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.
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