Tag Archives: treasure

burn barrel worthy

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.

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moving as a COH

Moving can’t be good for hoarders. This is my firm conclusion after being in Australia for a week now, having arrived with my daughter, her nanny, four suitcases and a car seat. I spent the first five days in our temporary apartment just “churning.” Pick up a paper, put it in a different pile or a different folder, find another one, forget what I’m doing, start looking again, start something else. It was complete disorganized chaos. I don’t think I was even looking for anything specific. Nothing was in the right place and I was so afraid of losing an important receipt or my passport or proof of my work visa, that I couldn’t figure out where to place anything. I arrived in a new pristine office on campus with tons of empty shelves and it looked beautiful. Then I quickly set about keeping used padded envelopes and twist ties in a neat pile in case I need them for later. At the house we’re in (fully furnished, very fortunately), I’ve started saving yogurt containers, cardboard scraps, and empty bottles for future craft projects or simple storage until we get more permanent items around us. I’m mindful of this odd activity, but I can’t stop myself from wanting to accumulate odd scraps “just in case” I need them later. An unused napkin suddenly becomes a useful treasure since we haven’t yet bought a box of Kleenex.

Yesterday afternoon I met with my mentor who is a self-professed “major hoarder.” I entered his office which he called “unusually tidy” and it was filled with mountains of paper, walls covered with odd pictures and posters, piles of books on the desk. It was rather attractive all together although some of the images disturbed me. It was a well-cushioned nest, lived in, loved, worked in, accumulated over the years, full of meaningful treasure that I could easily relate to and understand. These were objects collected over the years – art postcards, newspaper clippings, a grading scale tacked up on the wall near his computer screen. I could see the compulsion there, which was in stark contrast to what I’ve seen of his home which has very carefully selected objets with a clear esthetic and very tidy lines woven warmly through the living area.

Our rental home is attractive to me – white, stainless steel, granite, and gorgeous “timber” floors and a sprawling deck with seating for six. It’s a much smaller space, much less comfortable and less me than our “real” home that we reconstructed and decorated ourselves, but this is a livable space, clean and sparse as it is. I long to fill it with comfort that isn’t needed … pillows and blankets, for example… rugs, splashes of color.

All of this need to have things, longing for objects, reminds me of the first time I was objectively confronted with the horror of my father’s hoarding. I have seen the image in my mind only very occasionally throughout the years, but today it keeps popping back in front of me. We were living in a very similar (but much less modern) rental home for a little more than a year after the bank foreclosed on my parents’ dream home in the country. I used the dungeon like cement cellar/basement of the home for my own “things” and my father filled the garage. By filled, I mean filled. When we moved to Missouri, I don’t think we were able to empty the whole thing. I have a vague memory of actually walking on top of stuff about 3 feet deep to get to some of my things. When my father and step-mother went back to Montana to get the rest of our “stuff” they asked me specifically if there was anything I wanted. For some reason I wanted this really dumb silk stuffed hot air balloon with a porcelain clown hanging below it on a swing. I suspect now that they went out and bought a new one for me, because somehow I ended up with two of them. I can’t imagine the horror that my step-mom felt when she saw that garage full of crap.

When my father and I made the move from Montana to Missouri, he had an old pickup truck and he built a wooden frame around the back, probably about 5 feet high. He piled in some furniture and other items, roped it all in, tied a tarp over it, and we wobbled slowly to our new home, getting lost in downtown Kansas City along the way. All that crap either made it into the house or into the garage. I believe there was a garage sale once, and then the rest just remained. It’s there still, somewhere, in their hoarding house. My two porcelain clowns and their stupid silk balloons are probably still hanging out somewhere in my teen-years bedroom. Garbage, all of it. And yet, here I am, an adult and mother, clinging to scrap paper and empty yogurt containers. Just in case.

*COH = child of hoarder

a penny lost, a penny found

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.

missing piece

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.

from treasure to trash

Yesterday my daughter came downstairs with me where the few remaining items to be sold are stacked on the bookshelves. She grabbed up some Bulgarian wooden dolls that have garnered no interest on craigslist, and I decided she might as well play with them.

Today I found a chunk of wood in our bay window seat. What was it from? One of the carved wood trinkets I’d been toting around in my knick-knack box for the past ten plus years. The dog had made it into her chew toy. Now to its rightful home, the garbage can.

roots in hoarding, hoarding treasure

D. and I were talking about this blog last week and something in our conversation reminded me of my grandfather. I’ve been trying to get at the root of this impulse to hoard, and I’ve only looked back to my father. When I mentioned my grandfather, however, I realized this may have been passed down the genealogy chart.

Family lore has it that my grandfather was a welder, trash collector, and jack of all trades. For example, he designed and built this groovy octagon shaped work shed and landscaped their terraced yard with little treasures all the way down to the lake. My memories of my grandfather are old and vague and really kind of magical, although no one ever told me he was much of an enchanting person.

On my desk in front of me as I type is a tiny cardboard square envelope that has been taped together. It makes me sad to look at it because it contains the tiniest penny I’ve ever seen, but it also used to contain my grandpa’s trick penny. That penny was given to me when he died, and I lost it sometime in college during a move. That absence tugs at my heart and makes me want to lose the cardboard that he fashioned as well.

Back to what I remember of my grandpa, though … he was a collector. From his years of trash collecting and using his metal detector, he had boxes of treasures. I don’t remember his house being particularly cluttered or untidy, but my grandmother is said to have been a very neat housekeeper. When she passed away, I believe things changed. I recall visiting his house after he had died to prepare for the auction. It was then that I got to choose what I wanted to keep, and along with the yellow towels and copper-bottom pots and pans that I would need for college, I took some of my grandma’s jewelry and photos of the couple when they were young. I do not know what happened to his elephant collection or his antique irons that used to sit by the fireplace … that is, if they existed and my memory is not inventing stuff.

My father has gone on to collect items he believes have value: hidden treasures in his house. He has a metal detector attaching him back to his father, and when I saw him in our yard with it two years ago, I could only think of him and my grandfather many years before going over our old yard (built on a former landfill), searching for treasure. Treasure in someone else’s garden. Treasure in my memory. But now empty trash here as I look at the only items remaining from Grandpa Herb.