Letting Go of Some Things

Did anyone else read Her Bad Mother’s recent post on the show Hoarders and why she doesn’t watch it?

I read it last week and I can’t get it out of my head.

For the record, Mr. E and I watched one episode of Hoarders and that was enough for me – I really hope to never see it again.  Mostly because of the uneasy feeling of creepy I got as I watched it – like a voice in my head repeating “something about this isn’t right”.  But also because overwhelmingly, time and time again, my reaction to any retelling of hoarding is intense anger.  Anger that doesn’t feel healthy in the slightest. Anger that makes me nervous enough to delete reality tv shows off my DVR.

My father was a hoarder, for sure.  Not the type that bought so many things that he couldn’t use them all or that lived in squalor – there weren’t any dead cats in our entryway or buried under stacks of boxes.  He was a cleanish type hoarder.  He had simply assigned so much NEED to certain things that it was next to impossible for him to let them go.  When my parents got divorced my mom took the dining room table and eventually the dining room became unusable anyway, there was nowhere to put a new table because he’d filled the room with cardboard magazine files, each neatly stacked with computer magazines, and the cardboard files filled the entire room.  You could not see the floor, only boxes upon boxes of computer magazines.  Because if he threw any of them out, what would happen if he ever needed one?

He was the same way with junk mail and check stubs and once used ingredients sitting untouched on pantry shelves – he couldn’t figure out which things he’d never need again, and so he just kept everything.

Growing up in that house filled with stuff has left me with a  pathological fear of clutter.  I can’t sit still while piles of papers cover a counter or art supplies spill across my dining room table.  Nothing stays if it doesn’t have a place – in my house, everything has to have a place – a spot it can be returned to when you’re done with it.  And there’s probably almost nothing I love in this life as much as throwing things out – it feels like freedom to me to decide that we don’t need something and to be done with it forever.  And nothing brings out the crazy faster than questioning this – when I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to throw out anything.  My father would go through the trash cans and yell at us, horrendously angry, irate that something he though might be useful had been discarded.  Mr. E once casually asked me why something was in the trash and I don’t think he’s ever emotionally recovered from the reaction he got in return.

I so don’t care who watches Hoarders, it makes no difference to me if that uncomfortable feeling I get feels like guilty voyeuristic pleasure to someone else.  I am just so envious that HBM can speak of her father and his hoarding with love and compassion and understanding.  For me, it still feels as though to my father, stuff was more important than people, than me, and I can’t watch a television show where a woman chooses things over her children without feeling righteous anger boil in my veins.

When my parents got divorced, and literally divided up the contents of their house, it was insanely difficult for my father to let most of those things go.  He refused to part with our beds, and so at my mother’s house, we slept on cots.  He refused to part with toys, and so we snuck them out in our duffel bags when we packed to spend the week with my mom.  He got home early once or maybe my mom was late to pick us up – I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget the feeling when my father caught us in the driveway with a black trash bag full of things we’d picked out to steal from his house, and I can still remember the dark dark cloud of dread, knowing we had been caught trying to escape with my father’s things.

My mom was a horticulturist before she became what she is now.  Even though she was a professional gardener, my father refused to give up any of the gardening things in the garage, wouldn’t let her have one of the two trowels sitting on the shelves.  That was the moment my mother’s trowel collection began, and for twenty years now we’ve been buying her trowels whenever we find them – fancy ones and simple ones, strange ones, painted ones, trowel christmas ornaments and trowels with pine tree handles and trowels that glow in the dark.  She has a special display rack that my step father built just for the collection – she must have over 75 by now.

It’s something hard to explain to people who wander in on the trowel collection.  There are so many of them that this doesn’t quite make sense, but still, I like to think it’s my families way of saying “Not anymore. Not in this family.  Stuff isn’t more important than people in THIS family.”

That or it’s just our way of saying “You want some trowels?  We’ll get you some goddamned trowels.”

And now it’s me and Mr. E and Pants, and Baby Cakes is on the way.  And in our house, when you break a bowl, you’re not a horrible person who has ruined something precious.  You’re a human being who has broken a bowl, accidentally, and because you are a person, your feelings are more important than a bowl.   We don’t give that kind of power to STUFF.

Now I need to figure out how to let go of my anger at people who DO.


16 Responses

  1. I love the trowel collection and what it symbolizes for you and your family. Great post, friend.

    P.S. K dub? I need a name update, stat.

  2. What a terrific terrific post. I have a strong feeling that as a mother I’ll need to reread the bit about the bowl at the end.

  3. Oh, my gosh. I’m having images of little Elizabeth trying to spirit out a trash bag of her toys–how incredibly sad. It’s understandable why you’d feel the way you do. Great post.

    p.s. Ditto the request for more info about K-dub. That’s new, right?

  4. Oh, I am right there with you. This post really resonates with me. I watched a bit of that show once and I felt so frustrated with the hoarder. “Just let it go!” I kept yelling in my head. My father and stepmother are hoarders, too, and it doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that at their house I feel that there is no room for me, that there is no room for me in their lives with all that other clutter, I don’t think they’ll ever be able to change. I don’t know that I’ll be able to talk about my parents with the same kind of understanding as in HBM’s post, but I’d like to someday. For now, I have adopted minimalism as my home decor style.

  5. I have a LOT OF THOUGHTS about that post. Putting the thoughts about how judgmental HBM is (because do not be fooled- despite her claims otherwise, she is CLEARLY judging people who do watch that show), I think she has a great desire to appear to be understanding and uh….well, I’m not going to finish that thought. My grandfather was a hoarder and watching that show made a lot of things about him and my mother make sense.

  6. this is such a complicated issue for me. when I was 7, my parents got rid of all our stuff, and I mean ALL our stuff, so we could move halfway around the world. our family of 4 fit all our worldly belongings into suitcases. I grew up always wanting to play with stuff I remember from when I was young- a record player, some fake grapes, my dad’s awesome orange typewriter, just random things that I remember that weren’t there. When my friends started discovering all the great “vintage” clothes in their moms’ closets, I couldn’t. There aren’t even all too many baby pictures of me. My mom’s mom gave away her wedding dress to a neighbor who couldn’t afford one. Anyway, because of this stuff, I’ve had to fight against a desire to become a hoarder all my life. Right now, I’m in a weird in-between zone- able to take bags and bags of things to Goodwill and feeling good about getting rid of them, but then agonizing over a single receipt or ticket stub because surely one day I’ll have Alzheimers and that one ticket stub will be my only link to my entire past, goddamit. Ack!

  7. I have to say I’ve never thought about this on any level other than “Is this something I will EVER wear? No? But it’s so pretty! But it still has the tags! But I never wore it! Gak!” which I am assuming, from your post, is a pretty good place to be. I have never met a hoarder (that I know of!) but I’ve also never seen the show. I think I shall remain in this nice ignorant place and applaud your mom’s trowel collection, because that’s one the awesomest things I’ve ever read.

  8. Oh, man. I totally relate. My mom is a lot like your dad. I struggle, too, but in the opposite way. I became a hoarder like her (except on a much smaller scale), so I’m having to learn to place more importance on people’s feelings than on things. Tough lessons, whichever side you’re on.

  9. I get the same feeling about the hoarders show. But you have to remember, they are SERIOUSLY mentally ill. They really are. And how do you reason with a mentally ill person other than intensive therapy? You can’t reason with them at all, it is pointless.
    I think your dad probably did have a mental issue related to things. It most likely wasn’t personal or a “choice” to choose things over you. It was a compulsion that he did not have the skills to beat. Sad, so very sad…because the outcome was that it alienated everybody, and caused you so much pain.
    On another note…you may want to stop and reconsider the 75 trowels…because its going to LOOK like SHE is hoarding garden equipment. Perhaps a rummage sale is in order to get rid of some of those??? ha

  10. This post made me think a lot, especially of my own problems with my father. He isn’t so much of a hoarder, but he definitely values material things over his family.

    Bravo. Thank you.

  11. “You want a trowel? We’ll get you some goddamned trowels.”
    I like that.
    Also, I think I’d like to frame that part about a bowl not being more important than people’s feelings and hang it in our kitchen. Such an obvious concept, but oh, how easy to forget!

  12. As further explanation about my last sentence: I get mad not because of the actual item broken- usually I don’t mind, because then it’s an excuse to shop and REPLACE the thing! It’s more about, “You must learn to be CAREFUL with people’s things!” Even though it’s way more important to be careful with people’s feelings.

  13. My mom is the SAME way. And I thought her moving into a brand spankin’ new (7,000-sq-ft) house would remedy the situation. Alas, my sister called today and said the new home is already riddled with piles of paper and, well, crap.

  14. My dad was the opposite — obsessively and meanly organized and tidy — and I think it caused me to rebel in the opposite way (be messy and untidy), and that’s something I have to deal with too.

  15. This was touching – not what you went through, obviously, but your family’s reaction to it was so compassionate and such proof that people are more important than things.

    I can’t watch Hoarders either, mostly because those people are in such pain, their families are in such pain, and it’s all being exploited for the sake of the highest bidder. “Reality” tv has gone too far.

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