Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hoarding -- A Personal Confession

Hi, my name is Laurie, and I am a hoarder.

Okay, not as bad as those people you see on television shows like Hoarders and Hoarding Buried Alive. There is only the one cat and she does her business only in her litter box or outside. I take care of mice and the occasional fly promptly. The electricity and plumbing work. The furnace is a bit dodgy, but that is new and in the works.

I am a third generation hoarder. My grandmother kept just about everything, especially after having raised her children during the depression. With her, however, she was able to keep everything neatly filed and organized so it never became the out-of-control mess. When she passed away my mother kept an odd assortment of her mother's hoard to bring home and add to her hoard.

My mother was approaching the level of the television show, but did not quite make it there. The saddest part of her hoarding for me was that I eventually had to distance myself from her and her home as she began to blame me for the mess in her home. If I brought fast food to her home to eat while I was there helping her with the computer or what not, she would begin cleaning this up before I was done eating -- in the middle of a horrendous mess that was far more in need of cleaning than a couple of taco wrappers and sauce packets.

A couple of times a friend and I tried to clean the house for her. The first time was when she had gone off to Georgia for a family reunion. We hauled out so much trash that I had to arrange to use the trash and recycling receptacles of her neighbors. We cleared out more than a dozen years of junk mail and
 old calendars.And that was just the beginning. Of course, the cleaning did not last.

Another time Mum was disappearing for several hours every Saturday for an art class and we used that time to clean house again -- this time as her Christmas and birthday presents. Again, it didn't last.

Several years ago Mum had to move out of her mobile home and into an apartment as a part of getting subsidized housing. More people were on hand to help this time. Mum tried to help, but much like the people on the television shows, she wanted to go through absolutely everything and throw away nothing. No matter what we said, she couldn't understand that the entire hoard from a large two-bedroom mobile home was not going to fit into a small two-bedroom apartment. Finally we got enough to the apartment for her to go stay there while we finished up the mobile home. So we moved her and told her to stay there.

After more than a month of moving and cleaning it was just impossible to get it all done. Fortunately the mobile home was slated to be hauled away and discarded. So we ended up just throwing trash into several big piles as we searched for what needed to move and tossed the rest. Even then we weren't able to get everything moved. Most of the books had to be left behind.

Mum busted my chops for so long over what hadn't gotten moved that I finally told her off. I pointed out that we had spent WEEKS moving what we could and that within that God-awful mess it was impossible to find everything. A large number of us had shut down our lives for those weeks to do this just for her and instead of any gratitude all we were getting was complaining. She was also damn lucky that I had lost my job at just the right time to allow me to do this for her or she would have lost the apartment and the subsidy.

She was much kinder after that, but no less a hoarder. After the move she had an elder care helper come in and help her with things like housework. I charged the woman with helping keep down the hoarding. She did as I asked and kept Mum from picking up broken toys from the grounds of the apartment building and bringing them home.

Last year Mum passed away and I was still faced with a mountain of crap that had come with her. Toward the last few months of her life she finally understood when I called her a hoarder and what a hoarder was. I told her in the light that I was also one, as is a good friend of ours.

As I was packing up her things to be tossed, given away, or kept I was constantly amazed at many things that I found. When the friends and family who had come to help me get the apartment cleaned out heard me swear they knew I had run across something baffling. I gave all of them whatever I wanted as long as it wasn't something I needed to keep or sell.

Being a hoarder myself I knew that I needed to be strong. I was fairly ruthless in getting rid of stuff. Every now and then someone would say "Oh, you want to keep that!" I would emphatically decline. If they asked me if I was sure then I offered it to them. They would decline and I would respond with "If you don't want it, why would I?"

I still kept too much. Much of it is sitting on my patio and inside my car. I am loathe to bring it inside until I have a proper place for it. Much of it will still be given away or sold. I have just been waiting for winter to wain enough to allow me to really get at things. Murphy's Law being what it is we have had 47 inches of snow in April and another foot in May so far.

From the inside, hoarding is a complicated and difficult thing. I can get easily confused and baffled on what to get rid of and what to keep, not to mention what to do with the things I choose to keep. I will get to the end of an evening and only then realize that the dishes went undone, in spite of the intention to do them. It becomes easier to leave everything rather than trying to deal with them -- much like difficult emotions that I haven't dealt with. Having learned to hang on to everything doesn't help.

So I have to work at it every day. My daily to-do list includes such obvious things as "collect trash" to make sure it all makes it in the bin, and "wash dishes" to help me remember. Things will still get away from me. The house still smell of the litter box, though I can't smell it any more. The important thing is that I am aware and keep trying.

The one thing I keep reminding myself is that if it lost in the mess and I have forgotten I had it, I don't need it. If something is lost in the mess and I bought three more because I couldn't find it then I need to find a proper place for that item. There is a fear of lack involved. A terror that when I am truly in need I will not have what I need. It is not really about the stuff. It is about feeling unsupported emotionally so I try to manufacture what appears to be support.

With Mum gone I will also not end up with so much stuff. She was constantly buying me stuff I "needed." This is how I ended up with far more sheets, towels, socks, undies, pots, pans, dishes, and books than I needed. A friend once suggested that I get rid of it all. I replied that I would but then she would just buy it all for me again.

My last bout of unemployment became my mission to downsize while I searched for a new job. I figure that I threw out at least a ton of old crap. I gave away 75 bags and boxes to charity. And still I have too much.

So my struggle continues.


  1. This can't have been an easy post to write and I admire you for opening up about your struggles. *hugs* We have some hoarding issues in our family, too, and sometimes its exhausting just to even consider dealing with it.

    1. Thank you Penelope. Exhausting is certainly a good word for the idea of dealing with it. You can look at it and not have any idea where to start because it seems soooo overwhelming.

  2. My heart goes out to you Laurie because this sounds painful at a number of levels. It's mysterious how our insecurities and "lacks" get translated into behaviors. For me, I've had on again off again war with my body. Sometimes taking precious care and sometimes being punishing. Like you, I have awareness of the roots of the pain - but dealing with it in an awakened state, day in and day out, remains challenging. Just know, that if you scratch the surface of any of your friends and acquaintances, similar stories will leak out. We're all human - sometimes frail, sometimes incredibly resilient. You're one of my favorite kinds of human - authentic, expressive and compassionate. Thanks for sharing! xoxo

    1. Thank you Alyson. I also have all those body issues. One of my best friends also has the body and hoarding issues so we talk about them a whole lot -- I think you met her at Briggs' house last year -- she had a long chat with your husband. Another friend of mine once said that we are all the walking wounded. We are just really good at hiding it.