they have seen. My one neighbour went to six open houses today in her search for the perfect investment property, and another neighbour was doing the same in search of the ideal home for her growing family. Our house was opened up around the same time as two others on our street today, so people filter down the street like a parade.
While keeping our home as pristine as one can with a school-aged child and three pets, not to mention two full-grown adults who like to live and eat and work at home, I have slowly begun the business of packing up. I am ever amazed at the quantity of things we moved to Australia on airplane trips. We have all of our photo albums from birth to now, little treasures like our Christmas ornaments, my grandmother’s silver, and then all the clothes (considering we dumped what felt like the majority of the wardrobes before we moved here and have constantly donated since we moved here, this, too, is impressive). I have fifty-three boxes that can be filled (the suggested quantity from our removalists). I wonder how many will be full on moving day.
As I pack, however, I see D and S really struggling with this move. This one is somehow different and harder and scarier even though we are moving only three streets over and about 5 houses up the hill. This townhouse has been an anchor for us. Our daughter has lived here for the majority of her little life. We have loved it and hated it and we are about to move from a new modern sleek place to an old funky one that needs a lot of love and attention.
In all of this, I have realised, for reasons I cannot explain, I just keep pushing forward. I push even when it is not the most sensible thing to do. And as I push myself, those who love me and want to live with me get pushed and pulled along my path. I was speaking with S’s therapist a couple of weeks ago about this and she pointed out that sometimes when we are pushing forward, we just drag more and more and more stuff behind us. I’m clomping on through the snow that’s up to my knees and I’m on the verge of collapsing. At some point, I’m going to need to stop and sit still and work on what’s here in front of me without the distraction of moving again.
Nothing will cure a hoard better than selling your home, though natural disasters might have a similar effect. We put our home in Kansas on the market in March and it went under contract within three days. A week later we were at our house to clean out what remained after five years of absence. Our tenant and good friend A. called me a tornado, because I whipped through the piles of stuff without mercy sending the bulk towards the trash heap. It is easy to sort unaffected when you have absolutely forgotten the things in the hall closet even existed. We took two car-fulls of useful things to the emergency shelter to donate (some of it belonged to A.) and were grateful for the tax receipts. In spite of this culling, there was still some furniture and exercise equipment lingering. The tenants posted items on craigslist, had a yard sale, sold a few more items of theirs and ours, took a commission, and donated the rest. Today the real estate agent told me that he removed 12 bags of trash from the house (what??!!) after the tenants moved out, and the house is now cleaned and empty. I wish I could see the empty house today, but that would be a long way to fly just to have the satisfaction of knowing our former home is ready for a new owner to love it.
Posted in from my hoard to yours, hoarding identity, Uncategorized, weight of things
Tagged empty, garage sale, garbage, hoard, home, house, piles, stuff
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
Yesterday I took S to her Monday morning swimming lesson which is usually D’s domain. But he’s in the U.S. on business and so we enjoyed a girls’ day together.
When we arrived I noticed an older gentleman playing with two small girls in the splash pool. When we got to the lesson, he was sitting next to me with the older child in S’s class. I quickly surmised he was the grandfather, his daughter was there watching the lesson, and soon the grandmother also appeared. The family seemed to so happily enjoy each other that my mind quickly decided, “Grandparents must be here on vacation visiting the family.” And then from the conversation and the sheer detail exchanged with offers of, “I’ll take Maggie if it’s easier for you while you take Tilly to the party,” I discovered this is just their normal routine. Grandma and Grandpa are highly involved in their children’s lives. Everything about the picture seemed so ideal – constant smiles, relaxed, easy, and put-together. Like a magazine.
I was disturbed. Why the assumption that this was an occasional or even rare family event? There is so much tension with my parents that I have consciously avoided allowing them in the same room together since my brother’s high school graduation (that was 25 years ago). Not only that, I keep my visits with my parents expressly short. While my mother and I get along well and I could have a close relationship if geography and other factors didn’t get in the way, I cannot be around her husband who threatened to kill me when I was 24. And my HP father is syrupy sweet during our short visits, but he cannot be bothered to spend more than a couple of hours with me even during our visits back to America. He will likely never visit us in Australia. He has too much stuff to attend to.
From reading the stories from other Children of Hoarders, I don’t think many could brag of normal or easy relationships with their folks. Parents cross intimacy lines and become highly intrusive, or they wall themselves in with their stuff clinging to it rather than to their loved ones.
I sat at the pool thinking if S will have me, I will so gladly be that involved in her adult life. I would love to be there for her and her family. But can we break the cycle?
Now that we are more or less completely moved from the U.S. to Australia and consider that anything left behind is disposable, it’s easier to take an account of what we have. Remarkably, we shifted continents using only suitcases and small boxes over the past two years. We are settled and not encumbered with stuff. The war still wages within me to not use precious valuables that have become even more special due to the vast oceans they’ve crossed. I still have to fight daily to toss out recyclable crafts brought home from S.’s kindergarten. I have to consciously attack the clutter around me to keep my desk cleared. But progress has been made.
My Turkish rug made the journey to Australia along with its missing piece still detached. But for the first time since I purchased it in 2003, the rug is now on the floor being used daily by both people and cats. I look at the gnawed-off edge and say, So What! Rather than protecting the very happy memory associated with its purchase, I get to make new ones while playing with S. and her legos on the floor.
Seen from our Sydney hotel room two days ago.
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
D. left yesterday for a month-long trip to the U.S. to finish up his citizenship requirements. I have this nagging
spring fall cleaning goal of decluttering in his absence. But who am I kidding really? I’m a clutteraholic (see desktop update below, and that’s only the half of it). I forget what I cannot see. I stress when my desk is clean. Really, it induces slight panic and a dizzying sense of being lost.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But my clutter makes me feel at home. It isn’t everywhere in the house. It is contained to my desk and a corner of our kitchen table which is cluttered with S’s amazing artwork and crafts and recent sales fliers.
The clutter I can’t see, however, is perhaps less necessary for my mental well-being. I hope to sort through some drawers and donate or repurpose some old clothes. I’m not entirely optimistic, but a good purge might do me some good while my heart wants to clasp onto everything in the absence of D.
We returned back to our home in Australia on Friday morning with all 9 checked bags, 2 carry-ons, 3 backpacks, and 1 pillow pet more or less in tact. Although that sounds like a lot, the only things I left in the U.S. are a winter coat, gloves and pair of boots and some things that should be sold on craigslist. Oh wait … well, no there are some other things that did get left such as my grandmother’s china which was not shipped to my brother. Frankly, I forgot to send it and did not realize it until just now. I spent my last full day in our home with the vomiting-diarrhea-fall-asleep-on-the-bathroom-floor kind of illness. Fortunately the suitcases were almost packed before the illness struck.
The checked bags were not excessive: 2 bicycles, 1 box of artwork, 1 carseat, 1 bag of hockey equipment, 1 bag of odd junk like tools, my flute, and S’s new tennis racket, and 1 personal suitcase for each of us. One of the personal suitcases was filled with breakables. I did my best to protect them but sadly many things that once seemed important to us have now come to rest in our Australian rubbish bin. I packed my childhood tea set in that bag. I still have the original box (!), but 2 pieces did not survive the crossing. We broke some corning wear, handmade canisters, and jars. My favorite antique Christmas ornament that belonged to my great-grandmother suffered some splintering. And some things we really don’t care about at all came out just fine.
The rest of our things were shipped in boxes via USPS at $60 per large flat rate box. I had to go through photo albums and notebooks and decide if I really needed prom photos or if I could just resnap them quickly with my iPhone and let the distorted image be good enough. I have handwritten journals I’ve kept from age 5 to 35, which I always thought would be an awesome gift to my child (wow, what was I thinking?) or useful as notes for a mémoire. I almost tossed them, but couldn’t bear to let go of all of it. Somehow it makes me feel sane when I go back and read snippets of what I went through to get where I am today. Instead I broke down bindings and tore out pages to condense them. I’m curious to see if the pages can be scanned through a top-feeding machine.
This is the minutiae, the overwrought details of the stuff, but ultimately, that’s all the stuff there is now. We got home and our house was delightfully clean and empty. No clutter in sight anywhere. It felt good to look around and see no mess. Just a stack of mail to sort through.
The unpacking went swiftly, the shards of glass were swept up, and our life is officially here now. It’s good to be home.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Australia, breakable, china, hoard, keepsake, packing, photo album, photos, scan, shipping, stuff, tea set, things, travel
S. is quietly playing with the many toys she got for Christmas. Fortunately our luggage space is limited, because with the cost of toys being about 25% less here than in Australia, I was tempted to buy a whole lot more. I think I did go a little overboard, but at least the grandmas respected our wish to keep things small, flat, light and easily packable.
Our trip to my HP’s house was brief. D. was carsick and spent a good portion of the time overcoming nausea. There was a brief debate whether he should rest in my step-mother’s bed or in my step-brother’s room. This surprised me. My dad said, “but there’s too much stuff on your bed,” to which my step-mom replied she would just move it to the floor. I asked my dad why he was calling it her bed and he said that he now only sleeps in his chair. Equally surprising, my step-brother’s room was not overcrowded with things and completely usable. So why were we not allowed to stay?
D. was able to peek in at my former bedroom and declared it was full. I was only allowed to look at the newly renovated master bathroom (only the shower was redone and expanded), and to admire the new (badly needed) carpeting and linoleum in the house. Both parents admitted the renovations had been exhausting and they had only just got the furniture back into place for our visit. Moving a hoard to re-carpet is a lot of work.
More disturbing than the house, however, was their blatant disregard for our boundaries. They had offered to take our daughter over night while sending us to the hotel. (Wait, there’s room for her but not for us?) I told them she would likely be scared as she does not know them well and that, while I appreciated the offer, she would be staying with us. While she was busy playing with toys they had out, they started in on her, “S. wouldn’t you like to spend the night with grandma and grampa so you can keep playing with the toys?” “Yes,” she said. I looked at her and said, “but Mommy can’t stay here with you and you will be alone with grandma and grampa all night.” That was enough for her to almost cry. She was not staying there without us.
We went to dinner, spent the night in a comfortable hotel, and went back to see them for two hours in the morning. It was S’s fourth birthday and they were kind to ask me ahead of time if the chosen gifts were appropriate. I totally appreciate their thoughtful gifts since she was destined to spend the entire day in the car. It was also nice to see them. But they were clear: they don’t have time to see us. My father said in almost the same breath, “I just don’t like to travel any more,” and “We’re going to Arizona to visit your brother in March.” It would be nice to know my father if he could be honest with himself and say, “I don’t feel like visiting you” instead of whatever nonsense he comes up with.
And the most disturbing news… The reason my HP is too busy to see us? He’s become Santa Claus. Anyone need a hoarding Santa for your holiday event next year?