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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One Response to The Stretched Out Sock Puzzle

  1. Ceci G says:

    Watching the follow up episode with Mom last week, she commented on a clip of her living room that was completely empty–“I didn’t realize how big that room was.” She was serious, and her insight was sad and beautiful. She never realize these things because even huge rooms seem suffocatingly small when filled wall to wall with broken, hand me down furniture, boxes of old Avon from the 1960s, 1000 bags of unused craft supplies from Joanns, and every piece of your parents’ possessions that your siblings didn’t claim.

    Ironically, my view of the room and the house has always been about how small it was. Even empty, it was too small. And I don’t dream of living in a mansion. Even empty, it was symbolically cluttered with bad memories that I couldn’t shake out, clearing a space for fresh use. That’s a journey for another day.

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