Of Shoes And Ships And Sealing Wax And Hoarding Stuff And Things

December 8, 2009

My dad was a hoarder. When he died, they had to cut through the outside wall of his house to remove his remains. There simply wasn’t room for the coroner to get him through the packed hallway, the corridors lined with stuff. They cut a hole in the wall and pulled out the contents of the room. Including my dad.

Someone thought to board the wall with a piece of plywood, afterward.

The coroner said to me, if you don’t have to go there, you maybe shouldn’t. Someone else said, see if the insurance company will hire cleaners. Someone else said to me, if you go, you have to remember, this is not who he is.

I went. I was afraid, but I went.

My mom came with me. When we got there and went inside, she cried. I stood in his kitchen and looked at the boxes and the books and the electronics and the crocheted wall hangings and the computers – the dozens of computers – and the tools and the CD cases and I ran my fingers over a stack of disemboweled laptops and I thought, oh, Dad.

I might have actually spoken the words aloud. I can’t recall. Oh, Dad, I thought. You had nothing to be ashamed of.

He didn’t. He doesn’t.

***

My dad wasn’t always a hoarder. I probably wouldn’t even call him that, were it not for the ubiquity of the term, a ubiquity reinforced, in large part, by the television show ‘Hoarders.’ He was a pack-rat, an eccentric, a recluse, a collector, an artist, a dreamer, a devoted recycler and a fanatic tinkerer. In the sunny years of our suburban bliss, before mental illness and infidelity and divorce shattered what seemed a domestic dreamworld, his collecting was contained to basements and attics and sheds, his tinkering and inventing activities that occurred in his den or workshop or some other such sacred space. When the dreamworld fell to pieces, he shed the costume of suburban professional and grew out his hair and devoted himself to the things that he loved: collecting, making, building, inventing, thinking, worrying, dreaming. And he became a hoarder.

Dreamers don’t necessarily accumulate lots of stuff. Collectors do. So do tinkerers, builders, inventors and, sometimes, worriers. My dad was all of these. My dad accumulated a lot of stuff.Musei_Wormiani_Historia

And so his home became like an overstuffed wunderkammer, a vinyl-sided cabinet of curiosities (2 bed/1 bath) filled to the ceiling with treasures and would-be treasures and could-be treasures (once the wiring was fixed/the batteries changed/the hard drive replaced/the surface polished/etc) and papers and photos and all the ephemera of a life spent dreaming and imagining and writing and building and fixing and keeping, always keeping. It wasn’t particularly dirty; his treasures, especially the electronic ones, the computers and the media players and the robot – yes, the robot – needed to be kept dust-free, and so the effect was more storage locker than junkyard. But it was crowded, so crowded, and I could see why the coroner and the friends that came that night to usher him, finally, out of his home, might say, you know, that – all that – was not your dad.

But it was. It was. My dad was deep piles of stuff: he was a wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities filled to bursting, dusty around the edges, the core hard to reach, impenetrable depths but so much fascinating stuff spread across the surface that you could spend a rewarding eternity just exploring his superficialities. And as I stood in his space that first day – in his Fortress of Solitude, his lifeworld – I felt utterly at peace with who he was and how he lived and all around me I saw treasure, the rich treasure of him and the material world that he created for himself and I whispered a silent prayer that he hear me when I said, oh, Dad, there was nothing to be ashamed of.

****

So, yeah, the show, ‘Hoarders:’ I sometimes see people talking about it on Twitter and Facebook and wherever and the tenor of the discussion is always the same: oh, my god, can you believe that? Oh, god, ew. Oh, GOD: a dead cat! Feces! Oh, my god! Ew! EW! And, sometimes: I totally have the urge now to clean my house, oh my god.

(how can people live like that?)

(thank god they’re getting help.)

(oh, god, ew. EW.)

I have not said these things. But I have thought them.

The cases that are featured on the show are, to a one, extreme. Someone’s cat is crushed under debris. Someone’s home is littered with human feces. Someone’s goats are chewing through the walls to pilfer through the mess and abscond with litter. Everyone is sad, pathetic, shamed. Their families weep. How can they live like this? They’re sick. They’re sick. They’re dying from their stuff.

The show aims to shock, to appall. It works to provoke our horror, our fear, by parading the people it features as freaks, and then reassures us with that very freakishness. There but for the grace of Clorox and a well-organized closet go you, it warns, before quickly whispering, ah, don’t worry, these people are sick, they’re freaks, this is totally different from your laundry room, ssshhh…

And we all sit back, reassured, and go back to tweeting – oh MY GOD, did you see the DEAD CAT #hoarders #omfg – while we wonder idly whether hoarding is genetic or contagious and didn’t Aunt Beatrice have a whole lot of stuff? and, ugh, I really do need to call the cleaning lady, like, soon.

I watch, and listen, and read, and am ashamed. For myself. For my dad.

The cat-crushers do have a problem, of course. So does anyone whose feces accumulates on their kitchen floor, or anyone who, like the infamous Collyer brothers, gets squashed by a mountain of old newspapers. But raising awareness of hoarding as a mental illness (which is problematic to begin with, because the hoarding is likely to be a symptom of some other mental illness – my dad was clinically depressed – and not simply an illness in itself) by presenting the most extreme cases – as spectacle, to shock and horrify – is no more effective than raising awareness of post-partum depression by creating a reality show called DEPRESSED MOMS and featuring only women who are struggling with psychosis and failing and shouting things about INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS. You know, the sick moms, the moms who have had their kids taken away, the moms who freak us the f*ck out, even those of us still taking meds.

Shock doesn’t create awareness. It just shocks.

And it shames.

***

I don’t think that there should be any shame in mess. Nor in mental illness. To the extent that we are repulsed by disorder – literal or figurative – we are, I think, repulsed by that which we do not understand, that which we cannot make sense of, that which challenges the eye and mind. Neatness, tidiness, is easy: gaze upon a manicured lawn, a minimalist room, where there is nothing to disrupt or offend one’s line of sight, and there is nothing to think about, nothing to provoke the imagination. As one writer pointed out in a New York Times article a few years ago, “mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate).” So it goes with spaces, so it goes with minds and personalities and character: as the old office poster used to say, a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. Although, perhaps, not sick: rather, just, less interesting.

This overstates things, obviously: we wouldn’t wish that all the world were mentally ill, just so we could all be more interesting. And to equate mental illness with interestingness is, arguably, to romanticize it, and I freely admit to wanting to romanticize my dad’s story, to make him the hero, to turn his mental illness, such as it was, into a compelling narrative, one that captures just how wonderful and fascinating he really was. But why not; why shouldn’t I do this? Why shouldn’t I look for the beauty in the complicated wiring of his brain, the mysteries of his personality, the clutter of his material world? Why shouldn’t we all do that? Why do we insist upon categorizing everything that is messy and different and strange as bad, as wrong, as disordered? We can acknowledge the dead cat and the piles of feces as problematic while still acknowledging that messiness – in our homes and in our minds and in our hearts – exists along a spectrum, an interesting spectrum, one that does not run from ‘healthy’ to ‘sick’ but from ‘blank’ to ‘overfull.’

***

Wall-E was a hoarder. He totally was.

***

My dad was, I used to joke, the patron saint of lost electronic causes. He couldn’t bear to see a computer – or a video recorder or a VCR or an 8-track or a CD player or an old Atari gaming system – cast aside as junk. Everything old could be made (as good as) new again; revived, reinvented, renewed. He was, in this, Heideggerian: our appropriate relationship to technology was, for him, one that engaged material things, one that put us, literally, into meaningful, active relationship with things. Casting things aside, disposing of things, living a life that viewed the material world as ephemeral, disposable, transitory, rejectable was to deny relationship with things, to insist upon a lifeworld based on mastery over things, a lifeworld based on putting-things-to-service and then casting-them-aside. The sterile, tidy world of the person who ‘minimalizes’ would be, for him, one that denied our essential dependence upon things, much as if one were to decide against the emotional clutter of long-term committed relationships because of the essential complicatedness, the necessary messiness and crowdedness that comes with plus-ones and -twos and -threes (or more). Yes, one could keep one’s emotional life tidier by minimizing relationships and treating these as disposable where possible or necessary, but it would be, obviously, emptier.

So with things. So with things. We might object that embracing things, surrounding ourselves with things, loving things is the very root of our environmental problems, the overburdening of our planet. But  who is the better steward of the earth: the person who keeps and treasures and tinkers with things, who refuses to throw things away because so many things have value, or the person who treats ‘things’ as disposable, who regards the broken, the busted, the tarnished, the torn as junk? Why do we always need to sweep everything clean? Why must everything always be shiny and new?

We have problems with garbage because we are constantly throwing things away and replacing them. Maybe if we all did a little more keeping, a little more junk-treasuring, a little more hoarding, we’d be better off.

As I said, Wall-E was a hoarder.

***

It took me – and my mom, and, later, my husband – a little over a month to go through my dad’s stuff and clear away what needed to be cleared away, and even then we only got about halfway through. We’re going back over Christmas to – we hope – finish the job. I’m dreading it. I’m dreading doing it, and I’m dreading finishing it. Because doing this work does mean sweeping things clean, gathering up the mess of his lifeworld and throwing it away or packing it away and with every item that gets tossed or trashed or discarded there’s a tug at my heart, a resistance, a reluctance to let go. (I could tell you, perhaps, about climbing into the dumpster that I’d arranged to have parked outside his home, to facilitate cleaning… climbing into the dumpster in the heat of August and sobbing, sobbingsobbingsobbing, while I looked for his false teeth. I just couldn’t bear that any part of him be discarded like junk. I’ve had to struggle to resist regarding all of his material things as extensions of him. It is difficult to talk about. I’m trying to talk about it now.)

And this is what this is all about, isn’t it, not wanting to let go? I don’t want to let go of his things because I don’t want to let go of him; he didn’t want to let go of his things, I think, for similar reasons. There’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in admitting that there is comfort in stuff, in the things that participate in defining us and the people that we love, and that that comfort exerts a powerful pull. That releasing oneself from the embrace of that comfort (me, in his bedroom, after it had been scrubbed clean, surrounded by his shelves of books and paper and photos of wife and children and grandchildren and cough drops and pens and magnifying glasses and a few dead butterfly specimens, looking at the stuff he looked at before he went to sleep every night, hugged by his spirit) (him, before death, surrounded by the artifacts of his past, the building blocks of his future, his amusements, his dreams, looking at these before he went to sleep every night, hugged by his memories) is hard, so hard. He had to let go, of course; you can’t take it with you. I have to let go, too, because his lifeworld, his things, are just that, his, and he’s gone now and I have a life and a lifeworld and my own illness-or-not-illness and my own deep piles of stuff.

Of which I am not ashamed. I refuse to be ashamed.

And I refuse to ever again watch Hoarders.

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    { 154 comments }

    Jen December 8, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    This is so lovely, and bathes the reader in your love for your dad.

    I’m a bit of a hoarder myself. I go into a thrift store, for example, and I see these odd things I don’t need, but I imagine how or why the previous owners loved them or used them and I feel called to rescue these items. I don’t understand why certain things call to me, but they do. I haven’t seen “Hoarders,” but I’m fascinated with the stories of people with hoarding disorders because I completely get the way value begins to cling to things that maybe shouldn’t be valued, or to things that should be momentarily valued, and then discarded.

    Please don’t be ashamed. I hope your dad was not ashamed. It sounds like he kept his place tidy, just full of stuff. Who is to say how much stuff is too much? Since when are we to arrange our homes to accommodate gurneys wheeling through?

    Anyway, thanks for writing this beautiful post.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..motherhood: a study in contrast =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    I’m a bit of a thrift store treasure-hunter myself. I actively try to avoid thrift stores sometimes because I know that I won’t be able to resist the gems inside. *sigh*

    Sheila December 8, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    The love and pride you have for your father shines throughout this amazing piece.
    Thank you.

    deb@birdonawire December 8, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you Catherine for bringing the “mental” illness avenue to light. For what ever reason, our entertainment industry has found that spotlighting peoples issues is entertaining. I say not! It is not entertaining. Much like we watched Jon and Kate fall apart and continued to gawk, and the latest issues with Tiger Woods. They are human, every bit as human as you and I and every bit as in pain as your dad and my folks. I love you for writing this more than you know. Thank you again. And no, there’s nothing to be ashamed of!
    .-= deb@birdonawire´s last blog ..Wednesday Sessions Filling Fast =-.

    Angela December 8, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    I am so glad you posted this. Beyond how I’m sure it was a release for you, it surely resonates with many of your readers. Me included.

    I find nothing funny, nothing entertaining about mental illness. My mother is bipolar and I’ve grown up with mental illness my entire life. This one does have a genetic component, so it’s very possible, maybe even likely that I or my sisters, or my children will be affected personally by this disease.

    Yeah my mom did some funny stuff when I was a kid. Sometimes she’s pretty funny now. But you know what? It’s not anything I’d share with outsiders to allow them to poke fun AT her.

    My sisters and I have stuck by our mom. She is a wonderful, loving person. And while we can all giggle sometimes over her quirkiness together, it’s not the same as watching strangers struggle with their own mental illnesses as entertainment.

    Sometimes I think there are two last areas where making fun of someone is still “okay” (as in the Politically Correct police won’t track you down): mental illness and being fat. It’s like the media and the public think it’s fine to knock people with these issues around when they wouldn’t be caught dead making fun of someone for being in a wheelchair or of a different race these day. I look forward to the day when everyone stands up and says that it’s not ok to mock anyone, including those with weight or mental issues.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Someone gently tapping… =-.

    Bill McNutt December 10, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    And men. You forgot men. It’s still okay to mock men and portray them as buffoons.

    Bill
    .-= Bill McNutt´s last blog ..Ship’s Log: September Blue – Ooops! Part II =-.

    jenni December 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    and southerners. it’s fine to poke fun at poor, uneducated, filthy, kid-and-dog-ridden southerners. because all people from the south are like that. but i digress…

    just started reading this blog, and i’m hooked.

    this post truly is beautifully written.

    Maria December 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I love that even through difficult words, you infuse a wry smile. Masterful.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..Darcy =-.

    Parent Club December 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Bravo!
    .-= Parent Club´s last blog ..Visa Canada – Review & Giveaway =-.

    Donna December 8, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    That was wonderful. Thank you for writing and posting it for us to share.

    Peggy December 8, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    My MIL lives like this, and I know quite a few others… heck, we are messy and have a hard time throwing things out that can be made into something else. This is a beautiful tribute to your dad. Honest, kind and full of love. Thanks for posting.

    ame i. December 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I’m not a hoarder, but I have things in my closets and attic that are not worth keeping, yet they are still there.
    I married in 1988, had 2 children(1998&2000), lost my late-husband in Oct.2003. I STILL have some of his college textbooks & spiral notebooks in the attic (sp?). I understand, kinda, that I’ve kept the spirals b/c he wrote and doodled and drew in them, but why I haven’t brought the outdated text books down & tossed them in the trash…I can’t justify.

    sisterofahoarder December 29, 2009 at 8:02 am

    You’re not a hoarder unless you have GOAT PATHS through your house and the floor to ceiling garbage in EVERY room of your house. Don’t worry about the spiral notebook thing. You will get to it when you get to it. Grief is one thing… Hoarding is a complete different thing. Trust me.

    Issa December 8, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Sigh. Honey, I’m sorry. Last night, for the first time ever, I watched the show. I tweeted what I saw. Honestly, I was curious about it, I wanted to see how they help people, because my aunt is a horder. Not where it’s trash, but it’s her treasures. Treasures found over 40 years of loving antiques, of traveling over the world for more antiques. She has so many, you can’t walk in her house. Or barn. Or six storage units. She will one day…never mind.

    Anyway, I’m sorry I said anything last night. It isn’t funny, I didn’t find it funny. I think in some ways it’s human nature to make jokes when we are uncomfortable. There is nothing funny about any mental illness.

    Huge hugs to you Catherine. I’m glad you wrote this. Maybe it will help people understand.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Issa’s assvice. What? It’s better than saying, here’s some answers, right? =-.

    Rebecca (Playground Confidential) December 8, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Thank you for that. I look at my mother’s bedroom closet and I know that if she were living on her own her attachment to her possessions and her disdain for waste would manifest itself far beyond the bedroom. I also think labeling every quirk and eccentricity with some brand of mental illness is sad and, yes, uninteresting. We increasingly live in a society where any deviation from the norm is viewed as a treatable condition. And it needn’t be. So thank you for reminding me that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
    .-= Rebecca (Playground Confidential)´s last blog ..Self-Reliance =-.

    Lisa December 8, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    You really got me thinking. I found myself wanting to argue/discuss/counterpoint with a lot of what you said about “stuff” but you really have me thinking.

    And then I read the comments and isn’t it weird hw people get into defensive mode, or all into a discussion of the show or a discussion of watching the show, which all just seems to miss the point.

    I really enjoyed reading your piece and getting my thoughts provoked. :)

    MorgansDead December 8, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Your post moved me. I don’t like watching those shows either for many of the same reasons. I watched one episode of Hoarders and did not even make it to the end because I was disgusted by it. I wasn’t disgusted by the hoarders themselves, I was disgusted at the network for exploiting these people.

    I know how hard going through your father’s things is. I’ve gone through my share of belongings to those close to me. It is never easy, and you never want to let go. It’s ok to hold onto a few things though. Remember that.
    .-= MorgansDead´s last blog ..Mmmm My Foot Tastes Good =-.

    Elissa December 8, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    I’m glad you posted this – it’s beautiful and powerful and true, and I’m glad I got to read it. Mental illness is hard to understand when you’re not in it, but writing like this helps to make it a bit more comprehensible to people who haven’t experienced it – and that’s what we need if we as a society are ever going to have a healthy relationship with mental illness. Thank you.

    psumommy December 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this. I know it was hard. It’s fantastic and wonderful, and I hope it helped ease your hurt, even a little.

    I’ve never seen Hoarders. I have no desire to see it. I also have no cable or dish, so…yeah. I do have a question (don’t we all?)- those people, the “hoarders” themselves- don’t they have the final say in whether or not they’re on the show? I could be wrong- I don’t know that much about reality tv- but…I don’t know. It just doesn’t stand to reason that something that invasive and personal would be legal without their consent.
    .-= psumommy´s last blog ..Farewell, Breastfeeding =-.

    sisterofahoarder December 29, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Cleaning up a hoarders house is NOT cheap. I would suspect they would have to sign a contract before hand that they could film, etc. However, if my sister, who is a hoarder, does not change, I’m sure it will cost my family upwards of $25,000 to clear out and clean her house. I’m sorry, but I don’t have an extra $25,000 in my back pocket to pay for the removal of rubbish. In fact, it would probably cost more. So yes, the show is a little exploitative… however, I’d rather watch this where some good is done than the exploitation of Jon and Kate’s eight children, for example.

    Hally December 9, 2009 at 12:41 am

    This was a beautiful tour de force. I hope getting it out has helped you release some of the complex feelings you must have experienced while cleaning out the first half of your Dad’s house.

    We don’t have the show Hoarders here in Tanzania. But having worked with TV “reality” shows in the past I can testify that their purpose is to entertain and get a reaction out of viewers. Getting the subjects help is part of the entertainment. I’d love to know how the subjects of Hoarders are followed up after the show.

    Good luck with the second part of your cleaning efforts.
    .-= Hally´s last blog ..Living While Fat – An American Crime =-.

    Angela December 9, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Thank you. My mother cannot let go…and I see tendencies of that in myself, the desire to keep, to look at something like a mundane receipt for shoes and think “Oh, I bought those on the first vacation we took as a family, just the three of us, how fun it will be to go again, now that we are the five of us…”
    But my mother, she drives me crazy with the collecting and the keeping and the suffocating stuff. I understand a lot of it, her mother died when she was three, and her stepmother made every attempt to eradicate the existence of a first wife that was so dearly loved. Now, anything that my grandmother may have touched is, to my mother, sacred. My mom has a tendency to bring her “stuff” to me, and so often I wonder why she thinks I would want this stuff – yet feel trapped with it, unable to dispose of it. But for the first time, tonight, I thought differently of a box in my closet that contains a 50+ year old breast pump and a ceramic baby bowl. These items were my grandmother’s, tangible evidence that at one time, though she cannot remember any image but the polka-dot dress in the casket, my mother had a mother. And these truly sacred items…my mother gave them to me. And now, having considered your post, I feel the magnitude of such a gift, and sit here crying with grief for you, and my mother, and the gaping hole that all the “stuff” in the world couldn’t fill.
    Thank you.

    Susannah December 9, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Oh thank you. Thank you thank you.

    My mom & step-dad are hoarders. Varying degrees, both of them, resulting in a house dense with plants and masks and bills and treasures found on street corners. Check out the new rattlesnake skin, they say when I come over, and so I look around and around and then up because they have nailed it to the ceiling.

    I just came home from a long weekend spent at my brother’s house. We talked/half-joked about what we will do when the day comes. Hire someone, he said, and I agreed. The half-burnt candles and hats on mannequin heads, the books, envelopes, broken phones and old clocks that ding at different times because they are all set to different times, the rubber chicken, the rubber iguana, the frog, the dinosaur, the maps to places they’ve never been or will ever go. It makes me sad, so sad, because I know the stuff is nothing. It’s what’s beneath it all that cannot breathe.

    Like I said, thank you for this. For understanding and more so. Thank you.
    .-= Susannah´s last blog ..Two Things =-.

    sandy December 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

    “It’s what’s beneath it all that cannot breathe.” That is a beautifully insightful comment to a blog that is also beautifully insightful.

    I loved the rest of the comments, and just had to share the one thing that scares me about the behavior, and that is the danger. My best girlfriend has an aunt who is a hoarder, to the point of having narrow walkways through the house. She came home one night about 3 months ago and smelled smoke (the stove had been left on low with a pizza box inside of it). Called the fire department and they came out to check everything. They told her that, with the accumulation of items that she had, they could not be sure they had eradicated the fire.

    She spent the night at her sisters house. When she went home at 9am the following day, her entire house had smoldered completely away. Thank god she didn’t stay there with her nephew and go back to bed, they could both be dead… It was just horrible to contemplate. Is horrible.

    So, if anyone here reads this and hears a warning, and thinks maybe help is in order, please, don’t wait.

    Her Bad Mother December 9, 2009 at 10:15 am

    There is danger in extreme hoarding, yes. Even with “clean” hoarding – as in my dad’s case – there’s danger. A wall had to be cut out of his house, after all, to remove his body. If there’d been a 911 call, they might not have gotten to him.

    So, yeah.

    Hazel December 9, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    “It makes me sad, so sad, because I know the stuff is nothing. It’s what’s beneath it all that cannot breathe.”
    Suzanne – I started changing only when I found it hard to breathe. I rationalized my piles when the real problem was a tendency to delay decisions. I saw too many possibilities and how could I file anything if it could go under parenting, crafts, rainy day activities, or a dozen other headings?
    Piles never helped me and led me to label myself disorganized, when really I had very strong abilities to see patterns and create workable systems. Some of the methods I learned through a professional organizer help me decide whether I will ever take action on an item. If not, then throw, recycle, or give away.
    The things I choose to keep are smaller, bring me much joy simply because I can see them now. They are not hidden by so much clutter.

    My brother called while I was reading “Of Shoes & Ships…” He is an artist who broke his heel and could not move a walker safely through his collection of artistic tidbits. I enjoy his creativity and pray for his safety.

    Catherine, Thanks for a loving tribute to a father who saw value in many things. I want my own children to wade through a limited quantity of my favorite stuff. I am helping my mom downsize now and am grateful she is healthy enough and strong enough to make those decisions herself. I am around only to tote, haul, and dust the corners.
    May you and your mother have strength for the next session at your dad’s place and may you continue to find love and joy.

    Maya December 9, 2009 at 3:54 am

    This post really resonated with me. I know it was hard for your to write, but thank you for doing it. While my father was not a hoarder, he had several mental illnesses. I struggle to find a balance between finding the beauty in who he was and what he accomplished and romanticizing his illness. I blog about him from time to time, stories I think he would want shared, but even 3 years after his death too much is still too raw for me to feel like I can share his Story.

    So anyway, thank you for recognizing the beauty and humanity in mental illness and being brave enough to discuss it, for better and for worse.
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Merry Christmas! =-.

    Maggie, dammit December 9, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Beautifully written, my friend.

    And the comments are fascinating.
    .-= Maggie, dammit´s last blog ..In Memoriam (cross-posted at Violence UnSilenced) =-.

    Katherine Stone December 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Wow. Beautifully written and brave. Thank you for sharing this and for helping to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
    .-= Katherine Stone´s last blog ..Are Natural Methods Safer and As Effective When it Comes to Treating Postpartum Depression? =-.

    Emma December 9, 2009 at 10:22 am

    My heart is in my mouth a bit, starting this comment. You have hit a raw nerve with me, that I can’t let go without responding. I hope you will see where I am coming from.

    I understand this post, how Hoarders has made you feel, because of your dad.

    I do not think there is shame in mess or clutter or holding onto to things because they have meaning. And no shame in mental illness either.

    But neither should there be shame in being neat, or tidy, or minimalist. I try to be these things, I actively choose to be like this, I am more relaxed in my home when it is not a mess,
    and I am hurt by your labelling of this as sterile, not intersting, blank.

    My mother is a hoarder (and a fairly dirty one). She has her own issues, I know this, but nevertheless her stated plan that I and my brother will have to deal with her stuff once she dies because she won’t, well, it annoys me. I see a perfectly capable woman who is too lazy, or unwilling, to deal with this aspect of her life, and who expects her children to do it for her. I resent it.

    I do not want to be like this. I like being able to find things, I like not having a buildup of dust and grease and grime on every surface of my home and all that is in it.

    I do not want my children to have to deal with more than they need to once I am gone.

    I have also found it cathartic to give away what I do not need, and throw away what cannot be reused or recycled. My memories are enough, I have found I do not need physical reminders of everything. Plus I know myself well enough that I will not get around to all the projects I have ever planned.

    I am not obsessively neat or tidy. I do not need everything to be shiny and new. There are things I have kept that I do not need. I do have mementos. But I try and keep things reasonable, try to think about what I actually need, try not fill my house with clutter.

    So yes, I am down the other end of the spectrum. But in your defence of your father’s end, why has my end become bad? Can’t a spectrum be a spectrum, without a value attached? Maybe in person you would find me uninteresting and lacking in personality, but I would have hoped it was on the basis of what I think and say, not on how I prefer to have my home and the possessions I choose to keep.

    And what of the people who are obsessively tidy through mental illness? Is that manifestation of mental ilness not OK, while untidyness is? This is unfair too.

    As I said at the beginning, I completely understand where your post comes from. You most definitely should not feel ashamed of your father. I just don’t think you needed to swipe at what he was not, to strengthen him. His story is strong by itself.
    .-= Emma´s last blog ..Leaf dance =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 9, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I think I tried to express the idea that it’s a spectrum. Tidiness needn’t be an extreme; tidiness needn’t be entirely uninteresting (that was actually a quote from another article – and the reference point was a sterile magazine cover.) There’s the empty sterility of a doctor’s waiting room, or an extremely minimalist hotel. There are characterless hotel rooms. And there are tidy homes, which are different from sterile spaces, somewhere further along the spectrum. And there can be tidiness *and* clutter – real wunderkammers were, after all, well-organized. So I’m not slamming neatness as a general rule. (And, for the record, when I was growing up my father went through an OCD phase that manifested as obsessive cleanliness, so believe me, I know that side of things all too well.) My mother is very tidy. She’s fascinating. Neatness needn’t mean ‘devoid of character’ any more than messiness need mean ‘sick.’ Which is why I argued for viewing things on a spectrum, which implies a sort of balanced mean somewhere between obsessive minimalism and human feces on the floor.

    But, but… in a world of Real Simple magazines and Martha Stewart and Clean Sweep and whole television networks devoted to evangelizing NEAT, I don’t know that it needs a whole lot of defending. Messiness, on the other hand, is almost always labeled bad and disordered, and I sought to counter that.

    Sorry if I offended. I didn’t mean to.

    madge December 9, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I had a similar response as Emma’s and hadn’t been able to crystallize my discomfort until I thought about my daughter’s issues.

    I appreciate your response because there are certain people (myself and my daughter) who simply could not function with so much stuff around. It’s not a judgement, but a physical, emotional, extremely visceral response. The sensory overload I get even in the home of a neat but enthusiastic collector proves it.

    I think I’ve found a way to have a home that reflects my personality without overwhelming visitors with the public display of it. And that includes very little “stuff” and frequent purging.

    pamela December 9, 2009 at 10:48 am

    beautifully written and very real. I love it. Thank you. We all have shit we dont want to part with, why the hell should we?
    .-= pamela´s last blog ..Friday, I’m In Love! =-.

    gail December 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for your insight. Hoarding is such a misunderstood situation. Your love for your father shines through and I thank you for letting us in to your experience.

    For fresh ideas for a fresh start, visit http://www.afreshstartorganizing.net/blog

    Brittany at Mommy Words December 9, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I have seen parts of the show a few times but it makes me want to get up and deal with some of my own collections, to be honest. When I start to feel very stressed or my mild depression starts to reaslly kick in I definitely start to keep more things around me, to accumulate. I actually have, at this point, almost gone the other way to avoid hoarding and am ridding myself of things at a rapid pace. I can directly see a link between my feelings and my things and I too, would not want to be seen as crazy for my coping mechanisms.

    I get why the twitter conversations would be painful. I have “listened in” on some painful ones about issues I have that I do not have full closure around. While we are all thinking #OMFG we are not all thinking about someone who lives the experience and it can come off as being insensitive to the greater issue. The few episodes that I have seen have been very sensationalized – even when there were no dead animals or feces. They seem made to make you want to tweet #OMFG.

    I think you hit it on the head when you said that there was SHAME in the show. The hoarders are on tv with their whole life and all of their issues literally displayed for everyone to see. I find it painful.

    I get why people watch and I hope that it helps some people avoid this behavior or recognize that someone in their life is struggling and may need some gentle help to avoid a dangerous situation and identify their illness if they have not already.

    I do not think you were judging people for watching. I hope the rest of the process goes as smoothly as possible. It sounds difficult to sift through so many years and reminders of your dad. He sounds like an intensely creative, interesting and loving guy. He would not want you to suffer, so hopefully you will be be able to find some good memories of him in his remaining collections.

    Thanks for such a heartfelt post.

    YkNot December 9, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Everyone collects things they don’t need- Hoarders just select many more items then the rest of us. Interestingly, when Hoarders are asked to sort other people’s things and are given catagories to put them into, they show No problem! However, if left to make their own catagories, they form many groupings with a few items in each, rather than more generalized groups such as: Food, Clothing , etc… Meaning that the connection with the items is Personal. As for those in the other side of the equasion, no offence is implied or intended.

    Adventures In Babywearing December 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Catherine, I’ve never seen the show and admit I don’t want to because I have seen your feelings about it. It makes me want to cry, this post has me in tears. I understand.

    And how you describe your Dad- “before” is just like my Dad. And what could be of my Dad. And honestly, me. And you’ve shed light in my mind on some of my own issues. Most of all I want to say again, I’m sorry for the loss of your Dad.

    Love,
    Steph
    .-= Adventures In Babywearing´s last blog ..Sakura Bloom Triathlon: Round Three WINNER! *Updated! =-.

    Supa Dupa Fresh, the Freshwidow December 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Catherine,
    Thanks for this post. Widows are pretty fascinated with the meaning of “stuff” in general and your thoughts on grieving your father and his particular relationship(s) to stuff are very insightful.
    Thanks for your courage and big, big heart. My father died 14 years ago and I am still, slowly, lumpily, processing it. Maybe you’ll spark a related post from me (though my Mom is the hoarder).
    X
    Supa

    Val December 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I do watch Hoarders – but agree that the “horrifying” factor is overplayed. What I am interested in, and what they touch on in varying degrees depending on the episode, is what happened. How did this person get to this extreme place? What makes them so different from me, with my anxiety issues? Was it a single breaking point – or a slow accumulation of eccentricities, or a giving up? What is the history? And are there cracks of hope shining through? Or is there only resignation?

    A similar show, called Obsessed, touched on this more by focusing on 12 weeks of cognitive therapy. I cried at the end of nearly every episode. Sometimes there were small victories that showed the “afflicted” that there was hope for dealing with their symptoms. And sometimes there were heartbreaking backslides. But, as someone who is always just on the edge of OCD, this show really helped me toe the line and see how patterns of behavior can become compulsions.

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughfulness. I don’t always agree with you Catherine, but I always appreciate hearing a thoughtful opinion that I can respect.

    Eliza December 9, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Aloha –

    Yes, hoarding is among us. More than we realize. Truly, the show Hoarders is all what you write about. Remember, TV programs have to have a buzz factor to gain publicity for their advertisers. Reading how each show generates tweets and commentary indicates that the sensationalism of the week’s presentation is working to generate interest.

    Compassion is definitely an acquired emotion for many.

    I went down the path of cleaning out a hoarder’s house. My parents’ home; it was more mother’s issue than dad’s. Two stories, plus full basement. Most of it boxed up as they had a 2nd home to move to, which they never did get to. I cleared enough room to have the stuff in the 2nd house come in for further removal work.

    It took close to 4.5 years of heaving stuff out of the house to appropriate recyclers to get the house empty. Had to give up my prior life to do it. No help from only sibling. No husband. It was the worst years of my adult life. I am now close to 100% recovered from all that dragging-on time. It was more than just a little emotionally devastating.

    I hope someday you can be glad you are moving through your father’s items speedily. Having time to do things ‘right’ is not necessarily better.

    Blessings always ~ Maluhia (peace)
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..Sun enters Capricorn aka Winter Solstice 2009 =-.

    Linda December 9, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Best thing you’ve ever written.

    I’m a packrat, my late dad was a packrat. I have contemplated the whys, hyper-analysed the value in the keeping, and wondered about my attachment to things *for years.* I suspect I’ll never quite plumb the depths of it.

    I often wish I were different, but I just know that these bits of ephemera are touchstones for me and that without them, that moment in time would be lost. I think, for me, a lot of this keeping is about stopping time, holding on to moments.

    Once, in emptying a seldom-used purse, I came across a receipt from a grocery store near my parents’ house. (I don’t deliberately keep receipts as a rule; it was just a bit of crumpled garbage in the bottom of the bag.) I recognized the date from one of my fly-in visits to my parents, accompanied by my then-baby. I actually remembered that mundane, perfectly blah trip to that grocery store!
    The receipt was for some baby cereal and jars of sweet potato baby food that she loved… I looked at that receipt and remembered so fondly the very ordinariness of that day: visiting my parents with my baby, picking up a few items for her at the store. Silly, I know, but because that moment was crystallized in the finding of that bit of paper, I couldn’t bear to throw it out. In holding on to it and remembering a simple event — when my daughter was an infant and when my dad was still alive — I had stopped time.

    I also haven’t been able to throw out an unfinished crossword puzzle of my dad’s that I came across after he died. I completed the clues he hadn’t finished, and then hung on to it, comforted by his printing and mine meshed on a piece of newspaper, as though we had worked on it together.

    pgoodness December 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I know you didn’t write this to get me or anyone else to justify watching or not watching, but I just wanted to share my thoughts…

    I think there is a big difference between being a hoarder using the tv show definition, and your dad. What you said makes the difference – once the dream was over, he had no one, no reason to keep his stuff confined to sheds and basements – they were his projects, his things, pieces of HIM. Did he have too much? Well, it’s none of my business…to him, obviously not. We ALL have too much…we’re probably all a couple of garbage strikes away from being in a really bad spot, you know?

    I think I watch the show because, even sensationalized, it is a little bit of insight into something I had never really heard of before, let alone seen. And of course they focus on the dirty, and of course we freak out with EW and OMG because it’s shocking, just like they intend. But I watch that in the same way I watch other reality type shows – for a glimpse, not a definition. All Hoarders are not the same, the people on Intervention or any other show are not a definition, they are merely a glimpse into a world that most people are not aware of.

    Kind of like that whole “I Didn’t know I was pregnant” show, you know? heh

    Anyway, bottom line is that this was a lovely post about your dad; very touching. xo
    .-= pgoodness´s last blog ..{W} Amelia =-.

    Catherine December 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    When my father – an unhappy, angry man – but also a man I reluctantly admired for his tenacity, his restless intelligence and his sense of honour – died far too early of cancer, my sister had a dream.

    She was sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, when my father (six months dead) walked past. “Dad!,” she called. He came and sat at her table and they had a lovely chat, sitting in the sun. He showed her photographs of his travels. “When are you coming home, Dad?” she asked, reaching across the table for his hand. It was firm and strong and dry. “Oh, I don’t think I will,” he thoughtfully replied. “I’m having too much fun.” With that, he got up, kissed her on the cheek and strolled away.
    I offer for this for all of us who miss our Dads.
    Alexander Anderson Hope, died October 12th, 1985. RIP.

    Her Bad Mother December 11, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Oh, oh. THANK YOU.

    Marya December 9, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I call us (me, my mom, my dad, my uncle, my grandmother)”collectors” and realize that it’s definitely part of family history and mental illness/distress/depression to be sure. My mom and dad collect and save in different ways- buying buying buying, saving, saving, saving. My maternal grandmother was definitely a collector- my parents basement and hers look like bomb shelters- enough food and paper goods to survive anything. I try to thread through my things when I move, but I can’t rely on that for solution…and I had this epiphany while reading through the commments- my house I try to pare down, minimalize, but then I have my classroom….ohhhhhh yes.

    That is my space- my space that’s actually overflowing into the empty classroom across the hall. In fact, now that I think about it, every single spot in the portable classroom(s) is MY space. I have things everywhere. My classroom is where I use my tag sale finds, where I have things tucked away to use later, multiples of items. The kids in my class notice it when there are accidently multiples of books, and I say my mom must have bought them unknowingly.

    I do watch Hoarders, although it has become increasingly uncomfortable because they say at the start that it’s stage 5 and that it’s a mental illness, but they do little to address the fact that it is a mental illness as they’re showing the homes/cleaning. That is problematic for me- mental illness, not so good for a tv show I guess. I’m all for therapy and medication and will advocate that till the cows come home but the tv aspect seems so unnecessary and unhelpful for healing.

    Thanks for sharing your life so openly. Keep writing!

    Unexpected December 9, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for writing this. I hadn’t watched “Hoarders” until I read this post, but afterward I went to Hulu to see for myself (it happened to be the cat episode). The combination of your insight and the show led me to recognize some hoarding/collecting behaviors in my mother. Our house was always more than cluttered as I was growing up and it seems to have only increased since I moved out. I sometimes guiltily regard it as a laziness or lack of motivation on my mother’s part (even though I recognize she has plenty of other obligations and stressors in her life).

    There was always some level of shame that accompanied thoughts of home (having friends over really wasn’t an option). I really appreciate that you address and reject the shame. I’m not sure if my mother actually does fall into that category (though after discussing the show with her she said without my suggestion she thought she might have some tendencies like that) but if so she’s certainly on a different part of the spectrum than the woman I saw featured on the show. One episode may not be much for me to judge an entire series, but after watching it I have to agree with you. I have no desire whatsoever to watch again.

    Anyway…sorry that’s long but I really appreciate your bravery in continuing to tell your stories.

    Bella December 9, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I haven’t read all the comment, just the first few and I need to get over being irked that so many people are F*&^ing focused on the damn show. Yeah, yeah, I know you brought it up.

    I was incredibly moved by this post, your writing, your reflections, your insights, your sensitivity, the complexities that you invoke. I called my husband over, after reading this, and asked him to listen, saying: “THIS is why I’ve always told you that I learned WAY more about the human condition in my English Lit classes than I ever did from grad school in psychology.” We were both in tears by the end of your post. It’s not just an amazing tribute, it is a beautiful, inspiring piece of writing. This? “an interesting spectrum, one that does not run from ‘healthy’ to ’sick’ but from ‘blank’ to ‘overfull.’” Is FUCKING brilliant!! Really.

    There’s a lot more I want to say, but it’s late and I still have tons to do before I sleep… But I wanted to tell you how incredibly moved I was by this post. How real, right, true it is. THIS is why I keep coming back to this space. This is what I think writing should aspire to…

    Her Bad Mother December 11, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Thank you so much. So much. This kind of feedback goes a long way to making the discomfort that attends this kind of writing worthwhile.

    Karen L December 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I grew up in a home of kinda hoarders/pack rats, kinda just slobs. Bordering on call CAS unclean. We were almost evicted twice (allowed to just leave without any legal action.) Wanna talk shame? It got better while I was a teen and could help keep things more under control. It got worse again when I left town for university. My brother and I openly talked between ourselves and ONE mutual friend about our THREE secrets: our mother’s alcoholism, our father’s mental illness, and our home. These three things are clearly related.

    The reasons are complex. But my mother even had some self-awareness about it. She grew up on military bases where her own mother had regular anxiety attacks about the frequent and random white glove inspections (literal white glove – like around the furnace – inspections). Her grandfather was a hoarder/collector. My father’s father was a control freak and domineered his mother into excessive cleanliness. [I've luckily but consciously swung the pendulum back to well within normal, lived-in tidiness and cleanliness. Hopefully the cycle is broken.] My mother also admitted enjoying the security of the mess that kept everyone else out and away – kinda like some people are with becoming overweight as a defense mechanism. However, she came to regret it when she was dying of cancer and would have welcomed the visitors. I regret being away at university and not being there to fix it for her before it was too late. It’s better now but to this day, my DH of 9 years has, at my insistence, never stepped foot inside of my father’s house.

    Obviously a different story from yours but I was touched by your story and admire your refusal to be ashamed. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I don’t have cable or a Twitter acct, so this post is the first I’ve heard of Hoarders. I don’t think I could bear it though.

    Carrie December 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Oh my – you know, I think the reason we humans are drawn to “reality” shows like these is because we see the extreme versions of ourselves. And that, along with the shock of “what could happen if you just let go” whether it be physically, emotionally or figuratively, holds a sick fascination.

    I haven’t watched very many episodes but do admit to letting my jaw drop to the floor when I saw the woman who piled adult diapers in her home…BUT I did not feel SHAME for her, perhaps a little shocked and definitely empathy, but no SHAME. Concern? Yes. And you’re right about so many, many things regarding shows like these, like this one.

    I have “collectors” in my family too, past and present – and the amount of stuff my loved ones left behind was staggering. I know I’m guilty of many of the same habits and although you wouldn’t notice it by looking in my home, it’s there. Under the bed, in the crawlspace, in the closets – tons of things that I just can’t part with.

    Nobody should feel shame. Nor should they be shamed.

    Thanks for opening up the curtains and breathing some fresh air into the mob mentality. Thank you Catherine.
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Kick Ass Chicken En-a-la-das! =-.

    Al_Pal December 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Wow. Fantastic post. I’ve got a bit of a problem, myself. Not filth, but STUFF, clothes and books and paperwork. I’ve managed to get rid of some of it, and our house is quite nice and livable — but the garage and my closet definitely need a good going-through. It’s the mental process of facing the past, I think, and dealing with the feelings of how life was back when those things came to be.

    I want to write more, but it isn’t my place to put on a public webpage, so I’ll keep it to my own story.

    Great tribute.
    .-= Al_Pal´s last blog ..My new creative outlet: Bread Puddings! =-.

    kootnygirl December 10, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Catherine,

    I don’t know if anyone has touched on this yet, but a thought came to me last night as I was drifting off to sleep.

    It’s about the letters. You have said previously that you hesitate to get rid of them because you felt they were part of your father’s history that he chose to keep, and you thought you had to honour that. But now that you have shared that he was a hoarder (I really don’t care for the label), I’m not sure that the letters meant that much to him. Sure, he couldn’t part with them, but it sounds as if he couldn’t part with ANYTHING, and that it had much less to do with the things themselves than with the parting.

    I don’t know if you are still conflicted about the letters, but if you are, I do think its okay to let them go. I don’t think you’d be dishonouring your father in any way.

    On another note, I don’t know you, or him, of course, but one of your blogger friends (Tanis, I think…maybe Shannon?) posted a lovely tribute to him not long after his death, and at the end of it she posted a picture. He was sitting in a back yard somewhere, on a patio, and he looked intelligent and peaceful, and he reminded me of Peter Gzowski. That is how I imagine him when you write about him. The rest is just periphery.

    Thank you for sharing such a private part of your life.
    .-= kootnygirl´s last blog ..tis the season for regifting, 2009-style =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 10, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    It was Tanis ;) . She met him a few weeks before he died. And yes, he did have a Peter Gzowski air about him. It’s a perfect description actually. Thank you.

    The thing about the letters (and other things) – there were obvious distinctions made in the value of things he kept – it was actually a fascinating archeological exercise, going through his stuff, because it DID have a sort of order to it, and you could tell what was more important/less important from where he’d put it, how he’d stored it. It wasn’t just the keeping that signified value – it was the keeping in certain places, the little treasure boxes, the fireproof safe, the lockbox, the ‘display’ areas in certain lines of sight. (I was actually, for a couple of weeks, VERY touchy about anyone touching ANYTHING because placement was obviously so important, and I wanted to understand it before anything got moved) (I know – I took this all excessively seriously. But it was important to him, and so to me.)

    kootnygirl December 12, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    That makes a lot of sense; I hadn’t considered the possibility of order in his environment.

    In that case, you will know what to do with those letters (and all the other treasures) when the time is right.

    I really do wish you peace. It is so clear how much you loved, will always love, him.

    Andrea December 10, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    All I can do is hug ya, kiddo. I know this post was cathartic … and I’m glad you got it out … and I feel privledged to have been allowed to read it.

    (((((((((())))))))))
    .-= Andrea´s last blog ..Countdown to…. surgery =-.

    Reesie December 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I love you in a very bloggy way. You are articulate and vulnerable and real. Hugs to you.

    Bec December 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I’m late to this and I read most of the comments but not all of them. This is a beautiful post but it left me wondering… why did no one in the family not know? Did you or your sister never visit him at home? Or do “hoarders” typically avoid such visits, or make up excuses to meet at a more neutral territory?

    Her Bad Mother December 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    We knew. I knew. He refused visitors, although he did let my husband and I visit him there once. It was a regular topic of conversation between he and I, his shame about it, my insistence that I would never see it as shameful (also, my insistence that if he ever wanted it, I would offer my help to sort through things in a heartbeat.) We had, in fact, just had such a conversation a couple of weeks before he died – he was considering coming to live with us and I had told him that my husband and I would help him with the massive job of sorting and cleaning and moving. It was a cruel irony that we ended up doing exactly this, but that he was no longer around to hear – to know – that we didn’t mind at all, that we didn’t see any shame in it at all.

    Emma December 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    So I was thinking about this some more in the shower this morning, because normally I am not so sensitive to be actually hurt by what a complete stranger has said, something that was in no way directed at me, so affected that I felt I had to defend myself.

    And I realised the hurt I felt is very similar to the hurt you felt – only yours came from your embracing of your father, and mine came from my rejection of my mother. Gave me a nice pause for reflection.

    And then I thought a bit more about your response, and your original post, and I can see that yes, a house full of things is more satisfying to rifle through than one that is minimalist, and so in that sense more interesting. And although I have never watched Hoarders, I am wondering whether – apart from evoking an ew response to the worst of hoarding – this is the attraction? The chance to snoop and wonder over the things that others have?

    I had lots of other thoughts too but won’t bore anyone by listing them here… my point is more to say thank you for a provocative post that made me think about a whole lot of things. And sorry if my comment contributed to your spentness.

    And just to say too, on re-reading your original post, I wonder too if I misunderstood. You said “…exists along a spectrum, an interesting spectrum, one that does not run from ‘healthy’ to ’sick’ but from ‘blank’ to ‘overfull.’” I took this to mean that the spectrum went from not interesting (minimalist) to interesting (clutter), but after your response I am thinking you meant the spectrum itself is interesting?
    .-= Emma´s last blog ..Leaf dance =-.

    Her Bad Mother December 11, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I absolutely meant that it is the spectrum itself that is interesting. And that it IS a spectrum – not one with health at one end and sickness on the other, but nuances and degrees between two very different states/conditions. Blankness is not necessarily uninteresting (we can impose narratives on blank pages), but nor is extreme clutter necessarily fundamentally sick.

    I was just arguing for looking at the whole spectrum differently.

    Thanks for being so openly reflective about this.

    Dani December 10, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    My aunt was a hoarder. And definitely not the clean kind. We once lost a chest freezer in her house. As a family, we tried not to be judgmental about it. It was just Hazel. It was who she was. We did our best to get help for her, ultimately having to have her hospitalized. We learned that she had outgrown her house and was living in a car in the driveway. When that car was too full of stuff, she bought another. Every week she would ask about her things and we would reassure her that we hadn’t taken any of her treasures away. It was long after her death that any of us were able to begin the long sort through her life.

    It is a spectrum and in a lot of cases it is a sign of some underlying mental illness. But it shouldn’t be made fun of or be ashamed of. We tried to love Hazel for who she was. She was, after all, an amazing aunt who loved us and cared deeply for her family. So what if she was a bit crazy as well?

    clay December 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    I don’t comment here often, but I cried and cried reading this post. My own wonderful father died suddenly of a heart attack at the young age of 64.

    I was the executor of his estate. He also struggled with mental illness and was an unequivocal pack rat. Cleaning out his house (which was my grandparents before his) took 6 months. Your statement “I’ve had to struggle to resist regarding all of his material things as extensions of him” resonates so deeply with me.

    It’s so very hard. I’m sending hugs…

    Taylor December 10, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I just want to say this, to echo your post. My great-grandmother, whom I loved (and continue to love this day) was what one would call a ‘hoarder.’ As ClassyFabSarah mentioned in her comment, I suspect that her hoarding was symptomatic of raising her children in the aftermath of the Great Depression. She lived in Kentucky, where the Depression hit early and hard.

    She lived in a modest host with my great-grandfather in Frankfurt. They had two bedrooms and two bathrooms; to them, this was a mansion. And for me, as a child, their house was the most magical, wondrous place in the world. Every space was piled high with treasures. Every treasure was a piece of her past, her story. Her great and beautiful story. The dresser I now use was hers, and to this day it smells like Chanel No. 5 (the one luxury she ever allowed herself once her children were grown) as she stored all of the bottles there.

    Her attic was my favorite place in the world. It was a maze of interconnected rooms, full to the brim of old clothes, hats, pieces of furniture, books (oh the books!), and anything, really, that you could think of. My cousins and I played for hours and days on end in that attic. I would give anything to go back to the place now – to relish the smell of cedar and roses – if just to bask in everything my great-grandmother was one last time.

    When she died, my granddaddy’s brother (my great-uncle, I suppose) wanted to throw everything out. without a second glance or moment of trepidation. I remember watching him haul her things away and throw them into a dumpster, and I remember my 11-year-old self being so deeply saddened that I couldn’t even cry.

    Of course, I understand that there was probably not a point in keeping, say, 15 blankets with holes all over them. But it seemed like if those things mattered to her, that we should at least take a moment to treasure the things (all of the things – so many, many things) she left with us.

    i wish you all the strength in the world and am sending best wishes and happy vibes your way.
    .-= Taylor´s last blog ..suitable for guests. =-.

    Boston Mamas December 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Breaks my heart. In a good way. Unconditional acceptance is a beautiful thing. -Christine

    Hilly December 10, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    My Mom was a hoarder too. When I moved into her house as an adult to help her tackle this disease, it was heartbreaking to watch her reaction to things leaving her home.

    Thanks for this post.
    .-= Hilly´s last blog ..The Pictures Are Mostly Worth A Thousand Words… =-.

    sam {temptingmama} December 11, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I love you, C. This post is absolutely amazing and completely and utterly heart wrenching.

    My grandmother is bi-polar and a *clean* hoarder. Her ups and downs are controlled by medications, but they are to the point it’s so severe the medications aren’t doing their job.

    Each time she is *high* she packs everything she can get her hands on into cupboards, bedrooms and her dining room. 2L pop bottles, newspapers, children’s books (she used to be a kindergarten teacher) and anything she thinks may be useful *someday* comes home with her from local church bazaars and accumulates in their home.

    When she is *down* the purging begins. She thinks she’s dying and everything has to go. My grampa convinces her that she doesn’t need these items (like month old papers and the 2L pop bottles) and then they recycle. Until the next wave comes.

    It’s heartbreaking to witness. I feel utterly and completely useless.

    Yet, I was one of those people gawking at the way those ladies portrayed were stockpiling their used diapers and allowing goats to eat through their walls. I was one of those people on twitter saying OMG, THE POOOOO!! #hoarders

    It is a Maury Povich / Jerry Springer trainwreck, but! it did also open my eyes to the extreme cases of which I would likely still be completely oblivious to. That was my first time watching the show and I was completely sucked into the sensationalized aspect of it,just as the producers had hoped for.

    As others had mentioned, I was a little put off by your tweets as they did come of as a superior and finger wagging. Now, after reading this post, I realize where those tweets were coming from. I am sorry my overzealous and melodramatic OMFG 4 TONS OF CRAAAAAAP! #hoarders tweets affected you so personally. (I know (or hope) that you’re not calling me out specifically, but I am owning up to the fact that I was one of those twitterers.)

    Lots of love,
    S
    xo
    .-= sam {temptingmama}´s last blog ..Becoming a woman =-.

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