The hoarders

I went to several hoarding houses. It was always a struggle to get to the front door. I had to touch iffy things so I wouldn’t fall as I squeezed through tight passages of old toys, garbage, and practically a timeline of their whole life. I often felt like I violated them in some way. They were showing me parts of themselves I would never want a stranger to see.

What always struck me was the smell even with my mask on of rot and decay. The yard a graveyard of old cars filled with you guessed it, more junk. One place had chicken bones in front of the door the second time I visited. It creeped me out like they were doing some sort of voodoo hex to get rid of me.

As I was leaving one of the houses a woman came home. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed like I got caught snooping inside of her house. She told me she was remodeling her kitchen. Uh huh, yeah right.

The worst of the hoarding was located underneath a huge tree which had a bug infestation of some sort. The bugs crawled on me some odd mix of a gnat and flea. The woman said the DNR had been out because of the bugs and it was caused by something other than her remodeling.

I felt dirty there. The bugs made me feel creepy and crawly. I wanted to wash my clothes and jump in the shower but again I had more stops to make. Why would anyone want to live that way?

The hoarding caused great sadness in me. My parents are what I consider to be hoarders. They mainly collect paper item clutter such as long paid bills and receipts that they keep in stacks on the floors, counters, tables, and couches. They kept phone books from the 70’s from a different city.

My mom is a big collector of food. Although there are two people living in her house she shops for 10. She has multiple refrigerators and freezers full of rotting food. It causes my mother great emotional distress to get rid of things. It causes us distress that she keeps things.

At times I have to fight off an OCD tendency for cleanliness. For example, last week I washed my windows. While I saw all the imperfections, smudges, and dirt I left behind multiple birds kept flying into the windows. Maybe I have been filled so much with dirt that nothing will ever be clean enough for me. Maybe my perception is off too. Sometimes I have to tell myself that my best is good enough and I have to let the rest go.

My mom is embarrassed to have people over. People feel uncomfortable in a hoarding house especially if they are not used to it. My brother’s sister-in-law stayed there once and said it was so disgusting she was never going back.

My dad rarely showers. You have to be careful where you sit. You have to be careful what to eat. It’s best just not to go there. I mourn that. I want it to be warm, happy, and cozy like Christmas morning but we never celebrate there.

I remember what it was like living there. When the old power lines were taken down in our neighborhood, we went with our mom to collect probably a hundred of the insulators. We had to collect items like the tabs off of soda cans. We never got rid of broken items or outdated technology. My mom still has clothes in her closet from the 1980’s. I could keep going…

They never said no to anything. At one time my parents even accepted a huge unusable old rusty satellite dish. There are rooms in their house that are unusable too. Thankfully they were not much for outdoor displays of hoarding. If a shed is full, it’s time to build another shed.

It’s really hard to understand how hoarding can be satisfying especially for items viewed as junk. Hoarding suffocates me in feelings of despair. Going home is not pleasant. I wish it was. I could write for hours what it feels like to be a clean freak daughter of hoarders…

But as a census worker this was an uncomfortable situation I was already prepared for.

Hoarders and clean freaks

This past weekend my mom came over to help me weed. I didn’t ask for help, she just saw the need.

It got me to thinking about something that I couldn’t place which was bothering me. There was an in-congruence in my thought patterns. My mom is one of the hardest workers I know. Yet she has one of the messiest houses I’ve ever seen. How conflicting the thought was in my mind. I always thought that hoarders were lazy. But are they?

My parents are the biggest hoarders of magazines and papers. They still have a phone book from the 1970’s from a different city that they lived in out of state. They have stacks and stacks of papers that litter the living room floor and all available counter spaces.

My parents kept almost all of their clothing since they got married. Their closets are full of old clothes and jackets. It comes in handy for me when I am going to a costume party.

My mom hoards food. Her cupboards are stocked full of canned goods. All of her refrigerators and freezers (they have several) are full. The refrigerators always smell like rotten food. It is very important to check the dates on items before you eat them. The freshest foods are in the grocery bags that line the dining room floor.

Thankfully for me, my mom kept every school and personal journal documenting Matt’s life in great detail. It has been very helpful for me in writing my book. I don’t think that I could be writing as powerful and moving of a story without her help.

Their hoarding always suffocated me. It was hard to clean the house. The counters were so full of stuff that there was no place to move anything in order to clean it. Then you just put the items back on the cleaned areas. I always felt like I was emptying the ocean a tablespoon at a time. It stirred within me feelings of hopelessness.

My brothers and I are not hoarders. It bothers me when things are cluttered. It fills me with despair. The strange thing is that my parents feel the opposite way. It causes my mother emotional pain to get rid of things. My mom threw out my brother’s baby blanket when he was in his 30’s. She cried and lamented about it for days even though my brother didn’t want it. She tries to get rid of things but it is very upsetting to her.

Sometimes my mom will clean out the cupboards and closets. Instead of throwing things away, she gives them to me. Recently she gave me a bag of my dad’s old worn out socks. It is a little easier for her to give things away then to throw them away even though she must know that is what I will be doing with it.

It is hard for me to understand how my mom’s feeling are tied up in useless things.

It must be very hard for my mom to see her house in the shape that it’s in. She is embarrassed to have anyone over. I wish I could understand. Yet I am glad I do not.

I feel guilty for my mom’s help around my house when she needs it more than I do. It’s overwhelming to try to help her. I would just come in and start throwing things away and she couldn’t handle that. I know, I’ve tried. I feel like my hands are tied. But I know that my brothers and I are going to end up throwing most of the stuff away or getting rid of it someday.

I need to be careful in my own life so I don’t end up on the opposite spectrum. I have a tendency to be a clean freak. Dirt and clutter stresses me out. I want everything to be clean, neat, and organized. But I try not to let it control me.

I also have relatives that are clean freaks. We once went camping with my Aunt Jan. It stormed out and we ended up huddling in my aunt’s garage freezing because we were too dirty to be allowed into her house. I also have an uncle that would host parties and follow his guests around with a vacuum cleaner. I’ve also witnessed him on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor while guests were over.

I don’t think people at either extreme seem happy. I tolerate uncleanliness when guests are over. But it’s also kind of funny that I picked this topic to write about as I am freaking out about cleaning my house and weeding everything this week to have a perfect house for my son’s graduation party.

But since I grew up in a house of clutter and hoarding, I realize if people really care about me then they are willing to overlook some slight imperfections.

6. The hardest thing I ever experienced

6. What is the hardest thing you have ever experienced?

My childhood was the hardest thing I ever experienced..

Outwardly, people thought that I had it all. I was voted most likely to be a supermodel by my senior class. We lived in one of the biggest houses in town. People expected me to be happy and perfect all of the time.

But inside our house there was always a fresh stream of piss on the bathroom floor. Dirty dishes covered the kitchen counter. Rotten food festered in the fridge. There were many rooms dedicated to the clutter shrine. Stack after stack of newspapers, magazines, and papers adorned the floor. Broken items and unworn clothing littered the forever unfinished bathroom upstairs. Every surface area was cluttered. But it didn’t matter because no one bothered to visit anyway.

Maybe it would’ve been different if I didn’t have an autistic brother or if my parents didn’t have 4 children within 5 years.

Several friends of my parents told them to beat the autism out of him. Believe me, my dad tried. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

Maybe things wouldn’t have been as chaotic if Matt wasn’t autistic. Matt sometimes was violent. Pulled hair..bloody lips..black eyes..bruised arms and legs..a head bashed into a nose..poked eyes…Violence often infiltrated our house. I was told not to retaliate or feel anger because Matt didn’t mean it. Didn’t I know that I was the lucky one?

Sometimes we would get excited about going somewhere, just to get there, and have to turn back home again. Matt wasn’t welcome there anymore..

Then there were all of the rules that didn’t make any sense. For example, I wasn’t allowed to wear hair spray, nail polish, or perfume. I had to sneak a bottle of hair spray into my backpack and get ready at school. That was when we were still able to go to school. Matt’s behavior was so intolerable that he was no longer allowed in school so I didn’t go to school either for 3 years.

I lost a lot of friends after Matt hurt them…

My parents argued constantly. My dad lashed out verbally and sometimes physically as well. Half of the household at one time or another was severely depressed. Nooses hung from empty trees. I was fearful of what I might find when I entered a quiet house.

My mom cried out to God at night asking Him why He was punishing her…

My childhood was a time of chaos, disorder, dysfunction, and despair…

Hoarding, clutter, and cleaning freaks

I am knee deep in fall cleaning right now. I thoroughly clean my house twice a year, once for spring and once for fall. Spring cleaning is the big event of the year where I scrub the whole house with a toothbrush. Fall cleaning is more of a hairbrush clean. I used to thoroughly clean my house after every season, but I really hate dusting. Talk about a useless task! I dust everything and within a half an hour new dust takes over. Then I sneeze for 3 days.

I threw out and donated many items to the point of guilt. I come from a very long line of hoarders. When we sold Aunt Grace’s house, we moved everything into my grandma’s house. When we sold grandma’s house, we moved stuff into my parent’s shed. Now their very large shed is full. Time to build another shed! We did get a large dumpster for my grandma’s house which was emptied 3 times. We made multiple trips to Goodwill to the point where they didn’t want any of our crap anymore. Did you ever hear of anyone getting turned away from Goodwill for over donating? Yeah, me neither.

Yesterday I went to my parents house and watched them struggle to maintain their property. There was a pipe that was leaking into the basement. Mom took me downstairs to look at the damage. There was some water that pooled around food items that expired in the 1990’s. I feel overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it all out someday. My mom has always been a food hoarder which she attributes to growing up poor.  She has 4 freezers and 2 refrigerators. The cupboards are full of mostly expired food. There are grocery bags sitting on the floor with new food. Downstairs the situation is worse. Multiple peanut butter containers that expired in the 90’s, homemade canned food items from the 80’s, glass containers full of stale grains, corroded cans, juice separating in bottles.

My parents also hoard other things like cars, magazines, paper, newspapers, clothing, blankets, wood, books, movies, old toys, candles, soap, empty jars, tools, and parts. My dad collects electronics, broken parts to fix other broken parts. The floor and chairs are stacked with papers. The dining room table is never clutter free and neither is the kitchen counter. Nothing is thrown out even if it is expired, broken, or useless. Paul’s mom and step-dad are hoarders too. They have 2 refrigerators in their small kitchen. One doesn’t work and is used for storage. Both of our parents have given us some of their junk which we throw out for them. Thankfully Paul and I share the same motto of when in doubt throw it out. Looking at my kids rooms, I think we may have a few future hoarders on our hands. 

As a clean freak, the clutter overwhelms me. I can’t breathe. I feel a lonely emptiness in a room stacked full of clutter. It rises within me a feeling of absolute despair which I cannot explain. It feels hopeless. I want to throw everything away. I want my house to be clean, but no matter what I do it still feels dirty and messy.

A few years back, my brother Luke and his wife brought her sister to my parents house with them for the weekend. Luke’s sister-in-law told my brother that my parents house was so messy that she would never stay there again. Luke told my mom. This started a big fight with a lot of tears and stress from my mom. Luke was hoping that my mom would throw things out like he does, but instead they built another shed. My mom gets very attached to items and needed a lot of moral support to throw out my brother’s baby blanket a few years ago when he was well into his 30’s. We also did not want our old baby clothes for our children. Why do items attach so much hurt for the people who don’t want to part with them and the people that don’t want to keep them?

I have helped my parents countless times in the past. It is so overwhelming to me. It is like emptying a lake with a cup. I feel guilty for not helping them more. I’ll be totally honest, I can’t handle it. It elicits such a strong negative response within me that is unbearable. So I scour every corner of my house. After cleaning I still see all of the streaks in the windows, all the stains on the carpeting, the little yellow rings that don’t come out of my sink and bath tubs, the grease that lingers around the oven, the little spots on the walls, and the cracks in the linoleum. Will we ever be free from cleaning or hoarding? Will we be forever haunted by earthly treasure or trash?