I love my father. He is a wonderful man: funny, thoughtful, and loving.
Also: He is a hoarder. Yes, like the kind you see on cable tv, except not so bad as to have rat infestations or raw sewage flowing through the house. No. None of that. Dad is the guy you see huddled over the dented can bin, loading up on .65 cent tomato sauce, kidney beans, spinach, and sauerkraut.
He sent my mother off the deep end when he got back from the Commissary with 35 cans of tomato paste. “WHYYYYY?” she yelled. “It’s to make chilli. When the weather is cold this winter, you’ll be glad. I gotta good deal. Guess how much I paid for this can?” Then, he’d dump the bags next to the dining room table and forget about them.
“There’s no GODDAMN ROOM for ANY OF THIS SHIT.”
The kitchen cabinets overflowed with cans. My mother and the three of us kids were tasked with finding space in the basement’s ‘sewing room,’ which was really a huge food pantry for Dad to fill with bulk deals like canned corn and boxes of mashed potato mix and packets of taco seasoning. The room was packed.
Then Dad would come home with 10 or 11 more bags. We tried to make room by getting rid of expired canned foods, but if you believe it’s that easy, you’ve never lived with a hoarder. Dad monitored. He watched where those bags were going and he remembered what he bought even if he never used it. He checked the trash can outside. According to Dad, expiration dates were nothing more than mere suggestion.
As kids, my siblings and I did as we were told. Even though none of it made sense. Even though the clutter was enough to drive you crazy.
Fast forward to 2013. Bubba, Jamie, and myself are grown ups living on our own, respectively. Mom moved out of the house eight years ago following a spectacular mid-life crisis. Dad is 71 years old. He lives by himself. Naturally, the house looks like a Harriet Carter catalog exploded in the dented can aisle.
There comes a point in life where one realizes their parents are only human. And as the first born, I knew it was time. Time to strong arm my siblings into a joint effort to clean Dad’s house. On Sunday, January 14th, 2013, the three of us embarked on an unforgettable journey. The cleaning and UN-hoarding starting at 10AM.
“HOW MANY COMBS DOES ONE PERSON NEED?”
It was good to tackle this as a team. With a hoarder, the trick to getting anywhere is to overwhelm their ability to monitor the de-cluttering process. As you probably know, hoarders don’t respond well to people throwing out their shit. Why won’t they just do it themselves? The reason is: Emotional attachment. For each item, there is a feeling. To dispose of or even organize clutter, the hoarder must go through the feelings. This is extremely uncomfortable.
Think of it as how you may feel when cleaning out your closet. Each article of clothing has a memory or feeling attached; may it be “I remember dancing all night in this dress a few summers ago,” to “These jeans were so cute when I actually fit in them.” to “NOW IM NOTHING BUT A FATTY!!!????!” Well, for a hoarder, I imagine it’s like this multiplied by 10. Formulating a decision on whether to keep or let go …is a big fucking deal, as Vice President Biden would say.
And I cleaned the most WTF room of the house: the kitchen.
Long story short, it sucked, and we didn’t finish till almost 7pm. That works out to roughly nine hours of insanity. We bagged stuff to throw away. Bagged stuff to donate. Bagged stuff to recycle. I’m not going to sugar coat it—loving a hoarder is hard flippin’ work. Because where there’s hoarding, there’s a mess too. Crumbs everywhere. Filthy countertops. Tiny food beetles that dined and died in the kitchen.
But I remember: Hoarding is a mental disease and it’s filled with neglect. When you neglect your living space, you neglect yourself. And when you love somebody, you’ll go to hell and back cleaning up their mess.
For further reading, the diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder is HERE. NJC is an excellent website for those of us who love a hoarder.
And from another talented blogger: “I’ve Cleaned Up After 2 Hoarders, Here’s How I Did It”