Back in the Saddle

Wow. I can’t believe it’s been almost eight months since my last post. No, I haven’t given up on the hoard or my parents. I’ve just had several situations come up in recent months that demanded my attention. Everything else, including the hoard, was put on the back burner.

Also, after that last trip in July, I knew I’d reached a sort of standstill. Until we get Mom’s clothes off the dining room table (yes, she did load it down again), loveseat, my sister’s room, and my room, I can’t go any further. There’s not anywhere to put things up because the clothes take up the spots where objects go. My old room is the absolute worst room in the house now. Clothes are stacked on the bed, on the floor, on top of my childhood toys, and spread across the dresser. I open the door enough to squeeze inside, but then the only room for my body is right where I’m standing. I face a wall of clothes – halfway up to the ceiling. In my parents’ room, shoes are pushed under the bed but then stacked on top of each other beside the bed. I can see that many are worn and need to be tossed. Most are the same pair of black shoes (Mom’s shoe of choice for work). There’s a pathway about a foot wide through the room. A cedar chest is pushed against one wall, with clothes stacked up on top, of course, with the overflow on the floor beside it. The overflow is funny because it’s a bunch of torn, old clothes that should be scooped up and thrown in a garbage bag. Mom’s clothes are in Dad’s closet, so he just throws his clothes on the corner of the closet door. Mom’s closet has one long rod, maybe six feet, that is dipping in the middle from the stress of the clothes’ weight. On the floor, shirts, pants, and purses are crushed together along the closet length to the height of the clothes. The extensive closet shelf holds Christmas decorations, more purses, and what looks to be empty boxes. Considering this home with the mountain of clothes, I feel as though someone has their arms around me in a vise grip and I can’t break their hold on me.

This is the largest part of the hoard. The problem is my mom must be present to decide which clothes to keep or give away. And unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of days off, and she and I end up having different off days. This is another reason I haven’t worked on the hoard in eight months. A couple of weeks ago, though, we started on the closet! Seventy percent of it was her oldest clothes, dating back to the 1980s. She had no problem getting rid of them, so after we gathered them up, Dad and I started loading them in my car. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t all fit. So we took a load to a thrift store and then the next day took the last load to a different thrift store. Seriously, there were so many I was afraid they would turn us away. By the end of the next day she finished sorting through the closet floor pile. Also found the cardboard box that my childhood fridge for my kitchen set came in. Strange. No one could remember putting it there. I had to come back home, so we didn’t get to the shelf above the rod. Mom says she’s hanging up clothes on the available rod as time permits.

Of the more current clothes, she’s still keeping way more than will ever fit comfortably in the house. I consider this the first round – letting go of the older clothes that she would never wear now. On the second round, we’ll work on only holding on to what meets square footage requirements. It feels great to be making progress again!

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Cleared an End Table and a Bookshelf

I was not surprised at the sight greeting me in my parents’ living room Saturday morning. The couch was cleaned off. However, Mom had simply picked everything off the couch and put it on the floor in front of her recliner to sort and file. My sister and her boyfriend were visiting, and my sister watched as I ruthlessly threw out items on the end table by the couch. The ¼ inch layer of dust puffed up in little smoke clouds every time I moved an item, causing us to sneeze. I relocated a red vase to the mantle. I placed all of the coins in a Ziploc bag. I took a vote from Dad, my sister, and myself (Mom was still in bed) on whether to keep a Lenox vase made from china. It was a unanimous no. I threw away old receipts and tags that had been cut off clothes. I started a pile for things that belonged with the Christmas decorations, such as the porcelain grocery that’s part of Mom’s Christmas village. Then I took the old gold lamp outside and replaced it with a burgundy lamp with a paisley shade that I had given my mom during a previous move. My sister and I agreed that it looked great. Dad said, “I do not like that lamp.” My sister and I exchanged glances. He has an unfortunate taste in home décor. We have known him to screw a plastic paper towel holder into the cabinet, to bring a black particle board TV stand into the house, and to tape a toilet brush to the commode. My sister and I assured him that the lamp looked pretty and that it would be staying in it’s current location, and he went off to walk the dogs. “Where should I start next?” I asked my sister and her boyfriend. My sister said her boyfriend thought I should have started with the basement. “There’s no telling what kind of stuff you’ll find down there,” he told me excitedly. I laughed, knowing that the basement is Dad’s stuff, and he’s just not ready to face his hoarding yet. I decided to work on the built-in bookshelves to the right of the fireplace. On the bottom there is a cabinet with two shelves inside. Four shelves are above the cabinet. I began working on the bottom of these four. I knew I could throw away some of the items, such as a used candle and a cheap figurine. I dusted the other items and placed them on the floor for Mom. “There’s just so much stuff,” my sister’s boyfriend observed. “It’s not like you have anywhere to put a keep pile or a giveaway pile. Where you gonna put it to sort through it?” “Yes, that’s exactly right,” I exclaimed, surprised that he understood the complexity of clearing the hoard better than my family. I continued working until around 4 p.m. and called it a day.

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The Stretched Out Sock Puzzle

“Should I keep this stretched out sock?” my mom asked me, holding up a faded pink sock that I might have worn when I was nine. Most people would hear these words come out of their mouth and answer their own question by tossing the sock in the trash. Most people would recognize that 1) they don’t wear pink socks and 2) there is no mate, so in order to wear this sock they’d need to wear it with one of a different color. My mom, however, is not most people. She’s a hoarder, which means all rationale goes out the window when faced with choosing whether or not to keep something. I half-glanced at the sock, said “no” with only a smidge of exasperation, and continued dividing a stack of papers into keep, trash, recycling, and burn piles. It was last Friday, and Mom and I were dehoarding the living room. For years, three boxes have sat by the full-sized couch, leaving only a small path to pass through the room. Together we finished these within four hours – it would have taken me eight hours or more to do it all by myself. With the boxes gone, I was finally able to reach the end table by the couch. The end table has a shelf on the bottom, and it only had magazines and some old telephone directories. A few bits and pieces of old toys were around as well. Dad began going through his corner, which is the computer desk area. This is where he keeps his digital camera, a few tools, small antiques, and other objects he doesn’t know where to put. He got rid of a few things, but he placed most of it in a box and left it on the computer chair because there’s nowhere else to keep it (yet). Later in the afternoon he drove a blue chair that no one ever sits in to an auction, where he profited $11.00.

We also started on the opposite corner, beside the TV and its stand. Another three boxes full of papers met us. I finally got through one box and then accidentally sat it on top of the gluecard with three (dead) spiders on it. Dad had told me earlier he planned to pick the dead spiders off of the card and reuse it to save money (sigh), so I carefully peeled the gluecard away from the box. Of course he told me later that he would have just thrown away the box and gluecard. Oh well. When all the boxes were emptied and trashed, we had filled an entire large plastic container with keepsakes and pictures. So that’s all of the boxes with papers that I know of! Next, we discussed a large queen-sized bedspread. It was okay but definitely not the prettiest addition my parents could make to their bedroom. Mom didn’t love it, so she put it in her trunk to give away. Then she picked out more books that I could take away. She still has a long way to go on these, though. We dumped a hairbow collection on the floor and concluded that we could give all thirty away. At the end of Friday, we had emptied the room of five bags of trash, not including the burn pile and recycling. Mom observed, “I forgot how large the fireplace was. You know, we might get to put the stocking holders on the fireplace this year.” I couldn’t help but remind her of all the years we could have enjoyed this space and had family and friends over. She said, “I know. I’m sorry,” in a quieter voice.

So where are we in the hoard? Mom is supposed to finish the full-sized couch and end table top. The loveseat is piled high with clothes which will stay there until we get to Mom’s closet. The stereos, records, VHS tapes, and cassettes are next. My parents never listen to music, but they want to keep cassettes and change them over to digital files (which they’ll never get around to doing). Then we’ll get to the bookshelves that flank the fireplace.

So, what’s the most ridiculous thing the hoarder in your life has kept?

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Cleared Space by Loveseat

I spotted the spider as soon as I opened the bag. “At least it’s smaller than the ones the glue cards have been catching,” I thought to myself. “Dad…spider,” I stated, and he jumped up from his recliner and came over. He carefully pressed the sides of the cloth bag together, eliminating my minor setback. This occurred Thursday afternoon as I was cleaning out the pile between the loveseat and wall. It was the usual disarray of items: empty plastic bags, papers that never made it to the trash, cosmetic bags that accompanied free gifts with purchases at the make-up counter, ten-year-old newspapers. I found two rather large boxes overflowing with bills, paystubs, and statements from 2002-2004. Luckily, most of it was ready for shredding. Without fail, my mother creates these boxes every Christmas Eve when she becomes so stressed by the piles of paper everywhere that she simply stuffs them in boxes and shoves them into whatever corner she can find. Unfortunately, she never gets around to sorting them, so over the years there were no more corners to hide boxes and the practice was reduced to simply pushing the boxes and junk as far away from the tree as possible so there is room for presents. This past Christmas there was only enough space for three of us to sit on the floor, and we kept our presents in our laps as we opened them so as not to lose any items. I found a small plastic grocery sack of paperbacks which I took to Goodwill, two Currier and Ives reprints which my dad confiscated, 5×7 picture frames (left them in a stack – they’ll be used), and Mom’s Christmas stocking items from 2003. This included a snowglobe, manicure set, and Christmas candy! I am continuously amazed that my parents have so few ants and roaches. I can only conclude that the candy is so deeply hidden under piles that bugs just don’t bother. There was a book holder that Dad got overseas – it went to the bookshelf. Really, that was everything. It took me eight hours to finish this one spot. Mom was so happy to see the progress that she didn’t even ask what I threw away. She and I went through a stack of clothes on the living room computer chair before bedtime. It was just another pile that she had gotten together for charity but never carried them out of the house. The real triumph of the day was when I trashed the battery operated dog I had as a child. Dad told me on a previous visit that I couldn’t throw it away, but it was falling apart in the entryway with no hope of repair, so when he went to walk the dog I got rid of it.

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Papers, Papers, Everywhere

I finally made it back to the hoard again! However, I only worked about five hours yesterday and two hours today. I spent the majority of that seven hours sorting through papers. I emptied out a plastic storage bin to use for the keep pile. There were two 40 gallon bags of garbage, and five small bags of papers and magazines for recycling. There are still stacks and stacks of paper. Someday there won’t be all these stacks of papers everywhere. Oh, the dream. I also got the three plastic bins of Christmas decorations to the basement. Dad helped me, and he was frustrated that I wasn’t throwing out more ornaments. He said, “Listen, I don’t want to keep things we don’t need.”  I laughed out loud, and he amended, “Christmas decorations that we don’t need.” Today we argued about this decaying thirty-year-old lamp. It’s not a nice lamp, but he wants to put it in my sister’s old bedroom. I’m going to have to get rid of it after he goes to bed sometime.

Mom had washed two bags worth of children’s clothes that I carried to a thrift store. She also allowed me to take out about thirty paperbacks. It wasn’t a wasted trip, but I definitely didn’t get even close to my goal this time. I also stayed with my in-laws because my parents have a spider infestation. Not brown recluses but big black spiders. As though there weren’t enough challenges already, with me being long distance and the volume of the hoard. I am going to go back in a couple of weeks. I think we may need to begin on my mom’s clothes. They are definitely overwhelming the space. It will be a challenge to get her to cut down on the volume, but if she doesn’t, there is no hope of clearing the hoard.

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A Little Bit of Everything

How many people have the chance to see every item of clothing they wore as children, every hairbow for their hair, and notes they passed back and forth with friends during church? And to show it to your spouse? One thing I have to say about having parents who hoard – it’s definitely a unique opportunity to revisit your childhood. I had that opportunity again and again Monday and Tuesday in my parents’ living room. My whole childhood is still in that house. The Kelly Kids pink and white striped polo shirt with the watermelon embroidery? Check. The green and white striped dress my aunt sewed me for 4-H? Check. The t-shirt from honor band? Check. It was all there, packed in boxes in front of the fireplace, enveloped in the smell of soot. The usual stacks of papers and magazines were also present, and it took a full nine hours on Monday to throw them away. Occasionally I’d find a picture, magazine, or an article of homework from elementary school that I knew my mom would want to keep, but it was mostly trash. These keeper items only filled two small bags. I found two gift cards that my mom misplaced during Christmas activities. The remote that was lost four months ago was in a sack of trash. Mother helped Tuesday. We found three huge boxes of children’s clothing that she packed up fourteen years ago to get rid of but never did. This seems to be due to a lack of feeling empowered. She’ll ask my dad to take something out of the house, he never gets around to it, and it never crosses her mind that she could just do it herself. She just blames my dad. It’s a hopeless pattern. We vacuumed up dead wasps and spiders (no dead or live lizards, thank goodness!). We went through more papers, magazines, and books. There were two paper sacks of random little toys – the intact ones went to Goodwill. There were more sewing items mixed in as well. She kept things like lace and gave away some patterns to my aunt. I also threw away two decaying speakers next to a broken stereo (didn’t have time to trash the stereo). The only argument we had was over pictures, wedding announcements, and cards. Mom wants to keep these things for acquaintances, not just close family or friends. “I have to keep my pictures,” she said. “Do not throw away my pictures.” She relented on the wedding announcements. We definitely made more progress, and the kitchen was still looking good. The children’s clothing seems to be gone from the living room now, but there are many piles of papers, books, and magazines left. There is also quite a bit of Mom’s clothing, but there’s nowhere to put it until we clean out her closet and my room. I also haven’t mentioned that Dad put a small TV on top of their regular TV when it went out one time – it’s still just sitting there. I’m looking forward to the next trip home to continue.

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They’re Cleaning!

“I cleared out a space by the recliner,” Mom told me excitedly on the phone last night. She is continuing to work on the living room and is still motivated by the thought of being able to paint this summer. I encouraged her to continue. I am going to help her Monday and Tuesday of next week. It would be wonderful if she could get the piles down enough on her own that we could finish the living room in two days. I think I’m being a bit ambitious, but why not, let’s shoot for the stars. I could hear the anticipation in her voice of throwing out an old blue chair and a cabinet that holds a record player/stereo. She told me to bring masks to fight off the dust. My dad, it seems, has been inspired by the inside work and according to Mom was throwing some things in the yard away. This Wednesday I’m going to get some plastic containers to help organize the cabinets above the washer and dryer and vacuum-sealed storage bags for quilts and blankets. I can’t wait until next week!

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One Drawer Cleanup and a Spider

There was a spider in my parents bathtub this morning. A big, ugly black spider. My dad killed it, and I’m trying not to think about the fact that it could have climbed into bed with me last night instead of crawling across the hall to the bathroom. Ugh! This is one of the many reasons my parents need to get rid of the clutter and clean up the hoard. There are so many hiding places for spiders in their house, and they’ve started having such a problem that they set out those little glue cards that bugs stick to. So you’ll be sorting through a stack of papers and then all of a sudden come across this glue card that has little spiders and maybe a small roach stuck to it.

I had two days that I could go home, but I spent most of my time visiting with my grandmother. As badly as I want to clear the hoard at my parents, Grandmother is more important. When I did arrive home last night, I first checked out the kitchen to see what damage had been done to my hard work on previous visits. It looked pretty good, but Mom said she cleaned it up some two nights ago. I encouraged my parents to help me clean off the countertops before we ate supper, and pretty soon it looked the way I had left it a couple of months ago. Then my dad had a movie for us to watch (he certainly knows how to distract me from my mission – I love movies). Mom and I worked on paper stacks during and after the movie. There are piles and piles of books and papers in front of the fireplace, and I realized three things. First, we need a longer stretch of time than a day to go through this massive pile. Second, that I didn’t want to stir up any spiders just then. Third, my mom is going to have to be at the house to clean the living room. So much of it is her stuff. I asked her if she wanted me to take any of her books to the used bookstore, and she said she would have to go through them first (even though at some point she put them in bags to take them). I think maybe that’s the problem with the living room. She gets a bag of trash or recycling together but just leaves it sitting there instead of taking it outside, then she forgets what she’s gone through and has to do it all over again. She feels that she must go through every magazine and newspaper before she recycles it. I asked her what she’s afraid she’s going to get rid of – I mean, the only wedding announcement she should really want to keep is mine, and she has a copy of mine already. Grandmother always kept wedding announcements and obituaries for every family member, and I think she’s just mimicking that behavior. She did decide to get rid of her typewriter. It’s in my trunk, ready to take somewhere. After watching episodes of Hoarders, though, I can’t complain about my parents’ living room. It’s a lot better than the living rooms I see on the show. At least there’s a pathway.

After breakfast this morning, Dad and I cleaned out a drawer in the kitchen. We filled three grocery store bags with stuff for the trash: old baby barrettes, proof of purchases for toys such as Barbie and the Rockers and a Carebear car, lots of ribbon, shoe inserts, and stickers. We were under orders to keep all buttons, which we did. Dad found an old McDonald’s toothbrush with the hamburger character on it that he said he has to see is worth anything. So I didn’t accomplish a whole lot, but Mom is going to take off a few days from work in a few weeks and I’ll go help her. She’s very motivated to start on the living room so that she can paint.

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It’s All Too Much: A Hoarder’s Resource

It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh is one of my all-time favorite books about cleaning things out and organizing. Okay, so it’s actually one of my favorite books, period. I really miss his show, “Clean Sweep.” I used to watch it every Saturday morning, and he always seemed to make the families realize that stuff is not so important as their relationships with each other.

I love to read books about simplifying and living with fewer material possessions. I just checked this one out from the library and reread it. (I had given my copy to my mom to read, and she lost it either in her car or the house.) In chapter two, he does a wonderful job of explaining the excuses people have when it comes to letting go of their stuff. Between both of my parents, I’ve heard them all. My dad recently told me excuse number seven – he doesn’t care if the house is clean or not. It doesn’t bother him. That’s the statement that frustrates me the most. How unbelievably selfish to not care if your children had to live in filth as they grew up. To not care if they couldn’t have friends over (by the way, my sister and I had our best friends over anyways, but I still cringe to think of what they must have thought about us). Has he ever even thought about our desires and the kind of family we wanted to be? Some of the excuses, such as “it’s too important to let go,” make sense to me. Of course it’s hard to let go of items, such as your child’s first pair of shoes, that remind you of the past. But if those children are so important to you, why do you choose memories, mere objects, over them? In the book, Walsh shares some of his experiences working with acquirers and hoarders. He explains some of the motivations behind hoarders’ behaviors, which is therapeutic for me. He repeats over and over that it “isn’t about the stuff” and “imagine the life you want to live.” Then he goes into detail about how to clear the clutter from each room. It’s such a great resource for anyone trying to clear clutter. Now if I could just clear the clutter in my parents’ house enough to find my copy…

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My Hoarding Blogroll

My work schedule hasn’t allowed me the flexibility to visit my parents for the last few weeks, and it will be a few weeks before it improves, so I’ve been combing the internet searching for blogs by hoarders and children of hoarders. I added my favorites to my new blogroll on the right. I love reading about the authors’ experiences with hoarding! I feel as though we are all tackling the problem of hoarding together, although it may be in different ways. Keep writing those posts!

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