Dualing Posts

Okay, Mary over at Resident Alien and I are going head-to-head this morning on the topic of familial hoarding. She posted yesterday about her family’s meal-planning habits and we cycled into the topic of families who hoard so…here is my post and be sure to go to Mary’s to read hers because there’s not a post she does that doesn’t put me in awe.



You think it’s no big deal, stuff an extra salami into the meat drawer, stow a spare flat of cereal in your basement (and what doesn’t fit there, goes in your car trunk).

It’s all good, a way to plan ahead for hard times or just the times you’re on the toilet and suddenly realize you’re out of TP. Any respectable hoarder can fully illustrate why it’s perfectly reasonable to host a party then be able to offer the guests their very own curling iron (with three colors and two barrel sizes to choose from) as a parting gift.

Yes, that’s right. Had you been my friend in high school you might have wandered into our basement never to be seen again as you’d be sucked into its bowels, amazed by the breadth and depth of merchandise in front of your eyes. You might even think my parents were part of an organized crime syndicate. What else could explain such copious amounts of stuff. Just crap. For instance, if you stood in the back of the basement and inventoried the shelves, you’d find:

Curling Irons, blow driers, belts–purses–shoes (before you get all jealous at the thought, these things were NEVER remotely stylish in the eyes of an adolescent or young adult, they were just on sale and therefore irresistable to my father) paper towels, one dozen industrial sized cans of lima beans, beets, peas, corn, and cooking oil. Boxes of ten-year-old, partially disintegrated chocolate that morphed into shapes resembling baby swiss cheese and powdered milk. And salsa. There were always jars of salsa.  And meat in the deep-freeze. That sucker was filled so high there were times it took ten minutes of rearranging the contents just to shut the thing. I think there might have been a body at the bottom of it, but that has never been proven one way or the other.

You’re thinking that isn’t so bad, that I’m a bit spoiled (here’s your chance, anonymous Alice) and mean to make fun of a family who clearly anticiapted every need imaginable (yes, we hoarded tires, hammers, and even an ill-fitted scuba suit though none of us were beach-goers at the time), but this little habit could go terribly bad. Especially for an ultra-sensitive crew who at times found it difficult to laugh at themselves.

For instance. That innocuous salsa I mentioned? Harmless, handy, great to have around. But let me back up. My little brother Jamie was in college and called me one night. He was whispering into the phone, half laughing, half crying. When he finally pulled it together and got to the bottom of it all, this is what he said happened:

Jamie: Oh, Tim, here, have some salsa with those chips.

Tim: Kay. Sure, sounds great. Who doesn’t love salsa?

Tim dips, inserts chip/salsa combo into mouth, crunch, crunch, crunch, gag, gag, gag, followed by Tim’s complexion going green as he spits salsa back into bowl.

Jamie: What’s wrong? Are you choking?

Jamie swats Tim on the back a few times and inquires whether he should employ the hiemlich, suggesting Tim use the international sign for “I’m choking and I need the hiemlich if he does indeed need it.”

Tim merely rolls to the floor and recoups before reaching up to the table for the salsa jar. Upon examination, it’s as Tim suspected as he was attempting to clear his mouth of the salsa.

Something was wrong with it.

Tim held up the salsa for Jamie to take a look at.

Expiration Date: 1987

Date of Tim/salsa incident: 1998

So, you see, not only can the serious hoarder endanger the lives of roommates and loved ones, but the hoarder can make their children nearly implode with humiliation. One can only ward off the negative consequences of such a habit for so long.

One last anecdote. And, at this point, in case my parents are reading this, I should stress the degree to which I love you, but one must enjoy the ability to make lemons out of lemonade (or cheese out of chocolate) by learning to laugh at such things.

So, anyway, my parents finally moved out of the house they hoarded lived in for thirty-five years. They moved into a condo that offers about twenty percent of the living space their house did and none of the storage. None.

So, that deep-freeze, it was the very last thing to be moved out of our house, the new family was standing in the driveway with their moving truck and the freezer was still there waiting to be carted away. I think there may have been tears, but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, the hoarding thing has been stomped out by sheer lack of space.

Sigh of relief from all family members, all is well, over and done with.

Not so fast.

Our old neighbor just sold his house. My mother gets a phone call from him saying my dad needs to pick up his freezer.

Mom: WHAT?

Neighbor: You know, that upright Al has over here. The new owners are moving in tomorrow and this has to go.

Mom growling into phone and then interrogating Dad before trying to pawn the freezer off onto my older brother or I (we’re the only ones in striking distance).

The trouble is, I actually considered taking the thing. I made a few calls about trucks, measured a few key areas in the garage (we already have an old refrig. there) but upon not securing transport, I turned it down. It’s a slippery slope. I got lucky. I was this close.

And I have to admit, that though the times I needed to put a bag in my father’s trunk only to find the stores of bread and cereal offered no space at all made me nearly crumble with embarassment (of course there were always friends standing there with me), it was nice to not have needed to purchase toilet paper until I was married. Nor did I buy notebooks, or pencils or pens or razors. Hoarding had its good points.

And you might be wondering what my habits are regarding hoarding, especially since I nearly accepted the upright deep-freeze. Well, I’m pretty much the anti-hoarder. You’ll find me running to the store because we have no milk, TP, or paper towels, light-bulbs or pens. Well, okay, I buy papermates in bulk, but that’s it, I swear. That’s as far as hoarding goes for me.

I’m going to post this and take a look at Mary’s…I have a feeling she went for a deeper, psychological look at hoarding…I considered that, but this is what developed so maybe I’ll do a part II if it’s warranted. I have a feeling it might be. Where does your family fit on the hoarding continuum?

Final note: If you recognize yourself in the post, there are resources to squelch the instinct to gather and store. Try Clutter to Clarity especially if you just came back from the store with another gross of nails or screws. You are not alone.







9 thoughts on “Dualing Posts

  1. Okay, you win!! You had me IN TEARS. My parents hoarded in tiny, piddling ways, but your parents did it wholesale and I am truly awed. My daughters had to come and read your post over my shoulder because I was laughing too hard to make sense when I tried to read it aloud. I really lost it when you described how you almost went to collect their freezer — that is just fantastically funny!

    None of my classmates had parents as old as mine: my mother was 40 when I was born, and her family was so poor that they didn’t even feel the Depression (no shoes in the summer, not going to a doctor or a dentist until she was a grown woman, etc.) and this obviously made her very different from the mothers of my peers. I was embarrassed to death by her careful use of money and resources, but now I find it endlessly entertaining — and endearing, too.

    Just think of the fun we would have missed if we hadn’t grown up with our parents!

  2. And one thing else that has crossed my mind: our garage was quite small, and we didn’t have a basement or an attic. Obviously, this limited my parents’ hoarding potential to a certain extent…

    But you’re still the winner!

  3. Wow, I though my Mom was bad. She was a child of the depression era and we always had very well stocked cupboards. But your parents make her look like an amateur. Very impressive!

  4. Hi Mary, I’m not sure I’m the winner, but I’m glad I made you laugh a little. Like you, I understand my parents’ habits, but at a certain phase of young life, it was nearly life-taking in its impact to me mentally. They did a lot on one teacher’s salary. I’m glad we can all laugh about these things now. Glad your daughters came to read, too.

    Anti-wife, I think that’s the line–stocked cupboards vs overflowing basement…

  5. I had a friend in San Francisco whose apartment was absolutely stuffed with electrical appliances, new and old. You couldn’t get into her kitchen for the junk and had to navigate your way around boxes of hairdryers (yes — really!) and toaster ovens, still in their boxes. Her mother was an immigrant from China who had grown up in worse poverty than my own mother and my friend claimed that half the stuff in her apartment had come from her mother… I’ll bet you and she could share some good old stories!

  6. Ha ha ha! Wow, that brought back memories, Kath. I guess I should add here the anecdote of when I crashed the Nissan Sentra and totaled it. As a result of the crash, the trunk of the car had popped open, revealing no less than 50 boxes of undoubtedly expired cereal.

    The cops were baffled. I really couldn’t explain it.

  7. Mary, I think you’re right on the draw…
    Beth, that’s hysterical. I don’t remember that, but I should have known that would be the case, that the cops would see the trunk one way or another…like I said, at least we can laugh.

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